Daviel Lazure Vieira

If you had to give up either your car or your mobile phone, which one would you choose? David Ticoll frequently asks the question to his audience when he discusses the results of his research on automated vehicles (AVs). While many of today’s cars are already equipped with automated features like cruise control or self-parking, full automation is right around the corner. AVs should be commercially available around 2020, and become commonplace by 2030.

Ticoll, a social entrepreneur, author and distinguished fellow at the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, published a report on the policy, business, and social implications of automated vehicles for the future of the Canadian economy and the city of Toronto. He imagines a future where consumers forego car ownership in favour of shared means of transportation, like mass public transit and automated taxis. “The shift to an on-demand mobility model is in continuation with what’s happening in many other parts of our culture,” says Ticoll. “We don’t need to own music or newspapers anymore, we stream albums and read papers online instead. This digital transition is now taking place in our physical spaces.”

According to Ticoll, we should encourage society to adopt an on-demand model primarily because of the social benefits of AVs. In an era of growing economic inequalities, on-demand mobility is a significantly cheaper option than car ownership and is also more accessible to large segments of the population, including the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income individuals. Safety too plays a crucial role. “The human factor is a major component of why accidents happen,” explains Ticoll. “A self-driving car won’t let you race, and it wouldn’t matter if you were distracted by your baby in the back seat.” In Toronto alone, AVs could reduce the number of car-related injuries and fatalities by over 90 per cent – good news for a city in which 22 pedestrians and cyclists have been struck and killed since January. It’s also better for the environment: energy-efficient, electrically powered AVs could eventually cut emissions by 87 to 94 per cent. From reduced collisions to less congestion on the roads, AVs could save Toronto some $6 billion dollars a year.

Many important tech firms and key players in the auto industry are already taking the lead – like the Google Self-Driving Car project, which began road testing in several states across the U.S., or the recent partnership between China’s Baidu and BMW in 2014. “Canada is lamentably lagging behind in the AV business,” notes Ticoll, who recently wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail on the subject. Since no major car company is headquartered in Canada, the prospect of competing directly with the likes of GM, Volkswagen or Toyota seems difficult. Nevertheless, Ticoll believes Canadian companies should be focusing on developing innovative technologies that could take advantage of on-demand mobility in order to increase the competitiveness of the strongest sectors of our economy – like manufacturing, retail, distribution, or even hospitality, mining and financial services. “AVs have the potential to become transformative platforms that will improve our economy as a whole and lead us to produce creative solutions that can be exported.”

David Ticoll will be presenting his research at the 2016 Transportation Association of Canada Conference and Exhibition, running from September 25-28 in Toronto.

July 15, 2016