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Kate Mackay: planning transport futures

Kate Mackay

Kate Mackay, Technical Director of Transport Planning at Mott MacDonald, is a theme speaker at iMOVE’s inaugural Transport of Tomorrow Symposium, to be held on 26 & 27 March 2019, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Her topic is Bringing user perspective to the evolution of MaaS. Visit the event page for more information.

Hello there, Kate. Could you tell us a little bit about where it is you work and what you do?

I’m currently working at Mott MacDonald, based in Brisbane where I am a Technical Director of Transport Planning. My area of work is travel behaviour change, market research, and future mobility.

To give you an idea of what I’m currently involved in, it involves a major public sector client in Southeast Queensland, working with major employers to develop what we call workplace travel plans. They’re essentially management strategies designed to deliver long-term behavioural change and sustainable travel patterns. The overall aim in this particular instance is to contribute to a reduction in congestion across the local area.


Well, we’ll see. One of the other projects that I’m working on entails designing a suite of surveys to capture data on the movement of people to and from one of Australia’s international airports. How people currently travel and how they might travel if different options were available. The purpose of this piece of work is to develop a baseline understanding of travel demand and the potential for change.

And just for those of us that don’t know, could you open up a little bit about what Mott McDonald is and does?

Mott MacDonald is a global management and engineering consultancy. We have just over 16,000 people worldwide, and roughly 500 people in Australia. We also have offices in pretty much every other country you can think of across the world.

What makes Mott McDonald unique compared to some of our competitors is the way that we work. We’re about opening opportunities through connected thinking. We have experts in all aspects of transport planning across the globe and where we have a project that requires a particular expert we call upon them and they are able to contribute to the project, irrespective of where they are.

What makes us unique is our ability to draw on the very best people to provide our clients with the very best advice without being restricted by national or international boundaries, or any sort of geographic boundaries.

When you do that, when you bring in someone external to the geographical boundaries, how much do they need to learn about our particular set of circumstances in Australia?

The way we tend to work is we will have a local team, so in this particular instance it will be myself and our Brisbane team of transport planners, who have a very good understanding of the Queensland situation and the Queensland market. If we have a particular expert in a particular area who we believe could add value they will join the project team and work alongside us, adding value and contributing to end user solutions where perhaps we don’t have those same strengths locally.

We like to think that Australia is unique. And to some extent we are, but probably not as much as we like to think. In my particular field, travel behaviour, whilst there are trends emerging that may or may not be replicated here, the fundamental theories and principles of travel behaviour and travel behaviour change, how people behave, is pretty much the same wherever you are, whether you’re in Australia or India or Fiji or the UK. At its core, it’s about listening to people, understanding their attitudes and motivations, getting underneath the ‘why’, and designing policies and strategies that are informed by this understanding.

How was it you came to a career in transport?

I’ve consulted various people on how they came to be in a career in transport and there seems to be those who knew from day one that they wanted to work in transport planning, and those, and I fit into this second category, who evolved into transport planning.

I started with a geography degree, and like many geography graduates I was unsure about what I was going to do with it. When I graduated, everyone was taking up finance positions in the City in London and I was strongly advised to do the same. Instead, I went travelling and I ended up working in Kuala Lumpur at the time when they were constructing the Petronas Twin Towers building.

At the time Kuala Lumpur was a busy, booming city, and it was increasingly difficult to get around on foot or by bus which was how I was getting around because I was essentially just a student. I found I was spending weeks on end moaning and groaning about the transport situation. In the end, I had the thought that maybe I could make a career out of this rather than boring everyone senseless with constant complaints.

So I ended up completing a Masters Degree in Transport at Imperial College and University College London. This led to my first job, working for Steer Davies Gleave, now called Steer, based in London. I worked there for nearly five years, and that set me on the path to where I am now.

Well, yes, though no one ever says that just because you are working in the industry that you can stop complaining about getting around! So I’m sorry, I didn’t pick up, where did you do your undergraduate degree?

My undergrad was at Newcastle University, in England.

Now, I think you’ve already answered my next question, which is where you studied and worked, but progression-wise tell us a little bit more about that first job and your path to where you are now.

As I mentioned, my first job was at Steer Davies Gleave, and I went straight into working in travel behaviour change and travel behaviour change projects. At the time, there was a focus on household travel behaviour change, with the principle being that in order to change patterns of behaviour across a local area, you need to understand what’s going on at the household level.

I worked on a number of large projects in the UK and then also in Adelaide which led on to doing some work in South Africa. I headed up the qualitative research for one of the bidding consortia for the Gautrain high-speed rail link. I was based in Johannesburg for just over six months, running focus groups to try and find out what would make people in Johannesburg use the Gautrain.

Following this, I ended up working in Australia, in Sydney. I applied for a job with Optus, which is, as you know, the second largest telco in Australia. This was 2005, and they had recently decided to relocate most of their Sydney offices to one newly built campus in Macquarie Park. Macquarie Park was then still a relatively unknown, sparsely populated business park.

When Optus had agreed to make the move, the plan was that Macquarie Park would be served by the new Epping to Chatswood railway line. But that was delayed, so we found we were relocating 6,500 people out of offices that were well served by public transport to an area that was, at that time, not very well served by public transport. In addition to this, planning approval restrictions meant there weren’t enough car parking spaces to allow everybody to drive to work in order to encourage travel by sustainable modes of transport.

I was recruited from the UK to come in and to effectively try to solve this problem, which resulted in spending two-and-a-half years as an Optus employee developing what’s now known as the Optus Sustainable Transport Strategy. This strategy is now part of business as usual operations for Optus at Macquarie Park. And it is a transport strategy that is part of Optus’ commitment to making employees’ journey to work as simple as possible, while focussing on reducing impact on the environment and reducing traffic congestion.

Was that an easy exercise? Did it take long and did people take to it well?

It was not an easy exercise! When I joined the company I had two questions that people would throw at me. One was, ‘What’s the answer, what’s the silver bullet?’ To which my response was, ‘There is no silver bullet.’ And the other frequent comment I had was, ‘I can’t believe anybody was crazy enough to take up this job!’

I’d done a lot of very similar work in the UK beforehand. Not on the same scale, but exactly the same principles, working with private sector to try and change behaviour to support the use of more sustainable means of transport.

So, I applied the same principles to Optus and over the period of two-and-a-half years we developed as I say what we called the Sustainable Transport Strategy. It’s a holistic package of measures, all designed to work together, fiscal measures and non-fiscal measures to support Optus employees in making sustainable travel choices.

What was between Optus and now? And long have you been with Mott MacDonald?

I’ve been with Mott MacDonald for two years. Prior to Mott MacDonald, I was living and working in Fiji. My CV has a couple of gaps in it and they are taken up by sailing. I sail quite a lot. I took a few years out, after working at Optus and sailed from the UK back to Australia. On the way I stopped in Fiji and decided to stay there a while.

I set up my own company in Fiji, doing transport planning and market research work. Whilst I was there the main project I was working on was running the fieldwork for Fiji’s first household travel survey. Fiji is a middle income country with increasing car ownership, following the same trajectory as many other countries have. But it had no hard data about how people were travelling upon which to start making informed transport and other policy decisions.

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport took the decision to go out to tender to run its first household travel survey, and myself and a colleague (another transport planner based in Fiji) won that tender. I spent, as I say, nearly the best part of two years on that piece of work. In fact, the second round of the household travel survey has recently finished, and hopefully the third survey will start in a year or so’s time. This work has allowed Fiji to start building up that body of data that it needs to make informed decisions about what should be done in terms of transport and urban planning.

After Fiji, I joined Mott MacDonald in Brisbane.

Okay, and speaking of sailing, let’s tack away from you for a minute and into the world of the hypothetical. It’s a two-part question. First part is, someone has come to you with a very a big bag of money and a very generous time frame in which to carry something out, what transport issue, problem, amendment, change, anywhere in the world, anything you’d like to do, would you like to make that would have an appreciable impact?

Working in travel behaviour change, I think one thing that you come to realise is that there’s no quick fix to any of the issues I work with. Changing travel behaviour takes time, and you have to recognise the small changes, the incidental changes, the once a week or once a month changes. Cumulatively they make a difference. Probably the quickest fix is land use changes, so that people don’t need to travel as far to get to the services and their work and wherever else it is they need to go – people can walk and cycle.

Sometimes the most effective fixes are the simplest fixes. One of the things that we know that works very well for instance is getting people to lead by example, so if you can get your senior management in a business, for example, to start riding a bike to work or taking the bus to work, that can be a really effective means of encouraging other people to make that same change in their behaviour. It doesn’t cost anything at all but it can be incredibly powerful and effective.

It’s not really answering the question, however I don’t believe there is an easy answer.

No, I think you answered it well. You don’t *have* to accept the premise of the question. So, I’m almost loathe to ask you this one. But the second part of this hypothetical is with quite a limited budget and time frame … in these circumstances what would you like do that would make an impact above those limitations?

I would follow that through and into the idea of working at what we call the ‘trip ends’. I would work with employers, work with organisations, to try and impact the way that people make those daily trips to work, or school, or for leisure.

And again, very often there are really small changes that you need to make. If you look for instance at one of the reasons why so many children are driven to school and don’t walk or cycle to school, which is a big issue in places. Quite frequently the reason for driving to school is because of something that the parent or care giver is choosing or needing to do.

Perhaps it’s because of the need of the parent or carer to drive to work so they can have their car to attend meetings during the day; or the fact that they don’t have a viable public transport option to make their trip into work; or the fact that their employer doesn’t let them work from home; or perhaps their employer doesn’t support flexible working hours so they can’t catch the bus or train because it arrives after their start time.

It’s about taking a look at the whole mobility ecosystem and trying to understand all the interlinkages within it and using that to leverage change.

Okay. Now it sounds to me like you’ve had a reasonably extensive history across countries and across areas of transport. But Is there something, an area that you haven’t worked in yet that you might like to?

The whole area of future mobility, and what I’m going to be talking about at iMOVE’s Transport of Tomorrow Symposium 2019, Mobility as a Service (MaaS). This is a rapidly evolving field. A colleague of mine has a great phrase that ‘You have to run just to stand still.’ There’s so much happening in so many different places!

It really is a full-time job trying to keep up with it, what’s becoming my focus now is that … what can we be doing to make sure that all these new evolutions in terms of future mobility? How can we make sure that we can harness them to deliver a future that we want, to deliver outcomes that we want, rather than being led by the technology? How can we take control of all of that?

How can we move on from what we’ve done in the past, which has been observing trends and then adapting our transport planning to meet the trends? We call that a predict and provide approach. Whereas what we’re advocating now is we need to stand back from the trends and from the technology and say, ‘Okay, where do we want to be in 5, 10, 15 years in the future?” Make the decisions, and then provide for those.

We need to move toward a more ‘decide and provide’ approach. And while this is all new, it’s not brand new. As transport planners we have been thinking about it for at least 20 years, but it has started to become part of our day-to-day working now, and that certainly hasn’t been the case until recently.

And it’s also starting to become much more necessary in the past 20 years.

It is. Yes, exactly. It’s really important now that we as consultants and our clients in both the public and private sectors really take stock of this. What it is we want to be achieving? Where it is we want to be getting to? What do we value in terms of equity and sustainability and inclusivity. How can we use this vast array of new technologies and new ways of travelling and new ways of doing things to make sure we achieve those ends, rather than just letting the ‘bright new shiny things’ take us to a place that maybe we didn’t want to get to?

Indeed. And I think that leads nicely into my last question. What in the next three to five years in terms of technology and transport are you most excited about?

At a personal level I’m quite excited about e-scooters and e-bikes. Living in Queensland, where for a good proportion of the year it genuinely is too hot really to walk anywhere, first and last mile transport is a big issue for us.

It’s very common for people to drive to get to and from railway stations and even bus stops, and I think e-scooters and e-bikes offer us a real opportunity to encourage more people into more active ways of travelling. You can criticise e-scooters and e-bikes for probably not being truly active transport, but in comparison to travelling in a car I think they do fit in to the bracket of active transport.

So, seeing how they evolve, seeing how we can adjust our legislation, our road space to accommodate those new forms of transport I think is going to be interesting to watch and I do think they present significant options, certainly in the Queensland and the Brisbane context.

I said last question but I lied. What are your thoughts on the Brisbane’s Lime e-scooter trial?

My thoughts are based on what I see in the public domain. I know that they reached over 600,000 rides, just a couple of weeks ago which I understand is a pretty significant take-up for any of the places where Lime is operating.

We also hear some negative views about them, as I think you are hearing, and indeed everyone is hearing everywhere else, but my personal view is that they fill a niche in the transport system where we don’t currently have anything. They offer a means, certainly in the city, for people to get between meetings without taking a taxi or an Uber.

I haven’t seen any data on whether they are generating trips or replacing trips, but if we were to make some broad assumptions that at least some of those trips would have been otherwise done by taxi or by Uber, or by some sort of vehicle, I think you would start to see a case for Lime scooters being in cities. As I mentioned, I haven’t seen any data, I don’t know whether that is the case, but at a personal level I think they occupy a good niche and I think they could be a useful addition to a city’s transport infrastructure.

Good answer. Thanks Kate.

BONUS Q and A!

iMOVE asked Kate a few more questions, based around her topic at the Transport of Tomorrow Symposium, Bringing user perspective to the evolution of MaaS.

How much of a shift do you see ahead for public transport in a MaaS age?

At Mott MacDonald we like to describe MaaS as the ‘mobility system beyond the private car’. MaaS offers the potential for enabling seamless door to door, frictionless, transport by any modes. But the concept of MaaS is not new. As transport planners, ‘seamless journeys’ is something that we have been working towards for decades. As we see it, MaaS is an evolution in terms of mobility provision rather than a revolution, important though the evolution could be.

If public transport is going to become an integral offering in MaaS, the quality of public transport service provision needs to represent a viable and attractive part of the mobility system beyond the private car from the users’ perspective. Where this is the case, public transport stands to benefit – as in turn does the mobility system as a whole. If this is not the case then having an app on your smartphone is not likely to change the appeal of public transport. Meanwhile, that same app could be promoting alternatives to the private that are viable and attractive – such as ridehailing.

How much a shift do you see the public having to make in regards to public transport in the MaaS age?

The essence of Maas is that it reduces the cognitive effort involved in travelling. In a truly effective MaaS system, public transport (supported by other modes) will offer a convenience and ease of getting around that meets the expectations of users who might otherwise have opted for the private car. A shift in favour of public transport could be boosted by the social trend apparent in some countries (particularly in the UK) of younger people being less likely to acquire a driving licence.

The change for some will be in how we access our mobility – through use of a smartphone. Some people still do not have a smartphone and those who do not have a smartphone are effectively excluded from the MaaS ecosystem. Provision will need to be made to access to mobility options does not become restricted.

When do you think we will see a true, non-conceptual MaaS at work in Australia?

We already have MaaS, just not in its fullest and ‘purest’ form. We have conceptualised MaaS along the 0 – 5 scale as used for Autonomous Vehicles, assessing MaaS offerings according to the level of integration they offer with the higher levels of MaaS marked by reduced levels of cognitive effort.

  • Level 0 is where there is no operational, informational or transactional integration across modes. The original Uber offer would be an example of this.
  • Levels 1 to 4 span basic to limited to partial integration, to full integration under certain circumstances. An example of level 1 integration would be google transit, where there is journey planning but no transaction layer.
  • Level 3 could be characterised by Uber’s move to combine ride hailing with -e-scooter and ebike hire. Level 4 is full integration under certain conditions, such as the newly launched City Mapper trial in London. Some door-to-door journeys are not covered in an integrated way.
  • Level 5 is full operational, informational and transactional integration across modes for all journeys. Level 5 would be akin to Maas Global vision, but the reliance on operational integration may make it an unrealisable ideal.

For MaaS to be effective, the underlying public transport offer has to become something that represents a viable alternative to travel by private car. In some places in Australia we have this, in others we are some way off. MaaS also requires public transport authorities to share data; we’re making steps in this direction but we’re not there yet. I would suggest we are a good few years away yet.

Will MaaS work? What barriers are there to its taking off?

It is not a question of whether MaaS will work.

The first question is whether users will see value in the MaaS offer. The evidence available to date from MaaS trials does not support any conclusions on this yet.

The second question is whether public transport authorities will be prepared to relinquish control of data and ticketing to a third party (the MaaS operator) to enable MaaS to work effectively.

And the third question is whether our public transport and active transport options will ever be able to offer a means of getting around comparable in ease and efficiency to the private car.

Do you think MaaS will be available in regional Australia? Do you think there’s barriers for it’s spread there?

I’d like to think that MaaS would be available to everyone, wherever you lived, whatever your circumstances. We should be working to ensure an equitable and inclusive development and roll out of MaaS. Obviously the user demand, the travel patterns, the opportunities and the challenges for MaaS in regional Australia will be different to those in more densely populated areas. And we need to start to understand these more fully.

But careful use of trials, piloting different applications of MaaS, and some ‘learning by doing’ will start to illuminate these issues and help shape a system which works for regional Australia.

What’s more important in MaaS – the pricing, or the multiplicity and easy availability of mode options?

MaaS represents a significant change in the anatomy of our mobility ecosystem. For the consumer, all they see is the mobility operator – the Uber or the Whim app on their smartphone. What makes MaaS work, what underpins MaaS, are the essential foundations: transaction and procurement, information services, mobility services, and then infrastructure and vehicles. Without any of these layers, MaaS cannot work.

If MaaS has a strong takeup in major cities, how soon do you see it as having an impact on single-occupant car journeys? And what might be that impact?

The future in terms of mobility is uncertain; we have never lived in more uncertain times. Traditional methods and models of decision making are being revisited, and we are focussing on a ‘decide and provide’ approach as opposed to ‘predict and provide’. This means Governments need to decide the future they want for their cities and towns and rural areas, what patterns of mobility and access they want to deliver. And then within this, the role of MaaS should be considered and MaaS products developed to meet these ends. As such, MaaS may have an impact on single occupant journeys but the scale and nature of this impact will be determined by the path laid out by the transport authority.

In the end, much will depend on whether people will share or not. Evidence to date suggest that Australian’s are not overly keen on sharing. However, there is global evidence to suggest that younger people and young adults are increasingly accepting of the sharing economy. If these trends are reflected here and borne out through the transition to adulthood, there is potential for MaaS to impact positively on single occupant car journeys. There is limited evidence yet on this. The real concern will be Zero Occupant Miles, the potential of connected and autonomous vehicles.

What do you see as the Transport of Tomorrow in the short-term? (5 years out)

Micro mobility: e-scooters and e-bikes.

What do you see, if your crystal ball/wish list extends this far out, in the Transport of Tomorrow in the medium-term? (20 years out)

More a wishlist than what I can see in my crystal ball …

  • land use patterns adjusted to support more sustainable patterns of mobility
  • electric vehicles the norm
  • people’s need to travel reduced by the ability to access services through internet connectivity
  • children walking, scooting and cycling to school because they can – because the environment is safe and secure, and because parents and caregivers have flexible working arrangements and access to good non-car commute options through a MaaS system which mean they don’t ‘have’ to drive their children.

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