Mobility policy in a vacuum: the failure of Australian planning practice to capture the sustainability benefits of emerging transport technologies.


  • Carey Curtis University of Melbourne / University of Gothenburg
  • Xiao Ma University of Melbourne
  • Crystal Legacy University of Melbourne
  • Louise Reardon University of Birmingham
  • John Stone University of Melbourne


Transport policy, New Mobility Modes, Transport Governance




Private sector players are bringing new forms of transport mobility to cities (Stone et al, 2018) in the form of micro-mobility, mobility as a service, connected automated vehicles and electric vehicles. Taken together, those new mobilities possess the potential to reduce automobility (Urry, 2004) where they play a part in the public transport mix. However, research (Legacy et al, 2019) has noted that transport planners are being  required to adapt to the technology instead of shaping the technology to serve sustainable outcomes.

This paper investigates the experience of three Australian cities, (Perth, Melbourne and Sydney), to examine the extent to which transport planners facilitate these emerging transport technologies to positive advantage, including their alignment with long-standing policy imperatives of sustainable transport. The research draws on an analysis of transport strategies and interviews with players involved in transport planning in these cities.

We found that these new mobility modes are being implemented in a policy vacuum which means there is little support for adapting new technologies in ways that challenge the dominant paradigm of automobility. In order to better equip planners to manage these new modes in ways that support sustainability and transport justice  agendas our work shows that three key issues must be addressed: skills; relationships; and planning processes.

Regarding skills, transport planners recognise current limits to their expertise since new transport technologies increase the range of knowledge, including the lived experience of users and in relation to place. Engaging with diverse knowledge sets has become an essential element of a transport planner’s daily work. Planners must enhance their ‘soft’ skills so as to identify the right timing to promote new technologies, conduct strategic conversations, and facilitate innovation across institutional players.

Regarding relationships between players, the multiple agencies involved in technology transitions has increased agency fragmentation. As a result, planners must bring clarity to the role and power of different agencies while simultaneously enhancing effective collaboration between agencies. New procedures, routines, and cultures of collaboration are required to manage new digital technologies. Within this complexity, political leadership must be strengthened to ensure the appropriate expertise and understanding of the responsibilities of players as well as to manage practices across institutional boundaries.

Regarding planning processes, new ideas are currently filtered through planning processes that reinforce automobility. Innovative planning instruments are needed to steer the implementation of new technologies to create and empower organisations to pursue sustainability objectives. Experimentation with small-scale trials before a wider roll-out is one way in which these new planning process can be developed.

The paper calls for recognition of the power of new mobility technologies that not only can enable existing transport systems but also has the power to reshape the transport landscape either positively or negatively.


Legacy, C., Ashmore, D., Scheurer, J., Stone, J, & Curtis, C. 2019. Planning the driverless city. Transport Reviews 39 (1), 84-102.

Marsden, G., & Reardon, L. 2017. Questions of governance: Rethinking the study of transportation policy. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 101, 238-251.

Stone, J., Ashmore, D., Scheurer, J., Legacy, C., Curtis, C. 2018. Planning for disruptive transport technologies: how prepared are Australian transport agencies? in Marsden, G., and Reardon, L. (eds) 2018. Governance of the Smart Mobility Transition, Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Urry, J. 2004. The ‘System’ of Automobility. Theory, Culture & Society 21 (4-5), 25-39