Sydney Uni drives mobility-as-a-service expertise in city trials
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The Sydney-based Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) is an expert contributor to public policy on transport and logistics – in Australia and around the world. Founded in 1991, its expertise in mobility econometrics helps transport organisations to find practical responses to public challenges. Today, ITLS is running one of Australia’s first ever, comprehensive mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) trials.
International collaboration is what sets ITLS apart from many other
academic transport-research institutes. ITLS has a mobility service that
partners with the private sector and government to analyse complex
transport and logistics challenges. According to Professor David Hensher,
Founding Director of ITLS, the institute’s global reputation is built on a
tradition of partnering with the transport industry, addressing challenges,
and feeding results back into transport services and the vehicle industry.
‘At ITLS, our focus is not just on research,’ says Hensher. ‘Our focus is
on building relationships with public transport systems: it’s about how we
can help them in day-to-day operations and long-term strategy. Uniquely –
for an institute – we have helped to train transport managers in Australia,
and once they are working in the industry they contribute directly to our
Devising a bus-service trial in Sydney
In 2018, Japanese tyre manufacturer, Bridgestone, contacted ITLS wanting to
engage broadly on mobility research. This led to an initial program of
research centred on a trial to measure the relationship between the
performance of tyres on buses and cost efficiency. The company wanted to
place sensors on the tyres of buses that were in service in order to track
bus driving behaviour and performance. Bridgestone’s objective was to find
the relationship between tyre pressure, driving styles and maintenance
‘Bridgestone contacted us because of our reputation,’ says Hensher. ‘We are
well connected with the public transport system in Australia, and are part
of a global transport collaboration funded by the Volvo Research &
Education Foundation called Bus Rapid Transit+ Centre of Excellence.’
Using its contacts within the New South Wales transportation industry, ITLS
helped to design a trial program with a private bus service, Forest Coach
Lines, which operates in northern Sydney.
‘We created a prototype analytical model to analyse how to make bus
operations more efficient,’ says Hensher. ‘This enabled us to ask some
fundamental questions: Do young drivers accelerate more aggressively; does
that impact punctuality; and what are the costs in terms of fuel, and wear
According to Hensher, trial results are helping Bridgestone to determine
the optimal pressure for bus tyres. They have also generated feedback to
Forest Coaches on potential ways to save costs on fuel including via driver
training and tyre-management programs.
Citizen choice in Newcastle, UK
ITLS also helps overseas agencies to devise transport policy. With a
dedicated mobility service that partners with public bodies, ITLS can build
models to predict the take-up of transport services using econometrics – a
branch of statistics that applies to human economical behaviour.
‘From late 2017 to early 2018, we partnered with a government agency from
the north-east of England that is trying to improve community transport,’
says Professor Nelson, ITLS Chair in Public Transport funded by Transport
for NSW. ‘They wanted us to develop an app that would help citizens
identify sustainable forms of transport in situations where it was a
The funded project drew on ITLS’ previous research into a
mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) app. The core of the research was a series of
algorithms developed by ITLS that could predict the circumstances in which
a potential travel customer would choose one form of transport over
another. Three ITLS – who are econometrics experts in choice and preference
modelling – took part in the project.
‘Our expertise in transport choice analysis gives us global
differentiation,’ says Hensher. ‘This expertise is why we are asked to
advise UK agencies on their mobility agenda.’
The outcome was a practical online tool. ITLS created the brains of the app
– a ‘what if?’ decision-support app that encapsulates the mobility options
for citizens in a specific area. The app accommodates a series of customer
preferences, and then provides the user with a series of logically-ranked
options from which to make a choice.
Global connections in advanced mobility
Using a network of global contacts, ITLS is helping governments and
transport systems around the world to trial mobility options. The
organisation has maintained a presence at the University of Johannesburg
since 1994, when it helped South Africa’s first post-apartheid government
tackle public transport issues.
‘Today, we are working with a ports and logistics research team in China,’
says Professor Mike Bell, ITLS. ‘Also, we are working with Oxford Economics
to study the market applications for different alignments of inland
railways. We have also recently partnered with University College London to
conduct transport research.’
MaaS trials in Sydney
Over its three-decade history, many ITLS graduates have begun careers in
the transport industry and are now part of our informal, global mobility
network. As a result, transport companies and agencies from around the
world look to ITLS to help solve seemingly intractable transport problems.
One advantage of working oveseas is that ITLS can bring this expertise back
to Australia. ITLS is currently working on the design, implementation and
evaluation of one of Australia’s first major MaaS trials in Sydney, New
‘We are active in advising our local industry partners, such as Transport
for New South Wales, in understanding how mobility systems of the future
can embrace the opportunities of major new influences such as
electrification, automation and sharing,’ says Nelson.
‘We are proud of our international relevance. We provide a translational
bridge between academic research and practical transport policy. Our value
add is identifying travel answers that other institutions cannot find.’
Says Hensher: ‘We are not just a research centre; we teach at the
postgraduate level as well, and over the years many of our graduates have
graduated into the transport industry. This has created a superbly placed
network that helps us to set up high quality trials and research programs.’
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