Preparing for change in the industry
In an age where technology and consumer demands are rapidly changing the face of private and public transport, the bus industry needs to keep up, writes Wayne Patch
Recent years have seen some big swings in the way Australia does things, and I think it is important to recognise the role that we have played as an industry in reshaping the way our governments think about moving people in our cities and regions.
We have been working for over a decade now in both the research and policy area, as well as our lobbying activities with all levels of government. There is no doubt that our work is becoming increasingly recognised and respected by decision-makers across the country.
Their willingness to discuss our national agenda is exceptional and a clear endorsement of our strategic approach. We are seeing unprecedented investment into public transport infrastructure in most states and territories.
Just think about Sydney Metro, Badgery’s Creek rail link and public transport integration in Western Sydney, the Northern Beaches BRT, Brisbane Cross City Tunnel, Perth bus ports and modal integration projects with rail and ferry, Melbourne metro tunnel, ACT light rail and bus network expansion. And there are plenty more.
The 2016 federal election saw Prime Minister Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten compete for Western Sydney and the cities and public transport policy agenda and votes.
The nal fortnight of the election campaign saw a stream of announcements about cities and improved public transport and transport infrastructure. It’s only a few years ago that public transport was a dirty word when it came to the Federal Government.
At the same time, let’s not forget the challenges we face as ride sourcing and technology sees the landscape of personal mobility changing dramatically.
The encroachment of disrupters like Uber and other similar services will have an impact on existing public transport services. We are already seeing state governments talking about taxis and ridesourcing services having a future role in delivering ‘ rst and last mile’ trips to connect people to trunk public transport services and late-night services using the existing smart card public transport ticketing system.
Anyone who thinks that Uber and taxi industry changes are the end, rather than the start, of reform in the passenger transport market is in for a rude awakening.
Change in the 21st century is rapid. That forces us into a new paradigm where much of the established protocols and regulatory protections can no longer be relied upon to provide the answers.
While change has been fast, governments and industry have been generally slow to keep up with a rapacious customer-driven revolution. By the time governments and businesses have reacted to either put in place regulation or new business models to compete, customer demand has spoken and new markets are in place.
THE ROAD AHEAD
What are the challenges for our industry? Let me explain by looking at current high-level government and industry discussions taking place across Australia.
All transport and infrastructure ministers met in Melbourne in August and signed off on the National Policy Framework for a Land Transport Technology Action Plan 2016-2019.
The objective of the plan is to see emerging transport technologies improve transport safety, efciency, sustainability and accessibility.
A big focus is about future autonomous vehicles and how they will operate. The plan clearly realises that the way people will travel in the future will be turned upside down.
Recent discussions at the National Summit on the Scope of Automated Vehicles held in Brisbane in August and a discussion paper titled ‘ Preparing for our automated and
driverless future’ highlights again the consultation taking place about future public transport. Here are a few quotes: • “Driverless cars will need less space. The design of roads will change. Congestion should be signicantly reduced.” • “The most important feature of a driverless car may be that it should remove the need to own a car. This provides the opportunities for eets of driverless cars to be operated by a small number of major operators.” [Who is this operator? Could this be a bus operator with a diversied eet of vehicles?] • “When they are not on the road, these driverless cars can be stored in low-cost distribution centres.” [Could this be a transformed bus depot?] • “Fleets of driverless cars will test the value of existing public transport.” Driverless vehicles will also take their passengers point to point, delivering them directly to where they want to go. No other public transport does this. This is a potential game changer.
The National Transport Commission is currently developing a paper on the future regulation of driverless vehicles. New technology is coming and we need to be planning now on how we adapt our businesses and capitalise on it.
The types of bus businesses you have today will almost certainly be very different in a few years. Naturally, as with all change events, there are threats. But for those willing to think outside the square, there are many opportunities. Industry just has to be ready.