Meet the Planning professor getting sustainable transportation on track.

Jeff Casello

By 2017, public transportation in the Region of Waterloo will be vastly more efficient. There will be light rail transit running in the central corridor of Kitchener-Waterloo and more express buses connecting them to suburban areas. And Jeff Casello will have been a big part of making that vision real.

Casello is a professor jointly appointed to the School of Planning and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He’s one of Canada’s foremost experts in public transportation, and since he arrived in the area in 2004, he has been advocating for and helping design better services for Waterloo Region.

“We’ve known for about five decades that public transport is good for us and good for society,” says Casello. “It uses less energy, it promotes density, it’s really supportive of all the contemporary planning objectives and engineering objectives.”

However, not many people outside Canada’s few large metropolises use public transportation. In large part, that’s because of policy and planning that largely favored the automobile, says Casello.

“We build low-density suburban-type areas that are difficult for transit agencies to serve well. We also price our auto transportation very low compared to our peer countries and so we’re basically giving economic signals for people to use their cars more than they really should.”

Casello’s research focuses on three main areas:

  • How to provide higher-quality transit service to attract riders
  • How zoning laws and taxation policies influence travel choices
  • What motivates people to choose a particular route and mode of travel

The transportation planning models currently in widespread use take into account time and cost but not important factors such as convenience, comfort, habit, sense of control, and quality of information, says Casello.

Using traditional models, “the outcome would be that we’re too small or it’s too early to have a rapid transit system,” says Casello of Waterloo Region. “But the rules are changing and we don’t want to wait until the city builds itself out and then have to retrofit the region with a system that would cost much more and create much more disruption.”

Casello spoke and wrote extensively about the benefits of the project when debate about it was raging. He is now helping plan the new light rail system and improved bus service. He also co-wrote a report that concluded public transit contributes $7 billion a year to economic activity across Canada, he says.

“Transit is not only good for us, it has real, tangible economic benefits.”