Dr. Allison Stewart, Project Director at Infrastructure Victoria, describes how technology is disrupting transport and what it takes to plan for the future.


In October 2017, the Victorian Government asked Infrastructure Victoria to provide advice on what infrastructure is required to pave the way for highly automated and zero emissions vehicles. The introduction of these vehicles could be the biggest thing to happen to transport since the car itself, and Infrastructure Victoria conducted extensive research to quantify both the benefits and impacts of new mobility types.

In early August, Infrastructure Victoria published this research, or its ‘evidence base’. In one of the most extensive research programs undertaken globally, Infrastructure Victoria considered the infrastructure implications of these technologies across ten areas, including transport modeling, ICT infrastructure and energy.

As part of this work program, L.E.K. Consulting was commissioned to undertake research into the technical standards and regulations governing automated and zero emissions vehicles across leading international markets. The research contributed to a better understanding of the risks and opportunities these technologies present for Victoria, and what might need to happen from an infrastructure perspective to enable these technologies to be introduced in the future.

In late August 2018, Global New Mobility Partner Simon Barrett met up with Dr. Allison Stewart, Project Director at Infrastructure Victoria, to discuss some of the key learnings from the evidence base and her hopes for the future impact of the research.

L.E.K. Consulting: The evidence base is one of the most comprehensive work programs we have seen globally that tries to understand what infrastructure may be required to support automated and zero emissions vehicles. How did you go about designing the work program?

Dr. Stewart: First, we identified seven scenarios – four that focused on various combinations of technologies and three that focused on timing elements – and used them over ten different areas of investigation to complete our evidence base. We wanted to be able to look across a whole range of potential futures and really understand what the implications of each of those futures could be across a range of infrastructure requirements – for example, energy, transport, land use, environment and population health outcomes. We wanted to create a complete picture of how all those elements fit together. So we have used each scenario as an analytical tool to understand how we might progress to these futures with different types of vehicle technologies.

We are also very committed to having a transparent evidence base and consultative approach. We take that very seriously and have made sure that in the course of the work we have done, we have consulted extensively with stakeholders, both locally and internationally, to understand what the implications of these technologies could be.

L.E.K. Consulting: Do you think any of the scenarios emerges as more or less likely based on your work?

Dr. Stewart: We don’t think that any of the scenarios we have modeled are likely in isolation – we think that the most likely future is a combination of some or all of the scenarios. One of the scenarios we focused on was our “dead end” or base case, and that scenario is also a potential future.

L.E.K. Consulting: Currently, these technologies have achieved different maturities globally. What lessons have been learned from the evolution of different market models in other jurisdictions?

Dr. Stewart: In terms of the models we can learn from overseas, we’ve certainly seen some models like dockless bike-share, which have been less successful in some markets, but other models, like Uber, that have changed our transport markets significantly. Certainly the work that L.E.K. did for us around trying to understand those international markets was extremely helpful for us to understand what the future could look like.

We think that from an automated vehicles perspective, the U.S. is one of the leading markets and they’re likely going to be the first market where we see driverless taxis deployed. From a zero emissions perspective, we think that a lot of the markets in East Asia are worth examining: Japan specifically for hydrogen, while China is one of the leading markets for electric vehicles. And then of course Europe has a combination of efforts under way across these technologies.

L.E.K. Consulting: You mentioned some early mobility disruptors, such as Uber and dockless bike-share. Based on the impact these early entrants have had on the market, do you think we can better predict the impact of emerging technologies, like automated vehicles?

Dr. Stewart: I think one of the biggest challenges is that we can never really predict exactly how these new mobility models are going to roll out. The way that people treat technologies, specifically when those technologies are not monitored closely, is a really interesting finding from the evidence base. We need to think about how people are going to interact with automated vehicles in the future when there isn’t a physical “driver” or an ownership element to those vehicles. It is unknown how people will actually react to them.

L.E.K. Consulting: Are there potential benefits or challenges of accelerating the transition to electric vehicles?

Dr. Stewart: We think the transition to electric vehicles is one that needs to be managed carefully. Certainly the benefits are very compelling – from reductions in emissions to the overall health benefits, there is a very good case to be made for them. The challenge is in terms of thinking through the entire ecosystem of zero emissions vehicles. It’s not simply thinking through the tail pipe emissions, but also understanding the emissions from the source. So there is a very compelling case for why you might want to progress quickly, but at the same time, that has to be in step with the progression of our grid to more of a clean energy generation mix. At the moment, we know that we are very carbon intensive – so if we had an accelerated uptake of zero emissions vehicles, we might find a challenge in just relocating emissions rather than overall reductions.

L.E.K. Consulting: What infrastructure changes might be required to support automated vehicles?

Dr. Stewart: We think that for automated vehicles, the changes are quite minor, at least initially. The consistent feedback that we’ve heard from all of our work locally and internationally is “lines, signs and good road quality.” We know that those are currently the top priorities from manufacturers in deploying those vehicles on our roads, but that in the longer term there could be some more significant changes that you might want to make to optimize roadways for automated vehicles.

L.E.K. Consulting: What does the research suggest about the impacts of these technologies on both road congestion and the electricity grid?

Dr. Stewart: In our modeling, we found that up to 91% improvement could be achieved as a result of automated vehicles in terms of overall network delay – so we could see congestion “evaporate” in some areas. But if we had an entirely privately owned automated fleet, it could create challenges for some areas, particularly the CBD. So we know that having the right mix of vehicle technologies could be important from a congestion perspective.

For the energy network, we think that the implications of zero emissions vehicles could also be really significant. When we modeled 2046, we found that we could have up to 50% more energy demand from the grid as a result of the uptake of zero emissions vehicles, over and above the base requirements of 2046. That’s a really significant requirement in terms of establishing the infrastructure to meet that demand.

L.E.K. Consulting: The evidence base has had to consider a lot of “unknowns,” especially in the context of the early adoption of automated vehicles. What are the most important uncertainties to keep in mind when considering whether to adopt these technologies?

Dr. Stewart: Automated vehicles could be the biggest change to transport since the car itself. There are a lot of reasons why we might want to adopt those technologies, but we think it’s a little bit too early from the perspective of automated vehicles to really make that call. The challenge is that while we know what a lot of the potential benefits are, we haven’t yet seen the realization of those benefits in real life. We don’t know whether we can achieve some of the network efficiency benefits in actual deployments of these vehicles, as they just don’t exist in the numbers that you would need in order to test that yet. We also don’t know whether the safety benefits that are purported to come from automated vehicles are actually going to be achieved.

L.E.K. Consulting: Were there any key conclusions on potential social outcomes?

Dr. Stewart: We think that one of the most significant potential social impacts could be an increase in social inclusion. We know that currently there are a lot of people who are potentially socially excluded as a result of not having good access to public transport or private vehicles – so these technologies could be life-changing for those people. Another potential impact from automated and zero emissions vehicles is that people might choose to work or live farther away, which could really change the whole social fabric of Victoria in the future.

L.E.K. Consulting: Infrastructure Victoria’s advice will be submitted to the government in October. What are you hoping for the research to achieve?

Dr. Stewart: What we’ve found from our evidence base is that automated and zero emissions vehicle technologies could be a really significant game changer in terms of how we plan our transport and actually achieve mobility outcomes in Victoria. We’d like to see the government take the recommendations forward and look to really consider them in their plans over the coming years.

If you’d like to learn more about Infrastructure Victoria’s work program or L.E.K.’s international scan, please see the Infrastructure Victoria website.

About the authors
Dr. Allison Stewart is Project Director at Infrastructure Victoria. This interview was conducted by Simon Barrett, a partner in L.E.K.’s Global New Mobility Practice and Head of L.E.K. Australia’s Travel & Transport Practice.

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