On the road: research can improve transport across Australia

by Marion Terrill

Published at The Conversation, Thursday 9 July

The Transport priorities announced by the government recommend that departments and agencies should give priority to research that will lead to:

  1. Low emission fuels and technologies for domestic and global markets
  2. Improved logistics, modelling and regulation: urban design, autonomous vehicles, electrified transport, sensor technologies, real time data and spatial analysis
  3. Effective pricing, operation, and resource allocation

Transport’s value lies not so much in the service itself, but in its power to enable us to move around and enjoy the things we care about. Transport research in general should focus on efficiency, productivity, reliability and access. Decisions we make about transport are very long-lived, not only committing us to decades of infrastructure maintenance but also locking us in to today’s technologies and usage.

Scientific research in the transport field should focus on those areas where Australia has unique or unusual characteristics. Transport activity accounts for more than a third of Australia’s energy consumption and close to three quarters of our use of liquid fuels, due to long distances between population and economic centres. With demand for transport fuel rising, Australia has a stronger need than many nations to improve technology for domestic and export markets.

Second, scientific research can be most effective by focusing on the right stages of the technology lifecycle. Exciting as it may be to invent a brand new technology, in most cases economic and social benefit comes about through the adaptation of new technology to local circumstances and its diffusion into widespread use. As a small player, Australia will always struggle to play a big role in original creation, but we can be swift adapters and effective spreaders of productive technology.

As well as shaping future transport developments, scientific research can also increase the efficient use of what we already have. Never before has there been such capacity to regulate traffic flows on city roads, share cars among multiple users, intervene swiftly when equipment shows signs of wear or breakdown, or unload freight containers safely.

Cheaper, safer and more environmentally friendly transport technology needs smart regulation and allocation of funding to the most valuable transport infrastructure and services.

The Conversation