Re-calculating Sydney's commute

With Sydney already the most congested city in Australia we are in dire need of examining how we can better embrace technology and innovation to free up our roads and reshape urban mobility.

Sydney Highways

"Sydney is already the most congested city in Australia and a new study says drivers waste almost four days a year stuck in traffic."

I tend to think when I’m struggling to drive to work in stalled traffic or waiting for a late, overcrowded bus, that if only everyone else stayed home we’d all be a lot better off. But that’s what everyone else is thinking too, right?

Sydney is already the most congested city in Australia and a new study says drivers waste almost four days a year stuck in traffic, weighing in at a huge economic cost. And it’s not much better on trains either, with government research recently suggesting that the rail network is fast becoming overloaded.

Commuter congestion may seem bad now, but it’s only going to get worse as we add over a 100,000 people each year over the next decade. I’ve talked previously about the potential benefits of driverless cars on traffic, but I think technology is about to do a lot more.

In fact, a lot of high tech pieces are already in place. Smartphones with rapid wireless internet connections and Bluetooth or beacon technologies which are now in the hands of nearly everyone and readily streaming location data constantly.

But emerging technologies like the internet of things (IoT), minute powerful sensors and Big Data are likely to have an even bigger impact on reshaping urban mobility. The ability to constantly stream data from phones is one thing of course, but once road surfaces, streetlights, cars, buses, trains and even buildings start doing it simultaneously it’ll create a huge, interrelated network of information that can be analysed and acted on in real time.

IoT and Big Data are already being trialled to better understand traffic and commuter patterns in a number of countries-and more importantly helping to solve the intractable issue of more and more people travelling in big cities every day.

Major US telco, AT&T, is one company doing just that. It’s partnered with the University of California and the California Department of Transportation to use all this aggregated data to better manage traffic patterns by using smartphone IQ to track commuter patterns and identify trouble spots.

But we could do a lot more if we engage more directly with consumers through crowdsourced phones and apps. By providing macro and micro transport information to commuters in real time we can help them far more informed travel choices. We could advise them when the best times to travel are, what the best options are likely to be and how to do it in the fastest time in real time, certainly one incentive.

Better still, we could directly influence commuter behaviour by using dynamic variable travel pricing across all modes of public transport to balance the travel load across rail, bus and ferry as appropriate. Stay with me here… if we were to charge private road users using roads where mass transit alternatives exist, on a scale, according to real time congestion we could then use the charge to subsidise mass transit technology and innovation; a charge with an immediate nexus to benefit, it could even be politically acceptable.

By combining all the tools are available to us now, I believe we could ease congestion before the rise of the autonomous vehicles. It then becomes less about me or you, and instead about everyone.

Stephen Taylor

Australian Cities Director +61 2 8907 9084 Ask me a question
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