Driving Kelowna’s transportation future

Public forum discusses options for how the city can reduce its carbon footprint caused by inefficient use of our automobiles.

The guest speakers at a forum discussing the future of transportation in Kelowna on Thursday evening at the Laurel Packinghouse were (from left) Joseph Hlady

Autonomous vehicles, living minutes rather than miles from work and not owning a car.

Those ideas were presented by a trio of guest speakers invited to lead a discussion at  public forum on the future direction of transportation and mobility in the city.

The presentation, organized by Urban Systems called On Point: A Series of Upside Down Town Halls, was the final of a four-part forum series on issues in support of the city’s #ImagineKelowna campaign, an initiative to generate ideas about creating a long-term vision for Kelowna.

The previous forums dealt with economic resilience, climate change and safety.

Erin Welk, a communities consultant with Urban Systems, told the audience of over 100 people gathered at the Laurel Packinghouse on Thursday evening that transportation is an issue that was touched on in each of the previous forums.

“It reflects how transportation is such an important part of our lives on a daily basis,” Welk said.

Joseph Hlady, one of the guest speakers from Calgary, talked about the autonomous vehicle technological revolution in transportation, which he compared to the impact created by the development of smartphones to our lives.

“It is not the smartphone itself that changed our lives, it was the different lifestyle options that the device helped introduce. Autonomous driven vehicles will offer those same sorts of options for mobility for our youth, seniors and physically disabled,” said Hlady, from individual vehicles to public transit.

Hlady works for Civil Maps, a high-tech firm in Calgary that is working on a prototype for an autonomous vehicle, one of many companies around the world chasing the same technological advancement of the driverless vehicle.

Hlady cited safety, cleanliness, livability and inclusiveness as four key ingredients behind the global autonomous vehicle development industry.’

Globally, he said autonomous vehicles have been driven for 30 million miles and been involved in 25 accidents to date, with two fatalities.

“Twenty-two of those accidents were the fault of other drivers, and we know that 81 per cent of accidents on our roads today are the result of human error or other related factors, ” Hlady said.

“In Canada, 30,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents every year, and automobile accidents generate a cost of $400 billion annually to deal with. Just think if we could dramatically reduce that cost and direct those savings to pay for other things.”

Lisa McIntosh, a co-founder of Urban Harvest Organic Delivery business in Kelowna, talked about her ongoing efforts to find efficiencies in the pickup and delivery of food produce products for her customers.

Appropriate sized vehicles are scheduled to make given deliveries, and she herself lives two minutes from the company warehouse, and she is able to work from her home office.

“How close someone lives to our warehouse is an issue for me when I look to hire someone for our staff,” she said, feeling its one way to help reduce the carbon footprint of people having to commute longer distances to and from work.

She also cited how “the last mile” also leaves a significant climate impact, where people are driving the extra miles to shop for groceries on their way home. “That leaves a larger carbon footprint I think then a lot of people realize.”

Chad Kohalyk, the third speaker, shared his experience of living in Kelowna with two young children and not owning a vehicle.

Kohalyk said his family gets around by walking, using public transit, sharing a ride with friends and joining the OGO Car Sharing Co-op to “fill in the gaps” when a vehicle is required.

He said a vehicle averages about $10,000 a year for maintenance, insurance and other costs, while being an OGO member carries at $3,000 annual fee and $39 a year insurance rate to drive.

“It’s amazing how many friends you make when you don’t own a car, where you share a ride and actually talk to people, interact with others, rather than being a solitary person sitting in a tin can,” he said.

Like McIntosh, he also cited the importance of living close to where you work and that Kelowna’s community plan to develop five commercial centres across the city ultimately won’t mean living downtown is required to have a car-free existence.