By Khushpal Brar, program manager at pointA
Sustainability is a crucial aspect of meeting the needs of our growing and evolving communities. From local to international sustainability goals, transportation demand management (TDM) can play an important role in achieving these targets and improving our cities.
The Canadian government has committed to implementing the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN SDGs), which provide a general framework for developing strategies with targets to address key social, environmental and economic needs. Of the 17 SDGs, pointA has adopted three that relate to our work: Goal 3 – Good health and well-being, Goal 11 – Sustainable cities and communities, and Goal 13 – Climate action. These goals encourage more active transportation and reduce congestion and carbon emissions to create more resilient and sustainable cities.
While the onus is on governments to adopt these goals, set targets, and oversee implementation, the achievement of these goals relies on provincial and local governments, businesses, academia, individuals, and social organizations working together. When it comes to sustainable cities, building more roads to address congestion during or after the pandemic is not a sustainable solution. Instead, we need to leverage transportation demand management, which focuses on maximizing the use and efficiency of existing transportation systems.
Local governments have also released TDM plans and priorities. Late last year, the City of Toronto launched a transportation action plan called MoveTO to “build a more resilient, modern and safe transportation system.” MoveTO focuses on five key strategies aimed at building upon the City’s efforts to create safer streets, reduce emissions and build a more equitable transportation network. TDM is part of this action plan with the goal to create a city that supports all commuters from cyclists to transit users along their entire journeys. MoveTO proposes building on the existing Smart Commute program, of which pointA delivers in North Toronto and Vaughan, to help employers support their essential workers by coordinating employee start times to reduce overcrowding on transit, offering alternative work arrangements and encouraging more active travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Likewise, York Region’s Transportation Master Plan contributes to the UN SDGs. TDM plays an important role in this overall transportation strategy in York Region with the aim to “enhance personal travel options.” By shifting commuters towards using more sustainable travel modes, the Region is using TDM programming to reduce traffic congestion and emissions. Programming includes commuter challenges and campaigns to incentivize trying out sustainable modes. Another aspect of the programming is education on integrating various modes such as transit and active travel. There are significant cost savings to incorporating TDM programming as the Region can encourage more efficient use of existing infrastructure before spending to expand parking and other single occupancy vehicle services.
On the ground, TDM programs like Smart Commute help implement these policies and plans. The Smart Commute program provides information, encouragement and incentives to get people out of their cars and trying alternative modes of transportation. It is supported and led by regional governments and implemented by social organizations and businesses to support employees at businesses and academia across the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area in their commuting journeys.
One way that TDM can support these initiatives is through individualized support in the form of education and resources to help people overcome barriers to cycling. Webinars, workshops, campaigns and cycling guides that provide information to help people plan their routes can help encourage more people to take up cycling to work or to run errands. Employees can then work with their community, with the support of pointA to create bicycle user groups, which help to create a social incentive to cycling that can address safety, increase confidence, and make cycling more enjoyable.
TDM also offers expertise around flexible work policies related to remote work. Remote work options can support business continuity during disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic and is another way to reduce the environmental impacts of commuting. It also integrates and accommodates the familial, health and well-being needs of employees when children are at home learning online or there are caregiving needs. Our TDM programming provides guidelines on developing a formal telework policy, training staff and management on building strong virtual working relationships and tracking productivity.
pointA’s Smart Commute program in both the City of Toronto and York Region contribute to the achievement of the larger Sustainable Development Goals. Supporting TDM programming can help people who mainly drive alone to reconsider their travel options, and these small changes can amount to larger impacts when they are widely adopted. Transportation demand management can often be overlooked but it can be an effective and affordable tool to help us meet our sustainability goals at all levels.