Rahila David

Executive Director, Centre for Connected and Automated Transport

  • Change agent
  • Driving reform
  • Proactive collaborator
Based in: VIC
Modes: Road
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"If you want to come into an industry that can take you anywhere – including being at the forefront of technology and innovation – it’s transport."

Current position

  • Executive Director, Centre for Connected and Automated Transport

Previous positions

  • Acting Head of Automated Vehicle Program, National Transport Commission
  • Principal Policy Advisor, National Transport Commission
  • Senior Policy Analyst, National Transport Commission
  • Private Secretary, Associate Minister of Local Government, New Zealand
  • Senior Policy Analyst, Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand
  • Senior Policy Analyst, Ofgem, United Kingdom
  • Policy Analyst, Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand

Career snapshot

Rahila David is the Executive Director of the Centre for Connected and Automated Transport (CCAT), a government, industry, academia, and community collaboration focused on facilitating the transition to a connected and automated transport future in Australia and New Zealand. 

Prior to joining CCAT, Rahila led the development of the safety assurance framework for the commercial deployment of automated vehicles in Australia, at the National Transport Commission (NTC). 

Rahila has had a diverse policy career in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, leading regulatory reforms in areas including transport, energy, and local government. 

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In her own words

I started in policy after a double degree in law and arts. The first policy areas I worked in were local government, identity, and government transformation in New Zealand, followed by roles in energy policy in the United Kingdom. I loved the craft of policy but hadn’t found a specific area I was passionate about until I came to Australia and fell into transport policy at the NTC.

When I had the chance to become a member of the NTC’s automated vehicle team I jumped at it. It’s not very often you get to work on the creation of a brand-new framework for a brand-new sector. It was a once in a lifetime career opportunity and it was fantastic. I was able to combine my love of policy with a subject area that was extremely exciting to be a part of and it’s how I came to specialise in transport.

As Executive Director for CCAT I lead a collaboration between government and industry which aims to facilitate the transition to connected and automated transport.  Our particular focus is on how we plan our supporting infrastructure. We need to look at the big picture and think about the infrastructure changes that could open us up to new and more efficient ways of moving people and goods.

Automated road vehicles attracted a lot of hype in the couple of years prior to when I started in transport. At that time, the appetite to prepare for the technology was high. I think it is safe to say that this has slowed slightly in recent years, for many reasons. These reasons are on both the industry and technology side (e.g. lower levels of research funding, and in turn delays in readiness to deploy) and on the government side (e.g. competing priorities, focus on other technologies like electric vehicles). 

My view is that the momentum to prepare for automated vehicles is still important. Automated vehicles could bring so many benefits that Australians will value. Safer roads, increased productivity, decongestion and decarbonisation, and improved transport accessibility are all outcomes that can be achieved with this technology. If we don’t prepare our transport systems now, we won’t receive these benefits as soon as they become available.

We also need to remember that our hand could be forced if one company is ready to go with the technology and wants to deploy - just as we saw Uber enter the market and completely disrupt all the business models and regulation we had in the commercial passenger transport space. We must be careful not to get ourselves in that position again. 

I think it is a great time right now to be thinking about how we set up for the future and get the momentum back. Just because timeframes have slowed, it doesn’t mean the technology isn’t coming. It is extremely important we keep the momentum. 

Maximising the possible

We can delve into some of those potential benefits a bit more. Research out of the United States shows that 94% of road crashes have human error as a contributing cause. We don’t always make the best decisions as drivers. Automated vehicles reduce or even remove the human from the driving task. It’s logical to foresee that the potential safety benefits of automated vehicles could be huge. Automated driving systems won’t drive distracted, fatigued, under the influence, they won’t speed. These systems will also have much faster reaction times. The imperative to prepare for this technology for that safety benefit alone is enormous. 

That’s not to say that automated vehicles could not introduce new risks. Cybersecurity could present new safety challenges. That’s why we must also ensure that our regulation, processes, and infrastructure can address any new risks of the technology so that we can harness its benefits. 

Similarly, in terms of increasing transport accessibility, we can’t just assume this benefit - we need to proactively prepare for it. Yes – automated vehicles do have the capacity to provide an independent transport option to people who may not be able to travel alone now. But we need to look at a person’s whole of journey needs, and make sure they are supported so they can use the technology. For example, how will a vision impaired person order an automated taxi, or how might they get on and off an automated bus safely? How might they buy their ticket? Will the law allow a person who cannot obtain a driver’s license to travel in an automated vehicle alone? We need to get all of these supporting setting right to make sure the accessibility benefits of these vehicles can be realised. 

Proactive disruption

Using the same way of thinking, until diversity and inclusion become the norm you must be proactive. We need to make sure women are welcomed into the transport industry through deliberative actions. Things like improving working conditions, culture, addressing bias, access to mentoring and equal leadership opportunities. Traditionally transport has been male dominated. Although I am seeing a far more diverse and representative younger cohort coming up now, I am well aware that it is not reflected in all environments.

Transport is a great industry to get into because it is made up of such a wide variety of areas - on the ground operations, systems planning, technological innovation, as well as high-level strategic visioning for the future. If you want to come into an industry that can take you anywhere - including being at the forefront of technology and innovation – it’s transport.  When I joined the industry by joining the NTC, I thought that transport was just about trucks and trains. I didn’t have a clue that I would be at the forefront of building a new legislative framework for a technology that doesn’t exist on our roads yet. It is such an exciting area, and it sits within a very diverse portfolio.

My vision for the next five years is …

a transport system that has the infrastructure and frameworks required to support both emerging technologies and safe and productive communities.

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