The transportation industry is facing its most profound shift in a century, with planners forecasting that as many as 1.5 million more cars will clog the Greater Toronto Area's roads in the next 25 years. The question of how we handle so many more vehicles was the theme of another panel during last week's City Age event.

Stephen Prendiville of the KPMG Canada Infrastructure Team chaired the discussion, while panelists included David Paterson, vice-president of Corporate and Environmental Affairs for General Motors of Canada, Andrew Garrett, director of development for Cadillac Fairview, and Leslie Woo, chief planning officer for Metrolinx

Woo focused the panel on public transit as a key to eliminating the threat of too many cars on too few roads. "We'll only have 1.5 million more cars if we are slow in building transit." Garrett wondered whether developers should "plan to build around existing transit hubs, or do we hope that if we build something that transit will arrive there sooner or later?"

Reframing the question, moderator Prendeville asked: "Is transportation a factor or a reactor when municipalities plan for the future. By that I mean... do they plan for a transportation hub before it's needed, or do the wait until the need is there?"

Cadillac Fairview has proposed a new office tower at 16 York Street south of Union Station, image, Cadillac Fairview

""It's a 'chicken-and-egg situation'", Woo replied. Really, both things have to happen... and no matter what, you can never get the balance exactly right, because you can never anticipate what's going to happen years from now 100 per cent accurately."

Woo thinks that, in the near future, the traditional commute will no longer be as major a factor in planning transit. Due to better technology, many more people will be able to work from their homes and they'll have more options in getting around. They'll not only choose public transit, but also ride-share services, bike-sharing, and walking more will all figure as all or part of their regular trips. "In 25 years, I think we're going to change from moving around the region because we have to, to moving around because we want to," she said.

"We need to plan for now and for the future", she continued. "First, because change doesn't happen overnight, and second, because some people are slow to change. They cling to the older ways of doing things—and there's nothing wrong with that—but we still need to plan transportation networks for those who embrace technology and new ways of getting around and for those for whom current systems work well."

"Also, I think, in the future, we need to make sure our transit network is more like a web so that people have lots of options on how to get around... they can travel east, west, north, and south and they won't necessarily have to travel via Downtown Toronto to get everywhere."

Crowds now ride the Union Pearson Express, image by Craig White

Patterson explained that a new model of urban transport is influencing General Motors. "I think you're going to see a different mix in the types of vehicles that people use. Driverless cars will certainly mean that many people who live in urban areas won't be buying as many private cars as they do now. And, when they do, they'll likely buy electric-powered vehicles. If today's trends continue, people will be looking for both connectivity and autonomy in their choice of vehicles", he said.

"The fact that people are looking at public transit and other ways of getting around more than they used to is certainly influencing our business model at GM. You may be surprised to learn that we've recently invested $10 million in Lyft [a ride-sharing service similar to Uber.] Where people live and, of course, how they move around; we want to be part of that conversation."

At another CityAge event earlier that same day, former transit chief Jay Walder, who now leads North America's largest bike-sharing operation, revealed that the Ford Motor Company is also rethinking what it does. He explained that Ford was funding bike sharing in one city, recognizing its place in the future of mobility. Ford, he said, has decided to evolve from being simply a car company to being a mobility company. Funding bike-sharing services and other mobility services is how Ford intends to continue in the future as people look for alternatives to owning cars.)

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The CityAge Toronto 2016 event has now wrapped up. A complete event schedule is available in our preview editorial, as well as on the CityAge website, which includes a full itinerary of speakers and discussions. This year, UrbanToronto is CityAge's official media partner, so keep an eye out for our reporting from the conference.