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Autonomous Shuttles in Canada: Enabling landscape and key pilots [free access]

January 1, 2022

Many autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot projects have been launched in Canada given the country’s expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies, and the presence of a strong automotive sector. The projects have allowed governments, public transport operators and other private players to test the AVs in real-world scenarios, such as Canada’s extreme weather situations. These stakeholders are aiming to prepare for widespread AV deployment by obtaining a better understanding of the technology, and developing the necessary strategies and policies.


Regulatory landscape enabling AVs

At the national level, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) governs the import of vehicles into Canada. To facilitate the introduction of AVs, the MVSA and associated regulations related to technical standards, licensing requirements, and standards on how an AV would interact with first responders and law enforcement were amended to permit the import of AVs, strictly for testing purposes.


Transport Canada’s “Guidelines for Testing Automated Driving Systems in Canada Version 2.0” summarise the majority of Canada’s pilot testing directives. The guidelines are referenced from materials published, such as Canada’s Safety Framework for Automated and Connected Vehicles, Safety Assessment for Automated Driving Systems in Canada, and Canadian Jurisdictional Guidelines for Safe Testing and Deployment of Highly Automated Vehicles.


The Federal government has also legislated the PIPEDA (the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) to regulate how private corporations collect, use and disclose personal data. The PIPEDA will address privacy concerns related to AVs in Canada.


Provincial legislation determines and regulates the safe operation of motor vehicles, including licensing, registration, insurance, maintenance standards, and traffic laws.


Table 1 provides details of the regulations introduced for AVs in each province.


Table 1: Provincial AV regulations in Canada


AV Regulation


The “10-year Pilot Project - Automated Vehicles Regulation” provides guidance on AV use and defines what constitutes an “advanced driver assistance system” or a “dynamic driving task.” 


The Québec Highway Safety Code (HSC) and has been amended to include AVs.


The Vehicle Technology Testing Act governs the development and use of AVs.


The Traffic Safety Act has been amended to include automated driving systems.

Nova Scotia

The province has received royal assent to amend its Traffic Safety Act to include the use of AVs on public roads and clarify the term distracted driving with regard to AVs.


The province is yet to introduce specific regulations for AVs, but permits for AV pilot testing can be obtained.

British Columbia

The province is yet to introduce specific regulations for AVs, but permits for AV pilot testing can be obtained.


Ontario, Québec and Manitoba currently have regulatory frameworks for the testing of AV technology. Saskatchewan amended its Traffic Safety Act to include automated driving systems. Similarly, Nova Scotia has received royal assent for a bill to amend its Traffic Safety Act to include the use of AVs on public roads and clarify the term distracted driving with regard to AVs. The Nova Scotia legislation uses a broad definition of “autonomous mode” and “autonomous vehicles” to allow easy modification. It also defines how the use of AVs is governed through related regulations. Alberta and British Columbia have yet to introduce specific regulations for AVs, but permits for AV pilot testing can be obtained through a special process.


The provincial governments may opt out of PIPEDA by enacting a similar legislation.


Role of the government in the development of AVs

The federal and provincial governments have been actively involved in the development of AVs in Canada.


In December 2021, the Government of Canada through the Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) initiative invested CAD3.2 million in Montreal-based One Silicon Chip Photonics (OSCP) to promote cleantech innovations in the country. OSCP will use the funds to develop lighter, low-cost inertial navigation sensors with high precision for future AVs and drones.


The Government of Ontario has granted CAD85 million to the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN) initiative led by the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI). The AVIN initiative programme was launched to support research and development (R&D) funding, talent development and technology acceleration. It also provides support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop, test      and commercialise new automotive and transportation products and technologies.


Hamilton’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Test Bed is one the projects supported by AVIN. Through the project, smart technology was installed at intersections at the Upper Ottawa Street, Dartnall, and Nebo roads to collect data that can be analysed and shared via a private cellular network and connected vehicles. The objective is to create a smart city that facilitates the introduction of autonomous and connected vehicles. In 2017, AVIN also launched the AVIN Technology Demonstration Zone in Stratford to allow companies to test and demonstrate AVs to consumers in a safe, closed space.


Further, AVIN has supported the Ottawa L5 test site, which is a 16 km test track with a 5.2 km high-speed test loop at the former Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre. The Ottawa L5 site allows companies to test their AVs in poor weather conditions for cybersecurity and interoperability.


In addition, in December 2021, the government launched the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN) initiative in partnership with OCI to support Ontario-based companies and organisations active in the development of connected and autonomous vehicle technology. The government allocated CAD56.4 million to the OVIN initiative. SMEs were invited to apply for funding from OVIN for up to one-third of their project’s cost.


Key autonomous shuttle pilots

Some notable autonomous shuttle pilots in recent years are presented in Table 2.


Table 2: Key autonomous shuttle pilots in Canada




Trial period

Whitby Autonomous Vehicle Electric (WAVE) shuttle


Local Motors

September-December 2021

West Rouge Automated Shuttle Trial


Local Motors

August-September 2021

Transdev shuttle pilot: Olympic Park



June-December 2018

Transdev shuttle pilot: Olympic Park metro station -Maisonneuve Market



June-August 2019

NAVYA autonomous shuttle pilot


Navya SAS

August 2018-October 2019

ELA Calgary Zoo/Telus Spark pilot



September 2018

ELA Old Strathcona pilot



October-November 2018

ELA Beaumont AB pilot



April-October 2019

ELA Olympic Village pilot



February 23- March 3, 2019

ELA Surrey Civic Plaza pilot



February 1-17, 2019

WATonoBus research program



July 2021-present


Whitby Autonomous Vehicle Electric (WAVE) shuttle pilot project

In September 2021, Durham Region Transit (DRT) commenced test operations of the WAVE shuttle on the 6 km DRT Route 300, which is a circular route in the Port Whitby area (in south Whitby) that begins and ends at the Whitby GO Transit station.


The Government of Ontario supported the project and provided funds through AVIN, led by OCI. The project was also funded and supported by SmartCone Technologies, AutoGuardian by SmartCone, the Region of Durham, DRT, the Town of Whitby, Metrolinx, Nokia Canada, Ontario Tech, and Durham College.


After two months of trials without passengers, the service was opened to the public in November 2021 with an onboard attendant. The shuttle was restricted to operating at 20 km per hour with a maximum occupancy of four passengers per trip to comply with the safety regulations.


However, the project was suspended in December 2021, following an accident where the shuttle crashed and left the onboard attendant critically injured. The results of the police investigation revealed that the crash occurred while the shuttle was operating in manual mode.


West Rouge Automated Shuttle Trial

The City of Toronto partnered with Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolink for the West Rouge Automated Shuttle project. In October 2020, Local Motors signed an agreement with the City of Toronto to provide automated shuttle vehicle service on a 5 km route in West Rouge for a 6-12-month trial period.


The Olli 2.0 shuttle is equipped with lidar and radar sensors, has a maximum speed of 20 km per hour when operating in autonomous mode, and the capacity to carry eight passengers. The shuttle service is also accessible to travellers with limited mobility.


From August to September 2021, the shuttle began digitally mapping the route. The shuttle operated on a circular route from the Rouge Hill GO station to Starspray Boulevard Rouge and National Urban Park before heading back to the GO station on weekdays. On weekends, the shuttle was limited to travelling between the GO station, Rouge National Urban Park and the West Rouge Community Centre.


Following the completion of the route mapping, the shuttle service was opened to the public in October 2021. The shuttle was tested during the snowy season to evaluate its performance during Canadian winters. The service was expected to be available till February 2022. However, in December 2021, Toronto suspended the pilot after the WAVE autonomous shuttle crashed in Whitby.


Transdev autonomous shuttle trials in Montreal

Transdev Canada conducted two autonomous shuttle pilots in the Olympic Park in Montréal. The first pilot was conducted at minimal traffic hours from June to December 2018. After its success, Transdev launched its second pilot with two shuttles operating in normal urban traffic in June 2019. The shuttles operated on a 1.4 km route from the Olympic Park metro station to Maisonneuve Market, and covered the distance within approximately 6 minutes at an average speed of 15 km per hour.


Intersections were equipped with intelligent traffic signals with which the shuttles could communicate when they crossed. The pilot ended in August 2019.


France-based EasyMile designed and supplied the electric EZ10 driverless shuttles.


NAVYA autonomous shuttle pilot in Candiac

Keolis Canada and the City of Candiac partnered to launch the NAVYA autonomous shuttle pilot on a 2 km route between the intersection of Marie-Victorin and Montcalm North boulevards in August 2018. The shuttle had the capacity to carry 15 passengers. It operated in normal traffic, passed through a railway crossing, and also navigated an intersection where it communicated with four traffic lights. For eight months, the service was available free of cost for public use. In winter, the shuttle was tested for four months without passengers to examine how it adapted to Quebec’s winter conditions.


Electronic Autonomous Shuttle project (ELA)

Pacific Western Transportation (PWT) has launched several autonomous shuttle pilots in Western Canada. In September 2018, the first pilot began on a 557 metre route between the Calgary Zoo and TELUS Spark. The shuttle took 39 trips per day on average over the course of one month. In 2018, PWT launched five pilots in the city of Edmonton at Blatchford, Old Strathcona, Chappelle Gardens, Grey Cup, and the University of Alberta. The Strathcona ELA pilot was temporarily halted due to hardware malfunction. There have also been ELA pilots in the Surrey Civic Plaza, the Olympic Village in Vancouver, Beaumont, and at the Reynolds Museum in Wetaskiwin.


WATonoBus research program at the University of Waterloo

In July 2021, the University of Waterloo launched the WATonoBus autonomous shuttle to transport staff and students on campus. The shuttle operates on a 2.7 km route around the Waterloo main campus with five stops and an intersection with the campus light rail transit stop. The program is a multi-year initiative to demonstrate and integrate autonomous transportation in the campus. The shuttle is operated remotely over Roger’s 5G network. The shuttle is equipped with an on-board sensor system to provide vehicle intelligence and control; front, rear and side cameras to provide a 360-degree view; light detection and ranging (LIDAR) active remote sensing systems; and a WATonoBus smartphone app to help passengers navigate the campus using the shuttle.


Autonomous development going forward

Canada has been making significant progress in the development of AV technology and setting up of a legal framework for its operation; however, there are still hurdles that prevent full-scale deployment. Safety is a major concern since AI perception has a limited understanding of certain real-world scenarios, such as snowy weather, children in Halloween costumes, and Christmas lights. The regulatory framework in Canada, particularly in Alberta and British Columbia, needs to be developed further to provide clarity on questions related to AI ethics and vehicle insurance. The shuttle crash in Whitby also raises questions on who is responsible in the event of such accidents. Even though the accident occurred when the shuttle was being operated manually, the shuttle pilot in Toronto was suspended. The accident might lead to tightened regulations for AV testing and a delay in future pilots.