Smart mobility - putting community first

The challenge

What Australia can learn from a snapshot of current conversations, challenges and realities around ‘smart mobility’ from around the world.

In this article

  • Global issues and opportunities for smart mobility connecting community and technology
  • Key gaps in our ability to address and achieve smart mobility
  • Concepts to future proof an accessible, socially useful, transit network for our communities

The rise of Internet of Things (IoT) has led to unprecedented opportunities for smart mobility – revolutionising management systems or roads and rail, enabling new micro mobility devices (hello, scooters) and ride sharing services. But have we been paying too much attention to alluring technology and not enough to ensuring a holistic approach that benefits all parts of the community? Zoe Eather, one of our smart regions and mobility consultants, dug deeper into this question during her 2018 Churchill Fellowship.

I don’t think you ‘solve’ mobility because mobility is like life. It’s complex, it changes, it looks different for everyone. You don’t solve life, you live it and every day you try to make it better for you, your family and your community. – Zoe Eather

Travelling to 10 countries and meeting over 100 people - from government officials to start-ups and NGOs - Zoe tracked common concerns and key gaps. From this baseline, Zoe then created a practical, globally applicable framework to future proof Smart Mobility for our communities. Zoe's travels took her from Toowoomba to Seoul, Cape Town, Barcelona, Amsterdam, London, Dublin, Toronto, Orlando, Denver, San Francisco and Mexico City. Government, planners, industry, technology companies, academics and citizens are all thinking about the future of mobility and community, and how we can improve the former, to serve the latter. What was clear is that across the world we are facing many of the same challenges.

Zoe in Amsterdam

The most common issue Zoe encountered was congestion. Too many people are going to the same place at the same time. Whilst it’s not the same type of congestion, planning focused on the single occupancy vehicle – usually a car with one passenger - always has a part to play.

Closely linked to congestion, pollution was also a massive pain-point throughout the world, and increasing in importance globally.

Population growth and resulting strain on infrastructure and systems is being felt everywhere, both from cities and regional perspectives.

More people is more of a problem in some places than others, for instance Denver is one of the USA’s fastest-growing cities, with year-on-year growth and the forecast continuing this trend. This increases the pressure on the existing infrastructure, housing market and government services to allow for equal opportunities for connectivity for all citizens. - Zoe Eather

When it comes to connectivity for all, there are real challenges to create and maintain an equitable and sustainable network within existing constraints - physical, digital and societal. Most of our infrastructure was built in a time that does not match current demand, ideologies and community expectations. There are also shared experiences of inefficiencies of Public Transport.

Although networks look different in each region, common threads emerged. These included a perceived lack of service, over-crowding, safety, accessibility, the role of Mobility as a Service and On-demand Mobility, and the opportunities and challenges of new technology.

With all these emerging technologies, the only way to learn is to test and trial them. There’s lots of hype and misunderstandings about terms and impacts and that’s what I want to cut through. I want to bring back to the Australian community real learnings, not just the ones you read in the glossy reports. - Zoe Eather

Zoe also wanted to identify the gaps in the 'smart mobility' narrative. By putting a microphone to whispers happening in some corners, but not others, Zoe identified 7 areas that need more attention:

1/ The Status of Mobility: A base-line is necessary to understand the current network, and its real and perceived gaps. Qualitative and quantitative data can be used to measure both positive and negative impacts.

2/ Mobility as a System : Before we can have Mobility as a Service (MaaS), we need to treat mobility as a system, where transport services run symbiotically with land use and accessibility to community needs, such as employment and services. An integrated system is joined-up, accessible, safe, sustainable and affordable for all. We've been considering this idea for some time - click through to our report on The Future of Mobility and MaaS Governance and Orchestration).

3/ Increasing Convenient Mobility: Reducing the need to travel by providing options for remote working, planning for urban migration, and decentralising services. This requires both cultural and technological changes.

4/ Regional Mobility: By creating hubs and re-thinking public transport and policy to enable connectivity across and between regions, we enable both housing affordability, and reduce congestion and pollution, by decreasing the need for people to get into their cars each day.

5/ Holistic Mobility: By comparing and sharing data across disciplines, we will better understand the places we are dealing with and those who need to access them. If Smart Mobility isn’t used to address the challenges faced by marginalised communities, then it’s not good enough. Joined-up government services are an important aspect of the future of our communities and using technology to decrease the complexity in doing this.

6/ Sustainable Mobility: Smart Mobility should address the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in both developed and developing countries. It is important that we share learnings across government so we don’t keep piloting the same things over and over again.

7/ Mobility for Whom? We need to change the way we plan, from tradition based in facilitating an able bodied – often male – population going to and from a centralised workplace. Women must be involved in mobility and the planning of our cities, in both a professional capacity and as members of the community. Other considerations are increasing non- peak trips, catering for our ageing population, for the young (think – prams and the world from a three years old’s perspective), wheelchair users and needs of groups whose voices maybe marginalised in design.

This last aspect was experienced directly by Zoe, travelling alone as a woman. “I planned differently depending on the time of day and had to put safety plans in place when I was meeting a new person one-on-one. Sometimes we don’t realise that we change our behaviour because it’s so ingrained. These issues aren’t talked about enough. The lens of a woman travelling alone is an important one to add to the conversation.” Based on the common threads of her research, Zoe charted the elements needed to future proof our communities as we move toward Smart Mobility.

The 'Way to Go' framework

To get to ‘The Future Proof’, Zoe devised a practical and globally applicable 'Way To Go' framework. The framework is a tool for government agencies and industry players to build the mechanisms required for Smart Mobility. Starting with a vision (big or small), users move from the middle of the framework into an inner circle to solve problems. Examining qualitative and quantitative data, users then take action based on the evidence, and re-visit the vision. This helps users course correct incrementally without being paralysed by choices or fear of unintended consequences. The outer circle articulates the support mechanisms required for success.

The process is guided via a range of questions suggested by a Conversational Journey Plan.

Conversation Journey Plan to guide mobility discussions
Conversation is paramount, because mobility is a continuous process. It keeps evolving, shifting and progressing. For it to be Smart, it must be built upon the backbone of an integrated transport network that is not just about moving people, but about creating liveable communities. - Zoe Eather

To implement smart mobility, we need to change the narrative from one that is technology-led to people- led. This means increasing community and stakeholder literacies to better understand problems, motivations and desired outcomes. Introducing frameworks provides a structured process to enable change, getting us closer to an integrated network that makes our communities - the places we work, live and play - more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all.


  • Despite a multitude of systems and approaches to mobility across the world, there are common issues being faced.
  • A series of gaps exist in the conversations about Smart Mobility. These need to be addressed more overtly if better solutions are to be found.
  • Using a structured framework can lead us toward a more holistic approach to Smart Mobility.

Lead Arup Researcher

Zoe is a Senior Consultant in Advisory Planning & Design in our Brisbane office

Ask Zoe about:

  • Community-based smart cities
  • Mobility as a Service
  • Transport engineering


Research TEAM

Associate Principal, Transport & Resources, Brisbane office
Associate, Transport Planning Leader, Brisbane office
Associate Principal, Transport Planning, Brisbane office

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