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Prime Mover Magazine

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Phil Taylor

Planes, trains and automobiles, the NTC’s Transport Vision for 2040

January 2017

The paper’s release was followed by a series of government/industry/public workshops around the country to discuss and review current transport regulations as well as possible future technologies and trends that will change and shape future transport in this country and consider how much regulation might be required to maintain a safe, efficient and equitable transport landscape in the year 2040 and beyond. Obviously it is difficult to do such a “crystal ball” review with any certainty, particularly in an age where disruptive technologies rule, I doubt that anyone accurately predicted the truly life-changing scenarios that have occurred in the few short years since the introduction of the smartphone.

So what technologies will “disrupt” road transport as we know it? Probably the two that have everyone talking and the ones that I have discussed in this column are the connected vehicle (C-ITS) and the autonomous (driverless) vehicle. These technologies will change the face of road transport for passengers and freight irreversibly over the next two decades. We are fast approaching that “smartphone” moment for road transport. Companies offering transport and freight services and products, vehicle manufacturers, government infrastructure and transport revenue models will all need to remain agile, open minded to change and adopt quickly, otherwise they will join the likes of Kodak, Nokia and possibly the taxi industry as examples of “those who missed the boat”.

We see that inter-state and intra-state freight has the potential to benefit from driverless trucks and/or truck platooning and while we may see a small movement from road to rail and increased use of additional sea ports for imported and exported freight, road transport will remain the backbone for longer distance freight movements in our vast country well beyond 2040. It is however in the urban environment that TIC sees the greatest likelihood for freight change.

Looking to the USA, a country with many social, cultural and geographic similarities to ours, including its physical size, there are a number of start-ups offering a similar, but completely new, method of freight distribution. These companies are setting up small metro distribution centres using small- to mid-size “factory” units. The freight needs of individual customers will be consolidated in these mini distribution centres and delivered to the customer in a single freight delivery, rather than multiple deliveries per day from multiple organisations. Deliveries could be by conventional on-road vehicles, aerial drones or Robot Delivery Vehicles (RDV’s) similar to the much publicised Domino’s Pizza RDV. Typically the delivery range would be up to 5km from the factory unit distribution centre. Such change could see a decrease in LD Truck and in particular LD Vans on our urban roads, in turn larger MD Truck movements would likely increase as this vehicle type is used to stock the new rash of mini distribution centres.

How and what regulations will government put in place to deal with these and other technologies and changes? We will await with eager anticipation the findings and recommendations of the NTC’s 2040 review. However, TIC remains concerned that current Australian vehicle safety and environment regulations continue to fall further behind those of Europe, Japan and the USA, as our regulators seemingly struggle with the lack of resources to keep pace with the review, justification and implementation of new technology.

In this climate of ever-increasing change, TIC suggests that government must look to industry, who are the ones developing these new technologies and, it has to be said, new regulatory challenges, for information and assistance. The companies who are developing these technologies know the benefits and the shortfalls and are best placed to advise government with recommendations that will strike a balance between continued technological innovation and safeguards for its use and operation. TIC has always enjoyed a favourable working relationship with Australian regulators and we call upon government to further utilise the depth of knowledge and resources that our members, the truck manufacturers, have to offer and TIC looks forward to an even closer working relationship with government in the future.

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