Solving Traffic Congestion / Gridlock in Canada

Solving 1st World Problems

The best part about blogging is that you get to vent about issues that have been bothering you for a long time. Today I read an article in the Globe and Mail that “gridlock should be an election issue” and I completely agree. Something needs to be done about this issue. It is true, traffic is a “1st world problem” that we have inflicted upon ourselves with our constant desire to own more and more vehicles. It is, however, a really big problem.

It is strange that there are so many specific election issues this time around appealing to many specific groups of people and yet they have failed to address any concern with traffic which currently affects potentially 10% of the population of Canada or more (looking solely at the population of the GTA – in reality it is a much higher percentage since most of us live in a few highly-populated areas). You may argue that it is a provincial or municipal issue and you may be right but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need federal support to finally make something happen – and more importantly, nationwide support from all citizens.

The reality is that traffic costs Canadians billions of dollars a year ($2.3-billion and $3.7-billion per year according to a 2006 Statistics Canada report). Not only does traffic cause financial strain with rising gas costs but it also costs people their peace of mind, increases stress, reduces their time with families and makes it just about impossible to make it from place to place on-time.

Having grown up outside the GTA, I was raised without exposure to the nightmare that is the GTA. Those that were born and raised in the GTA seem to have mostly come to terms with the way things are here but it doesn’t mean it has to be this way. Sometimes it takes an outsider to truly see how backwards things are. I live 7 mins from work. Compared to the average person in the GTA, that is VERY close to work. I thought that living that close would guarantee myself short commutes. Mostly, it does, with my average commute being somewhere around 20 mins but on days with particularly heavy traffic my commute can jump to 30 mins or more. Again, that is nothing in the GTA but in relative terms traffic has more than tripled the amount of time it takes me to get to work. Now look at the average commuter who may live 20-30 mins away from work. Add traffic to the mix and their commute is now an hour to an hour and a half. I manage my 20-30 min commutes just fine but feel nothing but remorse for those who do worse.

Many people live near transit lines and get by in this way – surely, driving in the GTA is just about out of the question. If you work and live downtown, you have options but in many areas of the GTA your options are few and far between. Toronto is the employment centre of Canada so many people have no choice but to relocate and commute into Toronto to provide for their families. Some people make their outrageous commutes by choice – others are simply forced to make due and give up hours of their lives each day on the road.

You might also argue that people all over the world in major cities have to endure the same traffic problems. Again, while you would be partly correct, the reality is that Toronto has some of the worst commute times across the globe. According to the Globe and Mail, Toronto drivers can expect commutes as long as 80 mins while other high-traffic areas like major cities in California may face commutes of less than an hour.

It really opens your eyes when you realize that people spend more time on the road in Toronto than LA. Yeah, that is a serious problem. So how do we solve it? Well, I’ve seen some very creative solutions such as:

  1. Increase availability of public transit
  2. Expand current roads and build new ones
  3. Encourage economic development outside of the GTA core
  4. More creatively, build Buses that float above the highways
  5. Or, do it like they do in Bangladesh

Traffic is always on the minds of Canadians in the GTA and is always the topic of town meetings etc. The time for discussion is over. We need to act aggressively to solve this problem. It should become a national issue to improve the lives of all those in congested areas. In the long run, Canada and its citizens stands to gain a lot of money, time and quality of life.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of UBB in Canada

good-bad-ubb-canada

I recently joined in on a podcast with Shaminda (Shum) Attygale, a friend of mine and fellow digital marketer, to discuss UBB and what it means for Canadians. This post will serve as a summary of what we discussed, however, for the full story check out the podcast. You can also check out his other podcasts here.

What is UBB?

UBB is an abbreviation for Usage Based Billing. The name mostly speaks for itself. It is the concept of billing customers based on their internet usage. This is already done to extent today, but a recent decision from the CRTC could change the amount that large telecoms are allowed to charge smaller internet service providers (ISPs). What this means is that smaller ISPs will no longer be able to offer unlimited bandwidth – one of their biggest value-propositions.

Canadians fought back against this decision, however, and this issue is now currently in hot debate between various levels of government, the CRTC, telecoms and ISPs as well as the Canadian public as a whole. To become involved in the discussion and get information on the topic visit: http://www.antiubb.com/

I will now attempt to present my arguments with as little bias as possible. However, it should be very clear that I am very much against UBB.

The Good

  1. Heavier users will pay more for heavier usage

    Currently a relatively small number of users fall into this category, however, soon most of us will as our consumption of media on the internet increases

  2. Economically you should pay more if you use more

    This is true, however, due to the extremely low cost of providing additional data, the actual cost of an additional GB should be much less than ISPs are looking to implement

  3. Will help cover increased provider costs

    There is also merit to this argument. Interesting however, is the idea that although providers have had to incur costs to expand their networks to meet with traffic demands, their overall costs may have actually decreased over time. Technology continually lowers the cost to provide internet service. So arguably provider costs are largely offset by increased technological efficiencies/a growing user-base (more fees)

The Bad

  1. Internet usage is vital for many businesses

    In the digital age, many businesses rely on affordable internet access. If, for example, a video streaming site were to operate under with UBB in place, they would not be able to cope with the cost of delivering rich media that is high in bandwidth. The cost of doing business would quickly become too high, stemming innovation.

  2. Canada is already lagging behind other countries

    Many other countries have comparatively cheaper internet use rates (and mobile as well). If we allow ourselves to increase the cost of accessing the internet we will fall farther behind other developed nations.

  3. It eliminates competition & stems innovation

    As touched on previously, new innovative companies like Netflix attempting to revolutionize the way we consume content will be forced out of business. This is a big problem for consumers. UBB may also indirectly (or directly) be a means of eliminating the competition. Large ISPs like Bell and Rogers that are also cable companies support UBB because it reduces competition for their media businesses.

The Ugly

  1. Unfair pricing

    For a moment, let us assume that UBB is fair and will not hurt the economy (a BIG assumption). What should the price be to deliver a GB of data to the end consumer? Presumably the cost for the provider to deliver it plus a reasonable margin. ISPs are proposing to charge FAR above their costs. It has been estimated that it costs an ISP about 3 cents to deliver a GB of data (Source Article) and yet many ISPs charge overage fees in the neighbourhood of $1-$2 per GB. Margin like that charged for any other product would not be acceptable for consumers – so why should be pay so much for something that is so important in our daily lives?

What do you think of UBB? Agree or Disagree? Do something about it