Readers often write in to create magazine to discuss issues affecting the engineering profession. Here, one reader writes about the impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s transport network, and why future-proofing is so important.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge, impacting profoundly on health and wellbeing, daily life, and the economy around the world.
The most obvious and immediate impact on traffic and transport has been a significant reduction in patronage for public transport and an increase in the need for connected and safe supply chains.
What role might we, as engineers and designers, play in shaping future traffic and transport infrastructure to increase users’ connectivity while ensuring our safety during crises like infectious diseases?
The Australian Institute of Traffic Planners and Managers, of which I am a member, is currently discussing traffic and transport infrastructure and its resilience to these kinds of shocks.
The Australian road transport industry is already playing an essential part in supporting our economy during the crisis. As the impact migrates through the sector, the challenge of maintaining a fully functional trucking fleet becomes even more critical in reducing the effects on Australians and Australian businesses.
This means maximising the potential benefits of a more automated trucking fleet and harnessing the efficiencies of a fully automated end-to end digitised supply chain industry.
Autonomous vehicle manufacturing needs to be scaled up a notch, and it is important that our road controlling authorities respond with a much clearer policy for adapting our roads to cater for these emerging technologies.
One hot topic already broached in the public transport industry is the design of train carriages and stations.
Those who work in transport design know we plan for trains to be overcrowded during peak times. Railways are costly infrastructure, and this approach optimises the use of the fleet. But, right now, no one wants to be on crowded public transport.
In future, we may need to review this previously acceptable “design for overcrowding” approach.
Responses could include more generous seating arrangements, wider platform waiting areas, extended train platforms for longer trains and more fixed seating, removing the need for over-crowding in aisles and door access areas.
Our major cities all use contactless ticketing technology — which is good — but should this concept be extended to include separate carriages for the elderly or infirmed, or even parent-child carriages to encourage off-peak hour travel at a reduced or more subsidised price?
Such measures will need to be balanced against the ongoing costs of operation and considerations such as passenger capacity and fleet-use rates. But what it does raise is the possibility of revisiting the way current performance targets for our public transport operators are set. This pandemic has highlighted the direct relationship between the economy and the health of the nation in a crisis.
No one can predict the timeframe of COVID-19 or what the entirety of its impacts may be. We, therefore, need to start thinking outside the box to ensure we design future-proofed infrastructure that enables us to comfortably and safely navigate from point A to point B.