Ready or Not?

Bern Grush attempts to get the bottom of one of the intelligent transportation sector’s great imponderables…

The upsurge in new mobility in the last 5 to 10 years has been a breath of fresh air for the traveller. We have more choices than before with the advent of shared bikes, on-demand transit and the invasion of micro-scooters in cities around the world. Undoubtedly, these new forms of transport will have major implications for cities around the world.

In June, ITS Canada and Ontario Traffic Council presented the workshop “Technologies Across Ontario” at which a dozen speakers and panellists managed to cover issues ranging from urban to rural, smart cities to autonomous vehicles, research to implementation, R+D to government regulation, and transit to big data coupled with lunch and three tours of the Waterloo Centre of Automotive Research (WatCAR). A lot got packed into 7 hours. Here is the critical question: Are we ready? Are we ready for the technologies projected to come our way? Are we ready to reach for Smart Cities or deploy Autonomous Vehicles? Are we ready for better transit or even a different form of transit? And if we’re not, are we doing what we need to do to get ready?

Let’s back up. A LOT of good things are being done in all these domains — by people in R+D, in companies, by consultancies, at universities and colleges, and by government technocrats. And much of the work described is funded in significant ways by the Government of Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) — and that means we are all stakeholders, whether as taxpayers, business enterprises, or eventual beneficiaries. Certainly, the Region of Waterloo — the venue for this workshop — is already a clear success story for innovation, academics, start-ups and technology development. The opportunity for technology success is enormous perhaps even unparalleled. Rather it is the risks to deployment success, i.e., the outcomes for urban citizens that I reflect most on.

“But for some Smart City implementations that may collect data, make decisions, enforce, decide, nudge, watch, and automate there is room for concern for privacy, for confusion, for surprise, for non-acceptance and fear”

Smart Cities...

... Big

Smart Cities, as distinguished by Jeff Smart of Tacel Ltd., a leading Canadian supplier of intelligent transportation systems and traffic control devices, “are unique to each municipality”, and continue to evolve. While focussed on safety, mobility, and the environment, they “rely on real time data from its citizens, municipalities and industry”. Suppliers to Smart Cities will continue to evolve new technologies to address “quality of life” and “respect for the environment”. Jeff’s message was forward, evolutionary, positive, and focussed on the contribution the right technology fit can make.

... Small

That every municipality can get a little smarter and that each one would have it own approach was underscored by a recent adaptive controls streetlight pilot project taking place in Caledon, a rural Ontario town of 72,000 people, described by Chris Philp from CIMA+ and Katelyn McFadyen with the Town. Besides the evident positive factor of safety and the citizen’s perception of safety, street lighting has cost, management, and maintenance profiles influenced by technology type, breadth of the network, and the level of adaptive control. No longer just a set of fixtures, spares, and a maintenance crew, street lighting now demands more sophisticated operations and maintenance workflow and asset management. Smarter means more value, more care, more planning, more trade-offs, more surprises, more protocols, more partners, more complex public perceptions — and new standards.

These complexities carry costs that require greater diligence and long-term care in order to reap the ongoing benefits of smarter management and optimization. Smart may have advantages, but it is not easier. This was underscored as Katelyn reminded us that staff resources in smaller municipalities are often focused on multiple portfolios.

... Any Size

My immediate take away from these Smart City presenters is that Smart Cities are not a fixed place to get to. There are no specific guidelines, or given blueprints. Rather Smart Cities are better seen as a journey and a challenge. This should not be surprising, since there are exploding numbers of opportunities to improve almost every aspect of municipal management, operations, and governance — from water, to waste, to power, to transportation, to citizen services — using sensors, data, information, digitalized systems, and real-time management to improve safety, liveability, and service levels while reducing costs and delays. The wealth of opportunities make this a journey and it is the complexity of the interactions among potential solutions and technologies that provides the challenge. It is easy to see why the Smart City journey has only just begun.

But for some Smart City implementations that may collect data, make decisions, enforce, decide, nudge, watch, and automate there is room for concern for privacy, for confusion, for surprise, for non-acceptance and fear. Even as some fears may be unfounded or motivated by reluctance to change, they must be understood and addressed. Smart City programs have large human and societal aspects that need attention and education.

“Public agencies will have to both adopt and adapt digitalization technologies and methods even as they continue to protect their social mission and its most vulnerable customer segments”

Public Transit

The lunch keynote by Dr. Brendon Hemily was instructional for any transportation professional focussed on vehicles, infrastructure and traffic systems but that may not be fully aware of all of the nuances of transit’s purposes, politics, and policies. Simply reflecting on the fact that public transit must often act more as a social service than as a transportation business sheds light on how we might expect transit agencies to address new technologies such as MaaS, automation, and digital payment systems. User populations that are least likely to have the digital or banking means to engage with these new technologies are the same populations that are often most likely served, however feebly, by public transit. Brendon made it clear that while faced with dramatic and perhaps uncertain disruption going forward, transit’s social equity role and reliance on subsidies, its support for liveable communities, congestion mitigation, and numerous other objectives (some of which are unfunded) conflict with the business and process optimization goals of its commercial competitors as well as some of the system-optimization approaches of new technologies.

Because transit is so critical, so complex, and its programming so uncertain as new technologies become competitive, Brendon underscored that “high (and growing) public expectations, the rapid rate of technological change, and the short horizon of politicians” is stacked against the “risk-adverse fishbowl of public sector, and the excess times to secure funding, procure, and deploy”.

In spite of these handicaps, Brendon described many ways in which multiple new technologies can provide better, more reliable transit services including traveler information systems, electric, connected and automated vehicles, and close integration with other modalities via MaaS (mobility-as-a-service) systems. His key point remains however: there are many things that may change but the established and understood purpose of reliable, safe and accessible mobility for the entire population must be preserved whether because of, or in spite of, the coming technologies. My take away is that public agencies will have to both adopt and adapt digitalization technologies and methods even as they continue to protect their social mission and its most vulnerable customer segments. They will not be able to provide for the mobility disadvantaged and avoid change at the same time. Being forced to respond like this will exacerbate the effort needed in planning and funding. As well, the need to maintain legacy systems and roles while migrating to new approaches and methods will make everything from budgeting and staffing to operations and maintenance more challenging. Brendon has painted a daunting picture for transit’s next few decades.


Following the keynote, Ross McKenzie of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR) — our host for the workshop — described the Centre’s work and achievements involving 125 professors and 415 campus researchers. The combined body of work spans multiple in-depth disciplines in areas of fabrication, safety, energy, software and automation. For the latter, something to anticipate is the new Autonomous Vehicle Research and Intelligence Laboratory, AVRIL, to open in October 2019. A key related project that Ross described is HD Map. In order to operate an autonomous vehicle, a high-definition map (HD map) is required in addition to vehicles and their connected infrastructure. The very best HD Map would include every lane, mark, sign, permission, path, light, post, tree, and of course would have no errors, be always up to date, and be non-proprietary. Unfortunately, the race to dominate the map data sector means maps collection is proprietary, redundant, and wasteful. HD Maps creates a collaboration among at least eight providers to “eliminate information gaps, elevate the utility of existing maps, accelerate the creation of additional applications, and make the movement of goods and people more efficient.” This data really does want to be free of its proprietary chains.

My take away (anathema to some) is that we need to find a way to do the same for the AI that drives vehicles. The cost and redundancy of this development is extraordinary and the loss of a single life that could have been saved because of algorithmic improvement from collaboration would be the principle argument.

Of course the flip side is that proprietary means competition and competition sharpens our work — so my proposal is premature. But this too will come to be open and sometime, perhaps by mid-century there will be one best solution that will be so reliable that human driving on public thoroughfares will be passé.

While I am impressed just with the importance of the mapping problem, I note that WatCAR also has it fingers on the pulse of dozens of other autonomous vehicle issues including connectivity, GPS navigation, radar, camera vision, LiDAR, localization, mapping, detection, tracking, prediction, planning, control, safety, power, machine learning, and mobile security. Much of this is in conjunction with multiple partners in an area reaching from Ottawa to Detroit and comprising 8 OEM R&D Centres, 15 assembly lines and over 700 suppliers. WatCAR is in the middle of something big.

Before I leave Ross’ WatCAR talk, I have to say that what I love most about us Canadians is our sense of humour [although your editor may disagree and say it’s our music…]. “Autonomoose” as a name for something so momentous as driverless vehicles illustrates that well. The final workshop session looked at provincial, regional and urban readiness to build, operate, manage, accept, and deploy connected and automated vehicles.


Industrial deployment

Colin Dhillon from APMAtec reviewed the Autonomous Vehicles Innovation Network Demonstration Zone (AVIN-DZ), a massive collaboration comprising dozens of firms from SMEs to Global OEMs and Tier 1s centered on the Stratford demonstration zone and central within Ontario’s automotive cluster. Part of Ontario’s 5-year $160 million AVIN program, Ontario technology is being validated for connected and automated bus, truck and passenger vehicle platforms. This is a critical economic matter. As Canada’s only province that builds cars and trucks, Ontario’s auto sector provides over 100,000 direct jobs and many more spin-off jobs. Building well over two million vehicles, and with a large parts sector, this sector represents a large export market, 18.5% of our manufacturing GDP, and involves 5 major automakers. Already in Ontario 200+ companies, 24 colleges, and 11 universities are involved in automotive development, research, and training encompassing connected and autonomous technologies.[1] My takeaway from Colin’s long list of ongoing AVIN-DZ projects and achievements is that Ontario’s readiness to build, deploy, and export connected and autonomous vehicles, parts, and knowhow usable in all seasons and climates and on all road types and infrastructure is of fundamental importance to our economy. As a bonus, Colin made the Canada-proud point that Ontario, AVIN and the entire CAV effort is punching above its weight — as often happens with Canadian tech. We can all hope this innovative spirit continues to thrive in Canada.

“I assert that a city or region wherein a 10th or a quarter of its operating vehicles are driverless has not yet been modelled, understood or even planned.”

Provincial deployment

Mara Bullock with WSP Canada reviewed the CAV Readiness Project in the context of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the part of Southern Ontario surrounding and including the GTHA that holds about 55 percent of Ontario’s population or almost eight million people. Of course this number will have increased considerably within the time frame of significant CAV penetration. This project asks what it will mean to be ready for CAVs on a grand scale across all of our cities, through urban and rural, across distances, purposes, needs, and population segments. It recognizes that everything will be affected and that we need modelling, standards, and regulatory guidelines at the provincial and federal level for infrastructure, operations, data, fleet management, traffic law, communications, privacy, security, and more — ie, the full context of digitalized automobility. The Readiness Project recognizes that CAVs need a “whole transportation system”, which means we need to disassemble and reassemble well a century and a quarter of rules, methods, processes, configurations, systems, and habits. Transportation touches an untold number of things directly and by extension everything else indirectly.

Mara broke down the entire problem in several ways, showing that while the whole needs to be subdivided for workability, its parts need to be held in concert for the result we seek. My takeaway is that naming it the CAV Readiness Project is an open admission that we are not ready. The length of Mara’s charts and lists make it clear that the number of factors is large and that the number of secondary and tertiary interactions among these components will be essentially uncountable. To apportion off subprojects in our usual stove-piped way will be unworkable, but a whole systems approach will be daunting. The Readiness Project, as Mara described it, appears to seek a balanced approach to this conundrum and her report will be available for public transportation agencies as they consider planning and implementation for the coming CAVs.

Urban Deployment

The talk given by Ryan Lanyon, Chair of the City of Toronto AV Working Group was focussed on my favourite mobility topic: urban deployment of AVs. When we finally get autonomous vehicles out of the lab, off the test tracks, their safety drivers out of the cab, and body of usable provincial/state guidelines where, how, and how well are we going to use these vehicles? How are we as cities and regions — or as societies — going to incorporate them into our daily, urban (and suburban) lives? It has long been my criticism that developing a technology with such far-reaching impacts for moving people and goods as are expected from fully driverless vehicles while not having plans for systems and infrastructure with standards and regulations for massive fleets ready to deploy effectively and efficiently is incredibly short sighted. I am not alone in this. I assert that a city or region wherein a 10th or a quarter of its operating vehicles are driverless has not yet been modelled, understood or even planned. While Mara’s talk begins to address this gap, so far we only have aspirational renderings of a world of 100% driverless vehicles with no route to get through the intermediate stages.

We really need to recognize that the full urban and social context for autonomous vehicles is larger and more complex than the perfection of the vehicle technology itself. And that has already proven to be an exceptional challenge.

Fortunately, two things are on our side. The first is that the technology gap between very few driver interventions and no driver interventions — i.e., between self-driving and driverless — appears far greater than implied by the AV marketing hype of the past 5 years. The second is that in addition to the work Mara described, we have the work described by Ryan.

Ryan’s five-person team, under a Toronto City Council directive, is tasked with developing an AV Tactical Plan for the City, which I see as the “reconstruction plan” for Toronto to handle the massive disruption expected from this technology. This plan is in outline now and available at www.Toronto.ca/automated-vehicles. It is the strongest AV urban-planning document I have seen to date. Ryan’s talk outlined seven key components of the City’s tactical plan: Social Equity, Environmental Sustainability, Privacy, Road Safety & Security, Integrated Mobility, Transportation System Efficiency, and Economic Sustainability. None of this addresses or studies autonomous technology. Rather it assumes that technology and prepares for it. This is the correct approach. This effort, seemingly a tiny fraction of the entire AV-related effort expended in all of Ontario — Canada, even — is by far the bigger half in importance if we are to see a successful outcome for urban and social deployment in our urban regions. My take-away is to recommend that you read the Toronto document, contribute to the conversation, support the direction of this effort, and open a similar file for your city or region.

“The disruption of transportation will be different than those earlier disruptions. It is interconnected with more other things, with bigger things, with things we’ve taken for granted, with things we barely noticed”

So… are we ready?

It's a commonplace by now that “everything in transportation is changing”. That Internet, smartphones, sensors, AI, and the relentless, ever invoked “Moore’s Law” has now unleashed the digitalization of transportation. That transportation is about to be disrupted — is already being disrupted — as has retail, entertainment, media, and almost everything else we know. But the disruption of transportation will be different than those earlier disruptions. It is interconnected with more other things, with bigger things, with things we’ve taken for granted, with things we barely noticed, and, it would appear, with pretty much everything all at once — hence the everything-is-involved nature of Smart Cities at the opening of this article and that of the innovative work throughout the automotive cluster and by the City of Toronto.

The pinnacle of smart transportation in the Smart City is assumed to be the automated vehicle — although that remains unproven. It is unproven that we will achieve the touted level of “full” autonomy and even if we do, it is unproven that automation per se will be the peak transportation technology. So much is expected to change — our modes of travel, where we choose to live, our jobs, our chances of being killed while driving, commuting distances, land use, our consumption habits, and the liveability of our cities. Vehicle automation will be incomparably greater than disruptions such as that of Hollywood by Netflix. How fast is all this progressing? Are our roadways and our cities, our regulations and our governing institutions ready? Maybe it is better to ask, how fast can it progress? Can our modal preferences adjust and our stove-piped forms of governance and operations be reformed in time? Can we merge the digitalized, automated world of new mobility technology with the largely analog, manual — and I stress, human — world of current mobility for people and goods we are currently set up for?

Bern Grush is Chief Innovation Officer for Harmonize Mobility Inc., and author of The End of Driving: Transportation Systems and Public Policy Planning for Autonomous Vehicles (Elsevier, 2018) ITS Canada is the national thought leader on advanced technologies and their application to the Canadian transport system. ITS Canada actively supports the use of these technologies by advocating their benefits; by showcasing and demonstrating the expertise of its members through their skills, products and services; and by providing the necessary tools, and platforms for networking, learning and collaboration. To learn more about ITS Canada, contact Janneke van der Zee, Managing Director at jannke@itscanasa.caj The Ontario Traffic Council (OTC) is the voice for enhancing the engineering, education and enforcement sectors of the traffic management sector in Ontario. To learn about OTC, contact Geoff Wilkinson, Executive Director at geoff@otc.org

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