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Smart Mobility

4 | By  Public Sector Network | November 5, 2021

Innovating Efficient and Sustainable Transport Systems

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Joost de Kock
Deputy Secretary,
Customer Strategy & Technology
Transport for NSW

Government keynote highlights from Joost de Kock, the Deputy Secretary of Customer Strategy & Technology from Transport for NSW – in which he discusses about undertaking technological transformation to accelerate benefits across passenger transport and freight networks.

An Innovative Transport

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The lockdowns and restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have shown in dramatic ways how much most people value their mobility. When people couldn’t travel to visit their friends and family interstate or overseas, let alone a few suburbs or towns away, tensions were high, and the frustration was palpable. Mobility is therefore critical to the way we live and operate in the modern world. Knowing this, Joost de Kock, the Deputy Secretary for Customer Strategy & Technology at Transport for NSW, says that they launched their “Future Transport Technology Roadmap in 2016,” and a refreshed roadmap in 2021. This was critical because Transport for NSW is the “lead agency for transport across the state, responsible for the roads, public transport, and efficient transport.” Through the pandemic they have actually been able to “leverage our technology to help keep our customers and staff safe,” with things like “COVID-safe capacity indicators and proactive notifications.”

However, it was the launch of the roadmap in 2016 that really set them on their path towards “massive technology innovation.” The goal of the roadmap has been to “enable convenient, personalised and sustainable solutions for our customers and communities,” and to become “globally recognised for the innovative use of our transport technologies.”

“The goal of our technological innovations and our roadmap is to deliver end-to-end customer journeys for both our passenger customers as well as our freight customers, regardless of where they live in NSW, regardless of the road and also regardless of who is delivering the service.”

~ Joost de Kock, Deputy Secretary, Customer Strategy & Technology, Transport for NSW

Six Areas of Priority

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To assist Transport for NSW with getting to their goal, the “roadmap is centered on six priority programs that will transform our customer journeys.” Though they are presented individually, “none of them really stands in isolation. They are actually all work together towards our overall goal:”

Mobility-as-a-Service – The intent is to “integrate various forms of public and private transport services into an end-to-end mobility service that is multi-modal and gives customers more choice about how they plan, book and pay for their journey.” One of the cornerstones of the platform is Opal Connect, “which can link travel for all modes across NSW through a single account to manage the payments.” This includes the linking of “our Opal digital card for 10,000 customers.” The intent is also to allow customers to use their Opal card to pay for rideshare services, but “COVID delayed our launches.” Either way, the goal is to “establish more partnerships with other rideshare companies to really improve our mobility-as-a-service offering to our customers.”

Autonomous vehicles – “Our goal is for NSW to be a world-leading adopter of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).” This will “improve the safety and efficiency of our road network and ultimately save lives.” To get to the point of being world-leading, Transport for NSW has already completed a number of trials, including “a smart shuttle at Sydney Olympic Park to test the integration with traffic lights and bus stops.” Later this year, “customers in Coffs Harbour Botanical Gardens will be the first in the world to experience an automated public shuttle bus passenger service without a driver and without a supervisor on board.” The intention is to roll this out more broadly by 2024 and thus “we are repurposing an old airfield new Orange to be our future mobility testing centre.” In the meantime, Transport for NSW is working with the federal government and other departments across the state and around the country to ensure that “we have the right policies and legislations in place beyond the trials.”

Environmental sustainability – Being able to “reach our net emissions targets will have significant environmental and health benefits.” To that end, “we are working on transitioning our entire fleet of 8,000 buses to be zero emission buses. We are also exploring the use of hydrogen technology to support our zero emission targets.” On that note, the Zero Emission Transition Strategy is currently open to industry and community feedback and “we will use that feedback to help inform our strategy going forward and all of our business cases.” Moreover, the government has provided incentives including rebates for the uptake of electric vehicles. This has been a “real game changer.”

Regional mobility – As much as some of the innovations are focused on metro areas, “we also want to transform the way customers in the regions get from point A to point B.” The focus is therefore on “16 regional cities where there is currently “a connected bus program which provides real-time information to customers about their bus services, and provides operators with information to better manage the networks.” Sensors are also currently being deployed across the regions to enable better reporting of road incidents, and it was no coincidence that some of the trials and testing centres are in the regions.

Freight efficiency – “Freight is just as important as moving people, so we want to focus the use of data and technology to drive the freight productivity agenda.” This means collecting and sharing data to “get a more holistic view of the supply chain for industry across the state.” This will enable “more transparency and also an exchange of security information from business to business to further drive efficiency.”

Sensors and intelligence systems – Sensors are generally “not visible to customers, but they are critically important as they gather data and analyse it to create smarter transport networks, and to improve our incident response times.” Sensors are already being used in congestion management, “but we want to move beyond responding to incidents; we want to be able to predict events.” For instance, in the future, if there is a major weather event then AI and machine learning “will be able to dynamically optimise our networks and make them to be as predictive as possible.”

These are the six priority areas, though the roadmap actually “comprises a portfolio of about 60 projects” within those areas. “Some are well underway and some are just proofs of concept now, but we are working on them.” The critical part for all of them is that “we work with partners, from large scale global companies to universities and all the way through to small scale start-ups in order to meet our ambitions.” In recent times this has included a partnership that developed the SCATS system, which is “our adaptive traffic management system that controls the traffic lights and optimises traffic flow.” It is used in about 5,000 junctions across the state and was developed locally “but has now been sold across the globe and is actually being used in 180 cities around the world.” To continue to keep it world-leading and relevant, “we are further developing it with our partners.” In many ways, SCATS “is a key foundation stone in the smart cities technology sector.” It has spawned projects like “contactless payments and an account based ticketing solution” which is currently being piloted.

All of these projects and solutions are ultimately about “delivering better end-to-end journeys for our customers and for the community.”