Bright young minds tackle the GTHA’s most pressing transportation challenges

From the social equity of transportation systems to the broad deployment of electric buses, the 2018 Rob MacIsaac Fellows are bringing fresh ideas to the drawing board as they try to tackle the GTHA’s most pressing transportation challenges.

The Rob MacIsaac Fellowship honours Metrolinx’s first Chair by cultivating innovative student research in transportation. Up to five Fellows are selected every other year based on their interest in addressing current transportation challenges in the region. Past projects have gone on to influence Metrolinx’s work.

The Fellowship has two parts. The first is a research term in which Fellows undertake a research project at their school under the guidance of a school advisor and the support of a senior Metrolinx staff member. The second is a work term during which Fellows are placed at various divisions within Metrolinx.

Janelle_LeeJanelle Lee | Masters of Environmental Studies in Planning | University of Waterloo

Tell us about your research.
My research looks at the intersection between transportation systems and social equity. I’ll be identifying areas in the GTHA that are most vulnerable from a transportation perspective—that is, neighbourhoods which simultaneously experience high social need and low accessibility—and investigating which interventions are most effective at improving access for these areas.

What inspired you to pursue this research?
I first became interested in transportation systems during an internship I completed in Kenya a few years ago. I was fascinated by informal bus systems in Nairobi and other East African cities. It amazed me how, in such a chaotic and unstructured context, people were able to establish a transit system to fill substantial mobility gaps which governments didn’t address. It also made me curious about the social equity of transportation systems and evaluating whether they provide service to those who need it most.

What impact do you hope to make by the end of your Fellowship?
Ultimately, I hope this research helps us consider the more intangible qualities of our transportation systems, such as equity and access to opportunity.

Nader_El_TaweelNader El-Taweel  | PhD. Student Electrical Engineering and Computer Science | Lassonde School of Engineering, York University

Tell us about your research.
My research aims to provide solutions to facilitate the large adoption of zero emission electric buses via the development of novel techniques for the design and operation of electric bus fleets (i.e., buses battery capacity, charger’s size and number, and chargers location).

What inspired you to pursue this research?
I believe there is great potential for Canadian bus transit systems to adopt electric buses in order to maximize the utilization benefits from Canada’s installed renewable and clean energy generation. Bus transit systems offer fixed routes, timely operation, and shared infrastructure along with several other parameters which all aid in the large adoption of electric vehicle technologies. However, electrified transit systems have several technological challenges that need to be addressed. Transit operators need the appropriate engineering modeling tools to explore the wide adoption of different electric bus fleet sizes.

What impact do you hope to make by the end of your Fellowship?
I hope to contribute to the planning and operation processes that will drive the deployment of electric buses in Canada. In particular I want to provide decision makers with the right modeling and simulation tools to facilitate seamless adoption of electric bus transit systems. I also hope to contribute to the success of Metrolinx’s electric bus demonstration project, and utilize my proposed model to design the required electric bus specifications for GO bus routes.

Rebecca_NelsonRebecca Nelson | Masters of Planning Candidate | University of Toronto

Tell us about your research.
My research looks at the pedestrian environment between different rapid transit modes at gateway hubs, which are major transit stations that have two or more existing or planned rapid transit lines intersecting them. More specifically, I am looking at how winter conditions may create barriers for pedestrians making transfers between different transit modes and how these barriers can be diminished to improve transit users’ experiences.

What inspired you to pursue this research?
I previously completed an honours thesis where I evaluated the pedestrian environment in a couple of neighbourhoods. I really enjoyed completing audits and speaking to residents about their experiences as pedestrians. As such, I decided to continue exploring this kind of research by relating it to transit use so I could get a slightly different perspective.

What impact do you hope to make by the end of your Fellowship? 
I hope that my research can inform future construction of transit stations to ensure that they are built in a way that is safe, accessible, and convenient for transit users. I also hope it can improve the transit experience and increase sustainable transportation use.

Elizabeth_Di_TellaElizabeth Di Tella | Transportation Engineering Technology | Mohawk College 

Tell us about your research.
My research analyzes the first and last mile of GO Transit access across the GTHA. The core of my research will be looking at how we can develop fresh ways to efficiently close the gap between regional transportation hubs and the places we live, work, and play with multi-modal transportation.

What inspired you to pursue this research?
As a student studying transportation engineering and a commuter myself, access to transit stations has been an issue that continues to resurface because of land use and density within GTHA suburbs.

What impact do you hope to make by the end of your Fellowship?
I hope that with my research I can help work towards efficiently accommodating multiple modes of transportation, ultimately leading to a more sustainable and connected future.

Caroline_NeasmithCaroline Neasmith | Human Resources Management | Humber College

Tell us about your research.
My research, NaviCommunications, will look at accessible communication for ESL (English as a Second Language) users. I will be analyzing accessibility plans already in place for auditory and visual users to see how we can adjust these existing plans to incorporate ESL users. I coupled these categories together because of the similarities in their communication barriers. Their shared obstacles feed off one another and I think we can learn from best practices that are already in place. I will look at Metrolinx’s current accessibility efforts as well as those of local and global agencies to gather information on accessibility for people with auditory and visual impairment to see how these can be slightly altered to incorporate ESL customers.

What inspired you to pursue this research?
I became interested in accessibility while teaching sailing to people with disabilities through a program called Able Sail in Ottawa. Through this experience I started looking at the world through the eyes of someone with additional obstacles in their life.

I became interested in communication accessibility specifically when I travelled through Asia for several months by myself in 2016. I found it especially hard to navigate local transit systems due to language barriers. This experience made me think about how challenging day-to-day life must be for Canadian newcomers. When the opportunity with Metrolinx came up I thought it would be fitting to start a project specifically for helping newcomers adjust to life in Canada.

What impact do you hope to make by the end of your Fellowship?

I want my research to create a foundation for contriving a universal transit communication system that will work for everyone—able-bodied or non-able-bodied, ESL or non-ESL. I hope to create a program that removes the “othering” aspect and help with the creation of a system that everyone uses, regardless of their ability or background.