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BC’s Largest Growing City Takes A Leap Forward in Innovation

The future is here, and Surrey has just embarked on a new era with the arrival of a driverless shuttle.

The future is here, and Surrey has just embarked on a new era with the arrival of a driverless shuttle. The ELA (ELectric Automation), or otherwise known as the autonomous or ‘driverless’ shuttle, made its debut as part of the current federal, Smart Cities Grant, and wow’ed all those in attendance.

For 13 days, the City of Surrey offered it’s residents an unforgettable experience last month in Surrey Civic Plaza with their pilot-project, “Ride with ELA” event. In partnership with the City of Vancouver, Surrey created the opportunity of a lifetime by bringing in Western Canada’s first public, electric, autonomous shuttle for people to test ride –  providing 1,661 passenger trips over the pilot duration. The Civic Plaza site and route was proposed by the City of Surrey as the first deployment of such kind in the province. City of Surrey, Transportation Lead, Dave Harkness, provides some fun statistics on the pilot’s 11-operating days:

  • Total length of selected route: 488 meters
  • Total kilometers travelled: 157 km
  • Total Shuttle Energy Consumption: 179.87 KWh

Operated by the Pacific Western Group of Companies (PWT), the EasyMile driverless shuttle has already been displayed in over 20 countries worldwide, and Surrey is the latest addition on the list! The 12 person capacity shuttle is innovative in the sense that it operate 100% driverless and is powered by electricity. It is fully accessible with a built-in service ramp, and it is versatile and adaptable in terms of it’s route operation and infrastructure needs.

In 2018, the Cities of Surrey and Vancouver initiated a partnership to join forces in the Smart Cities Grant worth $50 million dollars. “In order for the bid to represent our communities values and priorities, we [first] launched an extensive community engagement campaign to hear what was most important to our residents” explains City of Surrey Director of IT, Sean Simpson. “After 70,000 interactions, and four months of consultation, our communities made it clear they wanted to focus on mobility.”

What is a ‘Smart’ City? According to the Smart Surrey Strategy, a ‘Smart City’ “creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by considering innovation and technological advancements as a key ingredient in its decision making, strategy and investment.” Within the vision for a Smart Surrey, social engagement and connectivity, economic growth, service delivery innovation and infrastructure take the forefront in focus.

Back to the competition, the Smart Cities Challenge is a “pan-Canadian competition open to communities of all sizes, including municipalities, regional governments and Indigenous communities.” The Challenge is focused on encouraging Canadian communities to adopt an approach to improve the lives of those in their communities through innovation, data, and connected technology.

The prizes are anywhere from $5 million dollars to one grand-prize of $50 million to put towards innovation efforts in a chosen community. Out of the 130+ eligible applicants overall nationwide, The City of Surrey, partnered with the City of Vancouver is currently listed as a finalist in the $50 million dollar category up against the likelihood of Canadian cities Waterloo, Edmonton, Quebec City, and Montreal. The participating communities are judged firstly on their submitted Challenge Statement, that defines their intended outcome(s) a community aims to achieve by implementing their Smart City proposal, and on a variety of other requirements. The selected Jury consists of a diverse group of successful professionals whom are publicly recognized in various fields relating to smart cities such as urban planning, architecture and policy innovation.

“In terms of technology we are likely to see larger volumes of data, coming from more sensors capturing information as part of our daily lives.  With this information, greater privacy considerations are going to be at the forefront, as well as the opportunity to gain new insights that will enable more informed decisions resulting in greater outcomes such as transportation mobility, healthier communities, and safety” claims Simpson.

“As part of the Smart Cities Challenge, we’ll be hosting Western Canada’s largest Escape Room – Mission: Possible. We’re looking to use this family-friendly event to not only give families something fun and engaging to do, but also provide some education around what smart cities are and how they relate to transportation” states Elizabeth Yih, Investment Promotion Specialist for the City of Surrey. Although the event was previously postponed due to extreme weather conditions on the previously scheduled date, the team registration of the event was sold-out, so they’re expecting a large turn-out for the event once rescheduled.

So what does the future look like for the Surrey in terms of technology? Sean Simpson states, “we believe the future will have sustainable economic development and a high quality of life for our citizens, fostered by innovation and technological advancements as key ingredients in decision making, strategy and investment.”

The results of the Smart Cities Challenge will be announced spring this year, and we are crossing our fingers that Surrey will come out a leader. For more information on the Smart Cities Grant, please visit smartertogether.ca, or the Smart Surrey Strategy

Robyn Freiheit

Robyn Freiheit

Robyn is a status-quo disruptor, an old-soul, and has a serious passion towards continuous learning driven by a curiosity for the unknown. A creative and equally analytical thinker with experience in leadership, project management and marketing strategy. When she’s not working you can find her in the kitchen, searching for new music, or meandering local thrift stores, antique stores, or flea markets for a unique find.