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EXCLUSIVE - Melbourne transport living lab - Generating learnings and benefits for government, academia, private sector and citizens

Last week, OpenGov reported on a project led by the University of Melbourne to set up a connected transport living lab in Melbourne CBD. MOUs have already been signed with 17 public and private sector partners and there are more to come. OpenGov reached out to the University of Melbourne (UoM) to learn more about the objectives of the project and the partnerships involved and spoke to Mr. Jordan Green, Business Development Director within the Research, Innovation & Commercialisation (RIC) team at the University.

Objectives

Mr. Green explained that there is a significant need to understand how our cities operate so that we can have smarter, cleaner and safer cities. One of the key aspects of that is having more efficient transport and less congestion. The test bed, the living lab, will allow researchers to discover answers to a lot of the key questions.

The process started around a year ago and government and industry partners were brought in. The scope and scale of the test bed is bigger than originally planned as engagement with key stakeholders and global industry leaders made it clear that scale is needed to meet the complexity of the challenge. The project will commence the pilot phase during the next three months.  

The research seeks to address problems related to efficient operation of the traffic environment, which includes pedestrians, cyclists, cars, trucks, buses, trains and trams. A holistic approach is being adopted to understand how to take advantage of the new data that is available.

Timelines

When asked about the timelines, Mr. Green replied that the first pilot project will be running by the middle of the year.The first phase will primarily be about creating a co-ordinated platform for the integration of the existing data and the induction of new data and a method by which to query all that information. Mr. Green said, “In one sense, it is about assembling the building blocks of the test-bed and proving that they work. There will be traffic simulation, there will be live analysis.”

Data

The public transport and road transport authorities have been gathering relevant data for a long time. Big industry players are involved, HERE maps, who have been world leaders in gathering third party traffic information and status. There are many different sets of information that exist and there’s a whole lot of information that doesn’t properly exist. The project is going to collect new data, explore the existing data and bring it all together to answer questions about how to have a more efficient traffic environment.

A lot of the data is generic data about movement of traffic on a street. It is not specific to person or organisation. A lot of the advanced computer science and data analytics design work will come out of the university. Some of the big multi-nationals involved will have their own data scientists full-time to work on this project.

         But still there could be concerns about personal data and use of data. To address those, the project will be run under ethics approval from the University. Australian national laws regarding privacy requirements on data collection from companies and individuals will be factored in to decide the terms of access to the data, and use of the data.                              

We asked Mr. Green about data ownership. The data that is contributed by organisations will still belong to them. New data collected under the project will be owned by the university, as most research data is. The partners in the project, as part of their contract, will be signing agreements which include licensing terms under which they will have the necessary access to the data for the purposes of the project.

Aerial view of Melbourne CBD (Image by Wilson AfonsoCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Possible future directions

There are plans to extend the project to some freeway and highway activity. Those are not currently included in the test-bed environment. The project will also interact with other research projects in areas such as autonomous vehicles and new modes of using public transport. Mr. Green said, ”There’s a very interesting proposal around about public transport running on an on-demand basis, rather than a scheduled basis. There are many ideas. No one has the evidence yet to know if these are good ideas or not. So, we are going to test them!”

Partnerships

The project involves partnerships with a wide array of public and private sector players, some of whom are world-leading companies in traffic simulation, mapping systems, analysis, networking solutions. Explaining the critical importance of the partnerships, Mr. Green said, “I think having proper partnerships with all of the stakeholders is critical to getting research and projects working and delivering on the requirements of the project. A difference from perhaps the older ways of doing research on the world problems is that in the past people tended to do it as a pure research exercise, whereas today the community demands that publicly funded research (in fact all research) translate into benefits and concrete changes in the community.”

To take an entire section of the city and instrumenting that to create a real-world living lab, co-operation of the local government, the city government, the state government, the transport authorities, the road authorities is essential. Several of the authorities involved are regulators and their direct involvement ensures that any regulatory inconsistencies can be dealt with directly.

The project is a university project. Each of the other parties is signing a contract with the university about its collaboration. The parties are providing a combination of cash contributions and in-kind contributions, with the latter dominating at the moment.                              

Resources worth several millions of dollars have been contributed collectively. The organisations are contributing human resources, assigning staff members to the project, in some cases full time. They are providing data, software, hardware, technology, networking services, a whole range of hard and soft infrastructure that is required to create and run this test bed as a living lab for the next 10 years.

A win-win proposition

The project is expected to generate many learnings and benefits over time in a continuous process. The community and public sector players get to gather important information, which they can use to drive evidence-based policy and programme formulation. If the government wants to develop a better road network, they will learn things that they need to know and they will be able to implement changes based on actual evidence and knowledge and not just theory or speculation.                                

Companies’ business comes from being able to offer value to their customers. If their business is in providing services related to transport design, transport economics, technologies, a project like this can enable them to learn more about what benefits can be delivered by their products and services and then tailor them to deliver those benefits.

Mr. Green went on to say, “Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world. It has held that award for many years. And it is important to the community that we continue to be the most liveable city. That does mean that we have to pay attention to the all the issues related to traffic. There is congestion, which is about time and convenience. Also,the pollution that it causes. We are hearing how in London air pollution is killing 10,000 people a year. We don’t think it should happen in any city. What we learn here will be translatable into benefits on how to design and operate cities all over the world.”

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