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Electrifying the Waterloo Region | Part Two: Looking Towards the Future

By: Valerie Chong and Miranda Burton

August 31st, 2020

80% Reduction by 2050

In 2018, a region-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was set and endorsed across the Waterloo region. This long-term plan supports the transition towards a low-carbon, sustainable future, reducing emissions 80% below 2010 levels by 2050 (otherwise referred to as 80 by 50). In 2019, ClimateActionWR was granted funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The grant is part of Transition 2050, an initiative offered through FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP). Through this program, ClimateActionWR is working with all 8 Waterloo region municipalities to develop a long-term strategy  to contribute to a low carbon transition by 2050 in alignment with the region-wide target, and the target date as set out by the Paris Agreement and  the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change

Part two of Community Climate Action Blog Series highlights how Waterloo region will achieve the 80 by 50 goal. Let’s see what the future looks like for the Transportation Sector. 

A Change of Pace

The future of mobility is a big question in our society. From new technology like self-driving cars to global pandemics like COVID-19, the way people move from point a to point b is rapidly changing. Deloitte has been tracking these changes with their Future of Mobility insights. Rasheq Zarif tech sector leader says: 

“When people ask, what is future mobility, it’s looking at how is emerging technology changing the pace and disrupting how people and goods move around the city and even beyond.”

San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has identified five big moves for transportation in 2020 that encompass more than just technology in the vehicles that we use, but also involve the networks we utilize. These include changes to road management though sensors and connectivity, high-capacity frequency and speed transit systems, mobility hubs to provide high quality transportation experiences from the first to last mile, flexible, shared and eventually autonomous transit options and “Next OS” a platform that will integrate travel into an efficient and effective system. The trends don’t stop there, but there is an overwhelming consensus that transportation in the future needs to be faster, more convenient and sustainable. 

For Waterloo region, local climate action efforts will need to include electrification,  as highlighted in Electrifying the Waterloo Region Part 1: The Story So Far. Electrification is one component of sustainable transportation, but moving away from single-occupancy vehicles is also important. Programs like TravelWise work to support the adoption of public transit, carpooling, cycling and telework.

Moving Forward

In 2018 the Region of Waterloo published Transportation Master Plan: Moving Forward, which outlines the goals and strategies of the Region and it also identified the projects and policies that will help meet our transportation needs for the next 25 years. 

“This updated plan is about completing current and planned transportation projects and pursuing a more sustainable transportation network that supports all modes of travel, enhances accessibility to all residents, and supports the continued economic growth of the Region.”Thomas Schmidt, Commissioner, Transportation and Environmental Services, Region of Waterloo 

The strategies and actions developed in this plan look to promote travel choice, foster a strong economy, support sustainable development and optimize the transportation system. Electrification can fall under all five of the umbrella strategies. 

How Electrification fits into the Master Plan

#1 Selecting Your Mode 

Options for transportation in the Waterloo region have grown tremendously in the past few years. The opening of the LRT has been a huge jump ahead in our community’s use of electric vehicle technology. Electric scooter providers have piloted here and also offer services. We have also seen a growth in electric vehicle ownership, and e-bikes also offer an affordable and accessible commuting option, the numbers aren’t crunched to know how many are on our roads locally. However, we know that this is a growing market with places like Belgium with a market share of 45% for e-bikes. Furthermore, car-sharing companies are increasingly focusing on electric vehicles including e-bikes. Provinces such as British Columbia have implemented incentives as well, with a new rebate program for up to $1,050 for the purchase of an e-bike.  

#2 Promote a Healthy Community

Communities that promote electric transportation are also healthier. We know traffic-related air pollution is a health concern for our communities and a new study actually links it directly to damages to DNA in children. Pulling focus towards active trips such as walking or cycling to school or even carpooling helps reduce the risk of exposure for some of the most vulnerable populations – children.  The Waterloo Region District School Board has made Safe and Active Routes to school a priority in the Region of Waterloo is also leaning towards this change with the implementation of an electric school bus. Children that do not have the option for alternative transportation, electrifying school buses is one way to prevent respiratory illnesses and diseases. 

“Approximately 95 percent of America’s school buses, carrying some of the most vulnerable passengers, run on diesel.”Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air

The Government of Canada is supporting electric school bus adoption with the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program. In addition, the streets children will bike and walk down to get to school locally should be cleaner with GRT’s commitment to go fully electric. By 2024 GRT plans to only purchase electric buses, providing cleaner air for all road users. 

#3 + #4 Inter-Regional Connections

The ION LRT has only just begun, there’s still the second phase to implement the ION into Cambridge. Currently, the LRT stretches across the Kitchener-Waterloo area stopping at 19 stations along the way. The second stage, Stage 2, will extend the tracks currently being serviced by the ION Bus, and will add an additional 8 stations from Fairway to Downtown Cambridge. The new phase of the system will add further electrification to the entire region. It doesn’t stop there, even interregional travel is speeding towards efficiency! Metrolinx is seeking to add electric GO Trains between Kitchener and Georgetown. Coupled with the plans to improve two-way, all-day service between Toronto and the Waterloo region, travel across many regions in Southern Ontario will become easier and more environmentally friendly. 

#5 The Future is Here

Mobility options are changing every day as new technologies emerge, and the choices for commuters are becoming increasingly more efficient. A more recent development in the world of vehicular travel is ride-sharing. Companies like Lyft are planning to electrify their fleets. Closer to home, Facedrive, a Waterloo start-up, launched services in Ottawa this past summer which offer carbon-neutral rides with electric vehicles and carbon offset initiatives. In the research realm, the University of Waterloo is studying the next generation of automobiles with their Autonomous Vehicle Research and Intelligence Lab (AVRIL). This includes work on eco-driving with automated operation including vehicles like the Toyota hybrid PHV Prius sedan. Options are expanding with new technologies, and Waterloo region as a tech hub is ready for the future! 

Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Community

ClimateActionWR has identified the importance of transportation for reducing the region’s carbon footprint, accounting for nearly 50% of total emissions. Engagement with experts and technical stakeholders from the sustainability industry between November 2019 and February 2020 resulted in the identification of themes, challenges and actions that will help shape Waterloo region’s long-term Climate Action Strategy. Our communities across the region are widely dispersed, making connectivity an important part of decarbonizing the network. 

Beyond connecting the region via municipal agreement and reaching townships, current infrastructure, the cost for investing in transit both at the personal and policy level and the lack of barriers to personal vehicle use are among the roadblocks in the area. Feedback identified both financial, social and behavioural strategies for improving sustainable transportation. Changing how people move includes providing attractive alternatives to personal vehicle use and making alternative commutes easier and accessible for all. Other mitigation strategies and opportunities include: 

  • Increased affordability and infrastructure to support electrification of  personal vehicles
  • Enhancement of accessible and connected local public transit
  • All-day, two way, electricity-based, train service from Waterloo Region to Toronto (has to be 1hr commute to be effective)
  • Walkable and bikeable communities 

If you’d like to hear more, Patrick Darby from WalterFedy shares the findings from the extensive technical engagement initiatives in this presentation. The third phase of the 80 by 50 goal is underway to develop the long-term (30-year) Climate Action Strategy. 

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