As the world comes up with new solutions to attack traffic, Canada lags behind

As the world comes up with new solutions to attack traffic, Canada lags behind

After an absence of seven months from journalism due to illness, it’s clear that death and taxes remain certainties, but so do U.S. President Donald Trump and traffic.

While Trump is an intractable, if amusing, American problem, traffic is universal. Fortunately, new solutions are coming along to attack traffic’s cause — people in private cars. Canada lags.

Take Toronto, which is a giant car clog, the sixth worst in the world. The entry of Uber and Lyft has not removed private cars from the road but added another 16,000 more, in addition to taxis. These services ferry people for short jaunts but make no dent in the fact that hundreds of thousands commute daily in two-ton vehicles.

Volkswagen AG has launched an interesting ride-sharing service involving mini-vans that are electrified and “networked” (digitally connected). They offer an alternative: cheaper than private cars and taxis and more convenient than public transit. Its first pilot launched in Hannover is being rolled out across Germany.

Commuters access the fleet by an app and vehicles with roomy seats pick up multiple passengers at their chosen location(s) and drop them off at public transportation links or final destinations. For instance, a four-seater van could pick up four suburban commuters — at a fraction of the cost they’d spend on driving cars — then take them to work or trains.

This is the needed transition: Removing cars from the road and feeding public transportation services more passengers to reduce costs. VW calls this service MOIA and sets fares between the price of a bus and a taxi, varying based on supply and demand.

In Canada, the need is more urgent because of our dreadful climate, which discourages passengers from walking distances or standing in bus shelters in the cold. This system would be tailor-made to work in tandem with public transit.

“Together with the city and all other mobility (phone) providers, we want to convince people of more sustainable mobility without their own cars and reduce the number of privately used cars on the road in the medium term,” said Ole Harms, CEO of MOIA.

Eventually, VW forecasts driverless ride-sharing car services will replace Uber as well as the single-passenger car commuter problem. It is launching in cities in China, Tel Aviv, Prague, London and Riga. Canadian cities, and transit systems, should undertake pilots.

VW is also targeting developing nations where car ownership is unaffordable for most, traffic is a problem, but transportation needs exist. For instance, it’s building a car plant in Rwanda for ride-sharing because most citizens own a smartphone, but cannot afford autos amid an economy growing by double digits.

Essentially, VW plans to transform itself from a car company to a platform with sophisticated mobility services around the world. Ford is driving in the same direction with bike-sharing in Europe and car-sharing in some U.S. cities. Toyota has started a car “subscription” service for good drivers.

Urban areas are also making dramatic changes to reduce the number of private cars on the road. Some are imposing bans on private cars outright to eliminate snarls and emissions. These are part of a spreading “car-free” movement. Madrid has banned all older cars from city streets. Singapore has banned the buying of new additional cars. In Paris, the first Sunday of every month is car-free. Oslo is restricting access for cars gradually and removing available parking spaces. London has banned private cars from half of its downtown streets with plans to do more.

Private car ownership is a global problem, and being addressed in a number of ways by the auto industry and governments alike. Canada should get its act together.

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