Thursday, February 21, 2019

SFU competition brings students together to pitch solutions to reduce congestion in Metro Vancouver

It is very unusual for both my role as a Langley City councillor and role in my day job at a local software company to come together, but it did yesterday at SFU’s CaseIT Business Case Competition. This competition is run out of the Beedie School of Business. The competition focuses on creating business cases for ideas that bridge business and technology. The company that I work for was a sponsor of the event, and I was there as a TechMentor to provide guidance and advice to the teams that were in the competition.

I was surprised to learn that the teams had to develop a business case on how to reduce congestion in Metro Vancouver. This is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about in my role as a city councillor.

Lunch break at CaseIT competition. Select image to enlarge.

Many of the teams pitched solutions that focused around road pricing to reduce congestion by providing incentives to travel outside of peak travel periods and disincentives to travel during peak periods.

Other teams thought about expanding bike-share programs region-wide, and providing safe bike parking at SkyTrain stations. One team thought that the region needed to build more park and ride lots at SkyTrain stations.

Some teams focused on creating apps to make car-sharing, cycling, and transit easier for people. One team pitched an app that would tell you the best way to get around the region, including using multiple travel modes such as using rideshare and transit, that could be customized by options such a price, environmental impact, and accessibility.

Instead of private companies providing ride-hailing services, one team pitched a solution where TransLink would use ride-hail technology to help provide fast, frequent mini-bus service to areas that currently cannot support 15 minute or better bus service. This was one of the ideas that I thought could have an application in Langley.

While many of the teams focused on moving people around, one of the teams that I TechMentored wanted to look at how communities could reduce congestion by providing more information to municipalities.

Currently information about our transportation network exists in many places. Crash data is available through ICBC. Many private companies have real-time traffic information. Traffic signals are controlled by various municipalities and the province. The short of it is that there is a lot of information available that could be used to help municipalities build roads that reduce crashes which reduces congestion, or optimize traffic signals and routing, but they are all in disconnected locations.

If you are a big municipality like Vancouver or Surrey, you can hire a team to develop custom solutions, but this is not possible for most municipalities in our province. All municipalities have GIS mapping systems which allow the public and municipal staff to look at things like property lines, aerial photos, roads, pipes, parks, and streetlight locations. Adding traffic information into these mapping systems is just another layer that could be made availalble. One of the teams pitched creating a solution that would tie various disconnected data sources into these GIS systems through software that would be broadly available to municipalities of all sized.

I found the experience of attending CaseIT refreshing. It was encouraging to see students working towards solutions to help reduce congestion and the need for single-occupancy vehicles in Metro Vancouver.

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