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Managing transport system investment risk

Governments are responsible for ensuring public funds are invested wisely for the benefit of society. For transport planners and government transport agencies, the uncertainties of emerging technologies and changing trends challenge conventional transportation decision-making, both for long- and short-term planning.

The purpose of this project is to adapt key existing planning tools, guidelines and frameworks to account for uncertainty of changing trends and emerging technologies. This will enable the Transport Portfolio of Western Australia to better manage transport infrastructure investment risks.

Specific planning instruments targeted: patronage forecasting tools, road asset management guidelines and the transport infrastructure project assessment and prioritisation frameworks.


Project background

1. Overall policy need

The context for transport planning activities is changing, as technology development, consumer demand and transport service business models change, and it is expected that there will be further changes on the horizon due to connected, shared, electric and automated vehicles, as well as other new and future changes in travel behaviour.

Long-term transport infrastructure, planning and policy decisions are increasingly made in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

At the same time, the quantity and quality of public and privately-owned transport data is increasing and there are emerging opportunities to improve our planning tools. Changes in technology also open avenues to improve transport service options (e.g. mobility as a service) and better optimise the use of the transport system.

The assumptions that underlie existing public transport prediction models have not yet been adjusted to account for recent and emerging trends in the transport environment. Given the changing context for transport planning, the Transport Portfolio needs to consider what improvements can be made to existing practice and processes to ensure decision makers have the best possible advice, considering potential changes in the transport system.

Adapting portfolio-wide strategic infrastructure investment planning and management tools, guidelines and frameworks is required to account for recent trends and emerging risks, in particular:

  • patronage forecasting tools through an advanced understanding of factors influencing patronage trends
  • digital journey planning tools
  • asset management guidelines
  • project assessment and prioritisation frameworks

Each of these components form a separate sub-project of the overall project. The specific policy need addressed, significance and outcomes are further described for each sub-project.

2. Factors influencing patronage trends

Public transport patronage forecasting models currently used have previously been adequate in predicting public transport patronage with reasonable levels of accuracy. These models were however unable to predict the sustained decline in fare-paying boardings, evident since 2012/13.

This has significant implications for prediction of fare revenues, provision of operating subsidies and the ability to anticipate changes in public transport demand to inform levels of service provision and future investment decision making.

Contributing factors proposed to date include CBD office vacancy rates, fuel prices, public transport fares and the uptake of ride sharing. The significance of these relationships has not been statistically confirmed and there is a need to undertake more robust and detailed analyses.

Ridesharing services have been rapidly embraced in the Perth metropolitan area with a 2017 Roy Morgan study indicating that use of Uber services in a three-month period in 2017 was higher in WA than in any other State of Australia. Reasons behind this are unclear and further information is required to inform transport projects and planning and future investment decisions.

A range of sociodemographic trends which are likely to have a bearing on public transport use are also emerging (e.g. lower licence acquisition and car ownership amongst millennials, greater casualisation of the workforce, increased working from home etc.). Research and analysis to explore the relationship between public transport usage and these broader trends appears warranted to inform transport and economic models as well a policy and project development.

The final driver for this research is to facilitate the development of a range of customer-centric initiatives to optimise (public transport related) travel behaviour in the short term as a precursor to development work on longer term service innovation initiatives.

3. Digital journey planning

Individual transport customers rely on various digital information sources to plan and maintain routine travel. At present these sources include private journey planners such as Google Maps and State Government services such as the Transperth Journey Planner. Despite the popularity of these services, their use and associated impact on mode share is not well understood within the Perth context. Do these services facilitate mode change, or have they contributed to the changes in mode share observed between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses? How can these services be improved or supplemented to optimise use of the transport network?

As Perth continues to see changing trends in the usage of differing transport modes – with both the introduction of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) options and a decrease in public transport patronage – the impact of digital journey planners continues to remain unexplored. These journey planners, software applications which run on a variety of systems including now-ubiquitous smartphones, allow transport consumers to better understand and interact with the operational characteristics of differing transport modes.

This research aims to explore the impact these tools have had on the choices made by transport consumers, to provide evidence to guide policy to best take advantage of the impact of these tools. The research will inform planning and decision-making processes throughout the Transport Portfolio, particularly digital journey planning services, MaaS, travel behaviour change, public transport optimisation with associated business case development and project prioritisation.

4. Asset management

Road asset planners and managers are guided in their work by international, national and state standards and guidelines such as ISO 550000 series and PAS 55 on asset management, ISO 31000 on risk management, Austroads GAM and Austroads Road Design Guidelines, WA Treasury Asset Management Guidelines, to name the most relevant. Disruptive technologies such as CAV may result in changes to the established practice of asset planning and management resulting in the need to revise and adapt relevant guidelines.

The findings of this research will offer a strategic perspective on how to rethink the way transport infrastructure assets facilitate the delivery of services into the future; and how to plan for and manage transport infrastructure assets in the future.

5. Project appraisal

Decision making about infrastructure investment is based on the net impacts measured by the host government through project evaluation. Project evaluation is a process of measuring impacts and risks of a project for the purpose of assessing and prioritising projects, in order to ensure that the project is beneficial with respect to the public good.

The Transport Portfolio needs to consider future uncertainties within their project assessment and prioritisation framework to ensure that their advice to the decision makers considers potential future changes to the transport systems. The research will also complement other initiatives within the Transport Portfolio including the update of the Investment Decision Framework.

Project objectives

Enhance and adapt selected portfolio-wide, strategic transport infrastructure investment planning and management tools, guidelines and frameworks, to account for emerging risks and trends in order to ensure that decision makers have the best possible advice on which to base infrastructure investment decisions, considering the uncertainty of potential changes impacting the transport system.

This project’s objectives are to:

1. Determine the systemic factors driving patronage shifts (including long term labour market characteristics, post GFC demographic shifts, increased capacity in road infrastructure, CBD parking costs and transport trends such as: ridesharing, licenses, fuel prices, vehicle ownership), to:

(i) enhance the public transport patronage forecasting model for the improved prediction of fare revenues, operating subsidy requirements, levels of service provision and service innovations and
(ii) facilitate the development of a range of customer centric initiatives to optimise (public transport related) travel behaviour;

2. Understand customer experiences of digital journey planning services and influence on mode share for all routine trip purposes (work, school, shopping, recreation, etc) and identify potential improvements to journey planning services in order to ultimately inform the development of a range of customer-centric initiatives to optimise ( non-car based) travel behaviour;

3. Identify specific impacts of specifically, CAV, disruptive technologies on road (and road/rail interface) asset management practice as well as response actions and opportunities for innovation in order to adapt templates and guidelines;

4. Propose adaptation strategies to appraise the uncertainties of emerging technologies within the project assessment and prioritisation framework to ensure that advice to decision makers explicitly considers potential future changes to the transport systems.

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