Toronto: Autonomous rides to/from transit stations in 2020

The City of Toronto will receive federal funding for an Automated Shuttle Pilot Project, the Toronto Star reports. The service is expected to be soft launched around September 2020. 

As the 15-page document published on the city's website reveals, the city submitted their proposal to the Program to Advance Connectivity and Automation in the Transportation System (ACATS) of Transport Canada in September 2017. Toronto's proposal was eventually selected and the city is expected to receive federal funds totalling CAD365,000 over four years to fund the research and piloting of an automated shuttle service. The total cost of the project is cited as CAD1.15 million. In-kind contributions were also made by Metrolinx and the Toronto Transit Commission (CAD252,000).  

As it is explained in the aforementioned document, the City will pilot the programme using a driverless shuttle servicing a new route, and not an existing one. It is also known that The University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute and Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning will support the monitoring and evaluation of the shuttle service impacts and response. Part of the federal funding for 2018 (CAD50,000) will support attitudinal research conducted by Ryerson.

The type of vehicle chosen for the “Minding the Gap” pilot will have be an established shuttle model that has been tested in other jurisdictions. The RFI will gather the vehicle safety records from original equipment manufacturers, and inform the criteria to be included in the service RFP. From the reports of testing in North America, most collisions with automated vehicles result from human error by drivers in other vehicles.
— Minding the Gap - Request for Authority to Receive Federal Funding for an Automated Shuttle Pilot Project

The City's proposal reveals further details about the technical details of the project. A shuttle with an established safety record will be chosen; the City pointed out that most collisions involving automated vehicles result from human error of drivers in other vehicles. Despite that, the shuttles will include "ambassadors" who will staff the vehicle at all times (sponsored by Metrolinx and TTC). Additionally, a communications and education campaign will take place, focusing on the area surrounding the pilot location. Clearly, the City wants to avoid awkward, and potentially dangerous interactions between pedestrians unfamiliar with autonomous vehicles and the proposed shuttle.  

The service will become available around September 2020. An evaluation programme, relying on the partnering academic institutions, will run concurrently with the shuttle service, and through March 2022. The evaluation aims to assess the success of this pilot from both a user perspective and a technical perspective. 

As the Star reported, workers unions have already expressed their opposition to the proposed plan: Frank Grimaldi, President of the largest TTC workers union, ATU Local 113, cited safety concerns with respect to driverless vehicles as the reason why the proposal should not be implemented.  

It will be interesting to see whether the City of Toronto will be able to launch this programme before robo-taxis hit the Canadian streets - and, additionally, to what extent such service can be successful if private initiative fills the gap in the market at a similarly low cost. Waymo, one of the leaders in the AVs space has already made public the expected launch of their commercialrobotaxi service in Arizona in 2018. The Alphabet group company also aspires to launch their service in Europe.



Andrew Kyprianides