Smart mobility and the governance of urban transit

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About the project

Dynamic and responsive transportation systems are a core pillar of equitable and sustainable communities. But cities face service delivery challenges for which technology can be (and always has been) part of the solution. In this context, innovations in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector have begun to transform transportation supply and demand in cities worldwide. Cities increasingly resort to enlisting private and non-profit partners’ support to gather comprehensive mobility data and provide transportation services.

The anticipatory research and industry activity around smart mobility sit in tension with a governance environment that struggles to understand the distribution of roles and responsibilities in these possible futures. One set of arguments suggests that the public sector's role is to enable change by providing favourable operating conditions, while the responsibility for innovation and service development rests with the private sector. Alternative perspectives suggest that the public sector should innovate alongside the private sector to capture the benefits of new technologies and mitigate their risks. They also argue that, while cities are essential in governing transitions, they do not act alone and require regional and national governments' support. Ultimately this is a question about multilevel governance in the 21st century city.

This report examines existing knowledge on how new technologies should be governed to aid in the transition. It surveys the current state of understanding of the processes and leadership strategies being deployed in the transition to ensure a sustainable future that delivers more, rather than less, public value.

Key findings

  • Sparse data exists on governance strategies employed by Canadian authorities at the national and subnational levels when it comes to smart mobility technologies.
  • The literature that does exist is focused on only one aspect of smart mobility and does not examine the interaction and intersection between data governance and that of connected and autonomous vehicle (C/AV) and shared mobility.
  • There is no standardized analytical methodology to evaluate the success of digital infrastructure, C/AV, and shared mobility projects.
  • The analytical literature on governance strategies in the smart mobility space is more robust in the cases of Finland, Germany and the United States. These studies could serve as a model for future academic research and investigation.
  • There is limited research on the result of ongoing and past pilot projects both in Canada and abroad.

Without concerted, analytical research into smart mobility governance strategies, there is no way of developing a systematic approach to the public sector’s implementation of smart mobility technology as a tool to strengthen public transportation.

Policy implications

  • All levels of government are unprepared to address the challenges smart mobility technologies present to public transportation. There is a need for a more coherent and collaborative approach and measures to ensure technologies do not undermine public transit provision.
  • These challenges can be traced back to historical transportation governance structures across Canada. In other words, to integrate smart mobility technologies successfully requires institutional change that has long remained elusive to public stakeholders.
  • A risk exists if government entities continue to prioritize economic development goals as a driving force behind smart mobility investments. The public transportation sector may be subject to pressures from private mobility providers.
  • An opportunity exists for the federal level of government to take a more active role when it comes to smart mobility investment and regulation. This, in turn, could empower cities to prioritize transportation objectives as they continue to plan for smart mobility going forward.
  • Municipalities need more funding and collaboration opportunities, preferably developed through access to a permanent pool of monies that can allow them to invest in mobility as they see fit.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

David Wolfe, Principal Investigator:

Elena Goracinova, Postdoctoral Fellow:

Lisa Huh, Research Assistant:

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, Infrastructure Canada or the Government of Canada.

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