Metro Morning·Audio

Driverless cars: How will they impact Toronto in 2020?

The city's public works and infrastructure committee looked at driverless cars Monday, asking staff from transportation services to figure out how the city can best prepare for their arrival.

'It's going to be disruptive,' says the city's general manager for transportation services

The mayor of Stratford, Ont., says driverless cars, such as this one made by Google, could be operational on city streets by this fall. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Toronto's public works and infrastructure committee looked at driverless cars Monday, asking staff from the transportation services department to figure out how the city can best prepare for their arrival.

In a letter sent to the committee, Coun. Jaye Robinson wrote on May 2: "We need to make strategic decisions now to effectively shape, rather than react to, the changing technological future of our city."

On Monday, the city's general manager for transportation services, Steven Buckley, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning they've already started looking at the best ways to incorporate self-driving cars onto Toronto's streets.

"I think there's been this infatuation with the technology, and I think ultimately, we haven't stepped back and asked ourselves the question: How do we use the technology to sort of create the society and city that we want?"

Buckley says there are two ways Torontonians could use driverless vehicles.

They could be used as privately-owned vehicles, he says, but Buckley asserts the more attractive option for an urban environment is for them to be used as a mobility service similar to taxis, which would lower the cost to ride because a driver is no longer required.

That would benefit those who don't own cars in the city, according to Buckley, but he says the biggest impact will be placed on public safety because he expects the vehicles to decrease the number of collisions on city streets. 

But, as with any new addition to city streets, change will come with a cost. Buckley says anyone who earns money by driving right now will be impacted by the technology.

"It's going to be disruptive ... Our hope is we sort of get ahead of this so we are not reacting to it but planning for it."

Looking west

While Toronto debates a system for these self-driving vehicles, the city of Stratford, Ont., is leading the way in testing driverless cars.

Back in January, Ontario became the first province to allow companies to test these vehicles on city streets, although no cars have hit the road in Stratford just yet.

More than 5 years ago, the city laid at least 50 kilometres of fibre optic cable and installed wireless antennas across Stratford, which helped build a city-wide Wi-Fi network.

On Monday, Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that because of that decision, they can now use the network for these types of test projects.

Mathieson says these cars will eventually use the network to speak with lights and signals, adhering to instructions on how to proceed. They'll also connect to data collectors, providing data to city management on road conditions, such as the exact co-ordinates of a pothole.

Initially, drivers will be in the cars to ensure a smooth transition, but they could start operating on roads in Stratford as early as this fall, according to Mathieson.

According to Buckley, driverless cars could be in Toronto as early as 2020, but he says big cities will likely be on the latter end of the rollout because it will take longer for those cars to be self-sufficient.

The city's transportation services team is expected to bring their recommendations back to the public works and infrastructure committee by the end of the year.

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