Navigant Research Blog

Toronto Is Getting Its Master’s Degree in Cities

— May 29, 2018

Toronto is going back to school. In March, the University of Toronto (U of T) approved its newest discipline, the School of Cities—which is aimed at addressing complex urban challenges such as traffic congestion and affordable housing. The program is one of the first of its kind in the world, and it will serve as a hub for innovative interdisciplinary urban research, education, and engagement. More than 220 faculty members at U of T conduct urban-focused research, representing over 40 academic departments such as engineering, architecture, urban planning, and public health.

Headlined by speakers such as Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs (an Alphabet company), U of T’s School of Cities program hosted an inaugural session on May 15 called Toronto: Towards a Smart and Inclusive City-Region. The session brought together urban thought leaders, policymakers, planners, business leaders, and entrepreneurs to exchange ideas on ways to meet the challenges of city building while ensuring that smart cities are also inclusive cities.

Inclusivity a Major Focus

Several speakers at the session noted how strong city leadership and vision are crucial to ensuring that smart city development reflects the socioeconomic conditions of the city. Sidewalk Labs touted its deep commitment to inclusive cities, referencing its spinoff company Cityblock Health—which aims to help low income Americans access health services. The company also outlined how automated vehicles (AVs) tie into its broader vision for inclusivity. Sidewalk Labs is targeting a 40%-50% reduction in annual family income expenditure on vehicles by offering shared AV services—providing citizens with increased opportunity to access transportation. More public and open space would also be enabled through AVs, with a significant reduction of land needed for parking.

An Ambitious Project

Sidewalk Labs’ ambitious project in Toronto has brought considerable attention and excitement to the city, as well as skepticism. Citizen concerns around data, privacy, and business models have been well documented. Doctoroff shared more details on how data will likely be used, Sidewalk Labs’ support for open data, and its commitment to data security. Information was also provided on the company’s projected business model and areas where it expects to make a return on its investment:

  • Property: Real estate value in Quayside is expected to increase over time.
  • Technology: The technology it develops is expected to scale to the larger Toronto area and other cities in Canada and around the world.
  • Next-generation infrastructure: Sidewalk Labs will potentially arrange and manage next-generation infrastructure services.

A Welcome Development, but Some Concerns

U of T’s new School of Cities is a welcome development that helps fills a void in contemporary academia. Cutting-edge research and collaboration will be needed to help solve the world’s most complex urban issues. Look for more universities to follow suit with similar programs in the coming years.

Sidewalk Labs utilized U of T’s inaugural session to continue its concerted effort to address data and privacy concerns. The company recently released its Responsible Data Use Policy Framework, which builds on Canadian privacy laws and recent recommendations by national and provincial Canadian privacy regulators. To win the support of Torontonians, Sidewalk Labs will need to continue to demonstrate and more effectively communicate to citizens that data from the project will be anonymized, open, secure, and not used for advertising.


How Hyperloops and Other Futuristic Innovations Could Affect Urban Mobility

— May 15, 2018

With limited space on urban streets, cities will likely need to use new technology innovations to make their transportation systems more 3D. This would include the increased utilization of elevated tracks, higher usage of tunneling (beyond traditional metro systems), and flying vehicles. Hyperloops, underground automated pods, and air taxis offer both these possibilities and the potential to transform traditional transportation markets.


Hyperloops hold significant potential to become the first new mode of public transport in over 100 years, promising drastically shortened intercity travel times, lower costs, and decreased negative environmental impacts. The technology uses electromagnetic propulsion to transport passengers in a capsule through a vacuum tube at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h (745 mph).

Hypothetically, hyperloop technology could transform commuting and even affect real estate prices by enabling workers to live hundreds of miles away from their offices. Nevertheless, Navigant Research does not expect the currently experimental technology to approach mainstream adoption over the next 10 years. The fastest speed achieved by hyperloop pilots thus far is 387 km/h (240 mph), far off from the 1,200 km/h (745 mph) speed needed to transport passengers in the short travel times that are claimed as possible. Additionally, a myriad of technological, safety, regulatory, and business model challenges will have to be overcome for hyperloops to become a viable mass-transport technology option.

In an interesting development, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group announced an investment in Hyperloop One in late 2017 and created a new company called Virgin Hyperloop One. The strategic partnership with Virgin adds experience and credibility to the hyperloop industry. Virgin is well-known as a leading innovator in the transportation industry—primarily in the airline, cruise ship, rail, and commercial space travel industries.

Underground Automated Pods

Elon Musk’s Boring Company is attempting to develop a high speed underground public transport system using automated pods. The pods would travel on electric skates, reaching speeds of 125-150 mph and carrying between 8 and 16 passengers. The Boring Company is proposing a Washington, DC-to-Baltimore Loop, which would involve the construction of parallel, twin underground tunnels (which would eventually extend to New York City).

There are several benefits of using underground tunnels and pods in the mobility context, including the lack of weather impacts and the near unlimited number of layers of tunnels that could be built. However, tunnels are expensive to dig and projects have cost as much as $1 billion per mile. The Boring Company aims to reduce this cost by a factor of 10, which is a necessary first step if the company is to be successful.

Air Taxis

Several companies and cities are aiming to launch flying taxi services within the next 10 years (e.g., Volocopter, Kitty Hawk, and Uber).There are a number of concerns with flying taxis, including but not limited to issues related to poor weather conditions, safety, affordability, technological maturity, and the need to attain regulatory approvals from aviation regulators. It is also important to note that most predictions about the near-term deployment of flying cars have been wildly incorrect thus far. Flying taxi services will likely have a place in the future of urban mobility, though Navigant Research expects unmanned flying vehicles be used for hauling commercial goods in the near-term as that is far simpler than transporting commuters.

Too Early to Tell

Due to continued urbanization, a variety of transformative technologies are needed both to improve the current state of mobility in cities and to manage the influx of additional populations. Hyperloops, underground automated pods, and air taxis are three highly experimental, futuristic innovations that have the potential to deliver on these lofty goals. The progression toward commercial deployment over the next 10 years will provide a much clearer picture around the viability (or lack thereof) for these innovative solutions.


Leading City Approaches to Urban Mobility Disruption

— May 3, 2018

Promising mobility solutions are rapidly developing. A variety of solutions—EVs, automated vehicles (AVs), intelligent transportation systems, smart parking systems, last-mile logistics, mass transit innovations, and mobility as a service options (MaaS)—are expected to approach mainstream adoption within the next decade. Together, these technology innovations have the potential to not only address major urban challenges like traffic congestion and air pollution, but also to radically transform mobility in the city.

New Mobility Models under Development

However, the picture is fuzzy on what mobility models will work in cities. No major city has eliminated the plight of traffic congestion, and urban air pollution levels continue to be a problem in most (if not all) countries. Nevertheless, a number of global cities are developing innovative and even radical approaches to urban mobility, which will disrupt transportation models and push the boundaries of traditional transportation policy.

The following table outlines some of the approaches that forward-thinking cities are taking toward reimagining urban mobility, and the key differentiators enabling their success.

Innovative Approaches to Urban Mobility: 2018

(Source: Navigant Research)

These mobility programs will change not only how people move about in cities, but also how cities are designed and managed. Collaborative management from a number of stakeholders (city planners and regulators, transportation companies, utilities, smart city suppliers, and energy companies) is key to unleashing the mobility revolution and moving cities in a positive direction.

An Ongoing Process

The jury is still out on which city programs will be most effective at curbing traffic congestion. As these programs are rolled out, other cities can learn best practices to replicate and explore opportunities to develop new urban mobility models in the coming years.

For more in-depth analysis on these leading city mobility programs, keep an eye out for Navigant Research’s upcoming report, Urban Mobility Innovations.


Dockless Systems Creating Better Business Case for E-Bike Sharing

— February 20, 2018

Just as electric bicycle (e-bike) sales in the US have not been as robust as in Europe, e-bikesharing programs have been similarly slow to develop. However, a number of dockless e-bikeshare programs have recently been deployed in the US—removing major costs and user friction points traditionally associated with dock-based bikesharing.

Over the last several years, a combination of urbanization, city policy, and bicycle lane expansions have driven new growth in the global bikesharing industry. As a result, bikeshare companies have been raising enormous sums of money, particularly in Asia. Chinese bikesharing companies Mobike and Ofo have raised over $2 billion so far for their operations.

In comparison to conventional bikesharing, e-bikesharing is much newer and far less widespread—largely due to the higher associated costs and added complexities of recharging e-bikes (which is generally done by fleet teams). However, the business case and user experience for e-bikesharing is improving considerably through the advent of dockless sharing programs that avoid the need for expensive new infrastructure and can be provided without government subsidies (unlike dock-based systems that generally receive public funding). In terms of user costs and convenience, many public bikeshare programs mandate a day pass purchase with a price tag of $7 or more for a single ride and keep the bikes at special docking stations where the bikes must be returned. Conversely, dockless programs charge as low as $1 per half-hour rental and customers have the added convenience of dropping off their bicycle wherever they please when finished.

Major Dockless E-Bike Programs Being Deployed

In 2017, the first dockless e-bike share program was launched in the US from New York-based JUMP Bikes. The company’s program is currently available in San Francisco (roughly 250 e-bikes deployed) and Washington, DC (150 e-bikes), with plans to expand to other cities such as Sacramento, California and Providence, Rhode Island by the end of 2018. In early 2018, the company raised an additional $10 million in funding for its expansion plans (along with an original $7 million investment). JUMP is also partnering with Uber to provide San Francisco residents and visitors with the ability to rent JUMP e-bikes directly from the Uber app.

LimeBike is another dockless bikeshare (and now e-bikeshare). Called Lime-E, the e-bikeshare service is expected to be available in Seattle and Miami in early 2018. At the end of 2017, LimeBike raised an additional $50 million in funding on top of its initial $12 million seed round.

Dock-Based Programs Now at Risk

Dockless e-bikeshare companies are leveraging smartphone technology (which is used to unlock the e-bikes) and existing infrastructure (e.g., public bicycle racks, parking meters, etc.) to replace the expensive new docking infrastructure traditionally required for bikesharing programs. Additionally, improving lithium ion battery technology is resulting in e-bikes that have longer ranges, are lighter, lower in cost, and remarkably similar to traditional bicycles. Together, these trends are directly enabling e-bikes, which are generally more expensive than regular bicycles, to be increasingly used in sharing schemes. Dock-based programs (for any type of bicycle) are now facing a significant threat to their market share unless they can add more docking locations to match the convenience of dockless systems, keep their user fees competitive with dockless programs, and reduce their reliance on government subsidies.


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