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The Next Generation of Mobility

Advances in mobility service models, autonomous and connected vehicle technologies, and mobile applications loom large over any future vision of transportation in the region. The next Regional Transportation Plan will lay the groundwork for anticipating and responding to these influential, even game-changing trends.

Emerging New Mobility Options

The transportation choices we’ve enjoyed for decades are being reinvented as new mobility models and technologies emerge outside traditional frameworks. They could bring benefits, but also complexity, disruption, and conflict.  

Transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber, and Lyft are becoming highly visible and disruptive forces in cities around the world. Through the ubiquity of mobile communications and the rise of the sharing economy, these companies provide flexible transportation options that add a whole new dimension to the transportation system. TNCs have the ability to dynamically change the number of cars on the road in real-time based on demand, and offer services not feasible if a permanent standing fleet were required.

TNCs can complement transit, provide more efficient services for segments of the population (e.g. low density areas), and perhaps fill gaps that transit has traditionally found challenging (e.g. first mile-last mile connections). However, there is a risk that the benefits of on-demand mobility might not be accessible to the entire population due to price, and could result in lower demand for traditional transit services leading to efficiency problems as the higher revenue passengers are skimmed off.

In addition to ride-for-hire services, these companies are also beginning to offer new services such as ride sharing and carpooling options, as well as delivery services. It is possible that the increase in single-fare trips by these services could increase overall motorized vehicle kilometres travelled and draw significant ridership from former transit riders or from people using active modes, such as walking or cycling.

Transportation network companies and ride-sharing companies are likely to increase demand for trips that were made by taxis in 2011. However, these companies also have plans to promote trips made by multiple travelers (see Uber Pool and Lyft Line), which has considerable potential to decrease overall motorized vehicle kilometres travelled (vkt). At the same time, these improvements will only come about if most of the shared ride travelers were previously taxi riders or drivers. If TNCs draw significant ridership from former transit riders or from people using active modes, overall vkt could increase as a result of this new service. One recent study suggested that fully half of Uber users in San Francisco were drawing predominantly from transit and active modes.

Car-sharing is growing rapidly (see Figure 17), and reflecting that many younger professionals in dense urban areas may have less interest in the expense of car ownership and maintenance. Between January 2014 and January 2015, car-sharing memberships in Canada grew by 50%. Research suggests car-sharing has the potential to reduce car ownership and car use, but parking supply is a constraint to its growth.

Figure 17: Growth in Car-Sharing Membership in Canada

A bar graph showing the growth in car-sharing membership from 2004 to 2015 in the Canada. In January 2015 there were around 340,000 members of a car sharing service, versus around 10,000 in 2004.

Mobility-as-a-service is an emerging model for marketing a comprehensive suite of multimodal services. A multimodal service enables travelers to plan and pay for transportation through a single portal, such as an app on a mobile phone, that integrates the services of multiple providers (e.g. transit systems, car or bike share providers, taxis). Using a multimodal service, travelers may choose from several on-demand services for each trip. This customer-centric system encourages providers to look at mobility holistically and recognizes that changes to the transportation system (e.g. congestion relief) cannot be brought about by focused development of a single transport mode, but instead requires an integrated approach.

Connected vehicles use new technologies that allow vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to improve road safety, reduce congestion and emissions, and boost the effective capacity of roads. In Toronto, connected vehicles have the potential to reduce travel times by 37%, reduce emissions by 30%, and improve safety indicators by 45%. The United States Department of Transportation estimates that connected vehicles could affect or eliminate up to 76% of multi-vehicle crashes involving light vehicles, such as a cube van or a passenger car.

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) (also called fully-automated vehicles, driverless cars or self-driving cars) can read their surroundings and make intelligent decisions about their direction, speed and interaction with other road users. Autonomous vehicles could lead to the more flexible use of private cars, as well as to customized and lower-cost transit services. Their widespread use could improve safety for all road users (given that 90% of crashes are caused by human error), and enhance mobility options for non-drivers (e.g. seniors, youth and persons with disabilities). AVs could provide an effective solution to “first mile” and “last mile” barriers facing travelers trying to get to and from rapid transit stations (particularly in suburban areas), and could reduce the cost of long-distance trucking.

Other potential benefits include improved traffic circulation, increased road capacity and reduced emissions – especially in conjunction with connected vehicle technologies. Their advancement may allow for the redeployment of road capacity for pedestrian and cyclist use, and redevelopment of land previously used for parking. These advances could have the greatest benefit for customers in lower density suburban or rural areas, where conventional transit can be expensive to deliver and require long walking distances and waiting times. At the same time, suburban households may be the least likely to embrace these options.

Factors such as vehicle availability, consumer acceptance, government regulation, privacy and security regulations, and insurance industry adjustments may delay the widespread adoption of AVs. However, they represent a significant paradigm shift for not only the region’s transportation infrastructure but for our entire society.

Vehicle fuel-efficiency and electric vehicles (EVs) represent a significant opportunity for the transportation sector to contribute to the fight against climate change. EVs will play an important part in Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy by reducing transportation emissions, the largest GHG source in the province. Incentives put in place by the Ontario Government will only increase the demand for EVs, and the rollout of enhanced infrastructure (charging stations, priority parking), supported by municipalities, will hasten their adoption by drivers. 


Embracing New Mobility Opportunities

Transportation planning, modelling and project assessment must consider the impact of emerging mobility and technology trends.

Figure 18: Electric Vehicles in the Incentive Program and Charging Infrastructure at GO Stations"

A GTHA map indicating that electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) is installed at Go Station in Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Aurora, Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington, and that it is pre-wired for charging in Milton, Toronto and Richmond Hill.


Metrolinx has begun to explore a number of possible models for the delivery of new mobility options in the region with our municipal partners who have responsibility for local transit service and regulating private transportation services.  

Many of these models involve partnerships with the private sector to develop a more integrated suite of services that complement public transit in meeting traveller needs. The possible benefits of new mobility models could include improved user mobility and convenience, better user information, lower public sector costs, and more effective use of public resources, such as large buses. It will be necessary to focus on areas where new partnerships can fill gaps in the conventional services provided by the public sector, or where current services can be improved and delivered more efficiently.

Governments will be expected to take on the role of establishing protocols and infrastructure to facilitate the use of new mobility vehicle technology. Metrolinx and local municipalities must look to maximize the benefits of innovation while ensuring to mitigate the costs. This balance can include supporting research and development that advances the public interest, monitoring related technologies and the impacts of pilot testing, and by enacting timely legislation and regulation. Ontario is the first province to allow for the testing of automated vehicles and related technology on-road, and with the Ontario Centres of Excellence Connected Vehicle/Automated Vehicle Program there is a supportive legislative environment for the GTHA to be a leader in this area.

New mobility relies on, and creates, a vast amount of data, using smartphones to receive and generate trip data and enabling more flexible and adaptive transportation services. The field of data management will require increased attention to ensure privacy, ownership and security concerns are addressed, and that big data appropriately informs transportation decision-making. Data generation and monitoring can even enable new policy tools for demand management (e.g. pay-as-you-drive insurance, and active transportation incentive programs). Ultimately, government could potentially act as a steward for mobility-related data in the region, maintaining its integrity, security and openness.

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