Paul Fletcher MP

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Speech to Launch the Data Collection and Dissemination Plan

Portfolio Speeches Thursday, 27 April 2017

My task today is to officially launch the program of work to develop a National Data Collection and Dissemination Plan for the Transport and Infrastructure Sector.

Eighteen months ago, when I was first assigned portfolio responsibility in the transport and infrastructure space, I would have been rather puzzled at the suggestion that we needed such a plan.

Coming from a background in the telecommunications sector – both in the private sector and then most recently as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications – I thought that I was leaving behind the internet, and big data, and technology changing everything.

I was one hundred per cent wrong.

Better software, better technology and better use of data is fundamentally changing the way that our transport networks operate.

Everybody talks about Uber – and that is an amazing story.

But I want to talk today about Australian companies and organisations which are using data and software to change the way our transport networks operate. 

One of the first places I visited as a Minister in this portfolio was Asciano’s automated container terminal at Port Botany.  I was amazed to see giant devices called Autostrads – which are 13 metres high and weigh 65 tonnes – pick up containers from a truck and move them to a ship.

I was even more amazed to learn that these devices are completely automated.  They use a radar-based navigation system and have ultra-sonic, infra-red and laser equipment so the machine can see and interpret its environment.  Each autostrad has a computerised control system that allows it to execute commands, and is under the ultimate control of a master suite of software which manages the terminal.

I was very impressed to learn that the software which operates them was developed by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at Sydney University.

Let me give you another example of Australian companies using data and software to transform the way our transport networks operate.  A few days ago I had the chance to visit the Australian company Goget.

They have over 2000 cars in five cities around Australia – and they offer a new way to use cars.  Rather than owning a car, you can rent a car by the hour from Goget.  You can check availability online, you book online, and there is no human interaction required to do this.

Something that really impressed me when I visited Goget is that they develop their own software.  The whole business depends on software – to optimise where cars are located and to make the booking process easy and efficient.  Without data and software, this business simply would not work.

Of course if you want to get around Sydney by train, data can help in another way.  Sydney Trains puts its data online – so that smart developers can turn it into user friendly apps.  I am a big fan of TripView – developed on the back of this open data approach – which tells me when the next train is approaching Lindfield station so I know exactly when I need to leave my electorate office to get into town quickly and efficiently.

Now one of the other things that struck me when I visited Goget – in fact something the management team were very keen to impress on me – was the amount of data their vehicles generate as they travel around Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra.

Similarly, when I visited Brisbane based logistics company DGL, I was very impressed to see the data which is generated from the in-vehicle telematics units installed in every truck in their fleet.

The fact is, major transport businesses are assiduous users of technology to operate as efficiently as possible.

As new technologies are developed and rapidly become very affordable, they are taken up very quickly by businesses and organisations in the transport sector.

As a result, the volume of data being generated throughout our transport networks is both very large and increasing very rapidly.

For example, smart sensors in our road network can generate data about road usage and congestion levels.  GPS tracking devices mean that the location of buses, or trucks, or trains, can be monitored continuously.

We do not even need active decisions by the managers of transport networks.

Just about every vehicle on the road is carrying a smart phone – so there are huge volumes of data being thrown off every second. 

Yet oddly, when it comes to making decisions about government investment in our transport networks, we do not make very good use of data.

Let me give one example.

There is a program called the National Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program on which the Australian Government has spent $288 million over seven years to 2019-20.  This is for things like upgrading roundabouts or bridges so that trucks, including B-doubles, can use these roads – with the attendant productivity benefits.

Yet the way we allocate this funding does not really take advantage of the data being generated by transport operators such as DGL, which I mentioned earlier.

That data could readily identify locations where trucks slow down, for example to navigate roundabouts which are too tight for trucks.

But the way we allocate this money is that we ask local councils to apply for funding to improve roads in their region.

They are not the road users – and they do not have the data that the truck operators have.

That is but one example of how we are failing to make best use of data to inform transport policy decisions.

The aim of the project I am launching today – the National Data Collection and Dissemination Plan – is to capture the opportunities that data presents, rather than as is too often the case today, missing those opportunities.

Infrastructure Australia, in preparing the 15 Year Australian Infrastructure Plan, highlighted the importance of access to quality and timely infrastructure and transport data.

And the Turnbull Government, in our response to the Infrastructure Australian Plan, committed to a number of initiatives – including the development of a Data Collection and Dissemination Plan.

Australia is by no means alone in pursuing policy that leverages data to achieve optimal outcomes in infrastructure and transport. We need only look across the Tasman, where in July last year, the New Zealand Government released a Transport Domain Plan and Transport Research Strategy 2016-2020. 

The New Zealand Plan provides a macro-level view of the data, statistics and information requirements to understand the New Zealand transport system and to make evidence-based decisions.  It was developed through a collaborative effort across the transport sector including a series of interviews, meetings and workshops to discuss policy questions, and to identify information and data needs.

As we proceed with our work, we will draw on the lessons learned in New Zealand and in other countries too.

As I mentioned earlier, the aim of this exercise is to take advantage of the transformative opportunities that data presents.

By utilising existing and emerging technology, we can improve our transport and infrastructure data collection. 

We believe there will be a range of opportunities stemming from this, including:

  • Developing a better understanding of Australia’s trade flows;
  • Assisting industry in the optimisation of their businesses;
  • Assisting more efficient information to consumers of infrastructure;
  • Helping investors in infrastructure, including governments, to identify where investment is required based on a comprehensive evidence base.

We have put together a steering group to help develop this plan and I just participated in its first meeting. The steering group includes people from an impressive array of organisations:

  • Data61
  • Wollongong University’s Smart Infrastructure Facility
  • The Port of Brisbane
  • Toll
  • BITRE
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
  • Infrastructure Australia
  • Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA)
  • The NSW Data Analytics Centre.

Of course we will be talking to lots of people right across the sector in addition to those on the steering group. We want to know where the gaps and opportunities are. 

In addition, we are going to roll into this project the fruits of several other strands of work already underway. For example, BITRE and the ABS are working together on ways to collect road freight data from telematics and administrative data sources.

Amongst the players involved in this are the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and Australian Logistics Council (ALC), freight industry operators, government agencies, vehicle telematics services providers and other freight industry stakeholders.

Last year we carried out a pilot using a month’s worth of GPS data collected from 1,500 vehicles, providing data for some 100,000 trips and some 18 million GPS records.

Already that has given us a sense of how valuable data of this kind can be as we make decisions about investments in our transport network.

One key finding from the pilot is that peak travel periods for trucks coincide with the morning peak commuter period on major congested sections of the Sydney and Melbourne road networks.

Over the next few months there is a comprehensive work program as we develop the Data Collection and Dissemination Plan. The team will work to:

  • identify key national infrastructure and transport statistics;
  • develop national infrastructure performance measures;
  • identify opportunities to use new technologies to collect infrastructure data; and
  • develop means of disseminating data to encourage innovation and improved public and private decision making.

A draft version of the plan will be available for wider industry consultation within six months and the final plan will be finalised within 12 months.

Let me close by returning to the observation with which I began these remarks - technology is having a transformative effect on transport and infrastructure and the opportunities provided by data are immense.

The Data Collection and Dissemination Plan project is part of the Turnbull Government’s reform agenda in infrastructure. The aim is to have better data and use it to guide decision making.

Data is transforming the way decisions are made in every sector of the economy.

Transport and infrastructure offers rich opportunities to use data for better decision making.

The Turnbull Government is determined to seize these opportunities and deliver significant benefits for consumers, industry and governments.  

Authorised by Paul Fletcher MP, Level 2, 280 Pacific Highway Lindfield NSW 2070.

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