Global Engineering Innovation Challenge Aims to Solve Public Transit Woes

By Ani Hajderaj, staff writer

Image Courtesy of: cbc.ca

Image Courtesy of: cbc.ca

Public transit was the theme of this year’s Global Engineering Innovation Challenge, as aspiring engineers were faced with the task of finding a solution to traffic congestion and to make Toronto a more transit-friendly city. The challenge was open to “anyone interested in taking an active role towards innovative solutions to real-world problems.” The team with the most feasible and inventive solution was awarded a $2,000 prize. The event was held on Mar. 23 at Victoria College, University of Toronto.

Lindsay Roxton and Howard Tran of team 21 were this year’s winners. The team focused on coming up with a way to raise money for transit that is also transparent to the public. The proposed approach was to involve a public referendum on new taxation to finance an infrastructure bank and to use traditional funding levels in a way that appeals to all stakeholders.

“She was big on the bonds, I was big on transit development and referendum,” said Tran. “She said, ‘what about a bank to tie it all together?’ It took us a while to figure it out and eventually got around it.”

This was the first GEIC event to take place in Toronto and there are plans to bring it back to the city next year. Joseph Yang was one of the main organizers from event sponsor Engineers Without Borders.

“As engineers we are trained to solve problems. You can build a faster car or a better smart phone, but we’re asking what problems are we solving that are giving benefits to society?” said Yang.

The GEIC aims to bring attention to these problems that go beyond improving consumer technology and focusing on problems that have a direct impact on society. The focus of coming up with ideas to improve public transportation in the GTHA (Greater Toronto Hamilton Area) fits into that criteria.

A big element of the whole event was the keynote presentation by Paul Bedford, a former Metrolinx director who is now an adjunct professor of urban and regional planning at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto. Bedford was also Toronto’s chief city planner for eight years. His speech touched on some of the latest issues public transportation is facing and also ways to get politicians more involved.

“The government has to educate the public better about the real costs and the real choices because people don’t have all the information their need to make intelligent decisions,” he said. “Some politicians need to bite the bullet on those tough decisions.”

[pullquote] “The government has to educate the public better about the real costs and the real choices…”[/pullquote]

Bedford believes that politicians need to start making the hard decisions of going through with urban plans to intensify public transit to improve the lives of citizens in the GTHA.

The need for innovations to meet challenges such as traffic congestion, or improvements to public transit is a growing concern, but initiatives like the GEIC hope to provide positive change for the future.

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