Challenges for Government as Facilitator and Umpire of Innovation in Urban Transport: The View from Australia

John Stone, David Ashmore, Crystal Legacy and Carey Curtis, chapter in anthology Shaping smart mobility futures: governance and policy instruments in times of sustainability transitions, Emerald Publishing Limited, August 2020

New economies based on emerging technologies for shared mobility and autonomous vehicles will shape future urban transport systems, but their potential impacts are uncertain. Internationally, government agencies face difficult challenges to effectively plan and regulate the deployment of these technologies for the common good, whilst simultaneously encouraging innovation. Being both a facilitator and an umpire is not an easy task. This chapter draws on a series of interviews with public and private-sector actors in urban transport in Australia. Unsurprisingly, all private-sector respondents had significant concerns for the sustainability of their business in the emerging mobility markets, but it was generally acknowledged that without government support and partnership, a lack of structure and clarity could lead to natural monopolies with negative consequences for competition and the public good. Strong and clear government regulation is seen to be necessary to allow the sector to reach its maximum potential and have positive ramifications for both the public and the private good – outcome not always seen as compatible. Public-sector interviewees generally recognised that much of the necessary innovation was being shaped by the market, and that there had been a considerable loss of skills over decades from the state because of neo-liberal policies. So, some doubted the ability of the state to shape developments using currently available planning and public policy methods and feared that it would be difficult to regulate emergent markets to prevent monopolies emerging. On the other hand, some argued that many firms are looking to government for frameworks in which businesses can operate successfully by setting conditions in which risks could be managed. This chapter discusses these issues, seeking to guide research agendas and to foster further debate. The evidence gained from these in-depth interviews helps focus attention on which forms of regulation might be required by industry. It also raises questions about the capacity of government agencies to effectively manage these complex transitions.