Smart Commute Plan

Toronto is one of the most congested cities in the world and the amount of time Torontonians spend in traffic only continues to increase. As Toronto’s own Congestion Management Plan acknowledges, congestion adds about 33 minutes to every hour commuters spend in traffic.

Innovation Here at Home

“MARLIN offers unprecedented value to both municipal operators and motorists. The system decreases delay at intersections by an average of 40% and up to 75% in some areas. It improves travel times on major corridors like Toronto’s Lake Shore Boulevard by 25% and decreases emissions by 30%. These values enable motorists to enjoy improved mobility, save time and money, lower unpredictable delay risk, and enhance their travel convenience and overall quality of life.”

– RCCAO, Congestion Management in the GTHA: Balancing the Inverted Pendulum, April 2013

Every day, there are new innovations in intelligent transportation systems that provide simple and affordable fixes to reducing congestion and getting people to and from home and work faster. However, Toronto has been slow to adopt and leverage these systems. There is no shortage of excuses – “too new”, “too expensive”, “too hard to procure”. However, inaction is resulting in longer commutes, lost economic productivity, and lost jobs. It is time Toronto adopts Smart Commute technologies.

Innovation is happening in our own back yard. For example, the University of Toronto has developed traffic lights that learn using artificial intelligence that can greatly reduce travel times called MARLIN. MARLIN combines machine learning, traffic cameras and computers to create traffic lights that can measure vehicle delay, understand what it means and adapt signal patterns to reduce congestion. Professor Abdulhai, MARLIN’s lead researcher, says the technology cuts down motorists’ delays at intersections by an average of 40 per cent and more in areas with chronic congestion, as well as reducing emissions. While this innovative technology is available here in Toronto, the City’s Congestion Management Plan calls for more investment in a technology that is more than 20 years old.

Toronto must look forward to reduce congestion and unlock economic growth and a better quality of life.

The Toronto Smart Commute Plan

As mayor, Karen will task Toronto’s new Transportation Czar (Transportation for Toronto) with developing and delivering the Toronto Smart Commute Plan. The Transportation Czar will be a new City agency responsible for integrating and coordinating all City transportation services, infrastructure and related investments through the consolidation of the Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto Transportation Services, Toronto’s Parking Enforcement Unit, and the City’s Taxi Licensing and Standards unit.

The Toronto Smart Commute Plan will start with three core initiatives:

1. Intelligent Traffic Light Systems: Currently, less than 20 percent of the City’s more than 2200 traffic signals are operated using what can reasonably be considered “smart” technology. For a world-class city that is one of the most congested in the world, this is not acceptable. As mayor, Karen will invest $38.5 million over five years to implement the U of T’s MARLIN traffic light system on half of Toronto’s traffic lights with a goal to having all traffic lights on this system by 2024. This investment will use real time data to reduce commute times and also support local innovators and entrepreneurs in showcasing their solution to the world.

2. Transportation Solutions Lab: Innovation and continuous improvement are not concepts embraced by City Hall or its transportation agents. As mayor, Karen will make investing in forward looking transportation solutions that leverage technology a core strategic priority of the Transportation Czar and direct the agency to set aside $2.5M over five years to co-invest in “little things with big impact” developed by Toronto based researchers and entrepreneurs. The Lab is modeled on the Solutions Lab created by MaRS and like the MaRS model, the Lab will involve commuters to design solutions for the commuter, by the commuter.

3. World Leading Transportation Solutions Research: Toronto is home to some of the world’s best universities and planning and transportation researchers. As mayor, Karen will strengthen the City’s relationships with these institutions and researchers by providing $1.5 million to be matched by the private sector to create research chairs in Integrated Urban Transportation Planning and Governance, Intelligent Transportation Systems, and Transit Customer Service and Communications. Stronger collaboration in Toronto’s own back yard will generate a stronger, more sustainable transportation network.

These initiatives will be fully funded in Karen’s transportation funding plan to be released in the coming weeks.

Where can I learn more about this issue?

The following links may be helpful in learning more about this important issue:

Residential and Civil Construction Association of Ontario, “Congestion Management in the GTHA: Balancing the Inverted Pendulum,” April 2013,


MaRS Solutions Lab,

David Berlin, “Cellphone parking a win-win for the mean streets of Toronto”,

Have your say

After reading these materials, you are encouraged to provide Karen with your feedback at using the Subject Line “Toronto Smart Commute”.