The subtropical city of Brisbane is the capital of the Australian state of Queensland. This beautiful city has a history of implementing concepts of a Smart City, especially when it comes to transportation. Brisbane is often referred to as a green, clean, prosperous and advanced city. It is capable of collecting and analysing real time data to improve its citizen’s life. A number of “smart projects” took place in Brisbane. However, the city can improve and aim towards being a real Smart City and has a vision to do so [1].

Digitalisation and the Intelligent Transportation System in Brisbane

Picture taken from the ITS Australia Strategic Plan 2013-2018.

One of the most important areas to improve in order to transform a city into a Smart City, is transport. Brisbane’s transportation system is greatly focused on road traffic, especially on cars. The city’s density is increasing, however it is still low (3, 089 per km² [2]) compared to Asian and European cities (Barcelona: 16,000 per km² [3], Taipei 10,000 per km² [4]). The differences are even bigger in urban areas surrounding the city. A low density means a large transportation infrastructure and long distances travelled. It also means that it is challenging to implement efficient public transport based on traditional mass transport solutions.

The first Intelligent Transportation System of Brisbane was introduced in 1972 [5]. A specific achievement regarding ITS in Brisbane that received media attention was the implementation of an Emergency Vehicle Priority system [6]. A previous trial on the Gold Coast had shown that travel times for emergency vehicles improved by 10-18% along major routes [7] and improved patients’ survivability [6].

In 2008 the go card was rolled out throughout Brisbane [8]. The go card is a smart card that gives access to public transport, not only in Brisbane, but in many areas of Queensland [9]. In 2012, CityCycle, a bicycle sharing service, was integrated with the go card [10].

Because of the demographics discussed earlier, public mass transport solutions are far behind those of other cities and countries. The Brisbane Metro, which aims to provide a level of service which inhabitants of many cities around the world have been familiar with for years and decades, is only in its early planning phase [11].

On the other hand, alternative mobility solutions based on cars are very popular in Brisbane and supported well by the government. For example, the mobility service Uber, which connects passengers with private drivers, was fully regulated and legalised in 2016 [12].

The government of Queensland is also currently preparing for the largest trial in Australia for driverless and connected vehicles, which is planned to be held near Brisbane [13].

In addition to digitalisation of transport, internet that is available in most public spaces is a must for Smart Cities. The city council of Brisbane provides internet in 22 parks and public places across the city [14].

There is also a focus on green energy in Brisbane. From 2001 to 2014, over 200,000 small-scale solar panel systems were installed in the city [2]. There are many energy projects like the CBD District Cooling System [15] and Energetic Communities [16]. In 2017, the Third International Street Lighting and Smart Controls Conference was organized by the City Council [17]. Furthermore, the University of Queensland constructed a smart building focusing on a more sustainable use of energy and water [18].

Brisbane’s challenges

There are many types of challenges that the city of Brisbane is facing on the way to becoming a Smart City.

Technological Challenges: When it comes to digitalisation, existing global standards can be used as they are or extended if necessary. It is important to be able to integrate the existing smart technologies with each other and with other services. The long history of using early smart technologies will pose a big challenge. Replacing legacy infrastructure can be expensive and brings with it the risk that some services could be disrupted for some time when not planned and executed properly.

Source: Telstra Exchange

Financial Challenges: Pricing is a big issue for urban managers, as it is hard to influence directly. That is why they should influence it indirectly by regulating aspects of data ownership. However, the greatest financial challenge in Brisbane would be to invest wisely in new infrastructure or major infrastructure changes. Brisbane could also benefit from projects funded by citizens, similar to a project in Vienna where solar power plants were funded by citizens [19]. Energetic Communities provide a similar concept for energy [16], but concepts like these can also be applied to other areas like Plant Factories with Artificial Lighting [20].

Political Challenges: To develop a more coherent strategy and to encourage collaboration within the city and with other Smart Cities around the globe, Brisbane would be well advised to start promoting itself as a Smart City.  Australia as a country has chosen to do this with its Smart Cities Plan [21], which promotes and supports Smart Cities Projects, rather than solving problems directly.

To make better decisions with long-term impact on the infrastructure level, data science and big data can help to identify needs more accurately and better predict the impact of specific actions.

Different governments, departments and businesses have different interests and priorities and there is a risk that they will defend their old ways of doing things and be reluctant to change.

Social Challenges: On the digital layer, data ownership has already been claimed by service providers in many cases. Also, much of the data is not managed within the boundaries of cities or even countries. What managers can do is to encourage data sharing and open access. Policy makers might be able to enforce this to some extent.

While privacy is mostly a challenge for policy makers, managers are asked to encourage people to provide data even if they are not required to. This can be done by implementing solutions where people can sell their data or get other benefits from sharing information. Competitions and receiving feedback from peers are examples for non-monetary incentives that have been proven to be successful like Facebook [22] or Strava [23].

Data collection and privacy are areas where policy makers and managers in Australia must improve their methods. For example, technical problems and other concerns have been raised in context of the 2016 Census [24][25].

In Brisbane, the digital divide in the services layer is currently not managed well in some areas in the city. If you take Translink, it focuses on offering web services and mobile apps. However, public transport is not easily accessible to all citizens because of poor information at bus stops and train stations and in vehicles [26][27].

Environmental Challenges: The digital-life cycle of Brisbane is managed by service companies which can either be private companies like Transmax [28] and Amazon [29] or public ones like the Department of Transport and Main Roads [30]. The biggest challenge regarding this matter is to make the overall system modular and easy to interact with. This is getting more important as smart technologies are generalized and not only used in transportation.

The technologies used on the infrastructure layer are rapidly changing and systems are becoming more complex. To reduce costs and to keep disruptions to a minimum, hardware as well as software needs to have a modular architecture with abstraction layers, so that it is possible to swap out components without affecting the whole system. This way the infrastructure, as well as the services that are being built on top of it, can be kept up-to-date without massive one-time investments. Agile methodologies, which embrace incremental development towards fulfilling customer needs, have been widely adopted in software development around the world [31]. Adopting these methodologies to the physical infrastructure wherever possible might help Brisbane to keep playing an important role in the development of Smart Cities.

A picture of Brisbane. Source: Visit Brisbane

All in all, Brisbane has made good progress towards becoming a Smart City through many projects. It aims to be a Smart City in 2031 [1]. A submission to Australia’s Smart Cities Plan has been approved by the city council [21][32]. A holistic strategy has to be followed, to make sure enough importance is given to sensitive areas like social aspects. Brisbane can learn from other Smart Cities and other Smart Cities can learn from Brisbane. With the technologies and concepts used, this form of learning could become an integral part of Smart Cities, to form a web of Smart Cities and one day possibly a Smart Planet as a whole, which has already been envisioned a long time ago by some progressive thinkers like Jacque Fresco [33].


  1. Brisbane Vision. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  2. ABS Statistics. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  3. Wikipedia page on Barcelona. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  4. Wikipedia page on Taipei. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  5. About Transmax. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  6. Transmax (2014) Queensland extends emergency vehicle priority system. ITS International November/December 2014, 64-65.
  7. Traffic Technology Today (2013) Transmax wins award. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  8. Translink (2010) TransLink’s Tracker 2010-2011 Q2.
  9. About TransLink. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  10. Marissa Calligeros (2012) Commuters can use Go Cards on CityCycle from today. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  11. Brisbane Metro. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  12. Amy Remeikis (2016) Uber legal in Queensland from September 5, Premier announces on Facebook. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  13. Mark Bailey (2016) Australia’s largest intelligent vehicle trial to be held in Qld. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  14. Wi-Fi in Brisbane. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  15. Brisbane Smart energy project an Australian first. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  16. Energetic Communities. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  17. 3rd International Street Lighting and Smart Controls Conference. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  18. Global Change Institute Building. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  19. Citizens’ Solar Power Plants. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  20. Toyoki Kozai, Genhua Niu & Michiko Takagaki (2015) Plant Factory: An Indoor Vertical Farming System for Efficient Quality Food Production. Academic Press.
  21. Smart Cities Plan. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  22. Facebook. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  23. Strava. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  24. Charis Chang and AAP (2016) The outrageous fines you face if you don’t fill out Census properly. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  25. Chris Berg (2016) If you’re worried about privacy, you should worry about the 2016 census. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  26. Tony Corbett and Michael Swifte (2015) Opinion: Brisbane can’t be world-class without an efficient, affordable and accessible public transport system. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  27. Emma Reynolds (2014) Australia’s public transport is a shambles — and we’ve had enough. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  28. STREAMS: An award-winning intelligent transportation system. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  29. Amazon Web Services (AWS). Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  30. Department of Transport and Main Roads. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  31. Kent Beck at al (2001) Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  32. Brisbane City Council: Smart Cities Plan. Retrieved 2017-03-18.
  33. The Venus Project. Retrieved 2017-03-18.

This piece is the original writing of the author(s). The view points in the post is the author’s personal opinions and do not reflect IGLUS/EPFL’s viewpoints. The author(s) is the sole responsible person regarding the accuracy of the information presented in the post and will be liable for any potential copyright infringements.

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