Better use of existing roads more cost efficient than building new freeways: Mathematics ‘the key’ to solving transport woes


Imagine buses turning up every five minutes, and schedules that could deliver passengers to just about anywhere across the city. Impossible? Laughably expensive?

Professor Mark Wallace from the Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology says it’s a goer. Mathematics, not massive infrastructure spending, is the key.

“You’d need twice as many buses, not 10 times as most people might imagine,” he says.

Some of the initiatives to make it work include adaptive scheduling (where the local schedule is flexible, and responds to direct consumer demand); more bus lanes; and, a system where local bus networks talk to one another and have coordinated changeover stations, so you have more efficient use of the limited bus numbers, which works against traffic congestion.

Some of these strategies are already being trialled in other parts of the world – and adaptive scheduling is already working in some parts of Melbourne.

The bus strategies are the brainchild of Beyond Zero Emissions, a not-for-profit research and education organisation. There are other research organisations around the world working on new ideas to solve ever-worsening traffic conditions.

On Tuesday evening, Professor Wallace will be talking about some of these possibilities at a public lecture “Cheap solutions to the transport problem”.

He says the term “rush hour” is out-of-date, given that morning traffic congestion in Melbourne lasts from 6.30 until 9.30. The annual cost of congestion to Victoria, he says, is estimated to rise from $3 billion to $6 billion by 2020.”

He says an estimated 20,000 trucks move through Melbourne’s inner west each day – but most of the freight-carrying is done by vans. He says researchers at Monash and in Tokyo are proposing the introduction of transfer points, where vans from rival companies meet, swap and carry each other’s goods across the city.

Professor Wallace says the transfer points would ensure the vans are used more efficiently. “Simulations indicate an immediate 25 per cent reduction in the number of vans on the road,” he says. “Of course it requires some trust between carriers.”

One of the more exciting and freaky ideas involves automated vehicle control, where convoys of cars travel close together at speed, the vehicles communicating with one another and coordinating breaking and turning. “So the drivers aren’t touching the steering wheel,” says Professor Wallace. “We have automatic braking and parking systems . . . and an automatic vehicle has gone from Italy to Siberia under its own control.”

That was in 2010, and the technology has advanced since then.

“A lot of testing shows automatic systems are safer than manual control,” says Professor Wallace. “The one bug risk is you get viruses in the computers. If anybody wants to screw things up, you’re in trouble.”

Professor Wallace says making better use of existing roads is vastly more cost efficient than building new freeways.

“While the east-west link project – an 18-kilometre inner-urban road connecting the Eastern Freeway and the Western Ring Road – would help reduce traffic, it will cost $13 billion to complete, with $15 million already spent on writing the business case.”

Mathematical solutions will costs million, not billions he says.

John Elder, The Age, June 16 2013

“Cheap solutions to the transport problem” will be held from 5:30-7pm on Tuesday, June 18 in Theatre S3, Building 25, at Monash University’s Clayton campus

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