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Image courtesy of Transurban. Clem7 is a bypass road connecting Brisbane’s inner north suburbs to the southern  and eastern suburbs.

Transurban customer stewardship exemplar

Sharing leadership with community and customers

The Better Infrastructure Initiative identified eight industry exemplars who represent what good customer stewardship looks like and how it is being practiced in Australia. Transurban is one of those 2017 exemplars.

Transurban is an ASX-listed toll road services company. It owns and operates assets that include the M2, M7 in Sydney, CityLink in Melbourne and Clem7 and Gateway Motorway in Brisbane.

The company’s roads are essential to the movement of people and goods for Australia’s three largest cities and their regional centres. Transurban’s 2017 customer stewardship exemplar reflects how it is helping customers be better informed, with greater choice (Principle 2), which is embodied in the innovation of the LinktGO project (Principle 8).

Transurban is seeking to address impediments to customer access and usage, as well as enhancing financial inclusion for a broader cross section of the community. Transurban has demonstrated leadership (Principle 10) through its preparedness to invest in and shape the long-term debate on road user charging with its Melbourne Road Usage Study.

Investment in innovation is essential for adapting toll roads to changing customer and stakeholder needs. Most drivers on Victoria’s toll roads spend less than AUD10 a month. In the past, these ‘casual users’ had to either commit to a tag account that they may use infrequently or arrange to buy a one-off pass. The latter invited some risk for the casual user, particularly if they failed to remember to buy a pass either before or shortly after completing travel as this would result in penalty fees and even legal enforcement to pay.

Listening to customers

LinktGO is Transurban’s response to customer feedback, where casual users expressed both a need and a preference for greater choice and flexibility in accessing and paying for their toll road services.

LinktGo was released in NSW for trial in May 2017. It is a GPS-based smartphone App that enables real-time information exchange with customers, and removes the need for customers to commit to an account in advance of travel, install a tag or buy a time-limited pass.

Customers can register on their smartphone, and use the app to enter licence plate numbers and credit card details. Using the phone’s GPS to detect toll road travel, LinktGO notifies customers of their travel cost in real time and they pay the toll directly from the app. Trip-by-trip payments and payment reminders help customers avoid fees for non-payment.

LinktGO will provide Transurban with customer feedback on the interest in intensifying using smartphone apps to manage not only toll trips, but in due course adapt it to help meet broader mobility needs and preferences. While this product touches many dimensions of customer stewardship, the data it produces may provide a richness of future new product and service opportunities for customer-centred design (Principle 5).

Shaping future policy

Principle 10, leadership, is fundamentally about securing the long-term betterment of the broader network and/or policy ecosystem that Transurban operates in. It is imperative that the transport system, and its many connections, including rail, sea and air, work effectively. Reforming the funding model for roads is an important endeavour that must involve the customer and stakeholder groups who depend profoundly on a functional and viable road network.

Transurban’s Melbourne Road Usage Study is a case in point. According to Transurban it is the first real-world experiment that simulates a trial of user-pays road charging in Australia. While the concept of user-pays road charging has support among many industry and policy experts, for the community it represents a new and very different way of funding road infrastructure.

The 18-month study began in May 2015, recording the responses of 1635 private light vehicle motorists from the Greater Melbourne region to five different user-pays charging options. It was designed to meet three objectives.

  • To gauge motorists’ knowledge and understanding of our current road-funding system and assess their attitudes and preferences toward user-pays charging options.
  • To understand motorists’ behavioural responses to different charging and implementation options.
  • To prove that technology is not a barrier to implementing a practical user-pays system.

Two road-charging models with distinct purposes were tested consecutively:

  • usage-based model – this tested three usage-based charging options: charge per kilometre; charge per trip; and flat rate (capped kilometres)
  • congestion-based model – this tested two congestion-based charging options: cordon (area); and time of day.

According to Transurban, a series of attitudinal surveys conducted at key points throughout the study demonstrated a considerable shift in participant preferences – that is towards a user-pays model over the current system. For example, at the start of the study, 85 percent of participants were comfortable with the current funding system; however, after experiencing alternative ways of paying for road use, a marked turnaround occurred where 60 percent preferred a user-pays system.

An important insight gained is the effectiveness of information-sharing and practical experience in creating customer awareness and new perspectives about difficult public policy issues. In fact, when organisations do these types of studies, and they are done well as was the case with Transurban, they are helping to engender a sense of shared leadership with the customer that goes to the core of long-term customer stewardship.

The Melbourne Road Usage Study is an important contribution to the future shaping of the funding model for transport infrastructure. Australia has much to gain from carrying out more studies and pilot schemes such as this. Leadership initiatives involving the public more deeply can themselves serve as an agent for change. The study also has the potential to help build an important body of knowledge that brings evidence to the road funding debate about reform and possible pathways for it to occur.

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Image courtesy of Transurban.