Is Australia transport technology ready?



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Australia is well placed to capitalise on transport technology revolution, but infrastructure readiness and skills availability need improvement, said Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering Transport Technology Readiness Project Steering Committee Co-Chair, Drew Clarke AO PSM, in releasing the Academy’s latest report.

The report, Shifting Gears: Preparing for a Transport Revolution, examines the existing transport sector, the challenges and desirable outcomes for 2030, Australia’s readiness around a number of key enabling technologies, potential solutions and platforms to these challenges, and provides an analysis of these factors and a classification of industry readiness.

“The Academy has identified sustainability and climate change, productivity and health as the three key challenges that will need to be addressed within the transport sector over the next decade,” he said.

“Specifically, the transport sector will need to lower emissions, improve the efficient movement of people and freight and reduce transport related deaths and injuries. They are three measurable goals we believe are within our grasp.

“Four potential solutions to these challenges are identified in our report. These are the deployment of low and zero emission vehicles (LEVs); connected and autonomous vehicles; high-frequency mass transport; and intelligent transport systems.

“To gauge Australia’s readiness to address these challenges, each of the potential solutions has been analysed against five readiness indicators: infrastructure, social readiness, skills availability, economic and commercial feasibility, and policy and regulatory readiness.

“The report looks at an array of new and emerging technologies that have the potential to affect the sustainability, productivity and safety of Australia’s transport sector and how they might be applied.

“The scope of the project includes the digital data area, technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, communications sensing and spacial technology such as 5G, internet of things and so on, and in the energy area, batteries and hydrogen.

“Our analysis shows that Australia is performing well on a number of key indicators and is actually very well placed to capitalise on the technology revolution. Importantly, social readiness ranks very highly.

“But there are a few areas where we are not as advanced as we would like to be. In particular, infrastructure readiness and skills availability.

“With technology developing at a rapid pace and competitor countries investing and acting strategically, Australia needs to ensure that we also make smart strategic decisions to keep pace with the technological frontier.

“Our analysis provides an opportunity for government, industry and research organisations to develop and plan for future urban environments based on transport needs and mobility patterns of Australian communities.

“To achieve the desired outcomes within the transport sector by 2030, the Academy makes policy recommendations in four areas and identifies research priorities.”

The report recommends:
  1. Implement mechanisms to drive a widespread shift towards low emission transport options including policies to reduce vehicle emissions and to encourage the rapid and widespread uptake of LEVs.
  2. Provide an adaptive framework to regulate new transport technologies and provide guidance to the transport sector to help shape future transport systems.
  3. Develop and adapt transport technologies to an Australian setting to ensure the benefits of technology are not missed because it does not yet meet the needs of our unique geography and climatic conditions.
  4. Prepare the workforce for the transition to future transport models including the development of STEM skills and support in obtaining the qualifications, skills and training to adapt to changing roles and tasks.
Mr Clarke described the recommendations and related research priorities as sensible and practical, driven by an optimistic view of the future of transport technologies in Australia.

“By making smart and strategic decisions now, underpinned by solid research programs focused on Australia’s circumstances, the Academy believes that we can dramatically improve the sustainability, productivity and health impact of the transport sector,” he said.  

Speaking on the importance of research to drive adaptive policy, Mr Clarke said “policy is a dynamic process. It is not a set and forget exercise.”

“Governments make policy based on the best available analysis and evidence today. Disruption occurs, sometimes the policy will still be relevant and the forecasts were right, sometimes it will be wrong.

“It is research that underpins the whole concept of dynamic – continuously updating and improving the policy settings – and it is research that is essentially the driver of policy.”

Mr Clarke said transport was chosen first for analysis as “it effects all sectors of the Australian economy and enables or impedes productivity and lifestyle improvements throughout.”

“It’s subject to significant disruption due to emerging technologies and of course it is a sector that is heavily influenced by regulatory intervention.

“Successful management of disruption in the transport sector will deliver many economic, social and environmental benefits to Australia.

“On the other hand, failure to be prepared will risk a decline in many aspects of our Australian way of life and society.

“In this early phase of the disruption and transmission, it’s critical that Australia identifies what we want for our society, what action government and industry needs to take and how this will translate to an efficient and effective transport sector of the future.”

Mr Clarke said that the health sector will be the next area of analysis for the Academy.

Also at the event was iMOVE Australia Managing Director, Ian Christensen; IAG Director, Research and Development, Cecilia Warren and KPMG Partner, Technology Lead, NSW Government, Jacinta Hargan.

Related content:

Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering Executive Director, Policy, Dr Matt Wenham asks if Australia is ready to capitalise on transport technology and digs into the Shifting Gears: Preparing for a Transport Revolution report on CEDA’s blog. Have a read.