Media Releases

U of T Cities Podcast Ep. 2 The Future of Transit

October 16, 2014

Research and startups pushing transit beyond the simple subway-or-streetcar divide

This edi­tion of U of T Cities fea­tures researchers and entre­pre­neurs work­ing to build the future of tran­sit. Reimag­ine the down­town and beyond with tran­sit pol­i­cy expert Prof. Eric Miller; Richard Som­mer, dean of the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape and Design; and alum­nus Tay­lor Scol­lon, whose com­pa­ny is crowd­fund­ing an alter­na­tive to street­cars. Full sto­ry at .

For more sto­ries on Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers and entre­pre­neurs trans­form­ing cities, entre­pre­neur­ship, health, edu­ca­tion, com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing and more, vis­it


This is the U of T Cities pod­cast, brought to you by The Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. It’s hot, it’s crowd­ed, it stops between sta­tions when­ev­er you’re already run­ning late for an appoint­ment. And yet, we’re told this is the bet­ter way. Pub­lic tran­sit is of grow­ing impor­tance in this grow­ing city. And decid­ing on the right way to make it big­ger and bet­ter is no easy task.

Pol­i­tics, and eco­nom­ics, and social issues bump up against every pos­si­ble way Toron­to could extend its tran­sit ser­vice. The upcom­ing elec­tion’s can­di­dates cam­paign­ing for bus­es, ver­sus sub­ways, ver­sus light rail, ver­sus pri­or­i­ty of cars, have had vot­ers enthralled. But it’s time to go far­ther in think­ing about the way we get around.

Lat­er this episode, we’ll hear from Richard Som­mer. He’s the Dean of the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape, and Design at U Of T. And he’ll explain how rethink­ing the plat­form and park­ing lot design you’ll find at most GTA tran­sit hubs could be the key to an inte­grat­ed city, and a hap­pi­er life. And the solu­tion may involve hot­house toma­toes.

We’ll also check in with U Of T alum­nus Tay­lor Scol­lon. He’s behind a quirky start­up in Toron­to called Line 6. It’s a com­pa­ny that’s crowd­fund­ing pri­vate tran­sit on King as a go-around to unpre­dictable and over-full TTC street cars.

But first, the go-to expert for tran­sit com­men­tary in the city, civ­il engi­neer­ing Pro­fes­sor Eric Miller tells us about his one wish for the TTC, and more. This is the U Of T Cities pod­cast. I’m Bri­an­na Gold­berg. In this spe­cial four-part minis­eries, you’ll hear about the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers and entre­pre­neurs push­ing bound­aries on some of the upcom­ing elec­tion’s most impor­tant issues.

Last week I intro­duced you to our stu­dents, alum­ni, and researchers mak­ing the future of traf­fic. And today we’ll do the same for pub­lic tran­sit. For exam­ple, Eric Miller– he’s quot­ed in almost any sto­ry you can find about TTC plan­ning, cred­it­ed as sim­ply, a civ­il engi­neer from U Of T. Ever won­der what he actu­al­ly does to make him such an expert?

Well, I gen­er­al­ly work in the area of build­ing com­put­er mod­els to fore­cast trav­el demand, to try to pre­dict how peo­ple will use the trans­porta­tion sys­tem, par­tic­u­lar­ly in response to poli­cies or invest­ments. So if we want to build a new sub­way here, ver­sus an LRT there, how will peo­ple of the greater Toron­to area respond to that. Will they shift modes? Will they shift time of day? Will they take dif­fer­ent routes? Will they stop trav­el­ing? Will they trav­el more?

So the next time your sub­way is stalled between sta­tions and you’re won­der­ing why, Eric Miller has a pret­ty good answer.

Our prob­lem is that we’ve done so lit­tle over the last 25 years or more. We’ve dug our­selves a big hole. You just can’t dig out of that whole in a day. And so this is a mul­ti-decade thing. But the impor­tant thing– the progress we could make over the next cou­ple years are actu­al­ly start mov­ing. The only way 10 years from now we’re going to have a bet­ter city and a bet­ter tran­sit sys­tem, if we start today to do that in a real way.

So yes, it’s going to take a long, long time to get Toron­to’s tran­sit sys­tem up to the stan­dards it deserves. Miller says there is hope for change soon, rel­a­tive­ly soon. But it’s going to hap­pen above ground.

We could be, fair­ly short­ly, get­ting bet­ter ser­vice out on the roads. Eglin­ton is being built. And that’s going to take still, per­haps too long to do. But as it comes on stream, that’s going to help us. The new street cars that are com­ing on stream will make a dif­fer­ence. I actu­al­ly think the oth­er thing we need be doing is free­ing up both the street cars and bus­es, so they move faster. That we have to be giv­ing more sig­nal pri­or­i­ty to them. That can’t hap­pen overnight.

But over the next cou­ple of years to three years, I think we could be doing bet­ter, in terms of mov­ing peo­ple on the streets. I think the oth­er thing we could be doing quick­ly is mak­ing com­mit­ments to some sen­si­ble, longer-term rail invest­ments that we won’t see com­plet­ed with­in the next may­or’s term. But we might see in the term beyond that. So in the under-10-year time frame, I think there are things out there that we could be doing. And that sounds like a long time, but that’s bet­ter than 15 and 20 years.

But I think what we need in the short-run is again, not just talk­ing about it, but actu­al­ly doing. Com­mit­ting to that over the next five to 10 years, we’re going to be doing this. But as I say, I do think with­in terms of the sur­face tran­sit, there’s things that could– over a two-year peri­od. So I think we have to be think­ing both short-term and long-term, and start­ing to act on the long-term, even as we’re doing some short-term improve­ments.

Stand­ing on the street at maybe say, Spad­i­na and Dun­das 10 years from now, if the stars align, as you say. What are you hop­ing the tran­sit sit­u­a­tion will look like on streets?

Well, I would hope that we see street cars com­ing along on, let’s say if they have a 2 and 1/2 minute head­way, a street car arrives every 2 and 1/2 min­utes. They’re not stuck behind a cou­ple of cars that have one or two peo­ple in them. That we don’t have the clogged streets we have right now. I mean right now, par­tic­u­lar­ly I think, on our east-west streets down­town, it is a night­mare. Nobody is mov­ing. The cars aren’t mov­ing, the street cars aren’t mov­ing, because they’re in each oth­er’s way.

And I’m hop­ing that by 10 years from now we’ve giv­en the pri­or­i­ty to the street cars. And they could be a much more attrac­tive, reli­able, fast ser­vice than they are right now. So that a lot of the cars that we see right there, right now, aren’t there because the peo­ple are on the street cars. They will still be full. They will still be busy. There will still be con­ges­tion on the streets.

A live­ly city is, by def­i­n­i­tion, con­gest­ed. We’ll nev­er get rid of con­ges­tion if the city is suc­cess­ful and vibrant. We will get con­ges­tion back to a point where it’s man­age­able, tol­er­a­ble, it’s with­in nor­mal oper­at­ing para­me­ters. But the bal­ance on, par­tic­u­lar­ly our streets like Queen, and King, and Dun­das, Spad­i­na, will be shift­ed so far more peo­ple are walk­ing. Some of them are bik­ing, per­haps. But also that far more of them are able to use tran­sit because the tran­sit is much more attrac­tive than it is right now.

I want­ed to ask you about walk­ing. A lot of peo­ple who are dri­ving down­town could plau­si­bly be walk­ing to where they’re going. Is that part of the mod­el­ing that you’re doing? When you look into the future 10 years, are there more peo­ple walk­ing? And how do we get them there?

Walk­ing is very much part of the solu­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly the down­town area. We have a huge num­ber of peo­ple who live and work there. Many of them are already walk­ing, in cer­tain sec­tions. The chal­lenge to the city is to make more neigh­bor­hoods walk­a­ble. This is what Jen­nifer Keesmaat’s try­ing to do along Eglin­ton Avenue with the Eglin­ton Con­nect, is to make that street a much more walk­a­ble street, a much more bike-able street.

Bicy­cling, I think, in the city, is a much big­ger chal­lenge in terms of what the right mix is. And par­tic­u­lar­ly, giv­en that a lot of our major streets are fair­ly nar­row. And of course, not every­body can walk and bike. One of our chal­lenges is that– and I think we have to be very care­ful, I think this is one of the prob­lems we get into with a lot of the debate about tran­sit– is so many peo­ple do live in sub­ur­ban areas, do have very long com­mutes, at the moment are very cap­tive to cars. So they can even imag­ine how tran­sit could solve it. And walking/biking is just not–

So far.

Yeah, because it’s just too far. So I think we have be care­ful to rec­og­nize there are dif­fer­ent trav­el mar­kets out there. There are dif­fer­ent real­i­ties for dif­fer­ent peo­ple. And we’re try­ing to find the bal­ance between those var­i­ous things.

If you could snap your fin­gers and have one wish come true that would improve tran­sit imme­di­ate­ly, what would you change today?

That we have a sen­si­ble, long-term, sta­ble fund­ing process for tran­sit. That’s been our num­ber one prob­lem. All the argu­ments over tech­nol­o­gy and every­thing else. We have tied our hands behind our backs because we refuse to have a sen­si­ble con­ver­sa­tion about pay­ing for tran­sit. We pay for our hous­es, we pay for food, we pay for our smart­phones, we pay for movies.

But some­how tran­sit’s sup­posed to be pro­vid­ed free to us. It’s a total­ly non­sen­si­cal sit­u­a­tion we’ve got our­selves into. We have to start think­ing respon­si­bly about pay­ing for the things we need. So that would be my one wish.

That was Eric Miller. He’s a pro­fes­sor of civ­il engi­neer­ing and heads up the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Trans­porta­tion Research Insti­tute. To learn more, head to Lat­er in the pod­cast, we’ll find out how the first week went for a new busi­ness in Toron­to that’s pro­vid­ing mass tran­sit along King Street West, pri­vate­ly.

But first, can you imag­ine a world beyond the park­ing lot? When the issue of tran­sit comes up, your mind might drift to a packed plat­form at Yonge and Bloor dur­ing morn­ing rush. Or maybe you think of being crushed at the back of an over­full bus inch­ing up Bathurst at 6:00 PM.

I’m Richard Som­mer. I’m the Dean of the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape, and Design.

He’s been doing some imag­in­ing around a very dif­fer­ent kind of tran­sit expe­ri­ence– no less com­mon. Tran­sit hubs out­side the down­town core are only grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty as Toron­to con­tin­ues to expand. These nodes of con­nec­tion are becom­ing more trav­eled, more impor­tant, and because of that, more ready for change. That’s how Dean Sum­mer got to think­ing about what are called, huburbs.

“Huburbs” is an idea, but it’s also the name of a book, launched out of research from the Daniels Fac­ul­ty. And the project came about with help from Metrolinx. That’s the Ontario gov­ern­ment agency work­ing to man­age and inte­grate trans­porta­tion in the GTA and Hamil­ton area. “Huburbs” takes on the incon­ve­nient and some­times ugly tran­sit hubs in the out­er GTA. It uses argu­ment, and analy­sis, and very cool visu­al mod­els to explore the ways these places could be live­ly and enrich­ing, instead of just a rarely used tran­sit plat­form sur­round­ed by mega park­ing lot.

One of the big terms in plan­ning is tran­sit-dri­ven devel­op­ment. But often, there is such a thing as devel­op­ment-dri­ven tran­sit. And “Huburbs” was an attempt to take a dif­fer­ent approach, which is to look at all the cir­cum­stances that sur­round dif­fer­ent tran­sit stops and hubs. And to cre­ate a kind of pro­vi­sion­al or inten­si­fied city on the bones of exist­ing tran­sit, rather than imag­ine that whole new forms of tran­sit are going to be built, and that peo­ple will come to that. So it’s also a play on the term sub­urb, which is basi­cal­ly how you cre­ate modes of inten­si­ty in areas of low-den­si­ty and low lev­els of devel­op­ment, where peo­ple still need to get around in oth­er ways, besides by car.

The book itself is orga­nized to look at the sit­u­a­tion as it exists. And then we looked at a num­ber of poten­tial sites in dif­fer­ent parts of the net­work. Each of which present dif­fer­ent oppor­tu­ni­ties. Some of them are near the water. Some of them are near exist­ing edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions.

But what all the approach­es we’re look­ing at shared in com­mon was look­ing for a val­ue-added pro­gram. Whether it be grow­ing food, cre­ation of new kinds of retail oppor­tu­ni­ties, or the devel­op­ment of edu­ca­tion­al facil­i­ties that would be a cat­a­lyst to cre­at­ing a “there” to these places, which are typ­i­cal­ly just about tran­sit. Because one of things you would even find in the­o­ries of urban devel­op­ment around tourism is, how do you get peo­ple to not only move through some­thing, but stay, and actu­al­ly use it and want to occu­py it.

So can a new activ­i­ty, or pro­gram, or use be woven into let’s say, the space between a GO sta­tion and a light rail sta­tion, such that that activ­i­ty– whether it be hydro­pon­ic toma­toes, or a cer­tain kind of indus­try, or ener­gy devel­op­ment– could both pro­vide some­thing that would be of inter­est to the com­mu­ni­ties that move through them, but also attract oth­er kinds of invest­ments.

What is it that inter­ests you about this type of tran­sit you’re talk­ing about. When most peo­ple talk about tran­sit, they’re think­ing TTC, they’re think­ing down­town. Is it that the sub­urbs give you more of a can­vas to work with?

We always have to be mind­ful when we describe cities, when we say down­town, sub­urb. In fact, espe­cial­ly after amal­ga­ma­tion, Toron­to is an urban­ized ter­ri­to­ry. And the urban­iza­tion goes very far out. So it’s only a cer­tain por­tion of the down­town that remains from the 19th cen­tu­ry that is being inten­si­fied at the lev­el that every­one can rec­og­nize. The much larg­er set of places, even the east and the west of the down­town, are devel­oped uneven­ly.

So the con­di­tions you might find west of the down­town, or cer­tain­ly going north into some of the sub­ur­ban areas, are the much larg­er con­di­tion that we have to con­tend with. We’re lucky in Toron­to that pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions looked at the zon­ing of the down­town, rein­vest­ed in the down­town, and the old­er parts of the city are tak­ing care of them­selves in some ways. There’s still work to do. But it’s areas that are not part of a kind of 19th cen­tu­ry mer­can­tile grid, even the water­front of Toron­to.

But cer­tain­ly every­thing north of Eglin­ton that are what I call first-growth cities. So I don’t think it’s that help­ful to say that some­thing’s a sub­urb, and a down­town. It real­ly has to do with a lev­el of mat­u­ra­tion of the urban con­di­tion. So I think it’s all urban­iza­tion. And that what we’re look­ing at, espe­cial­ly with growth bound­aries, is strate­gies for trans­for­ma­tion, and for bring­ing a degree of invest­ment and com­plex­i­ty to the urban life, in var­i­ous dif­fer­ent kinds of what I call city organ­isms.

So not all the sub­urbs are the same. Some of them are actu­al­ly old towns that grew. Some of them have no town cen­ter. The hous­ing stock dif­fers. So I think the dif­fer­ence that a school of archi­tec­ture, with land­scape archi­tects, and urban design­ers, and our allied friends, and engi­neer­ing, and even in the health sci­ences. With them help­ing us, the dif­fer­ence we bring is we actu­al­ly look very care­ful­ly at the mate­r­i­al and phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of these places, they’re geo­gra­phies, in ways that peo­ple, even tran­sit plan­ners, don’t.

So the size of the grid, the topog­ra­phy, obsta­cles that cer­tain forms of exist­ing infra­struc­ture, to actu­al­ly bring com­mu­ni­ties togeth­er. These are things we both know the his­to­ry of, and can read very care­ful­ly in exist­ing places. And we know, for exam­ple, things like the plan­ning of boule­vards was orig­i­nal­ly built as a con­di­tion, some­times to divide com­mu­ni­ties.

So what can hap­pen, unex­pect­ed­ly, is if you build a light rail, it’s sup­posed to spur devel­op­ment around it. But it can also divide the two sides of the ter­rain that exist. So it’s very impor­tant to plan things like sur­face rail and new infra­struc­ture so that it can spon­sor inte­grat­ed growth around it. Because some­times it can have the reverse effect. Invest­ments don’t always pan out in terms of mak­ing a bet­ter city.

That was Richard Som­mer. He’s an archi­tect and Dean of the Daniels Fac­ul­ty of Archi­tec­ture, Land­scape, and Design. We’ll hear more from him in the next pod­cast episode all about build­ing sus­tain­able cities. But for now, you can read more at

The beau­ty of crowd­sourc­ing is that it puts pow­er behind new ideas, bold ideas, risky ideas, ideas for busi­ness­es that might not oth­er­wise be able to lock down fund­ing and get a start. Espe­cial­ly if that busi­ness is tak­ing on a major insti­tu­tion like the TTC. Last week, a start­up called Line 6 took its frus­tra­tion with TTC street cars to the streets. It’s co-founder and U Of T alu­mus Tay­lor Scol­lon was along for the ride.

When peo­ple saw the bus, and when peo­ple actu­al­ly took the bus, they were very hap­py with the expe­ri­ence. Up until then, I don’t think peo­ple ful­ly believed it was actu­al­ly going to hap­pen, until they actu­al­ly were rid­ing the bus. And I think that’s just because peo­ple are so accus­tomed to doing things a cer­tain way. And this is maybe a lit­tle bit out­side of that. I don’t think crowd­fund­ing has been done for tran­sit before.

So I think peo­ple were pleas­ant­ly sur­prised, I hope. The bus has been on time. We have Wi-Fi. We give out cof­fee in the morn­ing. Peo­ple are real­ly hap­py with the expe­ri­ence. Fri­day is our last day. We’re just run­ning it for a week. But the response has been so pos­i­tive that we’re def­i­nite­ly going to resume reg­u­lar ser­vice in the near future. So it’s worked out well, we’re hap­py with that.

Tell me more about this. Were you work­ing in a dif­fer­ent job? Were you look­ing for a new oppor­tu­ni­ty? Or was it real­ly just an idea you want­ed to bring to life?

I think tran­sit is a real­ly inter­est­ing prob­lem, because it’s been done the same way for over a cen­tu­ry. But the tech­nol­o­gy has changed so great­ly over that time that it seems like there is going to be changes in how tran­sit oper­ates and the way peo­ple move around. And I don’t know what those changes are going to be. But it seems like this is a pos­si­ble direc­tion.

I have a con­sult­ing com­pa­ny with my co-founder on this, and we have anoth­er part­ner, as well. And we work for com­pa­nies, and non-prof­its, and all sorts of orga­ni­za­tions help­ing them use tech­nol­o­gy to solve what­ev­er orga­ni­za­tion­al chal­lenges they have. So this, I think, is an exten­sion of that, that we just decid­ed to take on for our­selves, because it seemed like an inter­est­ing project.

And we talk about pain points when we talk about star­tups a lot. But this is a dai­ly frus­tra­tion. Peo­ple get so angry. It real­ly puts you in a mood when you’re on your way to your job, or you’re on your way to school. So did you get a sense from them of what this will change, what this could change for them?

Yeah, they’re say­ing I get to work and I’m hap­py. And I’m ready to start the day. And I haven’t been jammed into a street car, or sit­ting in traf­fic for an hour. So I think it does improve peo­ple’s qual­i­ty of life. And that’s the best thing to hear. What attract­ed me to work on this prob­lem is that it is an actu­al prob­lem for a lot of peo­ple.

A lot of star­tups are focused on things that are either not real­ly prob­lems, or prob­lems for a very nar­row slice of the pop­u­la­tion. It tends to be upper mid­dle class peo­ple who use tech­nol­o­gy a lot. But I think the promise of tech­nol­o­gy is that it can improve the qual­i­ty of life of every­one. So if we can bring that to bear on the prob­lem of tran­sit, then I think that’s our goal.

So you men­tioned that you’re work­ing as part of a con­sul­tan­cy, and that your back­ground is in phi­los­o­phy. So has that informed what you end up doing in your life now?

Yeah, I think phi­los­o­phy is actu­al­ly a real­ly use­ful thing to study, which is maybe not how it seems at the time, to phi­los­o­phy stu­dents. But the habits that it gets you into of think­ing about prob­lems beyond the super­fi­cial lev­el, and look­ing at some­thing, and say­ing well, why is it this way, and does it need to be this way, and could it be done a bet­ter way, is real­ly applic­a­ble to almost any­thing you do in life. It gives you good cre­ative skills and crit­i­cal think­ing skills. I think phi­los­o­phy stu­dents per­form bet­ter than all oth­er majors on LSATs for that rea­son. So I would say it’s def­i­nite­ly help­ful, yeah.

So what’s your hope for Line 6, or any oth­er iter­a­tion of this, in the next year? And will it still exist in five years? What do you see, mov­ing down the future?

Well, it will def­i­nite­ly exist a year from now, and I hope it will exist five years from now. Our next step is to bring this to oth­er neigh­bor­hoods in the city. So we have pub­lic vot­ing on the web­site right now, And even­tu­al­ly, I see this as a net­work that con­nects all parts of the city togeth­er. So you can take a Line 6 route from Scar­bor­ough to Eto­bi­coke, and expe­ri­ence the same com­fort­able and on-time com­mute. And do it on a dai­ly basis, because it’s an afford­able ser­vice.

That was Tay­lor Scol­lon, co-founder of a very new start­up called Line 6. He and his team launched their busi­ness all on their own. But you can learn more about the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s start­up accel­er­a­tors, cours­es, pro­grams, all geared to help­ing entre­pre­neurs devel­op their busi­ness at

For exam­ple, Vote Com­pass is a start­up that devel­oped with help from a U Of T pro­gram called the Cre­ative Destruc­tion Lab. It’s head­ed up by alum­nus Clifton van der Lin­den. Vote Com­pass is an online resource that helps users learn more about which can­di­date aligns with their val­ues. They have a spe­cial edi­tion set up for Toron­to’s may­oral elec­tion. You may want to check that out. You can find out more at

From a local start­up turn­ing its TTC beef into a busi­ness con­cept. To GTA tran­sit hubs dressed with extra gar­dens, and stores, and schools. And even a sneak peek into the bud­getary wish­es of one of Toron­to’s lead­ing tran­sit experts. It’s clear that pub­lic trans­porta­tion in Toron­to is evolv­ing, regard­less of the pol­i­cy com­ing out of City Hall.

We at the U Of T Cities pod­cast were pleased to bring you these sto­ries in the sec­ond episode of our series. To find the pre­vi­ous episode, packed with inter­views about arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent traf­fic lights, human elec­tric hybrid pod vehi­cles, and the first of its kind class putting elec­tion research into the hands of under­grads, just head over to That’s also where you can find more on U Of T research that’s trans­form­ing cities, entre­pre­neur­ship, health, edu­ca­tion, and more.

We’d love to hear from you with ques­tions or ideas for future episodes. You can Tweet us @UOfTNews. Or send an email at

Next time on the U Of T Cities pod­cast, we’ll be talk­ing about build­ing sus­tain­able cities, in all the many ways that could mean. Today’s show fea­tured music made avail­able on the free music archive from Daytrip­per 13, Jaz­za­fari, and Cos­mic Ana­log Ensem­ble. You can find their work and more at This pro­gram was pro­duced by me, Bri­an­na Gold­berg, with help from U Of T News Edi­tor, Jen­nifer Lan­thi­er. Thanks for lis­ten­ing.