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Your Ride: Vancouver

Karen Quin Fung writes about sustainable transportation and transit policy every Tuesday.

Transit innovations that matter allow us to live without cars, or with them, but in a new way

For many of us, technology for transportation has been synonymous with changes to cars — making them faster, safer, cleaner and maybe, eventually, making them self-driving.

But for growing numbers of residents around the region, the technologies that matter are those that allow us to live either without cars or to live with them differently than we may have expected in the past.

A few things are spurring this.

The rapid uptake of smartphones is one. Another is the resurgence of interest in urban living that allows us to more consistently realize the benefits of walking, cycling and using public transit.

Many of us may already be familiar with the first wave of these tools — car-sharing, bike-sharing, hailing taxis using our phones, real-time bus tracking and electronic fare cards.

Some further innovations on the horizon are likely to continue shaking up the picture of transportation options.

This spring sees the long-awaited release of the Copenhagen, a rear bike wheel that boosts a standard bicycle with electric-assist, without the battery bulk and price tag associated with existing equivalents. It has an added option for users to anonymously share data about how people are using their bikes with urban planners — facilitating data-driven decision-making for better facilities.

Locally, a company called VeloMetro has received attention for its mobility concept consisting of VeloCars: three-wheeled, human-powered vehicles with electric-assist, equipped with enclosures suited to our rainy climes and cargo-carrying capacity. VeloCars are anticipated to launch in Vancouver with a member-accessible fleet by sometime in 2016.

Taken alone, neither of these may seem to hold a candle to the flying cars we were told would be the sign of progress. But alongside the choices available now, these new technologies allow people to be more deliberate in trading off time and money against other needs and goals in their lives as they change.

In a hurry today, but have time to squeeze in a stroll tomorrow? Need to carry something on the way there, but travelling lighter on the way back?

There are options for those scenarios. This is of particular interest to transportation policymakers, carefully eyeing our limited road space and the inefficiencies of parking.

No two trips or travellers are the same. As blunt an instrument as it is, full-time vehicle ownership, insurance and maintenance will certainly still have its appeal or suit the situation for some.

But for many others, these new options are increasingly necessary and beneficial for moving through our region on our own terms without breaking our pocketbooks, our health or our environment.

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