Toronto was recently named the world's fourth "most liveable" city by The Economist, with a notable caveat: the city's poor infrastructure. This comes as no surprise. Toronto's gridlocked streets, endless construction, lack of public transit options, and rickety old streetcar system mark a notable scar on our world class city.
Premier Kathleen Wynne's solution to the transportation infrastructure problem is to spend a whopping $50 billion of taxpayer money over the next 25 years to build an expansive rail network. By 2040, Toronto may finally have the subways that other cities built nearly 200 years earlier. (Similar networks were opened in London in 1863, New York in 1867, and both Boston and Chicago in 1897.)
But can you imagine what the world will look like in 2040?
We are on the cusp of explosive new technologies that will revolutionize how we commute. Innovative tech startups are fixing the problems we currently have with cars: that they pollute too much, are too expensive for many, and congest our overcrowded roads. Here are three notable examples of ideas and companies that will change transportation as we know it:
1. Ride-sharing. New apps like Hailo and Uber have taken the taxi dispatch system by storm, allowing customers to directly order and pay for rides through an app. This is just the beginning of how technology is facilitating the ride-share revolution. Lyft, the next generation ride-sharing app, has its own drivers and offers rides for a fraction of the price of taxis. Its spinoff Lyft Line creates a bus-like system that batches several customers together based on their route, splitting the price even further. Imagine a car picking you up from home and driving you directly to work everyday, for about the price of taking the Go Train. Of course, governments have gone out of their way to ban these apps, while further protecting the fat cat owners of the limited number of taxi licenses.
2. Autonomous, or self-driving cars. We may not be living the dream of flying cars from futuristic shows like the Jetsons, but Google's driverless car is a step in that direction. These cars, now legal in four U.S. states, have logged over a million kilometres on California roads without causing an accident. Driverless cars will significantly reduce traffic by automatically adjusting the speed and distance between cars, they use real-time data to select the best route, and eliminate collisions caused by human error. Imagine having productive work time in the car during your commute. Driverless cars, unfortunately, are still banned in Ontario.
3. Electric cars. Telsa Motors, run by Canadian Elon Musk, is working to mass produce the electric car. Musk recently waived the patent rights for his electric car because he simply cannot keep up with the demand for his product, and Tesla plans to sell electric cars at affordable prices within a few years. These electric cars are greener and cleaner than building new subways, but will require plenty of infrastructure, like charging stations, and more roads and highways -- the exact infrastructure that has been chronically neglected in Toronto.
These dramatic changes will revolutionize transportation in the coming years, and make a $50 billion subway system irrelevant. Ontario should look forward, not backwards. Instead of ploughing ahead with 200 year old solutions, the government would be wise to embrace technological progress and cut through the wall of red tape that work against innovative startups.
This will save taxpayers, and help situate Toronto as a model for 21st century transportation.
This article appeared in the Toronto Sun on Monday August 25, 2014
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