Technological Advances & Impacts on Community Transportation

Date: November 30, 2018

On November 28th, David Thurlow from Harmonize Mobility and Thurus Consulting presented an OCTN webinar on “Technological Advances in Community Transportation”. He provided an overview of some of the changes that are currently happening with respect to passenger transportation, as well as some of the things that are yet to come.

David began by explaining that it is not about trying out new/cool technologies, as much as it is about “how to make them work well for us” in our communities. For instance, how can we meet the needs of those whose needs have not been met before? He stated that the overarching goal should be to increase mobility for those without access to transportation currently and, ideally, also reduce any unnecessary travel.

He spoke about the importance of partnerships between public and private entities, such as municipalities and business, in order to best meet community needs. Using the example of the Town of Innisfil, which partnered with the Ride-Hailing company Uber, David described how Innisfil subsidizes rides to certain key locations in town (such as the library or rec centre). This partnership provides for better service, and at a much more affordable rate to the municipality, than if they had offered a fixed route transit bus service through town. Also, Innisfil is now one of about 30 other communities in North America doing this type of thing and the expectation is that this number is not only going to continue to grow, but it will likely be coming to a community near you.

David also mentioned On Demand transit where the Town of Belleville has partnered with the software company Pantonium to add a digital layer to what previously existed. Belleville already has transit buses and recently piloted a move from a fixed route to a direct route, where passengers can schedule on demand pick-ups via requests by phone or app. This enables riders to track the bus and determine when & where they can catch it, so as to ensure they get where they want to go when they need to be there. This pilot has seen a 300% increase in ridership as a result and there are now plans to expand to other routes.

Another approach available to communities is Mobility-as-a-Service (or MaaS, as it is commonly known). This presents all of the transportation options available to riders at any point in time. For instance, apps and software such as Google Maps provide a list of all of the multi-modal alternatives to driving yourself. Passengers can take transit, a ride-hailing service (like Uber or Lyft), a bike and/or walk to wherever they are going. Ideally this will also be available with an integrated payment system (such as Presto available in the GTA), offering the user both more choice and convenience. This approach has many opportunities for partnerships as more and more transportation network companies (TCNs) expand and develop.

Finally, Vehicle Automation was covered by David as presenting several options, both now and in the future. He explained that here are three types of automation: 1) temporary, 2) full but limited, and 3) full. Temporary automation is here, with car companies like Tesla offering temporary auto-pilot systems. Full but limited automation is also happening now in some urban areas with driver-less shuttles, robo-taxis and delivery services available. However, full automation is an expectation for the future, where maybe 30 years from now we will be able to hold business meetings on commutes into the city with fully driver-less cars, Wi-Fi, etc.

In these above cases, there are a couple of options for ownership and use. Personal vehicle buying is one (where individuals/organizations can purchase their own automated cars), and shared ride-buying is another (where municipalities, businesses and/or non-profits might purchase fleets of automated vehicles and provide shared rides/transit). The latter is estimated to be available to communities within the next 10 years, and the hope is that we will be able to move more people with less vehicles.

David concluded his presentation by saying that these technologies are expected to bring dramatic improvements to safety on the roads, and will hopefully also be more environmentally responsible. For commuters, the benefits will be less stress and more time available. However, there is concern that more “bedroom communities” may result. Therefore, municipalities and community members alike need to determine what they want in the future and plan for it now. By creating clear guidelines, local governments can welcome these new technologies, and other innovations, while staying in line with local priorities and goals.

How would you like to see your community transportation options evolve in the future?

* To access a recording of the webinar (including the discussion that followed and related slides), visit the Resources section of this website and look under "Webinars", or click here.