Are we ready for autonomous vehicles and driverless transport?
Are we ready for autonomous vehicles and driverless transport?

Are we ready for autonomous vehicles and driverless transport?

Yes and no. The public are ready, but our cities aren’t.

The trend towards vehicle automation gathers momentum every day. It is replete with opportunity, what they might offer and what they might achieve. But our cities, governments and transport agencies are playing catch up when it comes to the infrastructure to support these vehicles and their understanding and ability to manage them.

Automated vehicles are already here. Driverless rail has been operating in some industries such as mining for some time now, and Australia’s first driverless passenger train is now a reality. The cars that we drive today have varying degrees of automation, which we can benchmark against the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) levels of automation.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) levels of automation

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) levels of automation The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) levels of automation The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) levels of automation

46% of overall respondents and 72% of industry can see the clear advantages of driverless, dedicated rail routes, believing funding channelled in this direction will have the greatest impact on freight routes between capital cities.

Australia is well regarded in terms of its current engagement and testing in the AV world. New cars today come with emergency brakes, collision avoidance, parking control, radar enabled cruise control.

These levels of automation have been gradually increasing and will continue to increase in capability in coming years, until they (possibly) reach SAE’s Level 5 — full automation (as per graphic above).

Perhaps this is why 46% of all respondents envisage going to work by AV in 2035; compared to 32% who indicated they will ‘catch a few modes, usually bus and train’; 18% will ‘ride a bike or walk’; and 4% will book a ride share.

When we gaze into this future, is this the future we want? Will automated vehicles and driverless trains live up to their promise of being faster, safer, cleaner, more reliable? Or will they simply produce a raft of new travel patterns which create more congestion, pollution and danger?

Implications for jobs and safety

Improving safety is one of the great opportunities, but the full extent of whether removing human error could see improved safety outcomes is still to be proven. The major challenge will be how a mix of fully automated vehicles and human driven vehicles share our road network.

Engineer working with robot

While AVs might save lives, there is a concern they could destroy jobs and it’s predicted more than 400,000 driving jobs could be impacted by self-driving technology. These include train drivers, workers in the freight sector as well as taxi drivers and of course we would no longer need as many driving instructors.

The flip side is that new jobs will be created, new work opportunities we have previously never thought of, particularly in the engineering, data analytics and robotics sectors.

For example, human trainers will be required to teach and modify the machines plus new roles will be responsible for supporting machines in collecting and analysing reams of data that we’ve never before had access to.

Just as the tractor was introduced in farming, creating jobs in factories and manufacturing for the design and importing of tractors and spare parts, whilst also increasing productivity on farms, ultimately creating many more jobs than people could ever have dreamed.

But making decisions on future freight solutions must be inclusive, and operators need to be part of the conversation. A people centric perspective is vital – not only the users, but the transport workers too.

Consequences for industry and the impacts on society

Autonomous vehicles will have widespread impacts on society. If their integration is not planned properly with a balance across the four pillars of future mobility – connected, automated, shared, electric – the future could be worse than today, with larger populations and higher volumes of cars swamping streets, creating more gridlock.

Congestion costs our nation billions of dollars every year, but if AVs are an integrated part of an interconnected multi-modal transport system (Mobility as a Service), we could see reductions in car ownership and increases in vehicle sharing. Add in the ability for passengers to work while travelling, and the potential economic and productivity gains could be sizable. Wellbeing and happiness could also improve through sharing vehicles and simply interacting with each other more.

If technology trends are harnessed for the greater good, AVs and driverless transport could see positive outcomes for society’s vulnerable – those with physical impairments, young children, the elderly – providing more cost-effective options, and improving social mobility, equity of access. We have an unprecedented opportunity to improve quality of life.

Elderly woman and child in a blue car picking up young woman with broken leg

For industry, it will be a big shift. AVs being shared and electric will see huge changes in mechanics, car dealerships, the petrol industry, and also in the value chain. The ripple effect across other industries will be widespread as adjustments are made to new behaviours: electric cars will bring increasing demand for electricity, connected cars will transform tech companies and insurers.

These impacts will create disruption and opportunity. Let’s learn from history – with the introduction of tractors came concern, but the industry adapted and through automation set a new benchmark, forming a paradigm for further innovation and birthing new industries.

Is policy and regulation holding this back?

With greater automation in our freight and transport networks, comes a greater need to influence at the government level. Every government is grappling with creating policy and how to regulate and respond to changes. Many of today’s policies were created more than 100 years ago when cars first hit our roads, and there’s been little evolution since.

We need to hack into policy at a strategic and ground level. It needs to be more agile to meet changing needs of our growing population. It needs to be more flexible for city planners and operators to adapt infrastructure to meet people’s needs.

Feather pen ticking off item on a scroll of parchment

Policy and regulation must have the ability to respond and embrace technology and innovation as it comes and be more nimble for an uncertain future.

We also need to be cognisant of the significant funding constraints that every level of government faces, that pose substantial challenges with regard to how well-equipped these organisations are in creating solutions to these very complex problems.

Governments need to enable and clear the path of any barriers to progress, which is challenging when you can’t predict new business models – such as e-scooters, which blindsided many cities. Policy and regulation must have the ability to respond and embrace technology and innovation as it comes and be nimble for an uncertain future.

With new technologies and evolving models disrupting all facets of the transport network, governments need support in helping determine where to focus their priorities. Are the right questions being asked by decision makers, internally and externally with suppliers, to ascertain the right priorities?

The insurance minefield

The insurance industry is set to face massive disruption. Why buy insurance if automation makes accidents far less likely? Without people driving vehicles, will there be a need for personal motor insurance policies or other transport related insurance? How will the industry respond?

The insurance sector knows a shock is coming, and many companies are now heavily involved in AV testing, as they seek to understand the risk and determine how best to diversify their products. There are so many unknowns to the future of freight and transport that it’s hard to predict exact outcomes, but if insurers want to keep their skin in the game, learning about these new technologies, which are tipped to alter the current vehicle ownership model, is crucial.

Is there a risk that we can’t meet demand?

How do we catch up with and manage the public’s expectation?

The Australian public know what they want. In 2035, 46% of all respondents want to jump in an autonomous car to get to work. But the dream for industry respondents differed vastly – with 68% going to work via multiple modes of transport (bus/train), riding or walking.

While the public see AVs as a reality, industry is much more aware of the constraints of the transport system and the ability for it to absorb any more traffic congestion. How do we bridge this gap between the public’s expectation and what industry perceives to be the future reality?

Without appropriate ‘market shaping’ and behaviour changes needed to effectively manage the advent of AVs, these modes could exacerbate the problems we currently face in our network (congestion, safety, less walking space etc).

Survey results

Overall respondents


How do we catch up with and manage the public’s expectation for future transport? How do we catch up with and manage the public’s expectation for future transport? How do we catch up with and manage the public’s expectation for future transport?


Engagement with the public is fundamental, for their informed understanding of what all this means now and into the future, and also for industry to understand what people really want.

To meet future demand, regulatory barriers need to be overcome, procurement models for public transport services need to change, and we need to think differently about how these vehicles are procured. Currently most buses are diesel, and it’s only a few years before electric is the norm – how quickly can governments transfer their fleet to fully electric when they are inhibited by the way they purchase the vehicle?

Some government authorities such as Transport for NSW – one of Australia’s biggest energy users – are already preparing for this. Aurecon has developed an Energy Futures Strategy to help the Government achieve their aspirational net zero carbon target by 2050, including not just electricity but all energy (diesel, petrol and gas) for all transport modes. It’s this kind of leadership that is required across public and private industry to truly make a difference.

We can meet the anticipated demand for AVs if cities enable them to integrate seamlessly with other transport modes and existing infrastructure. Instead of seeing them as competition, AVs need to be seen – and understood – as being part of an ecosystem that better connects people to other modes of transport.

Explore the rest of the report


Sam Linke, Victoria Transport Planning Lead

Sam Linke

Integrated Transport & Mobility Capability Leader, VIC – Australia

Looking for more on the future of transport and cities?

If you enjoyed this report, you may enjoy these posts from Aurecon's Just Imagine blog.

To top

Unfortunately, you are using a web browser that Aurecon does not support.

Please change your browser to one of the options below to improve your experience.

Supported browsers: