Scott White: transport manager
Could you tell us a little bit about where you’re working now and what you do?
Sure. Currently I work for Transport for New South Wales. I’m the Executive Director of the Transport Management Centre (TMC), a role I’ve had for four years now.
How did you end up in a career in transport?
I’ve been in transport about 28 years now, and I started in it by chance, really. I was about 21 years old and was made redundant from the job that I was in right after I left school. I saw an opportunity working with the Docklands Light Railway in London as a train captain, so I applied for it and was successful.
I ended up spending 14 years there, and I was fortunate enough to be able to land a number of roles and to obtain experience across a number of fields in the rail industry, particularly due to its status as a growing railway. It was originally designed as a local commuter rail light rail system, but then Canary Wharf happened in London, so the scope of the railway grew and I was able to grow with it.
Have you done any tertiary study over the course of your career?
The only study I’ve done during my career has been a diploma in management and leadership at one point.
From your start driving a train, how did you move toward to what you’re doing now?
I drove, and checked tickets, on a train for about a year, and then moved into a commissioning job for an extension to the railway. From that landed a job as a trainer, training new recruits in terms of how to drive trains. Next was my first management role. The railway was franchised, a new operator came in, and I became a field operations manager, running a team of agents that worked out on the network.
I did that for about three or four years and then from that, I went to run the control room for the railway and ended up running the control centre for a few years. My next role was a secondment as head of safety for the railway, then moved into running the performance team for a period and then also rolling stock and signalling.
I was on an accelerated leadership program. The company I was working for was Serco, and from there I was offered an opportunity to work at the National Traffic Control Centre in the West Midlands in the UK. I ran that operation for four years.
Career-wise, how did you make your way to Australia?
In 2009 I left the UK and went to work in Vancouver in Canada where we got the Canada Line opened up for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. From there I moved down to the USA and I ran the TMC in Atlanta for two years and also an ITS maintenance contract there, and then I moved to Northern Virginia where I ran the TMC there in Northern Virginia, just around DC.
While I was in the Northern Virginia role I was approached and asked if I would be interested in a vacancy in Sydney, running the TMC, which is when I came over in 2015.
Broadly speaking, what goes on at the Transport Management Centre? How deep, how wide is the centre’s reach?
Here in New South Wales, ours is a transport management centre, so it’s not just traffic. That’s an important point. The centres in the USA I worked at were traffic management centres.
The difference here is we, as well as doing the road traffic management we oversee 18,000 kilometres of state roads. We do incident response on those roads, anything from breakdowns to major truck crashes. We coordinate those incident response activities, and also coordinate across the whole of transport, so we work with Sydney trains, ferries, light rail operators, private bus operators, and State Transit Authority buses.
We don’t operate these modes, our role is to coordinate their broader operation as a multimodal network, including the road network. A big part of what we do is getting information out to the public as quickly and accurately as possible regardless of what mode of transport is impacted. We do that via our channels, directly on radio with our spokespeople, plus we have live traffic and transport information on our website, plus our social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.
Last but not least there’s also our roadside infrastructure, Variable Message Signs (VMS) telling road users about roadworks ahead, or detours to have a more reliable journey.
All of these help us not only get the message out, but also to influence travel behaviour on the network.
I imagine that this is somewhat replicated at the level with the trains and buses, they have their own departments. So, theirs is more a hands-on management system, yours is more a dissemination of information role in terms of public transport?
Yes, it works slightly differently for different operators, but mainly if you think about, they’ll look after the information that goes out directly on their networks and then we would go out with the wider impact messaging from TMC. And from an integration perspective, we’ll give people alternate transport advice.
One other tool we have at TMC is the coordination of road occupancy licences. Anybody who wants to go and take any road space on the network for an event or a development, they apply to us, we do an assessment on their application and then we’ll either deny or grant depending on what they’re asking for, and then manage any of their impacts on the network on the day.
So that’s shutdowns for filming and so forth …
Yes, shutdowns for filming, or utility works in which lanes have been taken out, major projects … we work closely with all the major projects that are happening right now in New South Wales, and we process their occupancies where there’s going to be a traffic or transport impact.
We also look after major event planning and management. We deal with about 350 major events here annually. Our major events team works with event organisers, police, DPC, all the stakeholders involved and put plans in to place to manage those events. The events range from our biggest one being New Year’s Eve where over a million people come into the city, to local events that might attract five to ten thousand people.
And then of course there’s all the major Sydney sporting hubs, Sydney Olympic Park, Moore Park … we coordinate those traffic and transport arrangements as well.
That all sounds busy! Is there much you can tell us about what is ahead for you and what you do in terms of the Cubic Intelligent Congestion Management Program that was announced late last year?
Yes, so that’s started into delivery now. We went for procurement last year and the idea was that we wanted to go out in a way that would encourage innovation. We’re mindful of the fact that technology is changing fast and we didn’t want to go out in a traditional prescriptive Request for proposal process, because that way you simply get what you ask for. Instead, we thought long and hard about how can we go out to market and get something that’s going to result in innovation, and tell us what is going to solve our problems in the best way for us rather than us trying to go out and say, “This is what we need.”
So, we developed a number of scenarios and user stories, and we asked the industry to tell us how their technologies and innovations would address those. It was quite challenging trying to get through our procurement process and get a contract that worked, but we managed to do it. Cubic was awarded the contract last year, part of a consortium including Cubic, plus WSP, PTV, Mentz, and Microsoft.
Cubic is providing us with what’s called the Transport Management Platform. It is the core platform and the main interface for our operators here, It will give us multimodal capability, which means we’ll have a common operating picture, displaying all the modes of transport running around in real-time. It will also enable us to manage our road events through that platform, as well as integration with all the other technologies that we’ve brought into the consortium.
WSP are providing a system called Prep, which is what we will use to manage all of our road occupancy licensing processes. That will integrate with TMP so that when it goes live it will show on our common operating picture.
WSP is also providing us with a major event planning tool. What happens at the moment is that our major events team deal with the planning, and it’s quite a manual process. They’ll produce operational orders that will provide all the details of the event, the contacts, road closures, and then our operators use that manual to manage on the day of the event. Whereas now we’re going to put that into Prep and it will capture will capture all of the information and then transition that into TMP, so when the event goes live our operators have all the information — again in our common operating picture — at their fingertips.
With the PTV solution, we’ve got PTV Visum and Optima. PTV Visum is the offline modelling capability, and Optima is the real-time modelling capability. The way that we’ve set the contract up, because this is the first time that this technology has been deployed, is we’re running a trial on a key Sydney corridor first. With that trial we’ll be able to integrate it with TMP, and we’ll have real-time decision support for our operators.
PTV’s solution will work in the background using offline and online and real-time information, and it will predict up to an hour into the future what the travel times will be based on current conditions.
It’s not so much allowing you to do more, it’s allowing you to do what you do in a more timely manner? Is it more real-time, more fast-acting, less number crunching by your team, more the system helping you out?
Yes. It’s real-time decision support and predictive capability. The other thing we get is we get more all-around congestion data. We’re using HERE data and Cubic is integrating that with TMP and using some smarts in TMP to be able to set thresholds around congestion data. So, understanding what the baseline is for each day of the week and then saying, ‘Okay, when do we alert the operator that something is actually abnormal in this part of the network?’
That is a lot faster than what we have right now, as we rely on less automated tools like CCTV or police. We’ll get more of a heads-up if something has happened. So, the incident timeline, in theory, should shorten because the faster we learn about incidents the faster we can respond to them.
OK, we’re going to move away from what you do at the moment, and go into the world of the hypothetical. This can be any answer you want, any area you want, any country you want. If someone was to walk up to you with a large budget and a quite friendly timescale, what sort of project would you like to take on in order to make a strong impact?
What would make a real impact had we the budget, is targeted messaging. What I mean by that is the best way to influence travel behaviour is to get the message to people fast about what you want them to do, and how they should do it. Today we rely on infrastructure to help us with that, such as VMS, or people with downloaded apps and personalised push notifications. They’re not always getting the data fast enough for them to be able to influence their travel decisions.
But the technology is moving forward and I’ve seen some proof of concept in this space as well, but virtual VMS is an area that we’re looking at right now. What we mean by virtual VMS is similar to when you drive through a tunnel and a message cuts in through your car radio, telling you what’s happening with roadworks or congestion. It’s using wireless technologies to do that right across the network, so you can literally cut into people’s cars and give them information about what’s happening around them and what they should do.
Part two of the hypothetical question, is what transport issue would you take on with a limited budget and time frame, for a quick, appreciable impact?
Every year as part of our business planning process, we have a number of such scenario we consider. We have a drone program that we’re trialling right now. We’ve just gone through getting our accreditation from CASA, so we can be authorised pilots. And one of the things that we want to do pretty quickly is get some drones up and start to beam live footage back to TMC in areas where we’re quite limited in our coverage.
There’s a lot of benefits to that in terms of situational awareness or decision making for the leadership team here at TMC, but then also for our operators to be able to quickly assess the impact where we’ve got limited visibility. So that’s an area I think in the short term where we can with a smaller budget extract some really good value, and then perhaps look at the longer term and the bigger budget for how we might roll out that capability.
And then maybe automating the process. with drones running up and down the network. But in order to do that there’s some safety checks that we have to get though with CASA, because at the moment you can only operate drones within line-of-site. We’re working with them, and it is open to us actually proving that we can do it safely.
Now back to you and your career. Like I said, you’ve spent time on trains and moved into the TMC world. Is there an in transport in which you haven’t worked yet, haven’t touched on, that you might like to? I’m not saying you want to leave your job by the way.
(laughs) No. I think in terms of my role, I feel I’m quite lucky. I had a guy come see me from New Zealand yesterday and I gave him a tour of TMC and talked about what I do, and he said, ‘Wow, you’re so lucky, you’ve got a fantastic job!’ And because of TMC touching on so many different parts of transport, as I say, we deal with trains, buses, ferries, light rail, and all of those operators we interface with, and I’m lucky enough to actually touch all parts of transport. So yes, probably the role I’m in is where I’d like to stay already in transport to be honest.
I think if you looked at cities around the world and what we’re trying to do with ICMP, the way forward is the multimodal. The days where you can just look at a single mode of transport or just look at a road as a road are gone now. I always use the example of the bus fire we had on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We had the fire, we were doing the road response, we were deploying crews to do the incident management, making sure everyone was safe.
But then you’ve got Sydney trains running across the bridge. You’ve got buses that were impacted that we had to turn back at North Sydney. You had lots of people going down to get on to the Manly Ferry to go across to Manly to try to get a bus up to Northern Beaches. And then you’ve got the congestion that you’re trying to manage around it, so that whole of transport coordination approach in cities like Sydney is, to me, it’s essential as we move forward. And our goal here really is to try and further improve that and better integrate.
Good, because I grew up in Sydney and I know that if a small part of the transport network there got a cold, the whole system got the flu.
Yes, that can happen. Last year, we had a guy that climbed up on to the top of the Harbour Bridge, and it caused terrible delay. For example, it took me from Gladesville to the city, which is about a 10 kilometre trip, four and a half hours. It was just gridlock.
So last question for you now. What in the next three to five years technology-wise in transport are you most excited about?
Machine learning and artificial intelligence. I think there’s lots of opportunity for us to be able to leverage that, and so our solution around ICMP is utilising the PTV to do the real-time simulation.
But I think the next step to that is plugging in machine learning capability, so that every time we make a decision about what we do on the network, it starts to learn. Then we can understand how we need to refine or change those decisions. I think there’s some big opportunities in machine learning and the way that we manage transport.
What improvements are emanating from the new traffic management system?
Our new Transport Management Platform (TMP) is currently in development and delivery of the complete program is scheduled for first quarter 2020. What this will bring in terms of improvements will include a multi-modal common operating picture for improved situational awareness across the whole transport network, faster incident detection through a new congestion alerting capability, predictive and decision support capability through the use of real time simulation, integrated customer information systems enabling faster and more accurate information to travellers and enhanced real time planning tools utilizing the simulation capability and integrating with TMP.
What would you like to see in the next-generation(s) of the system you’re using?
Our TMP is designed to be ‘future proof’ so that we can integrate new technology and capability as it becomes available. I would like to benefit from the developments in Machine Learning to build on our current capability so we can learn and refine our responses in an automated way. I would also like to leverage developments in targeted messaging capability through the use virtual VMS and apps. I believe that this is the best way to really influence travel behaviour in real time.
Do you see a time where these new traffic management systems will be needed for rural NSW/Australia? Is there a limit in area that you think this technology can cover, or is that rather a matter of staff to interpret the data and make adjustments?
We oversee 18,000 kilometres of state roads across the whole of NSW so our objective is to continuously improve how we operate across the whole state. I think the important thing to do when building your capability using smart technology is to target areas where you can deliver the best outcomes and where you have access to good data. As we enhance our data across the state there will be no limit to where we can leverage the use of technology.
Speaking of staff, how big a role do you see for something like artificial intelligence in helping the system run to optimal levels?
The number of new transport operators that we work with is increasing all of the time and the complexity of the network is always increasing, for me it is critical that we leverage technology to support our operators with decision making and introduce more automation to help them cope with the increasing demands.
What do you see as the Transport of Tomorrow in the short-term? (5 years out)
Hopefully we will start to see more Connected Automated Vehicles and some of the benefits that will bring, like fewer crashes and a reduction in fatalities on our roads. I also think that we will get smarter with how we use data and will be using it more and more to help us better optimise the network and reduce the impact of disruption.
What do you see, if your crystal ball/wish list extends this far out, in the Transport of Tomorrow in the medium-term? (20 years out)
I think that automated vehicles will dominate the network, personal cars will be a thing of the past for many, and automated transport services linking the transport network to people’s homes in a seamless way. There is a real possibility that flying taxis could also be commonplace by this time and as such they would become an integral part of the transport network.
What is certain is that there are many possibilities as to what the future might look like and I am sure that there will be many things that we haven’t yet even thought of, so long-term transport plans need to be flexible enough to be able to align to whatever comes along.