A feature of modern city living is sitting in traffic jams, to the point it has almost become a way of life.
As the nation’s population grows, pressure rises on infrastructure to keep Australia moving.
In the most recent Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics report on traffic congestion trends for Australian capital cities, the avoidable social costs of congestion are estimated to be $16.5 billion annually.
Breaking this down, $8 billion is attributed to business time expense, $6 billion to private time costs, $1.5 billion in additional vehicle operating costs, while $1 billion is credited to further air pollution costs.
If the current level of infrastructure were to remain in place, by 2030 it is estimated that congestion would cost the economy upwards of $30 billion a year.
The freight and logistics industry in Australia employs over 600,000 people, with the sector contributing to 8.6% to the nation’s GDP.
The knock-on effect from an inefficient logistics system is that other areas of society that rely on it will be held back.
The Congestion Conundrum
While congestion is dreaded, it’s a sign that the economy is working – people have jobs, and goods are being shipped.
Outside of putting a dollar figure on slow traffic, the bottom line is that it can have a significant impact on the quality of life of commuters.
Some schools of thought limiting commuter travel times include matching home and work locations, with a result of this being the explosion in recent decades of high density living around inner-city areas, or public transport hubs.
Governments are also striving to make public transport alternatives as efficient and viable as possible, with a bus or train load of passengers taking many cars off clogged arterial roads.
Numerous train, light rail, and dedicated busway projects have launched nationwide in the past decade.
Offset working hours meanwhile have seen the peak hour rush spread well beyond the traditional 9am and 5pm bursts.
In some areas there has been a focus on bicycle friendly corridors, which not only remove some cars from the peak hour equation, but also shift slower moving bicycles away from vehicle filled thoroughfares.
However, for the supply chain, the solution isn’t as simple as jumping on a bike.
Freight companies are under ever-increasing pressure to improve their efficiency, but when faced with the physical constraint of the current network, there is often a literal road block.
The solution is co-ordinated planning from the top levels of government on the different facets of the industry, and the examination of future trends, ensuring implemented measures are resourceful in the long run.
From a logistics perspective, a co-ordinated approach to strategy must include the road network, rail, sea and air links, with the crucial development of nodes to interchange between the various transport types.
From that end, a national approach is necessary to planning – there is no point in having a highway or train line terminate at a state border.
In May this year, the Council of Australian Governments' Transport and Infrastructure Council agreed on a 20-year strategy for the sector, with the aim of making the movement of goods faster, easier, and less expensive, with a goal of increasing competitiveness in the marketplace.
The strategy not only looks at the localised needs for the sector, but also forecasts exports from the mineral resources market, an area of special focus particularly in Western Australia and Queensland.
While all sectors of the supply chain are expected to grow with the population, the road freight task in capital cities is projected to grow by two-thirds between 2008 and 2030, which will put an additional strain on the network.
Outside of running more and larger trucks, technology innovations will be pushed to the limits, with companies ensuring that more truck movements are completed with a full load onboard, as the vehicles move along the most efficient routes.
From a ports perspective, shipping companies will be looking to introduce larger, more efficient vessels, which will be a test of not only water depth, but also landside infrastructure and available dock lengths, with the next generation of ships expected to be 30 metres longer than the current standard.
Issues surrounding the management of empty containers will also need to be addressed, with there being a net imbalance due to our reliance of imports, especially from Asia.
From an airfreight perspective, although export volumes may be low when compared to sea freight, the relative dollar value of the goods, especially perishable foods, places it near level pegging in overall importance.
Thus, efficient connections at airports are imperative.
While the need for transport infrastructure will remain critical within the planning timeframe, the evolution of technology advances present planners with numerous questions, some which simply cannot be answered currently.
How will automated and connected vehicles enhance the supply chain? It’s an unknown world, not only from a regulatory standpoint, but also from a legal, safety and security perspective.
What is the impact of unmanned aerial vehicles going to be on the industry? The technology is almost here for last mile deliveries, but how can this be effectively policed?
Will the advancements in 3D printing technology shift production closer to consumers, therefore eliminating the need for much of the logistics chain with respect to some goods?
Although technology is beginning to optimise the current freight system, ongoing data gathering and analysis will continue to provide efficiencies, and determine the best possible connections in terms of speed and cost.
While the easy way out of solving congestion is to throw money at building more roads, there are many more considerations that need to be taken to ensure solutions are reached in the most efficient manner.