Personal mobility is breaking down old divides between public and private transport

Another bloody driverless car. Image: Getty.

Strong divisions between various transport modes – roads, rail, buses, ferries and so on – have dominated their planning and management for decades, both here in Australia and overseas. Budgets are often devised and allocated with these transport modes in mind. Whole organisational structures have been created to manage each mode’s infrastructure separately.

But how people move around – to and from work, home, or for recreation – involves personal journeys. These are driven by the need to travel, by mobility, and not governed by the mode of travel.

As a result, major Australian cities generally suffer from disjointed connections between modes of travel. They lack an overall emphasis on how the whole transport system functions to aid personal journeys.

Thankfully, transport planners have been thinking a lot more about mobility, as emerging and established technologies offer huge potential for change. The wealth of new data sources – mobile phone tracking, on-board GPS and ticketing, to name a few – provides a better understanding of travel behaviour.

Increasingly, cities are realising that individual travellers care less about the operational details of one mode or another, and more about a safe and reliable journey to their destination. Rapidly changing infrastructure technology and the availability of large passenger datasets are changing the way transport professionals plan and manage networks.

All change

In New South Wales, Transport for NSW was created to better integrate the various transport agencies and modes. While that has been a big step in the right direction, technology is changing the landscape much faster than anyone expected.

Technological advance, new transport infrastructure, a quest for greater productivity and continual population growth in major cities have created a dynamic environment for traffic engineers and transport planners. They must cater for the evolving demands of transport users while exploring and understanding emerging technologies.

Passenger expectations of what a transport network should provide have also changed and grown. Improvements in vehicle technology, road, rail and port infrastructure mean we can travel further and more efficiently than ever before. Commuters now expect this efficiency while taking safety and reliability as given.

Access through smartphones and navigation technology to mobility information about traffic conditions and scheduling has bridged the knowledge gap between transport authorities and users.

The advent of car-sharing services in Australia could transform parking and road space calculations. Image: GoGet/AAP.

On top of all this, disruptive travel options – for instance, car-sharing services such as GoGet and Hertz 24/7 – have emerged. Almost 31,000 Sydney residents have joined the two services. These use 700 dedicated parking spaces throughout the city (although heavily concentrated within 12 kilometres of the centre).

In Sydney, it’s estimated a single car-share vehicle can replace up to 12 private vehicles that would otherwise compete for parking. Then there are car-riding options such as Uber, which are creating entirely new modes of mobility.

Individually, each of us can now pick and choose between competing travel options. We can also shift our choices dynamically for each section of a trip. This simple change is radically altering the behavioural characteristics of making each trip.

That has huge implications for infrastructure planning. It also fundamentally alters the capability of transport agencies managing the system in real-time.

The shift in landscape may even disrupt one of the strongest historical divides: the competition between roads and public transport. With strong feelings on both sides, divisions have tended to impede more integrated approaches – which should be the aim of a transport system driven by the need for mobility.

Technology blurs the lines

Much of the public transport versus roads argument has been unnecessary because when more travellers choose public transport over private vehicles, the remaining drivers benefit as well. Despite this logic, the divisions remain and battles still rage.

However, the evolution of technology to accommodate (and help track) passenger behaviour, coupled with disruptive new travel options, is intensifying and will have to be taken into account. Companies are aggressively pursuing solutions for real-time on-demand ride-pooling, such as UberPOOL. This allows you to share your ride and split the cost with another Uber rider headed in the same direction.

It is not unthinkable that just as the taxi industry is being disrupted by new technology, public transport could be as well. In a world where the lines between private and public transport are blurred, traditional modal divisions move from being outdated to thoroughly unworkable.

If we rethink transport as a consumer-centred experience, targeting mobility rather than mode of travel, then a truly integrated approach to transport planning would deliver the benefits of using public transport and other high-occupancy vehicle options. Revenues from public transport would increase, while road congestion would reduce with fewer motorists. This would lead to greater productivity and economic growth.

Self-driving cars available to anyone with a smartphone have been launched in Singapore. Image: EPA/Nutonomy.

The technological changes under way will only accelerate this potential. Transport agencies need to plan for it, to ensure they take advantage of these changes and maximise the benefits.

Autonomous cars – an emerging technology that is nevertheless rapidly moving toward deployment – will accelerate this trend. If a self-driving car service offers transport solutions to anyone via smartphone, then the differences between a taxi, Uber, UberPOOL and public transport begin to blur.

A world of mobility choice

The transport sector is poised to realise a true – and revolutionary – convergence between data science, communication and autonomous technology. As large-scale data collection and sharing become the norm, our mobility options could explode.

Travellers will be able to make real-time multimodal journey decisions. They will base these decisions on the attributes that matter most to them: safety, reliability, door-to-door travel time and cost.

This will help transport planners too. The data generated will allow optimised operation of the road network such as variable speed limits, dynamic lane reversal, variable message signs and ramp metering.

Clearly, the emerging data science of transport technology innovation will have a deep impact on both the user experience and the behind-the-scenes management of the network.


Ideally, to deliver this “universal personalised mobility”, cities need to integrate pricing and information delivery. Every traveller makes their transport decisions for their own circumstances given the information available to them. This might include online journey information or roadside information about travel times, speed limits or tolls.

The complete cycle of information from the network to the operating agencies and back to the traveller is a keystone of the future transport system for Australian cities, and for cities around the world. The challenge for today is to close the information gap by building on emerging technologies and shifting our focus to providing personalised mobility travel.

That’s going to take some effort and a lot of co-ordination, but the benefits of mobility versus mode of travel will become obvious very quickly. We just need to commit to it.The Conversation

S. Travis Waller is professor and director of the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Worried Guildford will be destroyed by Chinese trains? Then you might not be very nice

A South West Train at Waterloo. Image: Getty.

Despite the collapse of everything else that more-or-less worked in 2008 Britain, before the Hunger Games years began, some things remain constant. One of the things that’s near-mathematical in its constancy is that, when a new train contract is let, people on both sides of the political spectrum will say extremely stupid things for perceived partisan advantage.

This week saw the award of the contract to run trains to the south west of London, and unsurprisingly, the saying stupid things lobby was out in force. Oddly – perhaps a Corbyn-Brexit trend – the saying of egregiously stupid racist lies, rather than moderately stupid things, was most pronounced on the left.

As we’ve done to death here: rail in Great Britain is publicly run. The rail infrastructure is 100 per cent publicly owned, and train operators operate on government contracts, apart from a few weird anomalies. Some physical trains are owned by private investors, but to claim rail isn’t publicly run would be like claiming the NHS was the same as American healthcare because some hospital buildings are maintained by construction firms.

Every seven years or so, companies bid for the right to pay the UK government to operate trains in a particular area. This is the standard procedure: for railways that are lossmaking but community-important, or where they are within a major city and have no important external connections, or where there’s a major infrastructure project going on that’ll ruin everything, special measures take place.

The South Western England franchise is not one of these. It’s a profitable set of train routes which doesn’t quite live up to its name. Although it inherited a few Devon and Dorset routes from the old days, its day job involves transporting hundreds of thousands of Reginald Perrins and Mark Corrigans from London’s outer suburbs and Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire’s satellite towns to the grinding misery of desk jobs that pay a great deal of money.

(If your office is in the actual City of London, a fair trek from the railway’s Waterloo terminus, then you get the extra fun of an extra daily trip on the silliest and smelliest Tube line, and you get even more money still.)

Anyway. The South Western concession went up for auction, and Scottish bus and train operator First Group won out over Scottish bus and train operator Stagecoach, the latter of which had run the franchise for the preceding 20 years. (Yes, I know 20 isn’t a multiple of 7. Don’t ask me to explain, because I can and you wouldn’t enjoy it.)

First will manage the introduction of a bunch of new trains, which will be paid for by other people, and will pay the government £2.2bn in premiums for being allowed to run the service.

One might expect the reaction to this to be quite muted, because it’s quite a boring story. “The government does quite a good deal under which there’ll be more trains, it’ll be paid lots of money, and this will ultimately be paid back by well-paid people paying more train fares.” But these are not normal times.


First Group has decided for the purposes of this franchise to team up with MTR, which operates Hong Kong’s extremely good metro railway. MTR has a 30 per cent share in the combined business, and will presumably help advise First Group about how to run good metro railways, in exchange for taking a cut of the profits (which, for UK train franchises, tend to be about 3 per cent of total revenue).

The RMT, famous for being the least sensible or survival-oriented union in the UK since the National Union of Mineworkers, has taken exception to a Hong Kong company being involved in the railways, since in their Brexity, curly sandwich-eating eyes, only decent honest British Rail has ever delivered good railways anywhere in the world.

“A foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state, is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers’ expense,” the RMT’s General Secretary Mick Cash said in a press release.

This is not true. Partly that's because a 30 per cent share of those 3 per cent profits is less than 1 per cent of total revenues, so hardly making a killing. Mostly, though, it’s because it’s misleading to call MTR “state-owned”. While it’s majority owned by the Hong Kong government (not the same body as the central Chinese state), it’s also partly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. More to the point, this a really odd way of describing a transport authority controlled by a devolved body. I wouldn’t call the Glasgow subway “UK-state owned” either.

So this fuss is intensely, ridiculously stupid.

There’s an argument – it’s a bad argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be properly privatised without government subsidy.

There’s an argument – it’s a slightly less stupid argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be returned to the public sector so we can enjoy the glory days of British Rail again.

The glory days of British Rail, illustrated in passenger numbers. Image: AbsolutelyPureMilk/Wikipedia.

But to claim that the problem is neither of these things, but rather that the companies who are operating trains on the publicly run network are partially foreign owned, makes you sound like a blithering xenophobe.

In fact, if you think it’s reasonable for a Scottish company to run trains but not for a Hong Kong company to run them, then that's me being pretty bloody polite all things considered.

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