On 18 August, I attended the Australian Transport Summit in Sydney. This event was themed Are we ready? The future of mobility in Australia and the Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF) and the International Association of Public Transport Australia/New Zealand (UITP ANZ) did a great job of putting together an interesting and thought-provoking program relevant to all players in the business of transit. Here’s a quick recap of what happened:
It’s no secret that we in public transport collect data of all kinds and sorts – the challenge is ensuring that this data is leveraged in order to provide value. Whether that is used to plan and deliver better services to commuters or providing passengers with the information they need to get out of their cars and into public transport, there is a definite need to do better in this area.
Neil Scales OBE, Director General of Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads, said the advent of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) meant that consumers were deciding how they would get to their destinations before leaving home and it’s up to public transport providers to make that data more available to give them answers on the best way to travel.
Marg Prendergast, the Coordinator General in Transport for New South Wales’ Sydney Coordination Office, and Collette Munro, Chief Digital Officer at AECOM, spoke about using data more effectively. For instance, Google data is being used to review congestion in Sydney and to help the productivity commission.
Emma Thomas, Transport Canberra and City Services’ Director General, encouraged listeners to demonstrate the value of data by showing the economic activity driven by infrastructure investment and thereby justify further investment in infrastructure.
Graeme Legh from Transit Systems brought up data analytics, saying it can drive efficiency improvements too such as helping to decide where to put the next route and how many buses should go on it.
Several speakers and panellists urged the transit players to let the customer guide them. With mobility and technology driving change in a disruptive but exciting manner – regardless of government – commuter expectations are changing fast. A rigid framework no longer meets their expectations, with mobile apps and ride-sharing offering more flexible options, and that means we need to be more flexible to stay relevant and useful.
Tim Reardon, Secretary of Transport for NSW, championed the customer-led approach in his talk, Transforming the NSW Transport Network to Meet Mobility Challenges of the Future. He said we need a future transport strategy that leverages technology and is driven by the customer, in particular the younger generation of 18 – 35 year olds.
Rene Lalande, CEO of Transdev Australia, spoke about the importance of personalisation and connectivity. For instance, on-demand transport is capable of providing a better service to customers while also saving you money. He also suggested autonomous vehicles could be the key to meeting first and last mile needs.
An interesting statistic is that car purchases were higher than population growth, highlighting that public transport is unfortunately still not providing the right solution. There was a clear push for integrated transport networks to increase the appeal and ease of use of public transport, thereby increasing patronage. Campbell Mason, CEO of Keolis Downer Hunter, listed the benefits of an integrated multimodal transit network:
Public transport stakeholders are definitely in the mood for innovation and testing new things, with a couple of speakers saying that the government’s role is to enable and not just to regulate.
Connected autonomous vehicles are considered the most exciting development in public transport, though some are bringing up the need for appropriate coordination and regulation.
There is also an appetite for an app like Moovit that integrates public transport as well as on-demand networks. As AECOM’s Collette Munro pointed out, it makes sense to have one app rather than lots of different apps, so building change capability into planning and using a minimal viable product and fail forward approach will help reduce wasted investment.
With many huge, exciting changes transforming the landscape of public transport, it is definitely no time to be resting on your laurels. Aside from the much talked-about trends of MaaS, autonomous vehicles and demand responsive transport, this summit was a good reminder of the basics: use your data wisely to provide a better service and run your own business better, and put the customer first by listening to their needs and meeting their expectations.