One of the Resilient Melbourne Citymart Challenge ideas makes it easier for parents to ask other parents for help juggling transport requirements. Photograph: Alamy
Traffic congestion and social isolation are two concepts that don’t immediately appear to be connected.
But in 2012, the Grattan Institute’s Social Cities report drew a direct line between inefficient urban transport and less time spent with friends and family. One estimate suggested every 10 minutes of commuting equates to 10% fewer social connections, while other research has found that more than 10% of working parents spend more time commuting to work than they spend with their children. It’s an issue that the city of Melbourne wants to get to grips with.
“Given congestion seems to be getting to be a greater scourge, more people are spending time in their vehicles, but by themselves, maybe listening to the radio. They’re not connecting to their communities and their families,” says Melbourne councillor Cathy Oke, chair of the environment portfolio.
“The city has two clear goals, not only around our transport strategy and around reduction of congestion, but we also have a social connection goal.”
And so the Resilient Melbourne Citymart Challenge was created. The brief: creative, feasible and impactful ideas to help to reduce transport congestion, and ideally also make the experience of travel more socially fulfilling.
“The vision was about using technology to do probably what was done in the past; things like babysitting clubs, which were old-style models of communities helping each other,” says Scott.
Her previous role in strategy consulting for a health insurer got Scott thinking about parents struggling to shuttle multiple children to multiple events, and how this impacted their health and wellbeing.
The solution she and Higgins came up with was simple: leverage people’s existing social networks to enable the exchange of transportation favours via an app.
People either join Parachuute themselves and invite others, or get invited to join by another app user. Then they set up their trusted network of other parents within the app who they can send requests for or offers of transportation to specific events, like school or weekend sport.
Transport on the Monash freeway in Melbourne. Photograph: David Crosling/AAP
“We’re hoping that it makes it less awkward to ask, and so therefore encourages people putting up their hand and saying: ‘I can’t do something – can you help me?’” Scott says. “It’s really encouraging people to help each other.”
Two other entrants address what’s known as the “last mile” problem. This describes the last leg of a journey of people or goods from a transportation hub –(such as a bus or train stop) to the final destination or home. This section of the journey is often inefficient and contributes to traffic congestion and safety issues.
Brad Fischer from Last Mile Solutions is focusing on the problem of the last mile of parcel deliveries within Melbourne’s CBD, an issue he’s very familiar with from a long career in the distribution industry.
“We know that in excess of 10,000 trucks and light commercial vehicles enter the city every day to deliver freight and in most cases, they’re all going to the same locations,” Fischer says.
“Instead of 30 couriers going to the 16th floor of a high-rise tower, it will be one – my courier,” Fischer says. Modelling done in partnership with the University of Melbourne suggests this approach could keep more than 4,000 of those delivery vehicles out of the CBD each day. It reduces traffic congestion, frees up parking spaces and could even enable parcel deliveries after hours when recipients are more likely to be at home.
French company Navya is also tackling the last mile problem, although in this case, it’s the “first-and-last-mile” problem of getting commuters to and from public transport. Navya’s driverless electric shuttle buses are designed to make it easier for people to use public transport by offering a very local shuttle service to and from train, bus or tram stations.
“All the governments invest in public transport – tram, underground, buses etc – but nobody can pick me up from my house to drop me at the first collecting point of transport,” says Henri Coron, vice-president of sales at Navya.
Coron says the distance from people’s homes to public transport can be a significant barrier to using public transport, and as a result many people decide to take their car to work instead.
The shuttles can transport up to 15 people, taking a preplanned route, travelling no more than 45km per hour, and because they are driverless, they are safer and cheaper than having a human driver do that same route over and over again.
More than 100 entrants have already registered in the challenge. Oke says the panel judging the results – which includes experts from the transport sector, academia, government departments and transport organisations – are well-equipped to know what will work. And although there is no investment promised as a prize, the city hopes to implement some of the ideas.
“It’s important that the panel who are assessing it are people who actually know the reality of the solutions and hopefully also could help make it a reality too,” Oke says.
The challenge closes on 23 June.