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Transportation : Innovation + Job News

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Royal Taxi teams up with eCab to launch mobile app

As protests against Uber and City challenges rage on in Toronto, the taxi industry has been grappling with the question of how to deal with the disruption of its industry and bring its technology to the 21st century. 

eCab, a global alliance of taxi companies committed to bringing innovative digital technology to the industry, has teamed up with Royal Taxi in Toronto to develop a smartphone app for the company. The eCab app in Toronto follows the app’s successful presence in Vancouver of last year. According to Royal Taxi, the availability of an app helps the company cater to a younger demographic that expects efficiency in their daily life, as well as leverage the fact that they are a safer option. 

“Traditional taxi companies have typically relied on calls coming in to their Dispatch centre. An APP changes that and adds a greater dimension to the transportation industry—not to mention increases demand by a diverse demographic group,” said Spiros Bastas, general manager for Royal Taxi. “The glaring difference between our App and that provided by services such as Uber is safety, reliability and compliance.”

The Toronto app works by allowing users to get connected to the nearest Royal Taxi in the area, choose from regular, executive, and wheelchair accessible cars, and—most importantly—pay through the app. Users also have the option of enjoying WiFi in the vehicle.

“Urban mobility is facing a major evolution and the smartphone generation keeps evolving. The digital revolution and the unprecedented new competition entering all sectors of activity has to be addressed positively,” said Gilles Gomis, regional head of eCab. “eCab brings to the industry the tools to fill these needs while focusing on technology and quality of services.”

Eglinton LRT to get first issue of Ontario's new Green Bonds

In the fall of 2013, the provincial government unveiled a plan to start issuing green bonds: bonds that are in some way tied to projects that help achieve environmental goals.

"Participating in the green bond market will provide an opportunity for Ontario to broaden its investor base and raise additional funding in this rapidly growing sector of the bond market," a government primer on the project says. "In addition, green bonds raise awareness of climate and environmental challenges and allow investors to support green initiatives."

Soon after, an advisory panel was created to help in the selection fo elgible projects, which in general fall into one of the following categories: clean transportation; energy efficiency and conservation; clean energy and technology; forestry, agriculture and land management; and climate adaptation and resilience.

A few days ago, the government announced the first project that would receive a green bond issue: the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, currently under construction in Toronto—that issue may be up to $500 million.

“Ontario is taking a major step forward in planning for a greener, more sustainable future and is the only province in Canada to release a certified green bonds program" finance minister Charles Sousa said when announcing the green bond issue. "People are looking for new and innovative ways to invest in a secure and socially responsible manner. Ontario’s Green Bonds will help us to invest in transit, create jobs and raise capital at competitive rates.”

Few additional details were immediately available, though the government does hope to make this first issue of bonds available early next year.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Finance

Giving electric vehicle owners a charge

Electric vehicles have been on the market for three years in Canada. Enter Plug’n Drive, a not-for-profit whose mission is to accelerate the penetration of those vehicles into the consumer market.

One of the biggest challenges in encouraging potential car buyers to go electric is the so-far limited availability of charging stations: if you’re not sure you’ll be able to power up when and where you need to, an electric car can be a tough sell. Which leads to Plug’n Drive’s latest cause: increasing the number of charging stations in condo buildings.

“Essentially for the past 20 years Toronto has been going through a condo boom,” points out Josh Tzventarny, director of operations for Plug’n Drive, which is incubated at Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Energy. “Now about 30 per cent of Torontonians live in condos—none of which were designed for electric vehicles.”

For the past year or so Plug’n Drive has been working with Canadian Condominium iInstitute and the WWF to make recommendations for updates to the provincial Condominium Act, which is currently up for review and is likely to come before the legislature in the fall. The Condominium Act only enforces what happens after a condo has been built, however; the best Plug’n Drive is hoping for from new legislation is that it will include rules and guidelines for charging stations should a condo board decide it wants to install one.

“Where the real work needs to be done,” Tzventarny goes on, “is probably the building code—and the City of Toronto is starting to do some work around that with its green standards.”

In the meantime, Plug’n Drive is trying to reach out directly to condo owners and condo boards, making the case that retrofitting a building to include charging stations isn’t actually that a daunting prospect. (They issued a guide to installing them this past spring.)

“It’s really just an electrical job,” Tzventarny says. “It’s no different than installing an air conditioner or something like that.”

Plug’n Drive is also starting to field queries from property managers and real estate agents with clients who have electric vehicles, and prioritize charging stations when they go condo shopping—an indication, he believes, that this is "starting to become more and more of an issue."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Josh Tzventarny, Director of Operations, Plug'n Driv

UofT student creates smarter traffic lights

Here's something we could all use less of: gridlock. A political lightening rod and increasing limit on daily routines in Toronto, traffic congestion eats up our time, not to mention reserves of patience and good humour. Now one UofT student thinks she's found a way to help tame congestion, by getting the lights at individual intersections to communicate directly with one another.

Samah El-Tantawy was inspired by the awful state of the roads both here in Toronto and in Cairo, where she grew up. Her traffic-management system formed the core of her graduate work (El-Tantawy earned her PhD in civil engineering in 2012), and is based on innovations in artificial intelligence research.

Right now, El-Tantawy explains, there are three types of traffic-management systems operating in Toronto:

  • Set times for light changes, based on prior calculations using historical records; these are optimized, but don't adapt to the circumstances of any given moment.
  • Actuated controls: detectors under the pavement which send calls to traffic lights, so those lights can change based on immediate conditions. The shortcoming with these is that they are operating "as if blind," El-Tantaway says. Since they only have inputs from vehicles in one direction, they don't work based on the state of the intersection or road network as a whole.
  • Adaptive controls that are optimized in real time, based on traffic approaching an intersection; this system exists at about 300 intersections in Toronto. The main limitation with this system is that it works via a centralized command system, and thus requires a substantial communications network. (Any failure in that centralized system has, correspondingly, a huge impact on the whole network.)
The system El-Tantawy has developed is based on individualized intersection control, and comes with lower capital costs and risks of interruption compared to the adaptive control system. As she explains it, "each intersection sends and receives information from its neighbours, and each of the neighbours do this in a cascading fashion." Essentially, the lights at each intersection communicate with the ones at the connecting intersections, and this allows the lights at each intersection to change based on what those neighbouring lights are doing.

Unlike scheduled cascading traffic lights (where you hit a series of greens in a row if traffic conditions allow you to pace yourself just right), this system includes real-time responses to changing traffic conditions. "Each one decides for itself," El-Tantawy says, "but it considers what decisions what might be taken by the neighbours by having a model for each neighbour, and that model is built based on receiving information every second. They are actually deciding simultaneously."

According to El-Tantawy's simulation models, her traffic management system—called Multi-agent Reinforcement Learning for Integrated Network of Adaptive Traffic Signal Controllers (or MARLIN-ATSC)—can reduce delays by up to 40 per cent, and yield a 15-25 per cent savings in travel time. It can also have environmental knock-off effects—up to a 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, since vehicles are spending less time on the road and travelling more efficiently when they do.

City of Toronto staff are aware of El-Tantawy's work, and she's hoping it will eventually be implemented in some intersections here. She needs to conduct field tests first, however, and is currently looking for quieter areas suitable for pilot projects next summer.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Samah El-Tantawy

New Mississauga aerospace facility hiring 50

Sumitimo Precision Products, a Japanese company dating back to 1961 that manufactures everything from hydraulic controls and environmental systems to micro technology (such as silicon etching systems), announced last fall that it would be opening a new facility in Mississauga that is set to become the headquarters of the company's aerospace division. And this month came news of progress on that front: the Mississauga site is now set to hire for 50 new positions with the help of the provincial government.

Ontario is providing SPP Canada Aircraft with a loan of $3.25 million. SPP is investing about $50 million in the facility overall.

Shinichi Nakamura, president of SPP Canada, highlighted the existing knowledge base in aerospace technology and manufacturing in Ontario when making this recent announcement. SPP's Mississauga facility will focus primarily on landing gear.

According to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, about 40 per cent of the world's commercial landing gear is manufactured in the province. This has ripple effects on other local manufacturers. SPP currently sources about a third of its component parts for landing gear systems in Ontario, a number that will grow as this new facility hits its stride.

"From this base," Nakamura said in a press statement, "Sumitomo looks forward to offering an expanded suite of products and services to our North American aerospace customers."

Among the positions SPP is seeking to feel are logistics experts, procurement specialists, and account managers.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Economic Development and Trade

BufferBox acquired by Google

It was only a few weeks ago that we told you about BufferBox, a new network of parcel pick-up stations had just launched in the Toronto area. With a growing list of stations—they're up to about 14 in Toronto and Mississauga and have more going in by the end of the year—and a contract with Metrolinx to help target commuters, things seemed promising for the new startup.

And now, they are looking even more exciting. BufferBox has just announced it has been acquired by Google. Neither BufferBox nor Google would confirm the financial details, but TechCrunch is reporting the purchase price was in the neighbourhood of $17 million.

BufferBox services are free until year's end. When paid service begins they expect they'll be charging $3 or $4 per delivery. The goal is to have approximately 100 stations in the GTA by the end of 2013. Google, meanwhile, is likely looking for a challenger the Amazon Locker parcel delivery program (which is not available in Canada), and is hoping that BufferBox can expand and scale quickly.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Brad Moggach, Sales & Marketing Director, BufferBox; TechCrunch

Tesla opens first Canadian store in Yorkdale

When engineer Nikola Tesla died, it was as a penniless eccentric. Though he had attained wealth and recognition for his many technological breakthroughs and patents, later in his life he lost hold of those achievements as he pursued a great many further experiments.

Over the past decade or two, his reputation has undergone significant rehabilitation. Like many innovations, it turns out, his work faced several setbacks before it found a firmer footing. The car company founded in 2003 and named after him—Tesla Motors—makes electric vehicles, with motors based on his original designs. And earlier this month, Tesla Motors opened its first Canadian store to help showcase those electric vehicles. It's located, perhaps surprisingly, in a mall: Yorkdale, where it's part of the shopping centre's recent renovation and expansion.

Vice-president of worldwide sales George Blankenship highlighted that seemingly incongruous location choice in a press statement, explaining that Tesla's primary goal "continues to be focused on informing as many people as possible about EVs.... Customers in our store are invited to ask questions and engage with informative product specialists to learn more about the many advantages of driving an electric car."

It's certainly an education many of us lack right now—for the moment, electic cars remain novelties in Toronto. We are, however, slowly building up more infrastructure to support them. Charging stations are available in several locations across the city, and a city-run pilot project for several more is in the works.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: George Blankenship, Vice-President, Worldwide Sales and Ownership Experience, Tesla Motors

Thornhill gets a new electric-vehicle charging station

Electric vehicles (EVs) are as old as cars themselves—the first ones date back to the 1830s, and in the early 20th century they constituted a significant portion of the market. They eventually lost ground to their gasoline-powered counterparts, but as calls for sustainable transportation options grow louder, so are calls for modern, commercially viable electric cars.

Right now electric vehicles largely remain the purview of enthusiasts. The provincial government is hoping to change that; it wants five per cent of all new cars to be electric by 2020. If they're going to succeed, we're all going to need to get better acquainted with the technology.

That is one reason that the South Central Ontario chapter of the Canadian Automobile Association just opened its first electric-vehicle charging station outside its head office in Thornhill. Electric vehicle owners, CAA members or not, can use the station free of charge, and the rest of us can get a better glimpse of what the future of driving might look like.

Teresa Di Felice, director of government and community relations for South Central CAA, told us that currently there are about 400 electric vehicle owners in Ontario. CAA is hoping to help that number increase: they've made submissions to the government, seeking partnerships to facilitate future growth.

"There are a lot of people talking about [EVs], and a lot of interest, but like anything new, there are hurdles," she says, pointing out that the government's five per cent goal is "very aggressive."

The CAA charging station joins three others in the GTA; you can find them all via the map on ChargePoint.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Teresa Di Felice, Director of Government and Community Relations, South Central CAA

Hailo to launch innovative taxi service later this month

While Toronto faces many transportation shortages—we'd all like faster subways and more frequent buses—one thing we are well-supplied with is taxis. With about 10,000 licensed drivers and just under 5,000 cabs, the per-capita tax rate is quite high.

Getting a taxi when you need one isn't quite so straightforward, however. If you're downtown, you might be able hail one in less than a minute. If you're further afield or it's a busy night, you might wait much longer.

Hoping to change that experience is Hailo Network Canada Inc., which officially became licensed as a taxi company in Toronto at the end of August, with plans to launch the last week of September. The app-based service is built on the premise that "the only two people who matter are the passenger and the driver," says Hailo Canada president Justin Raymond.

The app allows drivers and passengers to communicate directly, bypassing the traditional model of calling into a central line and having dispatchers send vehicles out. Hailo (which currently works on iPhone and Android phones) matches a passenger who wants a cab with the nearest vehicle; drivers text when they arrive so you can wait indoors. The app allows both drivers and passengers to rate each other. Payment, also done through the app, is by credit card.

You won't see any branded Hailo cabs driving down the block soon, though. Rather than introducing new cabs to the city, the company works with existing ones. Essentially, it's a tool for drivers, who sign up directly—Hailo may bring a Beck or Diamond or Royal cab to your door, depending on who is closest.

Toronto is Hailo's first North American venture. They already operate in London and Dublin, and will open in New York, Chicago and Boston soon, with other cities in both Canada and the US expected to follow. They've hired nine staff for the Toronto office and are "always looking for smart, innovative, tech-focused people," says Raymond.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Justin Raymond, President, Hailo Canada

Porter announces deal with Qatar Airways, aiming for 3-5 more partnerships by year's end

Porter Airlines is known for its fresh approach to air travel: rather than paring down service and customer experience elements as other airlines have done in recent years, with cuts in everything from baggage allowances to free meals to the legroom between seats, Porter has gone in the other direction. With stylized staff uniforms, a user-friendly website and perks like free coffee and shortbread in their airport lounge, Porter has attracted customers by trying to make the experience of flying more fun and more friendly.

Based on Toronto's small island airport,  however, Porter is an airline with a fairly limited geographic range. Currently it offers flights to 19 cities in the eastern half of North America; running long-haul flights out of the island airport isn't a viable option. So last week Porter announced its first interline partnership, with Qatar Airways. The agreement will allow Qatar passengers who begin their journeys in Doha to fly to Porter destinations as part of a single itinerary, connecting in either Montreal or Washington, DC.

"We had a lot of airlines who had approached us over the years," says Brad Cicero, communications manager for Porter. But the airline had to do some work before it could enter into any such arrangements, upgrading its back-end systems to handle more complex itineraries and monitor bookings effectively. Once Porter was ready to look for partners, it focused on other airlines that shared its customer-friendly approach.

"Qatar was always high on the list," explains Cicero. "We like their approach to service." (Qatar Airways was ranked the world's best airline last month, for the second year in a row, by Business Insider.) It's the first of several partnerships the airline is planning; Cicero says "anywhere from three to five could be in place" by the end of 2012. 

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Brad Cicero,  Manager, Communications & Public Affairs, Porter Airlines

Markham eco-muffler manufacturer Novo Plastics lands $975K investment for global growth

Markham-based injection-molded plastics manufacturer Novo Plastics has developed a muffler system for cars that it says is more ecologically friendly, cheaper, lighter and more durable than conventional mufflers. And with a recent investment of $975,000, it will be expanding its GTA manufacturing facility to improve distribution.

Founded in 2006, the company has grown to employ more than 70 people in its 80,000-square-foot factory in Markham, manufacturing plastic parts for heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as automobiles. Its innovative muffler system has been undergoing testing and continued development over the past year.

Novo Plastics CEO Baljit Sierra says that because plastic is far lighter than steel, the muffler system vastly improves gas mileage. "There's been a huge push by car manufacturers to take weight out of the vehicle, and this muffler represents a significant weight reduction, which makes the car much lighter. It also has a far cooler surface temperature which eliminates the need for other equipment."

The injection of capital comes courtesy of the federal government's Ontario economic development arm, FedDev Ontario, which announced the funding last week under its Prosperity Initiative. The repayable investment is targeted to allow the company to tool up to be the first to bring this type of system to market and to distribute it around the world.

Sierra says he expects to be growing the size of the company's workforce over the next year or two, once the ongoing testing phase of the product is complete; he declined to guess at a specific number of hires at this stage. In addition to its Markham headquarters, the company operates sales and distribution offices in the US, Germany, India and South Korea.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, Novo Plastics

A Don Mills showroom targets high-end customers with its low-emission electric vehicles

Fisker Automotive bills itself as a maker of the "world's first true electric vehicle with extended range"—and they're luxury cars, to boot. This month the company opened its first Toronto showroom, employing one staffer, with its Fisker of Toronto location at the Shops of Don Mills.

General manager Michael Cornacchia says that so far, customers have been very impressed to see the two models on display.

"It's been very positive. We've got a good mix of people, and I think they're just excited to see a car dealership in the mall," says Cornacchia. All Fisker vehicles are custom-made; Toronto customers can expect delivery within three months of ordering.

The cars boast high-end sedan performance with low energy consumption: "It can travel from  zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds," states the news release, "yet was recently given an astonishing emissions rating of just 51g/km CO2 by the TUV [an independent European inspection agency] and a 112mpg equivalency rating."

Shops of Don Mills marketing representative Lauren Genz says the Fisker location was a natural fit with the mall's concept. "It's a good pairing. We're re-thinking the retail experience and they're re-thinking cars as a sustainable luxury product."

The Fisker Karma—that's the model Justin Bieber got on The Ellen DeGeneres Show for his 18th birthday—will sell for $102,000 when it becomes available in the coming weeks.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Michael Cornacchia, Fisker of Toronto; Lauren Genz, Shops of Don Mills

Eco-friendly, water-free on-demand car wash service Washly launches in Mississauga

Karan Walia was working at his cousin's startup company GoClean—a waterless car-washing product that hit it big on the CBC program Dragon's Den and wound up in Canadian Tire stores—when he was struck by inspiration.

"I realized while I was there that it was a big inconvenience to drivers to go out to the car wash, and they'd often spend a lot of time there waiting in line," he says. "And most car washes use an average of 300 litres of clean drinking water, while our waterless process uses less than 170 millilitres, so there are major eco-benefits."

The resulting company, launched last week in Mississauga, is Washly, a service that allows people to park their cars in a publicly accessible spot, call or check in online using a computer or smartphone, and have experienced car detailers arrive to wash their car using the waterless system.

Walia, the company CEO, and his business partner, CTO Aysar Khalid, have financed the project themselves. "I guess in the startup world they'd say we're bootstrapping," Walia says. They work with six licensees, experienced car detailers, who do the washing. Walia says that in the first week demand has been high—they're already planning their expansion.

"We're getting a lot of calls from people in Toronto, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, so the demand is there," he says. "We're moving quickly to offer our service in Toronto by mid-April."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Karan Walia, CEO, Washly

Toronto transit app Rocket Radar expands to 4 US cities, adds 1 to the team

Designer Adam Schwabe began 2011 by launching Rocket Radar, a transit application for mobile devices that gives real-time next-vehicle information to Toronto Transit Commission subway and streetcar riders. His team added bus information to the service midway through the year. And last week they launched the service in four US cities: Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco and Davis.

"We've gotten a good reaction here in Toronto, and next week we're starting to reach out to users and media in those other cities to start promoting them," says Schwabe.

Thus far, the transit applications have been a side project for Schwabe and the two developers he's been working with from the beginning. For these US cities, a new part-time member was added to the team. "He's a package designer, and we've added a more real-world aesthetic to the design."

The newly added locations, which soft-launched about a month ago, were a natural fit because the transit services in those places provide data on the same platform the TTC does. "The technology was the same, so it was relatively easy for us to go to them."

In the short-term, Schwabe will be focusing on enhancing and expanding the functionality and reach of this batch of Radar apps. In the long term, adding more cities—New York, for instance—is a possibility.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Adam Schwabe, Founder, Rocket Radar

Ryerson students and GO Transit launch new mobile app

GO Transit, the Ontario-government-run regional transit network in the GTA, launched a new mobile application, GO Mobile, on Nov. 10.

The application for iPhones, Blackberrys and Android-enabled smartphones allows riders to view schedules, receive alerts and personalize information. In a release announcing the application, GO VP Mary Proc said the initiative should enhance customer service.

"We're very excited to offer our passengers the ability to access GO schedule information right in the palm of their hands," stated Proc.

Behind the scenes, the application represents a significant achievement not just for the transit service, but for Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone (DMZ), an 18-month-old innovation and business incubator at the downtown University. Six Ryerson students and one recent graduate collaborated to build the application for GO.

School representatives say this represents an evolution in the university classroom experience, with students getting hands-on, real-life experience dealing with projects for real-world clients. Stephen Johns, a computer-science grad who worked on the project said in a statement, "GO Transit was an ideal partner for our group as they were committed to experiential learning and developing a great, knowledge-based transit application."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Michael Forbes, Ryerson Digital Media Zone; Vanessa Thomas, GO Transit
56 Transportation Articles | Page: | Show All
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