Urban Mobility in Ontario: Challenges and solutions

Large urban regions in Ontario, such as the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), have been attracting people with the promise of interesting, well-paid jobs, a high quality of life and the opportunity for career growth. This success, combined with current trends in urbanization, is resulting in rapid urban growth that’s projected to continue, adding even more people to large and increasingly dense urban regions. How can our transport systems keep up with the demand for public transport options and decongested roads?

Transportation Challenges

MaRS has engaged with transportation users across the region and our research has highlighted that delays caused by a lack of appropriate infrastructure are impacting the lives of hard-working people every day. In some cases, these problems are further burdening the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Due to extreme congestion and disjointed transportation systems, those who live and work in Ontario face consistent roadblocks in their daily commute. Here are some examples of the problems we uncovered:

  1. Parents can’t see their children before they go to bed, because they are stuck in traffic (even if they use transit options);
  2. Students decide upon courses and educational institutions based on when and where transportation options are available;
  3. Healthcare for patients is heavily impacted upon by their access to transit; and
  4. Youth and lower income workers can’t get to work because they don’t have a reliable and/or affordable means to get there.

This congestion unfairly impacts their quality of life and places a substantial economic cost on the region. Annually, Toronto alone loses $11 billion in productivity from people being stuck in congested traffic – CAA.

A key driver of congestion is that 80–90% of personal transportation in the GTHA still occurs in vehicles with one passenger. This poses huge challenges around parking and related infrastructural constraints, plus contributes to high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Ontario.

Transportation Opportunities

The Ontario government has a unique opportunity to lead the way in providing residents with effective solutions that positively impact people’s daily lives in a fair, timely and cost-effective manner.

It can do so by enabling the adoption of proven technologies that leverage existing infrastructure and derive even greater value from it. A handful of leading international jurisdictions have already started on this path, since these challenges are not unique to Ontario and are being experienced worldwide.

MaRS has been working with key transportation stakeholders on a variety of projects, including a micro-transit report that identified potential ways to help reduce GHG emissions. At MaRS, stakeholder engagement and coordination is a pivotal component to enabling the development of well-rounded solutions that improve the lives of Ontarians without creating any new infrastructure or spending large sums of money.

In order to better define and understand the challenges faced by Ontarians every day, MaRS organized the Urban Mobility Design Camp on June 7, 2017, which brought together over 130 key transportation users, implementers, policy makers and industry to co-create solutions that could be implemented within the next five years.

Overview of the Urban Mobility Design Camp

The Urban Mobility Design Camp kicked off with the goal of cultivating impactful, valuable solutions to key transportation issues affecting the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA). Bringing together a variety of stakeholders, the event set out to enable collaboration, idea sharing and design thinking across three streams: Builders of the Future, Connecting to Care and Moving Minds. Each of these areas of focus narrowed in on a particular issue that’s directly affecting the lives of Ontarians.

Challenges in each of the key streams were presented to knowledgeable and experienced stakeholders, with the goal of developing high-impact, actionable solutions. Expertly facilitated focused discussion groups allowed attendees to identify and expand upon a variety of ideas, in order to consider context, complexity, potential outcomes and any other considerations in detail.

The Design Camp Takeaways

A diverse range of solutions were discussed at the design camp. One idea presented was to incentivize the use of public transportation in the city by giving out PRESTO cards when individuals are awarded their driver’s license.

Another fantastic solution proposed was a trip planning portal for health appointments. This integrated trip planner would be a seamless, accessible journey mapper that enables the vulnerable older adult population, who otherwise struggle with healthcare accessibility due to transportation stresses, to get to appointments more easily.

More details on these ideas and further information about the design camp can be found in the final report. All of the ideas that were generated had one thing in common: they would require active user engagement and behavioural change. People have been commuting the same way, using one passenger cars or transit options, for years. A key part of changing the status quo would involve engaging users to make a different set of mobility choices.

Download the report


User Research and Prototype Development

To further our understanding of how to enable people to make different transportation choices, MaRS partnered with Bridgeable. Over the summer months, we analyzed the challenges commuters face in making changes. Find out some of the most common issues.

The insights gathered from users were then analyzed to inform the design, development and testing of high fidelity prototypes and solutions that might help overcome the barriers people face when switching to more efficient, affordable, convenient and shared modes of transportation. Take a look at the prototypes that were developed:

What’s Next for Transportation in the GTHA?

Ultimately, the implementation of the ideas that came out of the design camp requires a commitment to greater systems integration, business support and multi-stakeholder engagement.

The proposed solutions outlined in the report can only be employed with a strong commitment by government, industry and the public, who’ll enable the testing and wide-scale adoption of these innovative ideas that propel the current transportation system forward in a sustainable and equitable way.

MaRS is actively engaging partners and looking to work across different levels of government to implement prototypes on the ground. The team will also support in the establishment of market capacity and enabling policies that address the challenges faced by the transportation sector today.

Contact Sasha Sud or Melissa Felder if you would like to learn more.