The Rise of the Autonomous Vehicle


Autonomous Vehicles aka self-driving vehicles aka driverless cars have been making rapid progress over the past few years and are already starting to change the way we view transportation. From Google to Uber to Tesla, major technology companies are spending millions of dollars on research and development of this form of transportation and why? So that we can spend less time focusing on driving and more time doing other stuff, which is one of the reasons I choose to use public transportation. I wanted to share some thoughts on how these vehicular robots will transform the way we commute in the future and how this can be both good and bad for our society.

In places like Canada, where all 3 levels of government are spending billions of dollars on developing better infrastructure for transit across the country, many community members are skeptical that this infrastructure is needed because they believe that autonomous vehicles will replace public transportation. While autonomous vehicles are definitely the future of our transportation industry, I think the chances of it replacing public transit is very slim. Imagine a world where everyone had an autonomous vehicle pick them up and drive them to work, or even if ridesharing services like Uber were autonomous, you’d still have the exact same issues with congestion because our highways can’t get much bigger and these vehicles don’t have any express way of getting you from point A to point B.

Furthermore, where are we going to park all these autonomous vehicles? Parking lots aren’t getting any bigger – in fact most future developments are actually limiting the amount of parking spaces built into them. A new condominium development down the street from me doesn’t even provide parking with the purchase of a unit because the number of spots are limited and people have to pay a premium to buy out a spot.

I do however see a place for autonomous technology in public transit – I can imagine an autonomous bus. Of course, I’d miss the interaction with a bus driver and having someone there to ask questions if I’m lost or need directions but this would definitely increase reliability levels (which annoys most people about transit) and allow transit agencies to reduce costs over time. The same case can be made about trains, although automated train systems have existed for many years and have been very reliable. Autonomous vehicles do increase safety and although most transit agencies have high standards for safety, this would raise to an even higher level.

There’s plenty to discuss about autonomous vehicles and its exciting future but I wanted to start a discussion about how this will revolutionize the way we commute and the impact on public transportation. I’ll hopefully cover more posts on autonomous vehicles in the future.


5 tips to make your commute better

'I like to spend my train journeys reading fiction.' (He looks at Rail Timetable. Sign says 'Delays expected'.)

Have you ever considered taking public transit to get your destination but then wondered how to make the most of your time while getting there? Are you a commuter thinking about how you’re wasting precious time trying to get to your destination daily? Well I’d like to share some of my tips and habits to make your commute a little more enjoyable:

Working on the GO – As mentioned in my first blog post “All Aboard!”, I used to commute from my home in Hamilton, Ontario to Toronto, Ontario every day, which is about an hour and half (sometimes even longer) one way. After my first few days commuting, I made an agreement with my supervisor that I would leave an hour earlier and work for an hour on the train. I would basically compile a list of tasks and work that required the least online functionality and get myself on an earlier train and complete this work offline. If you haven’t heard, GO Transit is bringing WiFi to its fleet of buses and trains in the near future and I think it’ll be a big game-changer for transit riders (I’m going to discuss this in a future blog post). Although this tip may not work for everyone depending on your organization and work situation, it may for some and I strongly encourage you give it a shot if you can.

Breakfast on the GO – One of the inconveniences of using public transit to get to work is that there’s very little flexibility if you’re running late and need to be somewhere at a particular time, especially in the morning. Hit the snooze button a few times and you now have just a few minutes to run out the door and catch that bus or train therefore missing one of the most important meals of the day – breakfast. And if you’re like me, lack of food = grumpy Josh. What I started doing is preparing breakfasts that I could eat comfortably on the train the night before. My go-to was always different types of overnight oats. I would prepare this in a container that’s spill-proof and easy to carry and eat on my daily train. Considering I had a long journey before I got to work, this allowed me to eat my breakfast comfortably and not stress out every morning (and not buying breakfast = save $$$)

Evolution of reading on a subway by Alfred Lul

Reading on the GO – Last year I really wanted to get back into reading and set a goal for myself to read at least a book a month. Rather than scroll through my Facebook and Twitter feed for over an hour, I started reading books on the train. I was making really good progress with these books and signed up for a library card so that I wasn’t spending money buying multiple books every month. Something that slightly bothered me is the noisy train and having to carry the book with me to work, especially if it was a bigger/thicker book. After exploring my library’s website further, I found an audiobook section! I soon resorted to audiobooks which made the experience so much better for me personally – and I got through even more books!

Blogging on the GO – Most of the blog posts I compose are actually written while I’m on my daily commute. I also use this time to think about content I want to cover for future blog posts. It helps that I’m actually writing about transportation and commuting but why not start a blog to kill some time if you haven’t yet?

Napping on the GO – And if none of these other tips work for you, why not just take a quick nap? Seriously though. If I’m exhausted and I’m out of it, I just make sure I grab the right spot on the train/bus and take a quick nap. Sleep is important and and if you’ve been falling behind on it, why not catch up on it. Side note- be respectful to your fellow commuters aka don’t drool on them or invade their personal space. AND don’t forget to set an alarm because, trust me, you don’t want to miss your stop and wake up when you’re at the end of your bus/train line.

Making Transit Sexy

A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport – Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

Have you ever received a weird look or comment from a colleague/friend/family when you said you were going to catch the bus/train to your destination? I have a lot of family and friends who have never used transit and don’t entertain the thought of using it. Still riding on waves of the American dream, many people still believe that public transportation is only used by low-income demographics or those that cannot afford a car. But is that really true in today’s world? Definitely not.

I use transit as my primary mode of transportation- not because I can’t afford a car but because I love being able to relax and multi-task while getting to my destination ( I actually draft some of these blog posts while I’m sitting on a bus/train). I also live in a downtown core so getting to amenities has never been challenging. And of course, if I can’t get to my destination via public transit or foot, there’s always the option of a bike, ridesharing app or even renting/borrowing a vehicle.

While writing this blog post, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one that felt this way and studies were showing that personal vehicular use is decreasing. A summary below from a study by University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute shows the top 5 reasons why young adults are choosing not to get a driver’s license. What’s interesting here is that the top reason is the lack of time to get a license- again the financial aspect is not the primary reason. A large proportion of the working class even state that they prefer to use alternative modes of transportation instead – which shows a shift in perspective on public transit. My generation is often considered the multi-task generation because we’re doing way too much with not enough time on our hands but that’s what makes public transit so attractive to me. I frequently find myself being able to catch up on work, reading or even watching my favourite TV show while I’m on a bus/train.UoM survey

Back to the stigma behind public transit- how can we make it “sexy” for those that think it’s far from it? Here are some of my thoughts-

  • One way is by making people realize how not “sexy” cars are for daily commutes by pointing out how congested our roads really are and how long it takes to get from point A to B in rush hour
  • Free transit days – Who doesn’t love free stuff? I’ve rarely seen free transit days here in the GTA but I think by giving people a better opportunity to try transit, lots of minds can be changed. How do you think Netflix reeled me into a membership?
  • More upgrades like trains and transit priority signals, which are not affected by collisions or traffic, making the riders trip a lot faster
  • More amenities – many public transit agencies now offer free WiFi to their riders, making the idea of working/relaxing on-the-go easier (coming soon to GO Transit). And you don’t have to worry about your phone data bill
  • Keep increasing the size and reach of public transit networks – if public transit can get you to where you need to get, then it’s really hard to say no
  • Cost – by keeping costs of fares low, it’s hard to ignore it as an option. Think about how much your car and insurance cost you in a year
  • Using more public transit scenes in movies and TV shows can definitely increase the “sexy” factor. I mean who wouldn’t want to hop on a bus or train if that’s how James Bond got to work every day?
  • Better marketing and customer service – transit agencies need to resonate with their riders through their marketing and customer service just like ridersharing services like Uber and Lyft do

Most countries are spending millions (if not billions) of dollars to enhance their transit infrastructure to fight congestion but if transit is not a “sexy” enough option for riders, they will always revert back to driving a vehicle. And I’m not saying everyone needs to start using transit, because that’s just not realistic, I’m saying that if we can rid of the stigma around public transit, we’ll have less cars on the road for those that can’t use transit as an option.

All Aboard!

Comic StripRush Hour on City Bus by Rex & Dexter

Do you commute to work? How long does your commute take? What are some of the best ways you kill time? I’m writing this blog to explore commuter lifestyles and discuss some of the issues we currently face with public transportation both locally and globally.

My name is Joshua Patel and I’m a commuter (not The Commuter, because unlike Liam Neeson, my commute is less stressful and action-packed). I live in Canada, specifically in the Greater Toronto Area (which we’re now calling Greater Golden Horseshoe), the most populated region in Canada and consequently one of the most congested regions in Ontario. My average commute (round-trip) on a day with normal weather/traffic conditions is about 90 minutes (100 km total). That’s 90 minutes I’ve learned to make great use of and will share in my future posts. I also work in the transportation industry so I bring some insight into some of the challenges that we face in transportation planning.

Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves? — Robin Williams

Globally, congestion is increasing every year and average commute times are rising, with more people choosing to use public transit than ever before. Think about how much time you lose a day just getting to work and back. It’s incredible when you add it up in terms of a week, a month, or even a year. I grew up in a country called Bahrain, where public transit was given very little thought – gas was cheaper than a bottle of water. But while doing some research for this blog I was surprisingly impressed by how much public transit infrastructure has been developed there in less than a decade, with even more being planned for the future. And why? Because congestion.

Millions of people like me commute everyday and I want to learn more about people’s stories and share practices to make commuting even better for everyone. Join me on my commute (this blog) as I explore different topics around commuting and transportation!