OTTAWA—Canada must make its transportation system smarter and greener, says Transport Minister Marc Garneau, but documents show the country is falling behind its trading partners in connecting infrastructure to the vehicles that use it.
Garneau told a luncheon audience in Toronto that he wants to see Canada at the forefront of the push to create so-called intelligent transportation systems that allow cars, trucks, ships and planes to communicate with roads, rail, and ports to improve safety and mobility and move people and goods more efficiently.
Canada, however, has lagged behind other countries on the road to smart transportation.
Between 2002 and 2012, Canada spent $33 million on creating so-called intelligent transportation systems.
In the ensuing years, Transport Canada has used two infrastructure-related funds for spending on intelligent transportation projects. About $921,000 has been provided to the City of Surrey to install an intelligent transportation system and to the provincial government in Ontario to improve traffic flows along key highways and roadways and at border crossings, the department said in an email.
An internal briefing note sent to the top official at Transport Canada last year said the federal government has no dedicated funding for projects that would help Canada compete with the United States, the European Union and Asia-Pacific countries that were “investing significantly” to create such systems.
Those countries were working to fast-forward projects that would combine “connectivity,” where computer systems interact with physical infrastructure, with “big data” _ analyses of large amounts of information on traffic patterns and shipping routes, for example.
A sweeping review of the federal Transportation Act, tabled earlier this year, said the country was “poorly positioned for a future characterized by disruptive technologies such as big data” and “connected and autonomous vehicles.”
The review, started under the previous Conservative government, called on the federal government to harmonize self-driving car rules with the United States as one way to stoke innovation and technological change.
In his prepared remarks, Garneau said the country needs to lay the groundwork for an “innovative and green” system that was “sensitive to the needs of the traveller.” That included creating an electric transportation system with more charging stations for cars.
A quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, with cars and trucks the largest emitters.
Question period notes for Garneau show that most of the government’s efforts to increase the use of electricity in transportation has been focused on buses and light rail.
The notes say electrifying rail lines between cities has been found to be “prohibitively expensive.”
The Canadian Press obtained copies of the documents under the Access to Information Act.