Toward a shared mobility knowledge hub in the GTHA

The challenge

The Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) must rethink its mobility strategies if it wishes to grow and thrive as a global economic region. Since the post-war era, the GTHA has predominantly relied on single-occupancy vehicles as people’s primary means of transportation. This has led to many negative impacts: air contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions, poor productivity due to time spent in congestion, and an overall economic burden. According to a recent study, Torontonians experience the worst commute in North America, and suffer the second-longest average commute time (96 minutes).

The GTHA’s transportation sector faces important challenges; this means the sector is primed for disruption. Developing transportation solutions that prioritize the customer journey and minimize environmental impact will drive future sustainability. There are many opportunities for shared mobility service offerings that stand to benefit a wide range of sectors. They include: non-emergency transportation for healthcare, first and last mile solutions to public transit nodes, and smart community infrastructure planning – to name a few.

Still, implementing new business models and improving services will be a challenge. These initiatives require strong stakeholder collaboration and engagement across sectors and governments.

Bringing stakeholders together

This past June, in partnership with Mattamy Homes and the Atmospheric Foundation, MaRS hosted the Inaugural Shared Mobility Stakeholder Meeting. In attendance were government representatives, private sector leaders, ventures, service providers, non-profits and educational institutions. The event had four key objectives:

  1. Solicit information, perspectives and feedback on the vision, tools and benefits of a regional Shared Mobility Knowledge Hub.
  2. Introduce shared mobility pilot concepts under development by the City of Vaughan and the Canadian Red Cross (in collaboration with MaRS); as well as content from Ryerson University regarding cutting edge research on behavioural change technologies (such as a personal GHG accounting system).
  3. Gather insights from and support collaboration with technology developers and ventures providing innovative mobility service offerings, including perspectives from Uber, Lyft and Pantonium, as well as audience representation from Mulmer Services, Harmonize Mobility, Free2Move and Blanc Labs.
  4. Allow for expert perspectives and engagement from transportation authorities, academia and funding agencies, including Metrolinx, the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute (UTTRI), the Atmospheric Fund, the Ministry of Transportation, ULI Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission, the City of Toronto, Stantec and NAK Design Strategies.

Participants were asked to comment on the Shared Mobility Knowledge Hub blueprint and existing pilot project concepts. Attendees also learned about ready-to-use technologies, while General Motors, Uber and Lyft spoke on the upsides, barriers and risks of leading the GTHA’s shared mobility space. Topics of discussion included:

  • How is the GTHA working towards advancing the adoption of shared mobility innovations?
  • How can the innovation community collaborate and address limitations in current transportation models?
  • How can new technologies and ventures fill gaps through service offerings?
  • What can the GTHA learn from other cities, in Canada and abroad?
  • What is the value of a Shared Mobility Knowledge Hub?
  • Under what governance structure should data (as it relates to mobility) be shared?

Concepts, findings and agreements

While the above topics remain up for debate, there was consensus: participants agreed that continued collaboration and innovation (including the holding of similar events) will lead to the GTHA’s greatest transportation solutions.

At the workshop, MaRS presented some initial concepts around what regional hub architecture could look like. The vision was a result of work conducted by the Munk School of Public Affairs, including a market scan of four cities comparable to the GTHA, and a diagnosis of successful tools in other virtual knowledge hubs.

The presentation outlined three tenets of the hub: (1) Accessible Data, (2) Collaboration and (3) Experimentation. Through concurrent development of all three tenets, the hub would be able to inform, replicate and scale shared mobility adoption throughout the GTHA and possibly beyond.

One collaborative tool proposed was the Members Network. Comprised of paying members, (fee framework in progress), the group would organize periodic stakeholder events related to white papers. Most importantly, the network would foster consistent face-to-face dialogue across sectors. This would help members develop partnerships, gain multidisciplinary knowledge and foster trust.

Concepts related to accessible data and data sharing were an area of interest as well. Though many questions remain, there was agreement concerning the need to explore best practices and data governance structures for the GTHA mobility context.

Another very popular idea was the Portal for Proposals, a consolidated space for governments, funders and other organizations to publish requests for information, requests for proposals and applications that seek services and solutions from the market. This potential offering would also provide Canadian companies the opportunity to offer and even pilot their technologies and services to a larger audience.

Finally, participants voiced their interest to jointly develop a platform where stakeholders could compile learnings from projects. Known as the Case Study Dashboard, this tool would drive results and hold key findings and outcomes. MaRS would build on existing project development and evaluation templates to allow organizations (public, private or non-profit) to publish quantitative and qualitative results regarding their own projects and initiatives on the hub.

Moving Forward

MaRS’ Smart Cities team is committed to fostering innovative solutions to address urban mobility challenges faced in Ontario, Canada and around the world. Based on stakeholder feedback and ongoing interviews, MaRS will continue to develop the hub concept. This will be done with a view to offering targeted tools, services and a knowledge sharing platform that can advance how quickly public, private and key user groups can adopt innovations in the transportation sector.

Several teams across MaRS are involved in discussions and activities that support emerging mobility technologies through projects like the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network. It remains the organization’s goal to provide advisory support to ventures in the mobility space and accelerate market innovation through Smart Cities data platforms.