Mobility HUBs, Toronto, Ontario

Levi Waldron
Published January 21, 2007

Case Summary

A transit route is only as good as its weakest link, and potential users may be lost because of a lack of options at the beginning or end of their potential route, or by the cost and inconvenience of changing transit systems across municipal boundaries. The concept behind the New Mobility HUB project is to fill in these gaps with a network of hubs across Toronto, which conveniently link multiple modes of sustainable transportation. The Exhibition Place New Mobility HUB is the first site of the project, located where GO Train service between downtown and the suburbs and three local Toronto transit lines converge. Launched in April 2006 by the partnership Moving the Economy (MTE), this hub added short and long-term bicycle storage, a BikeShare station, Autoshare car sharing, a taxi hotline, wireless hotspot, and bicycle and transit route maps.

Figure 1: The Mobility HUB concept (Moving the Economy, 2006)

 Figure 1: The New Mobility HUB concept (Moving the Economy, 2006)

Sustainable Development Characteristics

The transportation sector generates 26% of all global greenhouse gases, and passenger transportation accounts for 60% of emissions from transportation sources. In Canada’s 13 largest cities, over 75% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions are due to personal transportation, and 97% of this is from private automobiles (National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, 1998). In short, the use of private automobiles for personal transportation is a significant sustainable development challenge on a global scale, and the adoption of sustainable personal transportation is imperative. Personal transportation choices, however, can be difficult to understand and to change, and are tied up in infrastructure, convenience, habit, and culture. Since 80% of buildings standing today were built in the last 50 years (Kunstler, 1993) when the private automobile became the dominant mode of transportation in developed countries, only a few areas of some cities were designed in a way that facilitates transit, cycling, and walking for utilitarian transportation. Invariably, municipal and regional transit systems have problem areas with infrequent service, long distances between the nearest service and peoples' destinations, municipal boundaries requiring a second fare payment, lack of schedule and route information, or uncomfortable waiting areas. The goal of the New Mobility HUB project is to close these gaps and lower barriers to sustainable transportation by making it simple and convenient to combine regional transit, municipal transit, cycling, taxi, and shared cars in a single trip. Moving the Economy, the Toronto group behind the project, has demonstrated through case studies in other cities and market research in Toronto that easy to find, easy to recognize, and easy to use mobility HUBs can encourage cycling and transit use and reduce numbers of private automobile trips (Jones, 2006).

Critical Success Factors

One of the most critical factors for ongoing success of the HUBs identified by Executive Director Briana Illingworth will be more formal agreements with partners about responsibilities beyond initial set-up and launch, such as who will maintain the HUBs (B. Illingworth, personal communication, September 29, 2006). For example, the lock-box containing BikeShare keys for the Exhibition Place pilot HUB has broken, but there is no funding for fixing it. The drink machine that was initially part of the pilot HUB has disappeared, and Illingworth is not sure why or whether it will be replaced. Partnerships so far have been formed by letters of intent from cooperating organizations, but Illingworth believes that more formal agreements will be necessary for critical aspects of future HUBs.

It is not clear whether many of the users of the pilot HUB are aware of its existence or understand how to take advantage of it. Signage is minimal, there is no kiosk or information desk, and many people comment on the lack of facilities on the north side of the GO train tracks. MTE does not have sufficient resources to make these improvements, but communication and usability will be critical to the success of each HUB and the project as a whole.

The Smart Commute Association conducted a random survey of 1,000 Hamilton and Greater Toronto Area (GTA) commuters and determined a number of factors critical to encouraging the adoption of sustainable commuting patterns in general. Some of the critical success factors identified in this survey were (Feasibility Report, 2006):

  1. Convenient access to tickets and route information near work, school, home, or transfer points was cited as important for one-half of transit commuters.
  2. Integrated fare payment, one-stop shopping: one-half of public transit commuters indicated that paying a fare twice in order to go from one public transit system to another would be a deterrent to them using public transit more often.

  3. Potential for more bike-transit commuting: while most transit and bicycle commuters do not regularly bring their bicycle with them on public transit, almost one-third (31%) said they would consider doing so.

  1. Most commuters have well established travel patterns. Only 15% have been using their current mode for less than one year, while 36% have been using their current mode for two to seven years, 22% for eight to fifteen years, and 24% for sixteen years or more. They cited satisfaction with their current commute arrangement and the lack of alternative viable transportation options as primary reasons for not wanting to switch.

Taking into account the survey responses as well and the HUB goals of improving mobility and reducing emissions and congestion, Moving the Economy identified the following critical factors for determining suitable locations for future HUBS.

  1. Are existing transportation services at the location underused? Could they benefit from marketing and branding with a HUB?
  2. Is the location under-serviced? Could it benefit from new transportation services?
  3. Does the existing transit service already operate at capacity? Would attracting more riders pose a problem for the transit provider?
  4. Would developing a HUB at this location encourage anyone not to take their car, or would it just be transferring trips from one sustainable mode to another?

Community Contact Information

Briana Illingworth
Moving the Economy, Project Lead
billing@toronto.ca
416.392-1556

What Worked?

In MTE's public survey, respondents overwhelmingly (88%) liked the idea of having a network of New Mobility HUBs across the city. Convenience of travel was a top priority for most respondents, with popular actual and potential benefits of the New Mobility HUBs including (Jones, 2006):

  1. integration of fares between transit systems;
  2. easier connections and shorter waiting times;
  3. easy to find and read schedules, accessible by phone, internet, and on location;
  4. bank machines, internet connectivity, coffee shop, and pay phones;
  5. availability of Bikeshare and AutoShare vehicles (see descriptions of the Bikeshare and Autoshare programs); and,
  6. the wide range of the services offered at the existing HUB was seen as useful, with none of the services ranked as extremely or very useful by fewer than a quarter of the respondents.

The formation of partnerships during this test phase of the New Mobility HUB project was seen as a great success, with all partners ready to continue with the next phase of the project.

What Didn’t Work?

The project feasibility report identified a number of issues to be improved (Jones 2006, p. 29).

  1. Signage and branding at the HUB is small and easy to miss, but the project lacked the budget and time to arrange a more noticeable and impressive presence.
  2. The site is not accessible for three weeks every August during the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). This is an issue in terms of access to bicycles in the long-term storage lockers and other facilities.  Lack of continuity can also be very disruptive to encouraging new routines.
  3. At present, the location is more of a destination (to the CNE or Liberty Village) than a transfer point.
  4. The Exhibition/Liberty HUB is fairly isolated, and not a good example of including many peripheral services at a vibrant transit hub. The remoteness and lack of activity at the site may raise safety concerns in spite of the 24-hour patrolling security guard.
  5. The BikeShare station and bicycle parking are on the south side of the GO train tracks, separated by stairs and a tunnel from the city to the north. Although bicycles can be taken through the tunnel, it is a psychological and physical barrier.
  6. BikeShare is currently dependent on the staff of partner businesses and institutions to sign the bikes in and out – a self-serve system would be more accessible and require less staff-time.

 

Figure 2: The large, open concrete entrance to the Exhibition Place Mobility HUB.
Figure 2: The large, open concrete entrance to the Exhibition Place Mobility HUB.

In the evaluation of this author, the Exhibition Place New Mobility HUB site continues to suffer from the low comfort-level and visual appeal of many public transit stops. It is a large, windy concrete pad underneath the Gardiner Expressway with several wood benches for seating (see Figure 2). On the westbound GO train platform and TTC waiting areas, there is no indoor waiting area except for the 3-sided glass shelters often found at transit stops. Cyclists riding to the station from anywhere to the north (almost everyone, since to the south is non-residential area) lock their bicycles to the walkway railing since there is no official bicycle parking on that side of the rail tracks. The yellow BikeShare bikes are one of the most visible features of the HUB; however, one still must go to the BikeShare office in person 2km away during their open hours to enrol in the program. These issues are not the fault of MTE or its partners, but rather indications of the broad improvements to the existing infrastructure still needed to achieve the New Mobility HUB goals of seamless, convenient sustainable transportation that achieves a fully integrated diverse transportation system, rather than piece-meal ad hoc adaptation.

The feasibility report (Jones, 2006) states that although Moving the Economy staff felt that the location of the test HUB might not have been the best representation of what an ideal HUB would be in the future, they felt strongly that its drawbacks helped spark imagination and feedback and even helped those involved get excited about what a mobility HUB could be with more favourable locations and aesthetics.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Phase I of the project, which ran from October 2004 until October 2006 had a total budget of $340,000, with contributions from Transport Canada, the City of Toronto, and working group partners. The funding for phase II of the project (October 2006 - Decebmer 2007) is expected to be approximately $200,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. (B. Illingworth, personal communication, September 29, 2006).

The greatest expenses from the first phase were the production of a promotional DVD and other communications material, installing equipment and infrastructure - wireless internet, new BikeShare bicycles, a lock-box to keep BikeShare keys, and a communications device to reach Exhibition Place security for assistance or to sign out bicycles - to develop the New Mobility HUB at Exhibition Place.

The greatest in-kind contributions have been from the City of Toronto in the form of staff time to administer surveys, and from Exhibition Place in the form of space for the pilot HUB cooperation from their 24-hour security guard to sign out BikeShare bicycles, and setting up the wireless hotspot. The Community Bicycle Network helped setting up the BikeShare hub, and other partners have provided the staff time to attend meetings.

Fulfilling the larger goals of the project will require significant increases in funding. Potential sources of future revenue and other support include corporate branding (like Chicago's Bike Station which received a $5 million endowment from McDonald's), partnering with local employers and institutions to promote HUB use, and continued involvement with all levels of government as the network of New Mobility HUBs grows.

Research Analysis

This case study is based on MTE's Feasibility Report for a Network of New Mobility HUBs in the Toronto Region (Jones, 2006), visits to the Exhibition Place New Mobility HUB, and an interview with Briana Illingworth, executive director of Moving the Economy.

Moving the Economy research methodology

The New Mobility HUB concept is being tested and adopted in Toronto in stages and with a great deal of research. In 2005, MTE began an 18-month project with funding from Transport Canada titled Scoping the Potential for a Network of New Mobility HUBs in the GTA. The research framework for this project includes (Jones, 2006):

  1. An operational test, a public survey, and key informant interviews. The operational test began in April 2005 at Exhibition Place.

  2. A public survey, conducted with 104 face to face interviews by City of Toronto staff with people randomly approached on the street in both central and suburban locations. The survey assessed general responses to the HUB concept, opinions about the usefulness of a range of potential HUB services, suggestions for potential HUB locations, and demographics.

  3. In-depth interviews with HUB project partners and key informants. This step collected and consolidated ideas about the HUB concept, what services should be made available at HUBs, potential HUB locations, criteria that should be considered when choosing HUB locations, responses to the demonstration site at Exhibition/Liberty, and next steps towards establishing a network of HUBs.

Transition Strategies

The strategy for growth of the HUB network at this point will depend on the eventual scale of the proposed network. The primary options for growth and marketing, which MTE has identified through interviews with key informants and case study research, are the following (Jones, 2006).

  1. Work with relevant stakeholders to pursue a broad-based policy approach that would help make all inter-modal connections work better, incrementally adding new options and easing transfers at existing sites, eventually resulting in a city-wide network of HUBs.

  2. “Go big at one location,” as in the case of Chicago’s Millennium Park Bike Station, soon to be renamed the McDonald's Cycle for McDonald's $5 million donation to that project. In Toronto's case, this would likely have to be tied to the waterfront redevelopment or the 2015 World Expo bid, if successful.

  3. Developing a small core group of HUBs with basic services, information about the HUB network, and basic services to develop branding, and expand the network and services as appropriate and as funding allows. This approach has been successful in Bremen (see case studies by Moving the Economy and Civitas) and Los Angeles.

Detailed Background Case Description

The concept and implementation of the pilot project New Mobility HUB for Toronto is based on case study research by Moving the Economy in California, Washington, Chicago, Germany, and other locations in the EU (Jones, 2006). It is modelled largely on the integrated transit system in Bremen, Germany, where 35 different operators of various modes of sustainable transportation cooperate under one umbrella organization, so that users need only a single ticket and information source to access regional and local rail, streetcars, and buses. These integrated transit stations offer real-time train or bus wait times, shared cars, which can be signed out using a telephone and membership card, and interactive electronic kiosks to help with route planning.

Project Timeline

The project has been organized in phases: phase I involved case study and local market research into feasibility and strategies for development of a HUB network and creation of a pilot project, and phase II will involve expansion of the HUB network.

Phase I

Time: October 2004 – April 2006
Budget: $340,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
Accomplishments:

  1. April – June 2005: further partner development, purchase of communications equipment for contacting the site security guard for signing out BikeShare bicycles.

  2. Oct 2004 – Mar 2005: creation of new partnerships, purchase of additional BikeShare bicycles, purchase of remotely-opened lock-box for BikeShare keys, and formation of agreements with Exhibition Place, the owners of the location of the first HUB.

  3. July 2005 – end 2005: installation of bicycles, public opinion surveys, shooting for promotional video.

  4. April 2006: official launch of the first New Mobility HUB: a press conference with organizers and city councillors to generate media interest.

  5. 2006: promotional video completed, feasibility study initiated, bike lockers installed at hub, final pieces of hub put in place (bikes came in in March, signs went in in April, launch in April).

  6. June 2006 – Feasibility Study completed (Jones, 2006).

Intermediate phase

Time:May 2006 – September 2006
Budget:covered from phase I budget
Accomplishments:

  1. Promotion of the Exhibition Place pilot HUB and the HUB concept at bike week events, conferences, and other events.

  2. Finalizing contract with Transport Canada to secure funding for phase II.

Phase II

Time: Oct 2006 – Dec 2007
Budget: $200,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
Planned action items:

  1. Choosing and developing 1-3 new hub sites.

  2. Developing and profiling the HUB brand.

  3. Hosting a half-day forum aimed at planners, and decision-makers interested in learning about New Mobility Continued development and refinement of partnerships.

Partnerships

Essential to such an integrated system is cooperation and partnership between different levels of government, transit authorities, and organizations involved in other services such as, in this case, BikeShare, AutoShare, and internet and taxi providers. Moving the Economy is a partnership of Transportation Options (websites for all organizations, these case studies are to be connectors in and of themselves) (an NGO), the City of Toronto, and the Federal Government of Canada, and during the formation of the pilot project, MTE has partnered with the following organizations (Jones, 2006):

City of Toronto
Community Bicycle Network
Exhibition Place
GO Transit
Toronto Transit Commision
Autoshare
Canadian Urban Institute
Canadian Urban Transit Association
Clean Air Foundation
Green Tourism Association
Parc Downsview Park
Smart Commute Association
Smart Commute North Toronto, Vaughan
York University

These partners were recruited by the MTE through a process of identifying and approaching organizations that might be able to help. A couple other groups have contacted them since the April 2006 launch of the first HUB, and may become involved when the phase II meetings resume. Two promising groups, which have contacted MTE, are the community group Smart Living St. Lawrence, which is interested in creating a HUB in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, and the planning firm “Urban Strategies”, which is developing a property near Union Station and is interested in incorporating a HUB into their development plans.

Conclusions

Research discussed in this case study has shown that personal transportation choices are often deeply entrenched, based on habit and on real or perceived benefits in convenience, cost, and comfort. The goal of the New Mobility HUB project is to improve the user experience of sustainable transportation through improvements in information accessibility, integration of multiple modes of transportation, and addition of conveniences at transfer points, while increasing the visibility of these improvements through the creation of a recognizable brand symbolizing these improvements. Some important lessons can already be gleaned from Moving the Economy's experience in developing its pilot New Mobility HUB.

  1. Close working partnerships including local and regional transit authorities and governments, service providers, and interested local groups are key to integrating different modes of sustainable transportation in a convenient manner.

  2. Formal agreements ensuring the maintenance of newly installed infrastructure are critical to the ongoing functionality of HUBs.

  3. Attaining smoothly functioning and widespread integrated sustainable transportation systems will occur very slowly and in an ad hoc manner with the present levels of funding for this project and for public transit, walking, and cycling infrastructure more broadly. Broader policy and funding improvements are critical to the degree of success this or any comparable project can achieve.

Strategic Questions

What are the most important factors determining people's choice of transportation? This case study discusses a survey by MTE in Toronto, but how generalizable are these results? Will it vary a lot by region?

Of the many improvements envisioned by the New Mobility HUB project, which are the most appealing to you? How important are aesthetic and comfort improvements in transit service in comparison to convenience and frequency of service? What would provide the best improvements when limited funding is available?

Should the Toronto and other transit authorities be making greater efforts to spearhead initiatives to promote multi-modal transit, integrated fare payments, easy access to information, and other sustainable transportation conveniences? This project in Toronto is being addressed by an NGO with minimal funding (on the order of $200,000 per year).

What is the best direction for this project to go from here: go big at one location in an attempt to secure large corporate funding, expand steadily with numerous small HUBs, or pursue a more broad-based policy approach to achieving better funding and integration of sustainable transit modes?

Resources and References

Jones, B. (2006). Feasibility Report for a Network of New Mobility HUBs in the Toronto Region. Toronto: Moving the Economy.

Kunstler, J. (1993) The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape. Simon & Schuster, New York.

Moving the Economy, (2006). Projects: The Toronto region new mobility HUB network. Retrieved September 18, 2006, from MTE Web site: http://www.movingtheeconomy.ca/content/mte_hubAbout.html

National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. (1998) Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Urban Transportation.