London Moves – Part 6 – Computers on Wheels

I very much believe that success in both life and business requires an ability to envision, anticipate, and when possible, proactively respond to the changes around you. The old hockey adage often attributed to Wayne Gretzky’s success was his uncanny and remarkably consistent ability to skate to where the puck was going.

I, for one, do not project to be a futurist, nor do I always subscribe to those that do. However, there are certain undeniable market and technology trends taking place, and they are having a profound impact on the way we move.

What I am referring to is the coming convergence of computers, automotive transportation, and people mobility.  I am not just talking about autonomous cars and buses, but traffic lights and management systems, road utilization, parking, and public safety.  The precision, speed and efficiency with which all forms of transportation will interact with each other, as well as the city’s infrastructure will call into question every norm that we have accepted for the past several decades.

This new world of integrated mobility is not far off.  It is beginning to take shape right now, in large cities around the world and as close by as Stratford, Ontario.

The drivers behind this imminent transformation are best described by Stanford University Lecturer and Entrepreneur, Mr. Tony Seba.

I encourage anyone who is interested in better understanding what the future of mobility will look like, to check out this video.  It is approx. 37 mins long, but well worth the time. Mr. Seba uses an evidence-based approach to outline how the methods of transportation will transform over the next decade, and helps explain why I believe we need to prepare for a different approach to mobility.

Mr. Seba’s perspective on the evolving transportation and energy markets are less about fanciful predictions and more quantifiable projections.  Mr. Seba uses proven business analysis to demonstrate the likely world of mobility that we all will soon face.  The good news is that the advances and convergence of these technologies will make this new age of mobility: safer, more affordable, more accessible, energy-efficient, and environmentally-friendly.  The new environment includes:

  •  Diagnostics: Sensors, Nano Satellites, 3D Visualization
  • Data Management: Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Mobile Internet
  • Materials and Manufacturing: Composites, Robotics, 3D Printing
  • Propulsion: Solar PV, Batteries
  • Business Models: Ride-Sharing, Vehicle-For-Service

More importantly, Mr Seba’s projections highlight the declining cost and increasing adoption of these technologies by the market not in 20 or 30 years, but within the next decade.

Mr. Seba’s projections are supported by several business, academic and civic leaders, and billions of dollars of investment by global leaders in the automotive and automation industry.   There is a race  by companies across the automotive and IT sectors worldwide, all seeking to claim a leadership position in this transformative market.

His projections are also supported by a wave of quantitative evidence including:

  • massive increases in the use of ride-sharing (before it is even cost-effective),
  • a decline in public transit ridership (even in state-of-the-art systems),
  • increased sales and efficiency of electric vehicles (even with Ontario’s hydro rates)
  • increased application of Level 1 and 2 autonomous vehicle technology
  • Increased mandates for zero-emissions vehicles, particularly in Asia’s 33MM unit annual vehicle market where air pollution is literally suffocating its citizens.

The transformation is no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.  Therefore, in my view, it becomes more important than ever that we find a way to manage through this – together.

Given these market drivers and the goals I outlined in Part 2 of this series, my reluctance to support the expensive, disruptive, dedicated lane approach proposed in Shift BRT plan that….

  1. consumes vital civic resources and funding that could be better used elsewhere,
  2. reduces the flexibility of our roads and thoroughfares,
  3. impedes our ability to adapt to these new approaches to mobility and,
  4. is still without a ceiling or sense of the total cost to deliver the service.

….should not be surprising.  My interest in making these comments is rooted in the fact that our civic leaders must always:

  • be mindful of these imminent changes to the personal and public transportation marketplace, where possible;
  • direct our limited civic resources towards transportation solutions and services in anticipation of all market changes; and
  • maintain the flexibility and adaptability of our infrastructure as these changes occur.

The key is to ensure the mobility options of all modes of transportation are respected and preserved while we enter this transformative phase in the global marketplace.

To Council’s credit, they have approved a number of strategic investments in our mobility infrastructure including a whopping $800MM over the next 10 years into our roads network, effectively the city’s vascular system.  They are also looking to substanially upgrade our existing transit system, our traffic signal system, and our perpetual traffic bottleneck at Adelaide and Central.

My biggest concern remains with the cost and disruption of dedicated lanes, promised headways that when once implemented will be tough to reduce should the expected ridership fail to materialize, and the ongoing tax obligation that commits Londoners to a BRT plan well beyond the projected time associated with all of these mobility changes.

Action Steps

Still, there are numerous steps that can be taken to quickly and cost-effectively to improve vehicular mobility while this transformation unfolds.  They include:

The Simple Stuff

  • Install more right turn lanes and advanced greens to improve traffic flow.
  • Introduce peak period traffic flow rules (e.g. no left turns on major thoroughfares).
  • Expand/widen roads in strategic spots only.
  • Continue to invest in transit, but do so in a broad way that better services all corners of our city and without the fixed infrastructure. (more in a future post)
  • Expand use of bus bays, bike lanes and pedestrian routes in a way that preserves the flexibility and adaptability of our valuable right-of-ways.
  • Introduce traffic signal priority for pedestrians, cyclists, transit as the market requires.

Near-Term Actions

  • Sensory and traffic signal prioritization and integration.
  • Expand and integrate parking space location services (Honk).
  • A properly resourced traffic management unit.
  • Expand use of photo systems to manage traffic and ensure compliance.
  • Increase parking facilities at city entrances to encourage ride sharing.
  • Implement the use of autonomous transit options to ensure all Londoners are mobile and enabled.

Longer term, the City should be prepared for a driverless city. Possible action steps include:

  • Intersection managers connect with autonomous vehicles to manage intersection exchange.
  • Street parking no longer needed as a personal vehicle picks you up.
  • Multiple electric charging stations.
  • Vehicles are small, zero-emission, transportation devices that you use rather than own.
  • Contracted ride-sharing services.
  • Integrate and support all autonomous vehicle services (personal and transit) to ensure all Londoners are served by their investment in mobility.
  • Partnerships with Western and Fanshawe to expand the study and application of mobility technology.

These lists are by no means absolute and Londoners are welcome to add to them. The point is not to make the list exhaustive, but rather dynamic so that our entire community has a chance to contribute to this important transition in their transportation future.

In my opinion, London has a unique opportunity to “leapfrog” the pack and assume a leadership role in mobility.  We have the post-secondary research capacity, manufacturing background and spatial makeup to accommodate and even influence these changes.  As such, our city can choose to prepare for this evolution in a measured way, or have it imposed upon us.

Either way, this transformation is coming and coming quickly.

My preference would be for us to not chase the puck, but skate to where it is going.  In my opinion, our future depends upon it.

Next Week – Active Mobility


An Open Letter to City Council

 Upon review of the latest report to Council regarding the Shift BRT Environmental Assessment, no one has yet quantified and clearly conveyed the aggregate capital and operating costs of this project to both Shift BRT and the London Transit Commission.

 Moreover, no one has yet to quantify with any specificity or certainty the mix of revenue streams and funding sources that will cover the cost of this system both now and in the future.

 Considering that this is the largest investment of its kind in London, will City Council motion that a Councillors be given: (i) more time to review the massive amount of data presented, and (ii) request that a complete revenue and cost appraisal be completed and shared with the public for comment before approving this project?

Paul Paolatto

Next Week – Active Mobility