THE NEXT 40

Robots take the wheel—how autonomous cars will change northern Ontario

Experts predict in the northern Ontario of the future people will get from point A to Point B in a car that's electric, driven by a robot and owned by someone else.

The Next 40 is a series looking at northern Ontario in 2058, as part of CBC Sudbury's 40th anniversary

Autonomous shuttles are already being tested out on the streets of some Canadian cities and experts say will be how most people get around northern Ontario in 2058. (CBC)

In the 40 years CBC has covered northeastern Ontario, transportation has hogged a lot of headlines.

The four-laning of highways, the struggles of passenger rail, the dependency of northern cities on automobiles and the fight for more cycling infrastructure have all been hot topics.

And that's unlikely to change in the next 40 years, but how northerners get around is likely to change a lot by 2058.

"We really do have to upscale our transportation. We have become like a third world country with regard to transportation," says Linda Savory-Gordon, who is lobbying for a passenger rail network in the northeast.

Linda Savory-Gordon is with the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network that sees passenger rail as a big part of the region's future. (Erik White/CBC )

Transportation economics professor Barry Prentice predicts that a system of autonomous cars might sideline rail in the years to come.

"Today, it sounds fanciful, but at one time having a so-called horseless carriage seemed pretty fanciful," he says.

And Josipa Petrunic, the executive director of the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium, says those self-driving cars will run on electricity. 

"It's completely changing the transportation landscape. And at one point we're all going to wake up and say 'Oh yeah, it's totally natural that everything's electric' in the same way today it's totally natural that everyone has a smartphone."

Hear more in this week's instalment of The Next 40:

Imagine a morning where no one in northern Ontario is driving to work, but they are riding in a car. Some experts think it could happen by 2058. The CBC's Erik White takes a trip into the future of transportation in our special series The Next 40. 9:31

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca