Active Transportation: One Small Step for Mankind, One Giant Leap for Integrated Mobility

Ray Charabaty

As the weather begins to warm up, spring is the perfect time to let some sunshine and fresh air into our daily commutes. Active transportation, which encompasses “any form of human-powered transportation - such as walking, cycling, using a wheelchair, or even skateboarding” is accessible to many Canadians who haven’t already incorporated it into their lifestyle.

To integrate active transportation into your commute and give it place in your everyday life is to make a meaningful investment in your own health. At CUTA, we believe in the necessity of public transit as an efficient means of moving people while reducing the harmful impact of single-occupancy vehicles. However, public transit does not live in an isolated sphere of energy-efficient transit vehicles, but rather in a mutually beneficial ecosystem of integrated urban mobility. Public transit and active transportation go hand in hand in building sustainable communities focused on efficiently moving people without compromising our collective health as well as the health of the environment and economy surrounding us. A morning or evening walk coupled with a pleasant bus ride makes for a healthy heart, a calmer mind, and a whopping three times less CO2 released in the air than if you had driven a car.

Toronto: Room to Grow and Move

Last month, the City of Toronto released the following graph showing the currently cycled versus the potentially cyclable routes across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. With such a massive potential for a cycling culture, the city council is incorporating active transportation as part of a long-term plan to reduce the city’s pollution impact.


In 2016, the City of Toronto approved the TransformTO ‘Report 1 short-term strategies’, aimed at reducing Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 – an ambitious goal shared by other international cities including London, Berlin, and Washington D.C.

“Toronto is already a low-carbon leader on many fronts, including our land use and transit planning, green building standards, and our waste management strategy. However, even with these elements in place, we will still miss our 2050 target by 8.7 million tonnes of GHG emissions our analysis found.” - TransformTO

While public transit is crucial in the fight for green and efficient mobility, TransformTO proposes a union between active and public transportation in order to reach the city’s 2050 target.

Toronto’s long-term goal is to have “100% of transportation use low-carbon energy sources, and [make way for] walking and cycling to account for 75% of trips under 5 km by 2050.” - TransformTO

However, the onus of building this culture of human-powered transportation as a complement to traditional transit lies on city planners and government agencies as much as it does on transit systems and the everyday passenger.

“To become a low-carbon city, Toronto needs to engage its neighbourhoods. Crucial actions such as community energy planning, home retrofits, transit expansion and supporting the shift to cycling and walking won’t be successful without input and support from our neighbourhoods, since this is where the implementation of the City’s climate plan is occurring.” - TransformTO

As part of our upcoming Centre of Excellence here at CUTA, our Research and Technical Services team has recently released an Integrated Mobility Implementation Toolbox: a comprehensive review and collection of tools specifically designed to help Canadian transit systems and municipalities implement the foundations of integrated urban mobility into their communities.

“The transition from being a transit provider to an integrated mobility provider is a major shift for the Canadian transit industry. This is especially true as each transit system must first educate and promote the importance of this shift, and then make it happen.”  – Laurent Chevrot, Chair, Mobility Management Implementation Task Force

Montreal: Sharing the Road

Montreal’s Bixi, a bikesharing company that was born in 2009, grew on to become North America’s first large-scale bike sharing program. When the parent company to BIXI, Public Bike System Company filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after hitting a rough patch in its financing, the City of Montreal saw the value of the intiative and purchased the company’s assets, making BIXI a city-owned bike-sharing system with 6,250 vehicles on the road as of 2017. This past year also saw a record number for BIXI, with a grand total of 4.8 million trips taken and 258,000 bixis rented.


With the Free Sundays promotion, and the additional 80 docking stations added in 2017, BIXI also saw a 35% rise in ridership according to this detailed article on CBC. The most promising part of this story is the $10-million dollar commitment that the City of Montreal announced to bixi in 2016, some of which went to “upgrading the docking stations in order to accept the STM's OPUS card.” The milestone pilot project between BIXI and the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) launched in August of 2017.

What about dockless bikesharing? There might come a time when you are discouraged from renting a BIXI-like vehicle for fear of not finding docking stations nearby your destination. Well, Dropbike has made its first appearance as a dock-less bike sharing system across Canada. The Globe and Mail’s Frances Bula anecdotally retells a certain Carly Eldstrom’s weekend in Victoria with a bike-sharing system called U-Bicycle.

A Dockless Future?

With U-Bicycle in British Columbia, and Dropbike in Toronto, Kingston, and Montreal, Canadians are now one app away from ~1$/hour dockless bike rentals!
“Unlike hundreds of thousands of people in other bike-share cities, Ms. Eldstrom didn't have to access her bike by finding a particular dock at a particular intersection. Nor did she have to worry about locating a dock where she could drop it off. Instead, she picked up bikes that had been left at public racks near her stops and dropped them off where she felt like it. It's a system she appreciates.”


"Prettyyy excited to be on Day 2 of hardware testing for this beaut. No more docking stations -- pick up and drop off a #Dropbike wherever. (I'm a fan of the concept) Looks like #Toronto may be getting 10K of these by the end of summer!" - Christina Moro (@chrmoro) on May 9, 2017

Still in their infancy, innovative apps like these do not come without their frustrations. As many commentators on this BlogTO article argue over the accessibility of these novel servicesone reader points out the need for cycling infrastructure and bike culture to be in place for dockless bike-sharing to be successful.

In Calgary, several bike-sharing companies have come forward aiming to sign a deal with the city hoping to launch dockless bike-sharing services as early as this summer. The City of Calgary’s Tom Thivener confirmed that any potential bike-share company to win a lease “will have to sign an agreement and abide by certain rules. The city will limit the number of companies entering the market and the number of shared bikes on Calgary streets.”

From a city-planning perspective, communities that endorse active transportation make an educated effort to create cyclable and walkable spaces, wider sidewalks for disability aids and wheelchairs, and visually pleasing streetviews to cultivate a culture of active transportation. The urban outdoors should not be limited to hostile pathways dedicated to vehicles only. Our streets are public spaces that deserve to be respected and enjoyed by city dwellers. City streets should be inviting green spaces that not only serve to connect buildings to another, but that are enjoyable experiences (and temporary destinations) within themselves.

On our way to work, or on the way home after a long day, why must we put our lives on hold for the duration of the commute? Why can’t our streets and the very act of moving become exciting experiences that engage our spirits and connect us with the present?

Does your workplace encourage active transportation, or offer incentive programs for cycling or taking transit to work? Does your educational institution have a bike lane and access to transit? When looking for housing, do you consider bike lanes and public transit accessibility? And lastly, here is a video presentation from CUTA’s Transit Awareness Days 2017 where Anders Swanson from Bikes Canada talks to the social impact of transit investment in cycling.

You can also see Brent Toderian, city planner at TODERIAN UrbanWORKS and former Vancouver chief planner speak on the importance of building people-centered cities. Brent was also a keynote speaker at CUTA’s Transit Awareness Days 2017. Usually held in the fall, CUTA’s Transit Awareness Days are a great opportunity for transit industry players to get involved, learn about the issues facing urban mobility in Canada and make a difference both on Parliament Hill and in your community.


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