Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman takes comfort in the affirmation he receives that his city is on the right track when it comes to technology adoption and innovation, but he doesn’t envision a time when the job will be done.
Addressing a virtual audience at Technicity West, a digital conference that assembled Western Canada technology leaders on February 9, 2021, Mayor Bowman highlighted some of the Winnipeg success stories since he took office, starting with open government.
“I’m very pleased that in 2017 our city council voted in support of Winnipeg’s first open government policy,” said Bowman, crediting the change with a greater focus on proactive disclosure and other measures to better engage with residents. “As Winnipeg grows, we will continue to examine ways technology and innovation can drive change, improve the citizen experience, reduce costs, and make information more open, transparent and accountable.”
Firm in the belief that technology and innovation are the fuel for growth in our new economy, Bowman is committed to harnessing technology to make civic government more user friendly. One of his first moves as mayor was to create a transportation management centre with a 24/7 customer service portal that connects to all 671 signalized intersections across the city. It improves traffic flow by remotely responding in real-time to traffic signal malfunctions and unexpected traffic incidents.
Equally impressive, Winnipeg created its transportation management centre in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost experienced by other cities’ traffic management centres. “We did that, in large part, out of necessity,” said Bowman. “We didn’t have the funds for a dedicated fibre network, so we networked our cameras over a cellular network – an innovation in North America when we did it.”
According to Bowman, the real excitement comes from technology opening windows into new possibilities. For example, a fully functioning video network has many other applications in Winnipeg. One initiative utilizes the network of cameras to study near-miss incidents at intersections with the goal of better and safer designs. Another identifies potholes before they become serious problems. A third uses snow accumulation sensors to assist in prioritizing snow clearing efforts.
The power of tap
More kudos for digital transformation go to Winnipeg Transit’s new electronic payment system, introduced for convenience prior to the pandemic and now an essential part of the transit journey. “Who knew the use of a tap function to pay fares would become so much more relevant today as part of a healthcare solution to help avoid the handling of money?” asked Bowman.
Taking a few minutes to address the importance of public transit as an essential service, Bowman expressed his feelings about almost empty buses, describing them as costly, wasteful, and bad for the environment. With Winnipeg Transit accounting for Winnipeg’s greatest COVID-related loss, they are also unsustainable, fueling an initiative to create an on-demand transit service that pays closer attention to when and where services are needed.
“The dynamic effect of pandemic related restrictions on Canadians has created significant challenges and losses for transit as operators struggle to provide the most accurate service to meet unpredictable changes in demand,” said Bowman. “Technology will allow riders to request service and have it delivered to them in a much more targeted way than the fixed-route design. This will result in increased efficiencies and decreased wait time for riders.”
The opportunities are limitless, yet as a former privacy lawyer, Bowman understands that many innovations come with legitimate concerns that must be addressed. “If there’s one tip I have for you,” he told his audience, “it’s to take a privacy by design approach with any of these kinds of technologies.”
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