The Future of Our Roads is Arriving

by Markus O’Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

When we imagine a “future city” one of the first things that jumps to mind is transportation.  From The Jetsons cartoons of the 1960s to the Back to the Future movies of the 1980s, futuristic cars have been imagined, though never actually realized.  We’ve heard about driverless cars coming at some point in the future.  Those that think that these are still a long ways off may need to think again.

This week, the City of Toronto announced an agreement to deliver Toronto’s first Automated Shuttle Trial, set to begin operating in Spring 2021.  Local Motors, in partnership with Pacific Western Transportation will provide this service using Olli 2.0, its latest electric, self-driving shuttle.  The shuttle will connect the West Rouge neighbourhood in Scarborough with the Rouge Hill GO station and be coordinated with GO Transit schedules.  It will be able to accommodate up to 8 passengers at a time, but will also include two staff members for every trip to monitor and learn from the six to 12 month trial, or to assume manual control at any time if required.

As Automated Vehicles (AVs) begin to arrive on City streets, they will begin to completely transform how cities plan their transportation networks and infrastructure needs.  From the future of public transit to the movement of urban goods to road classifications and they very design of our streets, everything will need to be reconsidered.  Developing new micro-transit opportunities, such as this one, could lead to an improved and more sustainable public transportation network.

In October 2019, City Council adopted an Automated Vehicles Tactical Plan and Readiness 2022, making Toronto the first city in North America with a comprehensive automated vehicles plan.  In addition to the shuttle pilot, Council is scheduled shortly to get a report on the establishment of Transportation Innovation Zones in Toronto to help advance new technologies, and an incident response and preparedness program to ensure that trials are being conducted safely.

Governments aren’t always able to leverage or adapt to new technologies as quickly as we would like.  Future AV development will not come without challenges.  But it’s encouraging that on something as impactful as this, Toronto is trying to get ahead of the curve.