RACV people: the public transport advocate

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

As RACV's Manager Public Transport and Mobility, Thanuja Gunatillake wants to find better ways for Victorians to get around.

There is no typical day in this job. We run research projects, campaigns and programs to give people better transport options beyond the private car. We engage with stakeholders to find out what’s going on, to share RACV members’ thoughts and concerns, and make sure their voices are heard. Sometimes we have to drop everything to respond to an issue in the media.

Our objective is to understand the issues that members face and help them- whether it’s through information and advice or lobbying for change. Better public transport means giving people better options to get around. Congestion is getting worse, the cost of running a car is increasing and we know that members simply want greater choice. There are also more innovative ways to travel now than ever before.

I’ve been with RACV for just over 14 years. I’ve always been in public policy. I have a background in civil engineering and I started my career here in traffic and road safety. Over the years I’ve had the chance to work across many areas as our advocacy team has grown.

Part of my job is responding to and building relationships with media. Sometimes we need to get messages out there, for instance a safety campaign, or we have new research about public transport and mobility that we want to share. But the media also come to RACV for comment on issues related to transport and mobility.

This is an exciting time because there are so many things happening in transport, there’s the emergence of ride share, car share and great apps that help people connect with different options. The part I enjoy most is engaging with people, whether that’s members, the transport community or other parts of RACV, just to see how we can all work together.

Driving change can be difficult, and maintaining the momentum can be a challenge. Our population is constantly growing and it adds to the pressure for better public transport.  But what’s most exciting is that new solutions are emerging to old problems.

I think that the definition of public transport will change over time and it will be less about fixed routes with trains, trams and buses, it will be more about services that can respond instantly to people’s needs.

A career highlight was a year-long project we did with regional Victoria. We looked at how quickly the regional cities were growing and tried to learn from some of the mistakes made in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, where thousands of people have moved into places without the transport network to support them.

We spoke to people in regional Victoria to understand the issues that they were facing. We brought together a range of stakeholders and produced an advocacy document called Growing Pains. It sets out RACV’s blueprint for roads and public transport. It highlighted the massive scale of funding needed to address the problem, over $4 billion.

RACV started over 100 years ago supporting members as cars were first emerging onto Victorian roads. Our role in supporting our members’ needs hasn’t really changed, what has changed is that there are more ways to get around and it’s an exciting time for RACV to look at how we can help members find better and more efficient ways of getting from place to place.

Written by Jessica Hirst
March 14, 2017