The automation and electrification of mass transit is a potentially revolutionary development in transport. Done well, it has the potential to make our cities and regions cleaner, greener, more accessible and more liveable. It also has the potential to make our cities and regions more productive and sustainable.
Achieving this outcome will demand vision and leadership from government. The Committee’s previous report, Building Up & Moving Out, set out a blueprint for the planning of our cities and regions at a national, regional and local scale. It identified opportunities for transforming connectivity and accessibility through integrated, multi-modal, transport networks. This current report is an extension of that previous work.
Mass transit is the key to creating better connectivity and mobility. Automation and electrification will make mass transit safer, more efficient, cleaner and quieter. But they will also demand changes in the regulatory environment and the physical and communications infrastructure of our transport networks. This will require careful planning and substantial investment, with policy responses framed around the different requirements of cities and regions, greenfield and brownfield sites.
Ideally, our transport networks will consist of integrated multi-modal networks— seamless transport systems operating across a variety of transport modes, connected by information exchanges (such as mobile apps) between users and network owners and managers, with seamless ticketing—creating Mobility as a Service (MaaS). These networks will serve cities and regions that are characterised by densification and decentralisation. Mass transit has an important role to play, providing high-volume trunk routes as the arteries of the transport network, with shared mobility and active transport providing the capillaries of the system. It is important to recognise that while automation can contribute to the connectivity of less densely populated areas, it should not be allowed to contribute to urban sprawl. The goal should be the creation of a new transport ecosystem. Consideration should be given to policies which promote the development of this ecosystem.
Rail in its various forms, including trackless trams, has an essential role to play in this vision. Road mass transit—buses—also has a vital role to play. Buses combine volume and flexibility. They can travel as platoons on dedicated busways, and concentrate or disperse as single vehicles operating on separate routes. Shared rides on automated shuttle buses or in driverless cars, combined with active transport, will cover the first and last mile.
The electrification of transport has the potential to lower costs, reduce the environmental impacts of land transport and enhance fuel security. Australia could eliminate greenhouse gas emissions related to land transport, reduce noise pollution, make vehicles simpler and safer to operate and maintain, and largely eliminate reliance on fuel imports. Hydrogen fuel cell technology in particular has the capacity to power mass transit options. It is well suited to buses, trucks, long-haul vehicles and even trains. Hydrogen also has development potential as an export industry—as long as fuel security is given priority. The key to electrification is ensuring that the relevant infrastructure, especially refuelling stations, is put in place.
The synergies between automation and electrification mean that their convergent development should be encouraged, that electrification and automation should be implemented and managed together.
The most important thing the Australian Government can provide to the future development of automated transport and new energy sources is vision, encompassing planning of the urban and regional environment, including automated mass transit and new energy sources; clear articulation of the optimum design of the urban environment, including mass transit and active transport; a vision for shared mobility incorporating MaaS; and the goal of fuel security.
Within this vision, the Australian Government should provide leadership and coordination of policy with a focus on consistency and interoperability between jurisdictions; facilitate the development of national standards based on relevant international standards; coordinate the development of relevant energy and communications infrastructure—including making provision for data management and sharing, and cybersecurity within automated transport networks; and facilitate the development of these new technologies through incentives, especially vehicle emission standards. Preparing road and rail networks for automation is essential to the smooth transition to the new technology. Governments need to commit to automation and alternative fuels by designing and building infrastructure around their requirements.
It is also important that governments engage in the art of transition in managing the introduction of automated and electric vehicles. Whether it is managing mixed fleets of vehicles of varying levels of automation, rolling out new forms of infrastructure, or reskilling the transport workforce, the transition to automation and electrification will place demands on individuals and organisations to adapt to a rapidly changing transport environment. Not least of the government’s responsibilities in this regard will be to ensure compatibility and interoperability of charging infrastructure, making sure that there is a standard charging mechanism for all vehicles.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this inquiry. This was a short inquiry, limited by time constraints imposed by the electoral cycle. Nonetheless, the Committee received high quality evidence from a range of people and organisations dedicated to the improvement of our urban environment and transport networks. They provided clear evidence on the benefits of transport automation, mass transit and electrification, and the need to clearly define a pathway to an automated and electrified future. I also thank my Committee colleagues and the secretariat for their work during the inquiry and their contribution to the report.
Mr John Alexander OAM, MP, Chair