James Pasternak Toronto Autonomous vehicle AV tactical plan

James Pasternak, Toronto city councillor and chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, shares how the city’s AV tactical plan came to be and other insights for municipalities looking to develop their own

In October, the City of Toronto introduced its Automated Vehicles Tactical Plan to help the city be ready for the onset of autonomous vehicle adoption.

Ryan Lanyon, manager of policy and innovation for the City of Toronto, says the plan is “critical” to the city’s transportation future.

“The Automated Vehicles Tactical Plan addresses all types of automation and recognizes that some actions are required now while other planning can stretch all the way to 2050,” he says. “The tactical plan aims to make Toronto AV ready by 2022 and includes key actions over that time frame.”

Current and future steps being taken include an automated shuttle trial, introduction of innovation zones and testing response and incident preparedness.  

To get an idea of the plan’s progress and to help other municipalities looking at a similar projects, Electric Autonomy Canada spoke with James Pasternak, city councillor, chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee and a central figure in helping bring the plan to fruition.

Electric Autonomy Canada: Can you start by telling us how the tactical plan came together and how you became involved in it?

James Pasternak: It originated at city council in July 2018. We sent staff away to create the plan for automated vehicles readiness. At that time, we were working with the province of Ontario on various technology and transportation initiatives. So, there was motivation both by the province and the government of Canada to look at automated technologies and how they might work in an urban setting. We received a report to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, which I chair, titled Automated Vehicle Readiness 2022. It’s not just to get us ready for automated vehicles — we encourage the use of them and it even lets our city explore new ways of delivering services and technology. Sidewalk clearing is one example; cleaning office buildings is another.

“We need the average consumer to buy into [autonomous vehicle technology] and we need the private sector to take the lead”

James Pasternak, Toronto City Councillor

Electric Autonomy Canada: So, vehicles that might not need a person to run?

Pasternak: Yes. Monorails are another example of driverless vehicles. I was at an airport in the United States and it had a monorail and it was a good lesson of what could go wrong. It was a driverless monorail, from terminal to terminal, and it kept stopping and starting suddenly. Then, it missed one of the stops, one of the terminals. You have to know what you’re doing with this technology. It has to be safe and we need the average consumer to buy into it and we need the private sector to take the lead.

Electric Autonomy Canada: As it’s not something we currently do, it might be considered strange to be in a driverless vehicles. How do you think will this be received by the community?

Pasternak:  I think for people to get in a car with no one behind the wheel; it’s a major cultural shift. It will take years for that kind of transformation. It’s important to remember new technologies that transform industries usually do take years to take hold. This is going to take a long time, to get people to go into a driverless vehicle and go for a ride.

“Toronto has to be ready for this new technology before it becomes mainstream”

James Pasternak, Toronto City Councillor

Electric Autonomy Canada: What are some barriers and hurdles you’re trying to overcome with the tactical plan?

Pasternak: One is data privacy. When you’re dealing with various technologies, whether it’s wireless technology or radio frequency, there’s always a chance there could be a data breach. That is something that is certainly a barrier that we have to work on. I mentioned the automated sidewalk snow clearing and we’re going to look at the potential for that, but a barrier to that is quality. Are we are we going to get the same kind of quality in automated snow clearing as we would with someone behind the wheel? The other thing is would an automated snow clearing machine stop when someone or an object is in front of it? That technology has to be looked at closely as well because you’re driving in a very tight environment. Even with people behind the wheel now we get hundreds of complaints about torn up lawns, torn up the sprinkler systems, damaged driveways, damaged sidewalks.

Electric Autonomy Canada: So, it’s keeping in mind things that might be many, many years down the road as well?

James Pasternak: That’s right. Forty years ago, no one would have dreamed that every household would have its own computer. Twenty-five years ago the internet was just starting off its mainstream use. Many of the technologies that we’re using today, such as cellular phones or whatever, people couldn’t relate to them at all. They weren’t mass market; they weren’t accepted. Now look how common computers are in the household; look how common handheld devices and cellular technology is. It’s changed society completely. So this stuff may be aspirational now, but 20 years from now this could be the norm.

Electric Autonomy Canada: The plan was approved at the end of October. Where are you now in the research and development process?

Pasternak: We’re just going through the budgetary process at City Hall and this plan, the Automated Vehicles Tactical Plan, is about $6.3 million dollars. That’s what we’re asking for initially and that will be for 2020 to 2022. We don’t vote on the budget for another few weeks, so right now it’s unfunded. It looks like council will adopt some expenditure to get this done.

“There are so many issues…This is a major conversation that we have to have”

James Pasternak, Toronto City Councillor

Electric Autonomy Canada: What advice would you have for other municipalities or other cities looking to do a similar type of project or similar type of plan?

Pasternak: Right now, we’re not testing driverless vehicles in this city and I think that is something we should probably look to do. When it comes to other cities, I think the city — through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and other networking ventures or organizations — should be sharing the things that go well and the things that didn’t go so well. At the same time, government alone cannot do this; we need the private sector to lead the research and development, to lead the experimental and to make sure they incur the cost of getting this really going. I mean, why would the City of Toronto spend hundreds of millions when Uber and Lyft and Google are all going in the same direction? Let the private sector take the leadership on this and let them pay for it. That is very much the future. That’s definitely the wisdom as we as we go forward.

Electric Autonomy Canada: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Pasternak: I would just simply say that there are so many issues: land use, commute time, road safety, public health, employment opportunities, required skill sets. This is a major conversation that we have to have in the coming year because Toronto has to be ready for this new technology before it becomes mainstream. It’s very hard to catch up with it once it becomes that.