Do you think that the emergence from lockdown is going to present Redflex with specific areas of opportunity that didn’t exist before?
There is going to be an issue with public transit: there has been a massive reduction in utilisation; it is still going to be delivered as a public necessity.
But there will now be more cars. Even if an increased percentage of people work from home, there’s still going to be a massive amount of people trying to get into congested areas that aren’t eager to take public transit, that are going to drive or ride a bike or take a scooter, or walk. All of this creates inherent conflict, because you’re still dealing with the same roadway capacity.
So, cities in particular are desperate to find out how are we going to deal with this from a technology standpoint - because we can’t put the traffic management officer on the side of the road: we have to find some way to leverage the technology that’s out there to try to improve the flow of traffic and reduce incidents.
But you already saw that happening with urbanisation and the massive amount of people going into cities. So I think this may just accelerate it.
You want to move Redflex beyond just being a red light and speed enforcement provider to a technology services company. So what are your main areas of interest?
Broadly speaking, we would say: saving lives, saving time, saving the environment. And really what that means is we’re managing roadway safety with our cameras today, we are improving the overall level of congestion by reducing accidents, identifying incidents, enabling technology that helps people respond and clear traffic for greater throughput.
And then also you have the benefit of reducing vehicle emissions, because if you’re reducing congestion, if you’re reducing idling vehicles. So if you look at those three tenets, there’s a lot of solutions that can go underneath that.
We’re only doing red light and speed enforcement today, but you can see that’s a massive market - $40 billion - and we’re addressing $1.4 billion today. As customers look for technology-based solutions, we’re there already as an established supplier. I think it’s natural for us to start broadening out, saying: ‘Wait a second, I’ve got a pretty powerful sensor here on the side of the road - what else can I do for you and how else can I help?’ And we’ve got a bunch of smart people building our own IP [intellectual property], that we can actually configure it, we can actually control it, we are the source of the technology, not just an integrator. That’s an enviable position to be in.
And is this something that transit agencies and city authorities want to hear?
Yeah, I think they do, they all have long- term plans for roadway management. And again, I think this may accelerate some of their thought process around it, because you have a growing problem and limited resources. That, to me, is a formula for a technology-based solution that’s leverageable. You have to become more efficient.
Another area of interest for you is safety around schools and workzones: what are you doing there?
Whether that’s on school bus cameras - we’re seeing illegal drive-bys while children are loading or unloading - whether it’s school zones where children are walking to school or crossing the street to get to their school: it’s tough to deny the risk, that’s there. And it’s had great success; any place we put the cameras you see significant declines, reduced traffic speeds, as well as just reducing incidents.
At the same time, I think one of the other greater areas of risk has been highway roadworks, construction sites, where folks are working on their job and not looking at the roadway. And despite the barriers, despite all of the signage, people tend to not pay attention. It requires enforcement – and enforcement is very tough to do with an officer, so we’ve started supplying technology, cameras, and again we will see the same level of compliance that we see everyplace else.
The consistency of enforcement will drive compliance. As long as they know you’re out there, as long as they know there’s a consequence, almost universally people will start paying attention, and respecting the warning signs as well as the speed limit. And let’s face it, the road workers are virtually defenceless. They are not paying attention to the roadway, they are right up against it, just doing their job, significantly exposed. People are recognising the success they can have in reducing incidents of death and injury by deploying technology.
A former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems was involved in a bribery scandal around contracts in Chicago. This is more than a decade ago, but does that sort of incident cast a shadow? Have you had to repair reputational damage?
I definitely think it’s part of our history. We were very public about it. The board took it very seriously and I think they dealt with it. The reality is [that in] my management team, the longest tenure is 2016. So I do think they needed to put behind them the final pieces of the resolution which is what happened early 2017.
And then, you’re right, it’s building back your reputation, reminding people what we deliver. I think for existing customers, it was not a hard conversation. It was more reminding them that we’re going to be here for them because our contracts are long-term, these are long-term capital investments. With new customers, I think it heavily relied on who the new management team was - what their experience was - and in essence you buy as much from an individual as you do a company.
Over the long term, I think it has become less and less of an issue.
How do you think the debate over the reallocation of street space for different modes, plus the development of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), is going to change cities?
In my hometown, here in Washington, DC, the mayor reduced the speed limit from 25mph to 20. They are going to potentially increase the size of the sidewalk, to enable social distancing. They have a robust scooter/bike system with limited space. And I actually think the more space provided to those mobile alternatives, the more the demand.
So there’s a whole way to rethink the city infrastructure. And obviously, then there’s more complex needs to be managed. Clearly, private sector/public sector cooperation in MaaS has been something that people have been pushing for since Uber and the transportation companies that have become so much more prevalent – and that’s fine, but there has to be a coordination. It is driving congestion, it is going to drive inherent conflict when you now have multiple non-automotive transportation solutions. And at the same time, there’s a reason mass transit existed. It’s a really efficient way to move people through a city!
So I’m curious: the transit guys have a big hill to climb - we were trying to push more of it [public transportation] - and now, Covid has just shot a hole through the middle of that and so now that has to get shored up. And then we’re still dealing with the same congestion, the limitation on space. It opens the door for a lot of opportunities for someone to get it right. And I don’t think it’ll be one solution for the next several years - I think people will start experimenting, based on geographic, cultural and regional preferences.
But yet, you know, it’s a lot of fun. It’s an interesting problem, and any of us who grew up in the city, get it. I think there’s a technology solution somewhere out there, along with policy and cooperation between the public and private sector - which is what I’ve been doing for 20-plus years.