Nov 20, 2009

Address to the Australian Intelligent Transport Systems Summit 2009




20 November 2009

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

And I want to acknowledge the foresight shown by the Victorian Government and express my appreciation for its work with ITS Australia in putting on this conference.

Victoria is an excellent choice for such an event, with major transport initiatives underway and a new smart ticketing public transport system just coming online.

It’s an exciting time in the transport field here in Melbourne.

The fast expansion of the city’s population is provoking smart responses.

This is also happening in other parts of the country and it’s a welcome trend.


As Infrastructure Minister, a key focus for me from day one has been addressing our nation’s infrastructure bottlenecks.

It is a tragedy that for many Australian families, parents spend more time commuting in their cars than at home with their kids.

That businesses in regional areas can’t adequately access global markets due to the lack of reliable, high-speed internet access.

And that trucks transporting freight to port and market have to compete with commuters on city streets creating traffic gridlock.

The question of how to resolve these issues can confound the most sophisticated experts – never mind the average person.

And of course the more complex we allow the problem and the solution to sound, the less likely we will be able to engage the community to accept the remedies.

So let me reduce the challenge to something human: making our transport systems safer and more reliable, and our lives less stressful by making our infrastructure smarter.

It comes down to something I heard not long ago – parents debating how children aren’t allowed the freedom to roam around the way they did thirty years ago.

Parents today seem more anxious about letting their children walk or ride their bikes to school or visit their friends’ houses to play.

This is leading people to refer to “the bubble-wrap generation” and to blame this phenomenon in part for the rise of problems like obesity.

It’s easy to blame parental anxieties for this trend.

But as a parent myself, let me tell you that I think parents have pretty sophisticated instincts when it comes to the safety of their children.

Their reaction is actually quite a rational response to changed urban conditions.

The fact is, there are simply many more vehicles on the road than when we were kids; those vehicles are bigger and faster; and their drivers are often distracted by extra traffic signs, mobile phones and the faster pace of life.

We’ve cut the road toll significantly, but our roads are not as safe as they should be.

They’re more congested, and the behaviour of drivers on main roads is spilling onto back streets.

Once ‘back roads’ or ‘country roads’ are now major traffic arteries.

Here are just a few facts:

In 1980, Australian car drivers drove 88 billion kilometres.

By 2009, this had almost doubled to 165 billion kilometres;

The average load of an articulated truck when in use was about 18 tonnes in 1980.

In 2009, the average load is 29 tonnes – a 60 per cent increase.

Average congestion delay times in Australia’s capital cities have risen from about 0.24 minutes per kilometre driven in 1980 to 0.36 minutes per kilometre in 2009.

This represents a 50 per cent increase, with three quarters of that occurring in the last 10 years.

Cars are being driven further; trucks are bigger and heavier and commute times are longer.

It is the duty of those of us who are policy makers to find an answer that can start to make our roads even safer, allay user concerns and in the process speed up our transport systems.

This isn’t going to be easy – because the projections are for more traffic growth and greater demands on public transport.

Urban car and light commercial vehicle use is forecast to grow 33 per cent and urban truck use by 47 per cent over the next 20 years.

Urban public transport patronage has increased 22 per cent over the past four years, and is forecast to grow by a further 78 per cent over the next 20 years.

While challenging to manage, the free flow of passenger and freight movements is crucial to the continued growth of the economy.

There are significant costs if that flow is impeded.

For instance, it has been estimated that if we fail to act, the cost of urban congestion could be $20 billion per annum by 2020.

For these reasons we need to consider carefully whether our transport systems are functioning in the best possible way.


The answer needs to be two-fold.

Firstly, there is an obvious need for greater investment in our infrastructure.

When the Government took office, we moved quickly to establish Infrastructure Australia and the Major Cities Unit.

These were bold steps designed to end more than a decade of federal government neglect of infrastructure and urban policy and establish better mechanisms for long term decision making.

We also significantly boosted expenditure on road, rail and port infrastructure to $35.8 billion over 6 years.

A number of significant projects are now underway in both urban and regional areas, including the Regional Rail Link here in Melbourne.

It’s one of the biggest periods of infrastructure development in our nation’s history.

It’s not just about investment; it’s about improving productivity through regulatory reform, creating a seamless national economy, and reducing costs.

In short, getting smarter.

And underlying getting smarter across the spectrum of economic activity is smart infrastructure.

We need to use advances in technology to open up the restricted arteries of our cities in the same way that we use advances in medical technology to combat the effects of heart disease.

And it isn’t just about the direct application of technology to transport.

We need to think laterally and consider new types of infrastructure.

Telecommunications infrastructure that allows people to work from home, reducing the number of vehicles on our roads.

Traffic signaling that adjusts to peak periods improves traffic flow.

Smart electricity grids that help consumers to optimise their power consumption, delivering more efficient energy use.

These are just a few examples.

The future of infrastructure development must be smart.

Water, energy, mine infrastructure, emergency services, health and education must all be driven by smart infrastructure.

IBM’s Glen Boreham commented in June that the nation building infrastructure projects now underway are an unmissable opportunity for us to embed smarter systems into our transport networks, our public buildings, our utilities and our energy grids.

It’s an idea that has my strong support.


We’re extremely fortunate that technology is making major advances in smarter, more efficient and less polluting infrastructure possible.

And there’s one area of smart infrastructure that’s already making a major impact – intelligent transport systems.

These technologies have got the runs on the board.

In Sweden, for example, an intelligent road system combined with road user charging gave Stockholm’s commuters enough information to reduce traffic congestion by 22 per cent and their carbon emissions by 40 per cent.

There are also some great examples of smart infrastructure technologies at work and being further developed here in Australia.

Qantas have recently announced their plans to introduce mobile phone facilitated check-ins.

New technology and equipment, such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Global Navigation Surveillance System (GNSS), are being introduced to improve aviation safety and better manage growing levels of air traffic.

Mobile phone technology data is being used to provide precise traffic movement information.

Real-time road network management is being improved through ramp signaling and metering on Melbourne’s Western Ring Road and Queensland’s Managed Motorways.

Bus priority traffic signals in Sydney and Melbourne are helping lane use management.

Traffic signal synchronization is assisting in interchange control and queue management in Perth and Adelaide.

Smart metering in NSW homes is helping to manage energy use.

The future is smarter and it’s here right now.


Underlying the application of smart infrastructure must be a world class communications network.

The Rudd Government’s $43 billion commitment to establish the National Broadband Network will underpin the future economic growth of the Australian economy and open significant opportunities for government and business to invest in smart infrastructure.

This will deliver huge benefits.

We can reduce our use of the car through the broadband network, for example, by enabling more people to work from home.

In this way, the National Broadband Network will help combat urban congestion.

There are a number of other initiatives underway supporting the application of smart infrastructure.

We have invested in the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s Automatic Train Management System trial.

And we’ve directed $4.8 million to Transport Certification Australia to implement and support the Intelligent Access Program and related projects.

We are also committing tens of millions to a range of smart infrastructure projects such as the Kwinana Freeway Freight Management system in Western Australia and the Advanced Traffic Management System in South Australia.

In addition, the Australian Transport Council has endorsed further research to inform government policy of its potential to improve safety outcomes through technology-based solutions.


Building on these initiatives, I am pleased to announce today that the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has agreed to my request to inquire into smart infrastructure and make recommendations on ways to maximise its potential benefits to Australians.

This inquiry will look at the role that smart infrastructure can play in the transport, communications, energy and water sectors.

It is going to be an exciting opportunity to get advice from you, the experts, as well as feedback from the community about the problems that need be addressed.

I am looking forward to receiving advice on the ways smart infrastructure can lift productivity, enhance service delivery, reduce congestion, make infrastructure greener, and improve safety.

I am also looking for advice on how the Government can best address some of the concerns raised by smart infrastructure.

For example, how do we address the range of privacy challenges that such technologies pose?

How do we enable companies, particularly those large numbers of small operators in road transport, to fully explore the opportunities that smart infrastructure offers?

What is the role for industry in providing leadership?

So let me say, what this conference is discussing isn’t a public policy sideshow, it’s the main event.

Smart technology isn’t something we can bolt-on to our concrete and bitumen and steel later on, it has to be incorporated into infrastructure planning at the conceptual stage, and we have to start doing it now.


By way of conclusion, let me say that the Commonwealth has a very forward-looking view on the development of smart infrastructure.

Like I said at the start, the complexities of our transport system can be daunting and overwhelming.

But as we all know, technology doesn’t daunt or overwhelm the young.

It’s my belief that in a decade the generation now growing up – the first to whom GPS navigation doesn’t seem like science fiction – will expect our transport system to keep them informed of what it’s doing on a minute-by-minute basis.

They won’t believe that we sat passively in traffic jams and at empty bus stops listening to AM radio when we could have been doing something to get home faster.

And they won’t believe that our transport planners encouraged people to travel to and from work at the same times, all using the same routes, even when we knew the time it wasted and the costs it imposed.

Australia has relatively good transport infrastructure networks – but we have the chance now to make it not only more extensive but more intelligent.

Our Nation Building program is an opportunity to embed smart technologies into the infrastructure that will be with us for much of the 21st Century – and I’m going to do my best to ensure this opportunity isn’t missed.

This is an area of genuine personal interest for me, and I’m excited about the improvements to our lives that smart infrastructure makes possible.