Australia’s city roads are teeming with millions of cars during peak hour periods, as many of us still rely on driving to work.
This high volume of private car use – by around 7.2 million Australians each day – is taking a heavy toll on our environment. In NSW alone, road transport accounts for about 85 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by the transport sector.
Professor David Hensher is leading a technology-driven project that will use incentives to convince thousands of Australians to swap individual car commutes for environmentally friendly, shared transport modes – public transport, car-sharing services and riding a bike.
His solution will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, simplify the daily grind of getting from door-to-door and make it cheaper for Australians to catch public transport and use shared mobility services, such as Uber and GoGet.
Professor Hensher, the founder and current Director of the University’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, has translated the findings of years of research into a digital app interface. It will give users a one-stop shop for all of their daily transport modes – at a discounted rate – thanks to a ‘mobility wallet’ built into the app.
Each user pays for the integrated platform through a subscription plan that is co-created with Professor Hensher’s team. The plans are designed to maximise convenience and minimise complexity, so no more paying separately for train, bus, Uber and car-sharing fees.
Professor Hensher admits that his model – initially called Mobility as a Service (MaaS) – will be an easy sell in some cities – such as Sydney, where around one in five commuters use public transport – and harder in others.
“We’re repackaging transport options,” he says. “Some people might want to continue using the modes the way they do now. But we can offer discounts. We want to expose them as they go through the app to other opportunities that may be more sustainable.
“The big objectives are to get people to reduce car use and to move away from an asset ownership society to a sharing society.”
Reducing traffic congestion and CO2 emissions is a strategic imperative for governments across Australia. Sydney’s roads are choked to maximum capacity with crawling cars each day – the harbour city has worse traffic congestion than New York.
“The app uses GPS technology to keep a record of what you’re doing and feed it back to you, such as how many CO2 emissions you’ve been generating or saving through particular modes of transport,” Professor Hensher says.
“Down the track we can even measure health benefits, such as the likely calories burnt by using buses, trains, walking, or a car.”
To test his model with the wider population, Professor Hensher has partnered with iMOVE Australia, Insurance Australia Group and Skedgo on a substantive two-year trial in Sydney, the first of its kind in Australia. The findings will add to the institute’s highly accomplished catalogue of research, which focuses on developing concepts and tools to cope with vast change and disruption in the transport field, including autonomous cars and ships.
These achievements have helped the University to achieve a ranking of top five in the world for transportation science and technology.
Professor Hensher is acutely aware that his unique model aligns with government objectives, and that his partnership with the NSW Government is critical. As his team develops a suite of subscription plans and pricing, their viability will rely on long-term government investment in public transport subsidies.
Similarly, he can’t convert his model into an app that is accessible to all on his own, and his team has established partnerships with some of Australia’s biggest players in transport and insurance to broker the transport services and support the app. They include Opal, Insurance Australia Group, Skedgo (one of the world’s leaders in trip planning apps), and car hire/sharing providers Uber, GoGet, Hertz, Cabcharge and Car Next Door.
Professor Hensher is recognised as one of the world’s most influential transport economists. Earlier this year he became the first researcher at an Australian business school to reach 50 thousand international citations, as monitored by Google Scholar.
He hopes that implementation of his latest innovative solution will bring Australia closer to his long-term ambition of ‘smart cities’.
“We want to reduce congestion – we want to move to a 30-minute city where hopefully everything is within 30 minutes.”
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Ratio of commuters in Sydney using public transport
Percentage of greenhouse gases caused by transport