Urban transport is currently experiencing its most disruptive era since the introduction of the car itself. A confluence of inter-related factors impacting the way citizens utilize urban transport have emerged, acting as a powerful force that will change the way we navigate cities. This change is already upon us, with researchers noting a phenomenon of millennials forgoing both car ownership and interest in getting a driver’s licence. What was once considered a rite of passage will rapidly become outdated, as autonomous vehicles makes urban transport easier, safer and cheaper. Given this trend, it is unlikely my four-year old daughter will feel the need to get her driver’s licence in years to come.

Major advances in mobile Internet and GPS have created fertile ground for App based ride sourcing platforms (e.g. Uber) as well as new car share business models. Advances in mobile technology are also being used to allow the Smartphone to act as an access-all-modes travel tool to help plan multi-modal travel journeys. Combining many of these technologies with rapid advances in autonomous vehicle capabilities is perhaps the most substantial advance in transport since the invention of the automobile itself. These technologies are beginning to create new travel options, with major implications for Australian cities:

“By mid-century, the practice of someone primarily driving himself or herself around town in a gasoline car will be as unusual as travelling by horse and buggy is today.” Navigant Research (2016)

Local governments in Australia have begun to explore the impacts and opportunities that a future of electric, driverless vehicles present to the transport systems they manage. The potential impacts of emerging transport technologies on City governments include:

  • Greater use of ride sourcing services, with a substantial increase upon the introduction of autonomous vehicles (i.e. ‘robo-taxis’).

  • Rising demand for car sharing in the short to medium term, especially in areas experiencing rapid urban development.

  • Significantly lower demand for car parking in the medium to long term (5 – 20 years), due to changing preferences and travel options.

  • Greater demand for electric vehicle charging.

  • Potential increases in congestion in the absence of additional congestion management measures.

  • Reduction of road traffic crashes in the long term (15 – 20 years) upon the widespread reduction in use of conventional (human driven) cars.


Rather than passive observers of this change, governments can begin to position themselves to maximise the benefit these changes in technology bring. One of the most immediate steps local government in particular can take is to introduce car-parking reform, including real time information, dynamic pricing and a gradual reduction in overall parking supply. After all, most analysts are predicting a sharp drop in the number of people choosing to own a car, and parking demand is likely to reduce as a consequence.

One potential scenario which has made planners worried however, is that with the availability of driverless cars, for those that choose to own their own, it is quite possible vehicle kilometres travelled may rise. Suburban residents working in the city may take their driverless car to work (instead of the train) and then send it home to park and summon it back in the late afternoon to take them home again. Under this future scenario, vehicle kilometres travelled doubles - with half those kilometres occurring without an occupant in the car. Moreover, millions of people currently too old or young to drive will be able to summon a vehicle, which will shift many trips previously done my more space efficient modes. People may even choose to live in more distant locations because they can complete other pressing work while commuting in their car, as they will no longer need to focus on the act of driving. Moreover, electric vehicles are much cheaper to run than those powered by petrol, so there is less incentive to be economical with the distance travelled.

It is this scenario that leads to perhaps the most important implication for government, local, state and federal; a road user price. Without a network based road user price charged per kilometre, cities are likely to suffer even greater congestion costs than they do already. Currently, the Commonwealth collects approximately $20b in fuel excise. However, with more Tesla’s and other plug in electric vehicles on the market, the Commonwealth is going to suffer a funding shortfall and a road user price will help to address this.

Some of the other measures government are beginning to consider include:

  • Planning mechanisms for newly constructed multi-deck car parking structures to be adaptable for new uses in the future. Some cities are already re-purposing these spaces as artist studios and other non-car parking purposes.

  • Electric vehicle charging provision for new buildings.

  • Adapt the planning scheme to lower the requirement for car parks in new dwellings.

  • Embrace open data policies and open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to allow 3rd Party App development to enhance travel information platforms.

  • Open discussions with public transport agencies to develop access-all-modes Smartphone Apps. Some cities in the US already have Smartphone ‘tap and go’ as payment for public transport and this should be expanded to include car share, bike share and even integrated with services like Uber.

  • Facilitate one-way car sharing and investigate market willingness for peer-2-peer car sharing.


Emerging transport technologies are set to have a profoundly transformative effect on cities, transport behaviour and urban life.  For Australian cities, these technologies offer the opportunity to support the strategic directions common in all our cities; to be more productive, sustainable, and liveable. These desirable outcomes are unlikely to occur without the creation of the right set of policy signals. As the cultural and economic centre of Australia, our cities are ideally positioned to take a leadership role that embraces the opportunities offered by emerging transport technology.


The article is based on work completed for the City of Melbourne and City of Adelaide. The link to the Melbourne report can be found  at https://sensibletransport.org.au/project/test-project-1/.



Navigant Research. (2016). Connectivity, Autonomous Technology, On-Demand Mobility, and Vehicle Electrification Will Transform Global Passenger Transportation [Press release]. Retrieved  From https://www.navigantresearch.com/newsroom/84520




Dr Elliot Fishman is Director of Transport Innovation at the Institute for Sensible Transport. A seminar series will take place in Sydney and Melbourne in August 2017 on road user pricing. See https://sensibletransport.org.au/seminar/


issue 03. autumn 2017