Want to use your problem-solving skills to address challenges facing urban growth, sustainability and movement around cities? Working in the fields of mobility and transport can be an enormously rewarding and innovative career path to consider.
For insight into the industry, we chatted to two experts from Griffith University for a look into future mobility trends, current challenges, as well as helpful advice for students and graduates wanting to contribute to future innovations in transport in Australia.
Why do we need to think about mobility and transport in Queensland?
If you’ve ever relied on public transport to get around your city or neighbourhood, then you understand the joy of a well-connected, accessible transport system.
Mobility is a term that encompasses everything to do with movement to and from your destination. This includes public transport such as buses, trains and ferries, as well as active mobility such as walking, cycling or jogging to where you want to go. Personal transport is also included under this umbrella, such as how you use your private vehicle.
As Australia's population increases, many researchers are looking at ways that cities can meet the nation’s ever-changing mobility needs, in ways that are safe and convenient.
“When people talk about transport, it’s always about building new infrastructure, but it’s also about how we live in a city, ” says Dr Abraham Leung.
A Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Transport Academic Partnership (TAP) in the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University, Abraham is the recent winner of the Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship. He is currently researching how to use Mobility-as-a-Service (or MaaS) for tourism purposes ahead of the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games.
Working closely with the Queensland Government, local councils and other universities across Queensland, the Cities Research Institute uses evidence-based research to support the sustainable development of communities.
Dr Kelly Bertolaccini, a lecturer of Transport Engineering in the School of Engineering and Built Environment at Griffith University, is also a member of the Institute's Transport Research Sub-group. She believes that the importance of the Institute is the collaboration of people from many different backgrounds - such as environmental sciences, social sciences, building infrastructure, urban planning - to address challenges.
“I love that because cities are really complicated, and there’s no one discipline that’s going to solve all the problems,” she says.
Kelly’s research focuses on transport equity and making sure vulnerable groups can reasonably access transport.
What mobility and transport problems are researchers looking at in Queensland?
One of the biggest challenges to mobility across Australia is the long distances, meaning private vehicles are often the most feasible mode of transport.
“Our transport system currently is a huge greenhouse gas emitter,” Kelly explains. “When we break down exactly where those emissions are coming from, it is largely from private vehicles.”
Reducing reliance on private vehicles is a complex task, however, especially for those who live in rural or regional areas and need to access services that may be far away.
Another challenge is making sure that transport is accessible for everyone, not just able-bodied people or those who can afford expensive transport options. Making transport better equipped for the needs of everyone requires commitment. It means that footpaths, pedestrian crossings and even the duration of automated crossing timers will need to be considered.
“It’s like a chain, and every link of that person’s trip needs to be accessible or they can’t get to their destination,” says Kelly.
How will technology influence the way we navigate cities?
In 2021, Brisbane City Council rolled out a fleet of electric buses.
“They put a lot of money into building the charging infrastructure they’ll need to run a fully electrified bus system, so that’s really exciting,” shares Kelly, adding that she hopes to see a more widespread encouragement towards electric vehicles.
This mirrors a larger trend for the state, where transport solutions are often creative and forward-thinking.
“We [in Australia] tend to be innovative,” Abraham points out. “We tend to do things that have not been done in other places.”
In the future, we’ll likely see more area-specific data gathered through the use of technology to inform decision-making about urban planning. In 2017, the Australian Government announced the $50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program. This program supports councils, researchers and businesses in implementing innovative strategies that improve liveability and sustainability in towns and cities.
While Abraham’s current Maas-based research is intended for tourism, this type of technology may eventually become widely available. MaaS-based apps bundle together a range of transport options - such as e-bikes, taxis, public transport and carshare services - into one hub with a single subscription payment.
According to Abraham, the benefit of this is that “you don’t need to own the mobility [device in question]” to use this system. Not only does this make it more accessible, but it allows for faster and more flexible trips across cities.
Finally, we may see an increase in Demand Responsive Transport (DRT), especially in rural and regional areas. DRT is a flexible mode of transport that stops at your home and connects you to a larger community hub (e.g., a train station or shopping centre). Such a system is especially important in regional and suburban areas where it’s difficult to have a widespread transport network.
Why choose Queensland for mobility and transport studies?
According to Kelly, students working toward careers in mobility and transport will have ample opportunities to use their education to solve real-world challenges.
“I can guarantee any student who goes into this space will have work to do,” she says.
Depending on your interests and skills, you might consider pursuing an urban planning degree, such as Griffith University’s Bachelor of Environmental and Urban Planning. This pathway can lead you into positions in government, community organisations or with businesses and industry groups. Additionally, degrees in humanities, architecture, technology and engineering are all essential components of creating new mobility innovations. These pathways can even lead to rewarding postgraduate studies and exciting research opportunities.
In Queensland, a great perk of studying in this sector is the collaborative nature between government and universities across the state. This allows students to contribute to solving real-world challenges alongside their degrees.
“We try to [encourage students] to work with the industry to [develop] research that is relevant and practical,” Abraham explains.
Thanks to Queensland’s willingness to experiment with new transport solutions, students can also get great insight into innovative solutions right on their doorstep.
“I like that they’re keeping an eye forward…I appreciate that kind of experimental attitude from the government,” Kelly explains, noting Brisbane City Council’s success in rolling out e-mobility and electric buses.
For those interested in pursuing a career in mobility and transport, Kelly encourages you to travel around your city as much as possible to assess what works, what doesn’t and what can be improved. With an open mind and a critical eye, you never know what you might find.