Credit: Alexandre Boucher

The Federal government has announced it will open a new office to address mobility of the future as the country moves towards autonomous transport and all its associated technologies.

To be known as the ‘Office of Future Transport Technologies’, its focus will be not on improving our stance towards climate change and zero-emissions transport, but rather on the safety of Australians as transport technology is digitally disrupted by the introduction of self-driving cars.

Announced by Deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack, the new office is intended to head the federal government’s ‘strategic leadership role’, to allow coordination with other agencies and government policies such as NSW’s Future Transport 2056 strategy.

According to the minister’s office, future modes of transport represents a potential $16 billion revenue by 2025, at the same time offering the possibility of saving $27 billion in costs associated with road crashes each year – not to mention the potential for significant reductions in deaths and injuries.

Some reports suggest that the changing landscape of autonomous transport may in fact result in increased congestion and people on roads, with those who might have otherwise chosen manual modes of transport such as walking or cycling opting instead for ride-sharing or ‘transport on demand’.

While many autonomous car models being developed by carmakers are in fact all-electric, the question of how many will still be fossil-fueled – and therefore increase tailpipe emissions – begs asking.

Whatever the case, there are bound to be many challenges as modes of transport evolve and grow, and it is the aspects of safe integration and nurturing of related new industries that the new office seeks to address, as McCormack stressed at a Roads Australia event late last week.

“Getting Australians home sooner and safer is a core focus of our government and the emergence of automated vehicles represents a significant opportunity to realise safety and productivity benefits while supporting Australian industry and innovation,” he said.

Made possible by a $9.7 million investment from the federal government, McCormack says that the focus will not only be on the urban environment, but also on regional areas.

“The establishment of an Office of Future Transport Technologies within my Department will enable the Australian Government to work with industry and State and Territory Governments to ensure Australia is ready for the challenges and opportunities ahead,” he said.

The office will also be considering the needs of cyber safety associated with connected, autonomous vehicles, says McCormack.

“I expect the Office to collaborate across governments to ensure automated vehicles are safe, to consider future infrastructure needs, to make sure cyber security safeguards are in place, and to support Australian businesses in taking advantage of new commercial opportunities.

“This new Australian Government $9.7 million investment will ensure the regulatory settings are workable and nationally consistent, that they fit with emerging United Nations regulatory developments and are consistent with related Commonwealth policies and laws; including those relating to privacy and data use.

“While some of this work has already started, we will see the Office of Future Transport Technologies ramping up over the next few months to coordinate Australia’s responses to the challenges ahead,” he said.

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