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The Future of Transport Event Roundup

On Thursday the 24th of May Watermark Search International (Watermark) held an executive luncheon and invited Clare Gardiner-Barnes, Dennis Cliche, Andrew Mehaffey and Owen Hayford to a form a panel and discuss the topic of 'The Future of Transport'.

What followed was a broad-ranging panel discussion around what we can expect from transport networks, and the concurrent technologies, over the next 5-20 years and what the impact on each of us might be. The panel also touched on what some of the barriers to achieving that future were. 

A summary of the key points the panel members made is covered below. The panel also predicted what we would see implemented within the next five years, and that is also included below.

Clare Gardiner-Barnes

The NSW Government is investing over $40Bn on transport in the current plans. One of the key differences will be how we respond to customer expectations and use customer data to personalise journeys. One of the Government's major targets is ensuring there is the ability to switch transport modes in under five minutes. That involves a significant amount of coordinated planning.

Given the increased safety measures already present in vehicles, Clare asked that if you have responsibility for fleet vehicles, you mandate they have these new safety features embedded in them (such as adaptive cruise control and autobraking). Clare made the point that it would be a large step towards creating a safer environment for employees.

One of the things that the Government is doing is ensuring local communities are engaged in the transport journey. For instance, there are a number of regional autonomous trials planned so that the broader population sees the benefits, not just Sydney.

Getting good people is becoming a constraint for NSW, and given the continuing investment in transport, it is not just about smart recruiting but also about education that provides a pipeline of talent 10 and 15 years down the track.

With regard to mobile phone usage in cars, the Government is just in the process of introducing new regulations and penalties, combined with enhanced camera technology aimed at reducing hand held in-car phone usage. The Government also has a role to play in shifting the public perception around the acceptability of illegal mobile phone use in cars.

Dennis Cliche

The Commercial sector and Government are working in a co-operative manner to deliver on the infrastructure plan, and there is a lot of cross-pollination. Quite often the very first steps are not commercially viable, so the government has a role in getting things moving and creating the right environment for commercial engagement.

At times there is too much focus on the end state of fully autonomous vehicles and not enough recognition of the technology already present in today’s vehicles. Rear end crash reductions are one specific area where the current technology has the ability to have a significant impact.1 

There is much more technology applied to build the infrastructure in the first place. We now are able to create a complete computer animation of what we are building. There are other areas in which we integrate technology such as LED lighting, signage, ventilation systems and, in the case of the Westconnex tunnel (which runs for around 22 Kms) systems that are aimed at stopping the driver getting bored while also not being distracting.

The scale of the current investments is testing the availability not just of the appropriate people but also the raw material such as concrete and steel as well as the trucks with which to move the material. These constraints are a challenge for the current infrastructure as well as for the trucking company which one day is trying to supply us 80 trucks and the next day 250. The challenges are right across the supply chain.

As a result of new technologies, the likely number of vehicles on the road will increase rather than remain the same or diminish. The experts are divided, but we cannot wait until we know with certainty what the answer is. Infrastructure has a long lead time, and we have to make a call using the best information we have: we won’t get it right every time.

Andrew Mehaffey

There are many benefits, such as reduced cost in some situations, which fully autonomous vehicles provide but the real benefit is safety. The research shows that human factors cause 94% of vehicle crashes.

Using fully autonomous vehicles on toll roads and the like is relatively straightforward compared to using them on local roads in an urban environment. We are some years away from having vehicles that operate in that much more complex environment. Despite that, we will see the safety benefits of new technologies much sooner and without having to make the full leap to level 4 or 51 autonomy.

Rural and remote Australia will probably benefit even more from increasing technology in vehicles than the urban environment. The distances that people drive are so long, and the environment is more challenging (A 2006-2010 study2 showed 31% of the Australian Population (those in rural and remote areas) suffered 48% of Australia’s fatal crashes.

HMI has just received the green light to expand the autonomous vehicle trial in Homebush to the whole precinct. The police are taking a particular interest in the trial, and one of the things they are interested in is how they might pull over a vehicle without a driver! This is not an issue at the moment because the current trial means there is an onboard supervisor.

Owen Hayford

The Government is rightly cautious about the introduction of new technologies onto our roads however we don’t want excessive caution that is going to delay the potential safety benefit of introducing it.

There are some legal barriers to the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and there are three primary issues:

  1. The road rules assume that there is a human driver behind the wheel; they do not foresee a computer behind the wheel.
  2. If we amend the road rules to contemplate a computer doing the driving, who will be responsible if the computer speeds or otherwise breaches the road rules. Currently, it is the ‘driver’ that must comply with the road rule, but you can’t impose a legal responsibility of a computer.  But you could impose the obligation on the company the programs the computer, or that sells the vehicle in Australia. 
  3. A range of miscellaneous obligations imposed by the road rules and other legislation on drivers, such as exchanging details if you have an accident with another car, need to be amended.

None of these are show stoppers and can be accommodated, but it is taking longer than is ideal.

Toll roads will likely be one of the first environments in which we can use the next generation of autonomous vehicles that will allow the human driver to take their eyes off the road for sustained periods of time. One of the impending issues for government will be managing the expectations of users of these vehicles when they come to the end of that piece of road, and the vehicle asks them to take over responsibility for driving again. That is unlikely to meet the user’s expectations, and Government will feel some pressure to build public/non-tolled infrastructure that allows the user to continue their journey in the same way.

With regard to the use of mobile phones in cars, the current legislation prohibits drivers from holding or reading their mobile phone while driving. The need for this will shift as the technology will enable the fall-back human driver to cease watching the road while the car is proceeding. In this case, the technology will provide a solution, and there will no longer be a need for the legislation to prohibit vehicle users from looking at their phones whilst the vehicle is watching the road.  

The 2023 predictions:

Owen Hayford 

By 2023 driverless mini-buses will be in place on prescribed routes to move people to transport hubs.

Dennis Cliche

By 2023 technology journey planners such as Google and Alexa will take a whole of network approach, utilising big data to optimise journeys, offering you an individually tailored multimodal transportation plan.

Clare Gardiner-Barnes

By 2023 we will have taken the opportunity that an integrated approach to design has afforded us in Western Sydney to create urban environments where transport informs our design decision rather than dictating it.

Andrew Mehaffey

By 2023 a range of incremental technologies (lane assist, rear collision avoidance systems, blind spot indicators etc.) will be the norm in our vehicles, and we will see the outcomes in terms of reduced vehicle accidents.

2 The reference to level 4 or 5 autonomous vehicles refers to the 0-5 scale of increasing autonomy defined by SAE in 2014