Remi Desa

Remi Desa (BASc '02)
CEO and co-founder, Pantonium Inc.

Have you ever seen an empty bus drive by? It can be a common occurrence especially during off-peak hours or in less populated areas. Making transit equitable and convenient for everyone while balancing the needs to be efficient and sustainable can lead to difficult decisions for municipalities.

Pantonium Inc. is a Toronto-based company looking to solve this challenge with an on-demand transit solution that responds in real-time to meet changing passenger needs. Co-founder and Waterloo alum, Remi Desa (BASc '02), is passionate about improving public transit which stems from his own life experience. Living in different countries has showed him how integral quality transportation is to lead a productive and satisfying life. 

We caught up with Desa to hear how Pantonium is rethinking sustainable transportation.

What is the transportation challenge that Pantonium addressing?

Pantonium is focused on solving the challenge of empty buses driving around in circles. We all know that public transit works in big cities like New York and Toronto, but in low density areas, like suburbs and rural areas public transit is inefficient and inconvenient and we see that in the numbers.

Only five per cent of commuters in Canada use buses, while 84 per cent use cars. This creates a sustainability problem. 30 per cent of all emissions comes from transportation and most of that is created by passenger transport. To reduce our energy consumption and emissions, society needs a way to make transit more attractive to riders.

Policy and planning are important to implement innovative solutions like Pantonium. Has this been a challenge for your company?

I find innovation with municipalities challenging as they are inherently risk adverse. In our experience municipal procurement policies and planning are not designed to encourage innovation. We have overcome these challenges by looking for municipal partners who are forward thinking and willing to embrace innovation. In addition, we also share our deployment results with research intuitions, who can independently analyze and verify the results of our deployments and publish them. We also believe that the work we are doing will become mainstream as society moves to create more sustainable communities.

Can you tell us about one of your municipal partnerships that you’re excited about?

In 2021, Fort Erie transit were dealing with the COVID pandemic and struggling to provide a sustainable service. On average only five per cent of the city used transit which is typical for North America. We worked with them to put in our model of “On Demand Transit”, and by 2022, the mode share of transit had increased to 15 per cent.

People who never used transit before, because it was inconvenient for their schedule, started using it every day and were able to get anywhere in the city on one bus with no transfers. This project was so successful that the US Department of Energy performed a study on it and found we had decreased the average green-house gas emissions per trip by 60 per cent, decreased cost per ride by 29 per cent, while increasing customer satisfaction. They concluded that if this solution were deployed in 270 similar sized cities, we would avoid 3.8 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.

What is your vision for the future of transportation?

I think ultimately if we are to achieve the environmental, social and economic goals that have been set by society, we need to move to a world with limited use cases for personal cars and place a bigger focus on shared mobility.

Our vision for cities is a hybrid model which has a mix of efficient rail, fixed bus routes and on-demand routes that are all working together to provide a public transit service that people want to use. We believe that Pantonium’s technology can help cities immediately accelerate their energy transition and make our public transportation more equitable, sustainable and fun for everybody.

Meet Desa at the Waterloo Innovation Summit

On April 21, the University of Waterloo, in partnership with MaRS Discovery District, will host the Waterloo Innovation Summit: Rethinking global travel. As a featured speaker, Desa will share his passion for finding efficiencies as well as share his knowledge from more than 20 years of experience working in operations and logistics.