Mobile device icon

In 2014, a report estimated that 83 percent of New Zealanders over the age of 15 own a Smartphone and 53 percent of New Zealanders aged between 15 and 65 regularly use a tablet.[1]

A 2014 article in the US magazine The Atlantic(external link) described the Smartphone as the most important technological innovation in transport in the last decade. While that may be an exaggeration, these devices are having a major impact across all modes of transport. They are now as powerful as a supercomputer was two decades ago. There are now car systems built to integrate entertainment and information functions with users’ Smartphones.

Application (app) developers have taken advantage of the Smartphone’s combination of powerful computing technology, miniaturised motion and location sensors and cellular communications to the internet, to develop a wide range of transport applications. These include apps covering:

  • booking transport services
  • real-time public transport timetables
  • route planning maps, advice and directions
  • logging cycling and running
  • identifying vacant car parking spaces and making parking payments
  • weather reports and forecasts
  • electronic flight bags for pilots
  • social media.

Example app icons

Examples of Smartphone apps provided by central and local government include:

These apps generally rely on centrally provided databases. This requires data standards. For example, public transport timetable information is made available for Auckland(external link), Wellington(external link) and Christchurch(external link) using the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS)(external link) standard (see Section 4.4 of the ITS Action Plan).

Some apps also provide the ability to crowd-source information on transport networks, enabling the early identification of incidents, delays and the state of transport infrastructure. For example, some apps track users to build up a picture of traffic flows and allows users to share feedback on incidents and petrol prices. Another app uses the accelerometer and GPS sensors on a Smartphone to report on the smoothness of streets to allow damage to the road, such as potholes, to be recorded and repairs to be programmed.

Smart parking technologies, using a sensor at each parking space, are increasingly used in combination with apps for locating vacant spaces, making payments and obtaining refunds for unused time. Frogparking(external link) and Smart Parking(external link) are examples of developers of this technology in New Zealand.

Bluetooth(external link) signals from cars and Smartphones, with their unique identifiers, are proving to be a useful source of traffic information both for active network management and planning. New Zealand engineering consultancy Beca is using this technology to evaluate improvements in travel time(external link) in the Waikato, following the construction of a new Expressway. Bluetooth technology is also used at Auckland International Airport to collect data on the time it takes passengers to move through the various border processes. Privacy concerns with this technology application are addressed by strict protocols about data retention.

Some apps, when combined with new business models, raise issues as to if the current regulatory regimes remain appropriate. A recent example of this has been the launch in New Zealand of the Uber private car hire application. On 20 January 2015 the Associate Minister of Transport announced a review of the relevant legislation(external link).

Driver distraction

A particular safety concern with the use of devices in vehicles, such as  Smartphones and tablets, is the potential for driver distraction.

The Ministry has surveyed research on this issue, producing two reports:

Because of the rapidly evolving range of relevant new technologies, we are planning to review the current rules around driver distraction (see Section 4.15 of the ITS Action Plan).