On the cusp of a transport revolution

This article first appeared in Contractor Perspectives 2017.

A transport revolution is coming and it will change the way industry partners will need to think and work together. Fergus Gammie, Chief Executive, New Zealand Transport Agency.

I HAVE BEEN in my role as head of the Transport Agency since March 2016, but I’ve been working in the transport industry an awful lot longer. So I’ve seen a lot of shifts and changes in my time – but nothing comes close to the scale of change that we’re seeing now.

I believe New Zealand is on the cusp of the biggest transport revolution in decades. The vehicles we use to get places are changing, and our expectations of what we get from transport and how we use it are also changing.

The change is underpinned by innovation, particularly in technology, and innovation requires us to think differently. As technology continues to evolve, so will all aspects of our lives. Smartphones, online television and live streaming have already changed our lives. We now buy services rather than products – and the same thing is happening in the transport space.

In the not too distant future, we can expect to be able to pay a monthly fee to have access to a range of services, and that is already happening in places overseas, such as Helsinki where you can pay a monthly fee for transport.

Transport will become a subscription service, ridesharing will increase and private car ownership is expected to fall. Autonomous vehicles are already being successfully trialled and their introduction will dramatically change the landscape.

Along with technology will come changes in regulation, and we need to think about how we integrate all the levers that will improve productivity and safety, and make it easier and more efficient for everyone.

New direction for the Transport Agency

While we all need to be prepared for the revolution that is coming, from the Transport Agency’s perspective, we know there are three key pivot points we need to make to be ready for the future:

  1. We need to shift our focus from process to people by making everything we deliver people-centred to meet customer needs.
We need to shift from transport networks to one transport system – this is about having a holistic approach to an integrated transport system that will provide the foundation for this next generation of transport services.
We need to shift from transport outcomes to community outcomes – to provide a system that keeps our communities connected, safe and meets their needs.

An integrated transport system

In terms of creating a fully integrated transport system – this is going to require us to think differently. Not only do we need to look at the network as a whole, but we have to look at every aspect it takes to make it work.

In the past, we’ve been very good at understanding, building and delivering physical infrastructure networks. Now we’ve got to focus on creating a transport system where technology and infrastructure are completely connected and everything’s easy.

If we are really thinking about an integrated system – we are thinking about connections and integration between physical and digital networks, vehicles, information and people – and the interactions between them.

We need to be thinking about a system where our infrastructure can send us information about what people are doing, how they are using the system, and respond to their needs – fast.

And so that means not just thinking about how our physical infrastructure is integrated with our digital systems – creating one integrated, connected system.

We’ve got some great innovative engineering solutions – but we also need to be better at taking up the opportunities that the advances in technology offers the industry. Technology has always been a disrupter for industry. Transport has experienced this many times before and it is going to change dramatically over the next 10 to 20 years.

Technology is going to give us the ability to have a much better understanding of what is happening on our network – and let us get to know our customer much better. We are going to have the ability to have a view of how our system is working though real time GPS data.

Technology will also enable us to connect with our customers – and provide them with connected journeys. The more we understand about how our customers are using the system, the better we can predict their needs and provide integrated solutions that meet them.

So there are opportunities to make some dramatic improvements to our transport system using advances in technology. But we can’t just sit by and passively watch it happen. We need to think differently, work together and be proactive in our approach.

As management expert Peter Drucker said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

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