New mobility: Technology in the driver’s seat

Samuel Lafontaine

Canada’s urban population will continue to grow over the coming years. We need to ensure that each new resident does not result in another car on the road. Building more roads or widening them only postpones the problem.

Canadian transit systems will need to adapt to new expectations from customers as new technologies, like autonomous vehicles (AVs) and on-demand transit, are fundamentally changing the way commuters plan their trips.[a]  

AVs and shared mobility

Isn’t it frustrating when you’re stuck in traffic and you realize that there is only one person, surrounded by empty seats, in most of the cars around you? Single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) are one of the main causes of traffic congestion. With the impending arrival of AVs, we run the risk of having vehicles on the road with neither a driver nor passengers. 

To make matters worse, if a large number of AVs drop off passengers for work in the morning and drive away afterwards, there would be two morning traffic jams; one on the way into the city, and another on the way out. This problem could be solved by having more than one person per AV to make for a more efficient use of both our vehicles and our limited road space.

On-demand mobility

Mobile apps used by transportation network companies have completely changed the way people think about mobility. All it takes is a few clicks on a smartphone to get around. But this technological advance could have the unfortunate effect of encouraging individual travel rather than shared mobility. [b]

Carpooling apps, such as Netlift, on the other hand, do not create additional trips. Still, public transit remains the best way to transport large numbers of people. A bus can move 15 times more people than a car.[c] In the case of a streetcar, the flow is equivalent to a three-lane highway or 7,500 riders per hour.[d]

A study by the University of Toronto for CUTA[e] shows that a high concentration of single-family homes in a neighbourhood leads to lower transit ridership. The advent of on-demand mobility presents an opportunity to improve transit services in low-density areas. In these communities, on-demand shuttles, automated or not, could take residents to the nearest transit station.

Integrated urban mobility

In cities designed for cars, there are many obstacles to mobility. However, there are actions that municipalities can take that would require very few changes to the built environment.

CUTA describes integrated urban mobility (IUM) as “the ability of people to move easily from place to place, based on their own needs.”[f]

A full trip from start to finish often requires the coordination of several modes of transportation, including walking, cycling, carpooling or public transit. The purpose of IUM is to reduce any friction between modes to the benefit of commuters. The goal is to make shared mobility and active transportation real alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles.   

Mobility as a service

Owning a car has long been synonymous with freedom, but that may no longer be quite as true. Technology now enables us to move around as we choose, combining different modes of transportation as needed.

There are several definitions of mobility as a service (MaaS), but it is always the same idea.[g] It often requires a single point of payment, a real-time travel planner, and a congestion-management platform.[h]

Commuters’ behaviours and expectations have changed since mobile apps came on the scene, making understanding and deploying MaaS solutions in urban centres a pivotal part of integrated urban mobility.

Beyond single-occupancy vehicles

The transit industry recognizes the need to be part of an ecosystem where public transit plays a crucial role but can’t ultimately be the only answer. Whether it's the schedules, the duration of the trip or social perceptions, people always have a reason for not shifting from personal cars to public transit.

Evolving technologies offer a unique opportunity for transit systems to adapt their services to the reality of how Canadians move. On-demand mobility makes it possible to go beyond fixed schedules and routes and solve the first mile, last mile problem, while MaaS reduces the friction between the different modes to the customer’s benefit.


New Mobility: Technology in the Drivers Seat


[a] Urban mobility at a tipping point. Shannon Bouton, Stefan M. Knupfer, Ivan Mihov, and Steven Swartz. McKinsey&Company. September 2015.

[b] Fare Choices: A Survey of Ride-Hailing Passengers in Metro Boston. Report #1. Steven R. Gehrke, Alison Felix and Timothy Reardon. Metropolitan Area Planning Council. February 2018.

[c] Défis et opportunités pour les systèmes de transport collectif. Dr. Catherine Morency. PowerPoint Presentation. October 11, 2018.

[d] Les territoires du tramway moderne : de la ligne à la ville durable. Stambouli, J. Développement et territoires. 2005. 

[e] How to grow transit ridership in Canada. Canadian Urban Transit Association. November 6, 2018.

[f] Integrated Mobility Implementation Toolkit. Canadian Urban Transit Association. September 2017.

[g] The rise of mobility as a service: Reshaping how urbanites get around. Warwick Goodall, Tiffany Dovey Fishman, Justine Bornstein, and Brett Bonthron. Deloitte Review. Issue 20. 2017


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