And a trial in Victoria has shown the road-using public is up for a major element in the revolution: a change to user-pays road charging, Transurban chief executive Scott Charlton told the ITS World Congress in Melbourne this week.
Delivering the keynote address to the opening assembly, Mr Charlton said a Transurban trial involving 1635 Melbourne drivers showed that 60 per cent of participants preferred a user-pays system over the present system based on fuel excise.
He said the rapid development of telematics, communications systems and the digitisation of services promised to radically change the way the road network was used and funded.
“I believe the 2020s will be the decade of the transport revolution. This means that industry and government will have to prepare for what is the biggest transformation of the transport sector since Henry Ford’s Model T rolled off his assembly line,” Mr Charlton said.
“We are at the tipping point for redefining mobility for future generations, but if we are not ready by 2020 we will miss this window for scaling up and guiding an orderly adoption of these emerging technologies because the transport policy decisions made today will determine the evolution of mobility over the next 10 to 30 years.”
Mr Charlton said the new technologies would enable regulators to tackle the issue of congestion, which is exerting a steadily growing negative influence on the transport system.
“We know that 98 per cent of Australians are concerned about the trend to congestion. Here in Melbourne congestion is a daily conversation. And it is a conversation that is echoed right across the world,” he said.
The Transurban chief said situation was only going to get worse as more and more people drift towards living in cities around the world, citing United Nations figures that estimate that, by 2050, two thirds of the world’s population of 10 billion would be living in urban areas.
“At the same time we have stretched government budgets and rapidly declining fuel excise limiting the funding available for infrastructure. Transport infrastructure is seriously underfunded to meet this growing demand,” he said.
Mr Charlton said a switch to road usage charging would provide a sustainable source of road infrastructure for governments to replace the petrol-based revenue system that is becoming less effective as cars become more efficient or do not use petrol at all.
In addition, by changing the cost of using certain roads at certain times of day, a road usage charging system could be used to manage demand and reduce congestion by sending price signals.
“Most importantly, a new system like this would be fair and more equitable,” he said.
Transurban released the final results of its road charging study to coincide with the opening day of the ITS World Congress. The study compared a distance-based system with a congestion charge system.
“Our study did show that Australians were open to trying a new and transparent way of paying for their road use,” Mr Charlton said.
“Sixty per cent of Australians told us they prefer user pays over the current funding system, but we also understand there are significant social, political and technical challenges to achieving road usage reform, but none that we as an industry cannot overcome.”
Mr Charlton warned that it would be no simple matter and that, for a country with a small population like Australia’s, a switch away from the national fuel excise system would mean any new system would also have to be national as well.
“We would need to harmonise different licence, registration and permit regulations,” he said.
“We would need a national standard for telematics, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, including traffic services as well as the national enforcement framework.
“Any new system would need to cover up to 1.8 million road segments, provide account services for 18 million customers and transaction services for up to 65 million trips a day.
“We need to consider the connectivity issues associated around linking these 18 million vehicles to the network and this would require partnerships between more than 50 car brands, three major telco carriers, 10 telematics providers and thousands of freight operators.
“We would need to provide high-speed, low-latency networks for real-time price signalling and traffic information.
“And ultimately a user-pays network would require a 5G network which would provide latency of less than five milliseconds. We would also need long range wireless networks to support national fleets to provide Australia-wide activity.
“That’s a very big list and it sounds very scary.”
However, he said the transport industry could draw from the experiences of other industries that have grappled with the digitisation of their operations.
“We can look to the finance industry and people who trade for insights into real-time positioning and utilities and telcos provide lessons in optimising data networks and moving services efficiency and effectively,” he said.
“And we can look to the insurance sector for risk modelling and how to customise prices for individuals.”
Governments will have to grapple with issues like access to data, market reform, compliance, enforcement and privacy while industry players will be challenged on issues like connectivity, better telematics and GPS accuracy.
“No single business or technology will be a winner in this transport revolution. The way to the future will have many opportunities but also our communities will benefit the most from this coming revolution,” Mr Charlton said.
“So we need to bring together our substantial skills and frame the reality of possibilities. As Henry Ford put it, success requires solidarity.
“So I would like to challenge the governments and the industry over the next five years to address a lot of the issues that I have raised today, and while we can’t begin to imagine all the opportunities that the transport revolution will bring, the future is on our doorstep and the effort we bring and how we work together will determine how our future looks and the course it will take.”
By Ian Porter