Cars will be king until transport authorities connect dots

Access to unlimited trips on public transport is a more compelling incentive for consumers than price points, was the main finding of an innovative trial of transport subscription plans by University of Sydney researchers.

In an effort to reduce CO2 emissions and tackle road congestion, researchers from the Institute of Transport & Logistics Studies (ITLS) together with their partners IAG and Skedgo, tested four different subscription bundles that would give participants access to public transport (including train, tram, bus and ferry) and car-based services (taxi and car rentals, Uber and GoGet).

Unlike existing platforms, participants could plan, book and pay for trips on different transport modes using a digital app called Tripi.

We have a long way to go before Sydneysiders will willingly give up the convenience of owning a private car.

Professor David Hensher, Director of ITLS

“For a society like Australia, we need to recognise that cars will have a dominant role in travel for some time,” said Professor David Hensher, Director of ITLS.

“But the results of our trial show there are ways to reduce our reliance on private cars, by packaging public transport and car access together. This isn’t going to kill off the use of the car altogether.”

Researchers and transport authorities alike have been trying to crack the right mix of transport services for most commuters, made available via mobility bundles and a digital platform or app. This emerging field of research is known as Mobility as a Service (MaaS).

Funded by iMove Australia, the Sydney trial was the world-first study that includes a societal goal of greening the passenger transport sector by incentivising every-day travellers to make greener travel choices.

“MaaS is coming to Sydney with increasing interests from both private and public sectors. Transport for NSW recently announced a large-scale trial of Opal digital cards, helping public transport users to address the first and last mile issue,” Dr Chinh Ho, day-to-day manager of the Sydney MaaS trial, said.

“With useful insights gained from this trial and others worldwide, we hope to inform the development of MaaS in the local market, with commercial MaaS products estimated to be available in less than 5 years”.

The trial enrolled 93 participants to test the potentials of MaaS, which took place from November 2019 to April 2020.

The most popular subscription bundle was the GreenPass ($125 per month), which covered unlimited trips on public transport and a $3 discount on ever Uber and taxi fare.

The different subscription bundles trialled in the Sydney MaaS trial.

“Designed with a co-creation and data-driven approach, each bundle targets one market segment,” said Dr Ho.

“The Super Saver25 bundle, for example, targets infrequent public transport users with some odd taxi or Uber trips. This is likely the audience segment that local transport authority targets in their upcoming Opal digital card trial.”

Despite the fact 82 percent of the participants had daily access to private cars, only 17 percent reported that the experience of the trial changed their view of car ownership.

“We have a long way to go before Sydneysiders will willingly give up the convenience of owning a private car,” Professor Hensher explained.

Post-COVID we have an opportunity to use this knowledge to create appealing transport options that get people to their destinations while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion.

Ian Christensen, iMove Managing Director

“Interestingly, very few participants saw the value in the service without financial incentives like discounts on rideshares and public transport. Expanding incentives to retail outlets could make a difference to uptake.

“Investing in cleaner fuels and electric cars might reduce emissions but it won’t fix the bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads. That’s why we need a holistic approach to the future of transport.”

Managing Director of iMove, Ian Christensen, said: “Well thought out and implemented MaaS solutions have the potential to improve transport options for travellers. This trial provided valuable information to guide the development of MaaS services both locally and internationally.

“Post-COVID we have an opportunity to use this knowledge to create appealing transport options that get people to their destinations while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion.”


This research is funded by iMove CRC and supported by the Cooperative Research Centres program, an Australian Governmment initiative.

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