What if you want to commute by GO train but the station is too far to walk from your home and the parking lot is always full? Chances are, you’ll ditch the train and take your car, cursing traffic along the way.  Or, if your late shift ends at 2 a.m. when the local bus doesn’t run reliably, isn’t driving your only option?  A fast-growing transportation trend called “microtransit” could provide convenient solutions to these problems – and significantly cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the same time.

Transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions in Ontario, in large part due to single-driver car trips. To tackle transportation emissions, TAF is exploring innovative ways to encourage drivers to switch from single-occupancy vehicles to other, more efficient modes. While transit investment remains a key priority, microtransit could present a quick, low-cost opportunity to reduce emissions.

TAF recently partnered with Montréal-based Coop Carbone to explore the GHG impact of microtransit in both the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and the Greater Montréal Area. As part of our explorations, we commissioned MaRS Data Catalyst to undertake a scoping study entitled Microtransit: An assessment of potential to drive greenhouse gas reductions. Results were discussed in this Toronto Star article.

What is microtransit?

Although there is no widely agreed upon definition of microtransit, we define it as “shared public/private sector transportation services that offer fixed or dynamically allocated routes and schedules in response to individual or aggregate consumer demand.” Think of commuter shuttles and ride-sharing services like UberPOOL, where a passenger can share a ride with others nearby who have a similar destination. Microtransit has been around in various forms for many years, but the proliferation of smart phone apps and our growing comfort with the sharing economy have created an unprecedented opportunity to leverage microtransit as a widespread transportation option.

Key report findings

The report looks at nine common travel scenarios, or use cases, that could benefit from microtransit solutions. These include paratransit services, school drop-offs, and first- and last-mile trips to rail stations. Trips originating in lower density neighborhoods that are underserved by transit represent the largest emissions reduction potential among all use cases.

The scoping study generated preliminary GHG impact estimates that are sensitive to underlying assumptions but nevertheless quite substantial. In total, the report found that replacing personal car travel with a mixed microtransit fleet In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) could offer potential GHG reductions of up to 588.42 kt CO2e over five years – almost 6% of emissions from personal transportation.

Next steps

The report notes that the evolution of microtransit services could take any number of paths. On the one hand, they could end up competing with traditional transit services and add more car trips to the road, spur greater transportation demand overall, disperse traffic and generate more urban sprawl and higher GHG emissions.

More ideally, microtransit services could bring about a more profound transformation of urban mobility by toppling the supremacy of the single-occupant vehicle trip, increasing transit ridership, reducing congestion, lowering travel costs for users, and reducing road-related infrastructure costs. Targeted implementation will be critical to realizing the outcome that we desire.

To this end, on Monday TAF and MaRS convened 35 stakeholders from the transportation sector – including planners, local and regional transit authorities, and private rideshare companies – to present the report’s findings and discuss how the sector could support the effective deployment of microtransit solutions in the region. The group identified factors that would influence the uptake of microtransit, such as convenience, reliability, safety, and affordability. Participants also identified a few priority use cases for more detailed exploration.

One clear message emerging from the workshop is that broad stakeholder engagement will be critical as we seek to create a coordinated regional microtransit strategy for the GTHA. Any successful strategy will need to engage key public and private sector partners from the outset to help co-create, test and scale up microtransit solutions that create verifiable GHG reductions, generate value for individual partners and fulfill broader public goals.

If you’re interested in being part of this ongoing discussion, please contact me at iklesmer@taf.ca.

Read the full report here.