More than 800 Australian and international ITS and transport professionals gathered at this year’s Australian Intelligent Transport Systems Summit touting it as its biggest attendance in the event’s history.
Held in Sydney over 28-29 August, the key themes were centred on Autonomous Vehicles, Mobility as a Service, Big Data and Transport for Smart Cities. The exhibition element showcased the latest trends along with the opportunity for technical tours and business networking.
This being my first Australian ITS Summit, what really hit me was how much the transport industry has changed since kicking off my career as a graduate at Main Roads Western Australia more than a decade ago.
Road authorities across the Country, and indeed the rest of the world, are evolving from not only building new roads and maintaining infrastructure but they are transforming into high-tech data centres, and at the forefront of harnessing technology to improve ‘mobility’.
Hailing from ‘the West’, it was encouraging to see that Western Australia is fairly advanced in many ways. Initiatives such as Main Roads WA new state-of-the-art Road Network Operations Centre and its Network Performance Reporting System (NetPReS), RAC’s Intellibus trial and the Public Transport Authority’s Smartrider system are examples of industry-leading traffic management initiatives that maximise the use of data.
A smorgasbord of topics to whet the appetite
An array of speakers from Australia and around the world spoke of the opportunities and difficulties in advanced transport systems, and how technology would be the driver in overcoming current and future transport management challenges. There was certainly plenty of interesting thoughts and opinions being presented by these speakers which would make for great discussion around any dinner table.
Here are my key takeaways from the smorgasbord of topics presented:
1. AVs in the spotlight
As to be expected, themes associated with Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) dominated the program. However, it seems there is still some way to go to merge legislation and regulations with the reality of AVs being rolled-out into the road network, let alone have suitable technology. It became clear, whilst listening to several keynote speakers, that car manufacturers are pouring millions upon millions of dollars researching the latest technology and conducting various tests in the race to gain a competitive advantage for when the first of the AVs become commercially accessible to the public.
The RAC Intellibus® Trial currently underway in Western Australia has been giving the general public a taste of getting around in an AV. With further tests such as driving through traffic signals and use of C-ITS applications in the pipeline, the RAC is proactively harnessing technology and readying people for the future. While it is difficult to guess when AVs will be available on mass in Australia, government agencies need to take action on grasping the infrastructure required to handle AVs on the road network. They have a vital role to play in the review (and approval) of legislation and defining new regulations and policies within the automotive and road industry to ensure we are AV-road-ready when the time comes.
2. Collaboration is key for MaaS success
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) was another hot topic and it appears that cooperation between government transport agencies, private transport operators and third parties is the major obstacle to MaaS implementation, and not technology itself. This raised several questions like;
- Will most transport agencies/operators be willing to open and share real-time data to third parties?
- Will transport agencies/operators enable third parties to sell their service?
In my view, MaaS will only work if people have the choice of transport modes available, with accurate data provided to give correct travel information. One of the presentations I attended talked about a MaaS trial that was conducted in Finland. It was interesting to note the number of different services (and combinations) that were available for people to select from (including bike hire, public transport and ride sharing options), and how accurate the travel information was for users. Having a common platform for all transport modes enables customers to make better choices, plan their journeys, and ease congestion on the roads network.
In Australia, the development of MaaS services has been slow. The quality of data collected by transport agencies and operators has certainly improved in recent years. However, there is a fair bit to go when it comes to all parties being willing to collaborate and share data on a common platform, let alone with potential MaaS service providers. I believe with more ‘champions’ within both the public and private sectors to encourage the roll-out of MaaS in Australia, we then may gain momentum.
3. Thinking outside the box
The emerging transport technologies and insights showcased at the ITS Summit makes for very exciting times ahead in the transport industry. It did occur to me that many of the presentations were focused on urban applications of ITS which got me thinking ‘have road authorities looked at the potential of using more advanced ITS applications in regional areas’ and ‘have road authorities adequately engaged mining and freight companies to understand the latest technology innovations?’ Clearly, there is the opportunity for a collective sharing of information and lessons learnt that would foster better management of the entire transport network. Many mining companies are heavily investing in mobility and telecommunication technologies (such as LTE communications, collision avoidance, incident detection and vehicles platooning), which have the potential to be adopted by road authorities to help progress their own objectives.
With significant investment in mobility technologies, it is clear governments, road authorities and automobile industries all over the world are turning to innovative technologies to manage transport and improve mobility that keep people on the move, and I for one am very excited for what lays ahead.