Consultant hopes to change how we think about transportation

Item date: 
November 7, 2014
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This article reports on Martin Collier's current work at Healthy Transport Consulting and Transport Futures as well as his general business and educational background.

By TROY BRIDGEMAN

GUELPH — Consultant Martin Collier considers Canada's present transportation policies unsustainable and that is why he is in the business of educating all levels of government and the public about safer, more affordable and environmentally friendly alternatives.

"What I suggest is learning from international experts that I bring in from around the world," said Collier. "I figured out we could probably save between $35 and $50 million on the tax bill (locally) by changing the way we pay for roads."

He understands why some of the options he promotes, such as charging people directly to use roads and parks, are not popular. But, he said, it is because these services are perceived as free that we have taken them for granted and developed wasteful policies.

"London, Stockholm, Milan, Singapore — all these places have gone through the whole process so we know what will happen," said Collier. "Every city is different, but there is always pushback. Nobody wants what is free taken away from them, but they still want low taxes and all that stuff. It requires communication and political leadership."

Collier is the director of Healthy Transport Consulting and the founder of Transport Futures, a research and policy education service that co-ordinates conferences and workshops for government and non-government planners, engineers and contractors to investigate sustainable transportation policies.

He describes himself as a policy entrepreneur specializing in transportation demand management. Part of the focus is applying market mechanisms to give people incentives to make sustainable transportation choices.

"Depending on where they live, they probably have at least four choices — they could walk, bike, take transit or they could take a car," said Collier. "They have to look at time and money. Different people make different choices so transportation demand management tries to balance the convenience side with the more sustainable side."

Collier was born in Montreal and graduated from Queen's University in 1982 with a degree in business and psychology.

One of his brothers and his younger sister are entrepreneurs, as was his father.

"We're all very entrepreneurial," said Collier. "My dad started an energy conservation business in 1977 selling airtight woodstoves and solar energy. Solar is huge now, but he was one of the first people to sell it in eastern Ontario."

Collier's father had a big influence on his business and environmental philosophy and he remembers protesting with his friends in Montreal against air pollution when he was only in Grade 4.

During university and after graduating in 1982, Collier worked for a year and a half for his father's business and then for several years in the music business as a guitarist, band manager and promoter.

He moved to Guelph in 2011 with his wife and fellow entrepreneur, Mary Davis.

Collier was a candidate for Guelph's Ward 2 in the recent municipal election. His campaign platform reflected his views about the environment and urban planning developed over more than three decades as an academic, entrepreneur and community volunteer.

"I have been working in urban planning since 1992 with a number of non-profits and a lot of it originally was volunteering for the City of Toronto," he said. "They had a cycling advisory committee and I got in with the planning part of that committee."

In 2002, he renewed his studies at York University and graduated in 2004 with a master's degree in environmental studies, focusing on urban planning.

He started Healthy Transport Consulting in 2006.

"Originally, it was research," said Collier. "I was doing work for Transport Canada and different non-profit organizations."

He founded Transport Futures as an extension of Healthy Transport Consulting to plan and promote conferences and workshops. He has a conference coming up Nov. 24 in Toronto called the Transport Futures Road Pricing and Parking Workshop.

The full-day conference is being held at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in downtown Toronto and will feature six international speakers. He is offering a 20 per cent discount to Guelph citizens who contact him through his website.

"What we are trying to do in that conference is demonstrate how this can work," said Collier. "What kind of system should we try as a pilot project in Ontario and the Greater Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph area?"

Collier said the cost of building roads continues to rise, putting more pressure on government to raise taxes as cities expand. There is also a cost to the environment.

"We have to let people know what the costs are," said Collier. "We know the prices of almost everything else. Everyone talks about cost, but we don't when it comes to roads because nobody knows. We have to start preserving these precious resources. If we don't, 20 years down the road, we will be in trouble."