Sharing the road: Which Canadian cities are driving progress on shared mobility?

Montreal ranks high for car and bike sharing | an illustration of shared transit

In the face of mounting evidence that ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are worsening urban congestion, cities around the world are grappling with how to rev up­ greener shared mobility options.

Car-sharing, bike-sharing, scooter-sharing and other modes of shared mobility are probably the most impressive growth story in transportation today. The global shared mobility market is forecast to hit US$138.7 billion by 2023. And if it’s adopted as quickly as smartphones and the internet, shared mobility could account for some 80% of total miles driven in the United States by 2040. Whether or not the environmental and other potential benefits of shared mobility are fully achieved hinges largely on just how effective municipalities policies are.

As new research confirms that ride-hailing services have increased traffic delays by 40% in San Francisco, the city is considering a per-ride tax on operators, with revenues to be used to reduce congestion. It’s a model we may well see Canadian cities adopt. If so, ride-hailing will likely lose ground against truer shared mobility options that deliver environmental benefits.

Car-share services have reduced the appeal of private vehicle ownership and have also been early adopters of zero- and low-emission cars. Vancouver’s Modo, for example, already has a 20% electric and hybrid fleet and just became the first-car share company to introduce hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Micro-mobility services such as scooter-sharing are entirely electric.

All of these benefits can translate into reductions in Canada’s second largest source of carbon emissions behind oil and gas: transportation.

The size of that potential environmental prize is one of the reasons our Vancouver-based research team regularly ranks 20 leading North American cities, based on the current scope of and future-development potential for shared mobility. The 2019 edition of the Shared Mobility Cities Index (SMCI) shows that cities are abandoning an earlier watch-and-wait stance, and becoming much more activist in fostering and regulating shared mobility.

So where are Canadian cities parked on this year’s Index?


Montreal rides into top spot

Montreal is the top-ranked Canadian city. It edged ahead of Vancouver in this year’s SMCI, tying with Portland for fifth spot. Montrealers have access to a wide range of shared mobility services and partnerships, including peer-to-peer car sharing. New condo owners sometimes receive a “mobility passport” as a welcome gift from real estate developers, providing a year of transportation across transit and car- and bike-sharing service. And testing began last fall of an integrated approach through which holders of an Opus transit smartcard pass would be able to use it to hop on a Bixi bike, flag a cab or book a Communauto shared car.

It’s also one of a handful of cities developing mobility hubs – strategic locations where multiple modes of shared and sustainable transportation are concentrated.

Although Montreal has set the goal of reducing car ownership per household from an already modest 0.90 to 0.79, a progress report last year found the trend moving in the wrong direction.


Vancouver slips in the ranks

Vancouver dropped from fifth to seventh spot, despite its continued status as the continent’s car-sharing capital. More than a third of residents use the city’s 3,000 shared vehicles, provided by four different operators.  Beginning this year, Vancouver requires transportation demand management (TDM) plans for large development projects, which incent developers to do such things as provide memberships in and dedicated parking spaces for shared-vehicle service providers.

Vancouver’s the only Canadian city where people who get to work by car are in the minority among commuters (albeit only just). And while transit commuting is less prevalent than in Montreal or Toronto, that’s more than made up for by the Vancouverites who take advantage of a warmer climate to bike or walk to work.

At this point, Vancouver remains the only SMCI city without ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft, which may ultimately help keep its congestion in check. The current provincial government has promised a regulatory framework by year-end, but if the target date slips by unmet it wouldn’t be the first time. Vancouver has also been slow to embrace micro-mobility options such as scooters and mopeds, leaving it bottom-rung on a measure of the range of shared mobility.


Toronto lags in shared mobility race

Despite being heralded as having the best transit system in Canada, Toronto is well behind on shared mobility, largely because it has not kept pace with the progressive regulatory approaches and programs increasingly seen in other cities.

The city’s residents have access to most of the major forms of car-sharing – with round-trip car-sharing company Maven adding to the competition early last year – as well as docked bike-sharing and ride-hailing and ride-sharing services. There’s also a peer-to-peer car-sharing service called Turo.

One indication of Toronto’s regulatory shortcomings was the withdrawal last year of Car2Go (more recently merged and re-branded as ShareNow) after it charged that the city’s parking permit pilot program was too restrictive and costly.

While Toronto does have sustainability plans in place addressing mobility, congestion and C02 reduction, specific measures to advance shared mobility are limited. Zoning bylaws, for example, don’t encourage the incorporation of shared mobility into new development design.



Lessons from the Bay Area

The top-ranking city in this year’s SMCI isn’t in Canada, it’s in northern California. San Francisco has reached an ambitious “mode shift goal” set in 2017, which means that more than half of all trips from and within the city are now by transit, bicycle or foot. It also has a full range of shared mobility options, including peer-to-peer and other variations on car-sharing, docked and dock-less bike-sharing, and electric moped and powered-scooter sharing.

What can Canadian cities learn from the foggy city? San Francisco’s high scores mainly stem from its holistic regulatory and strategic approach rooted in part in high-level GHG reduction goals. That includes designing complete streets that encourage multiple modes of transportation, congestion pricing on toll roads and building infrastructure for zero-emissions vehicles.

San Francisco has also nixed minimum parking requirements for many new developments. It has an ordinance requiring that Google and other larger employers subsidize biking, transit and pooled commuting.  It’s also piloting shared mobility programs for dockless electric bike and scooter-sharing services.



Driving it home

Shared mobility is revolutionizing personal transportation. When we can hop seamlessly from bike to bus to electric vehicle – or whatever combination best gets us where we’re going – private vehicle use will be further de-valued, and we’ll better leverage the strengths of public transit and all other forms of shared mobility. To get there, we need cities putting their hands firmly on the wheel to steer things in this direction.


Seven Deadly-Effective Shared Mobility Policies

Our assessment of shared mobility policies across leading North American cities suggests these seven measures are particularly effective at capturing shared mobility’s full potential and avoiding possible pitfalls:


  • Give shared vehicles parking privileges, in return for good fleet management and sharing of trip data with an independent clearinghouse such as a university

  • Create incentives to build mobility hubs, where a wide range of shared and sustainable mobility infrastructure is co-located for ease of integration

  • Work towards separated lanes for e-bikes, electric mopeds and e-scooters, to improve uptake and safety of micro-mobility options

  • Have clear requirements for developers to minimize the contribution to congestion that new projects will create, with shared mobility infrastructure and incentives among the options

  • Make parking less available and more expensive

  • Create congestion-pricing zones or implement transportation taxes (to which ride-hailing is also subject) and dedicate the revenue to transit

  • Use open innovation and private-public partnerships to identify and implement new ways of better integrating public transit with all forms of shared mobility

Source: 2019 movmi Shared Mobility Cities Index


Sandra Phillips is founder and CEO of movmi, a Vancouver-based consulting firm that works with entrepreneurs, non-profits, transit authorities, real estate developers and others to co-design shared mobility solutions. She is the lead author of the Shared Mobility Cities Index.



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