Policy Background

Transport Canada (TC) is the leading government agency in setting the national transport research agenda and funding transport research. Transport Canada undertakes research and development (R&D) to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of the transport system, and to improve the safe, secure, efficient, and environmentally responsible movement of people and goods in Canada.

Research priorities are established by a senior management committee at Transport Canada that reviews proposals and establishes funding priorities based on the Department’s strategic objectives. An intradepartmental working group develops selection and evaluation criteria as well as performance metrics and documentation. It identifies opportunities for integrated and shared R&D projects for better management of resources, and identifies and shares best practices for R&D programme delivery and monitoring, as well as assessing effectiveness and measuring outcomes.

Development work is contracted out to agencies best qualified for the work, including manufacturers, operators, research organisations, and universities. Staff members manage the technical aspects of each project, control finances, and evaluate progress. Through tools such as memoranda of understanding, cooperative research agreements, and contribution agreements, the capabilities, interests, and resources of various and varied stakeholders are brought together to deliver better outcomes.

Ministries of Transport in the provincial governments play a major role in funding transport research and development. Transport research is characterised by Research Networks that consolidate resources from various institutions (universities and sometimes involving the private sector), and in multiple regions to address national and provincial research priorities.

Canadian agencies tend to focus R&D resources on achieving mid- to long-term research objectives, and to adopting best solutions developed in the USA in short-term research objectives.

Institutional framework of transport research

Basic research is also funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which has four types of grant programmes that support transport research but not exclusively:

  • Discovery Grants that can be applied directly by any professor in any institution;
  • Collaborative Research and Development that is a partnership grant and requires up to 200% matching funds;
  • Strategic Network that is based on individual topic areas, helps form fundamental research networks, and allows individual researchers to submit annual proposals via the Network;
  • Research Chair/Industrial Research Chair Programme that support distinguished research programmes with identifiable leaders.

The provincial Ministries of Transport follow the national research and development agenda established by Transport Canada, but also their own priorities based on local needs and issues. Leverage and matching funds are heavily emphasised in transport research funding at all levels. Provincial and local support makes it easier for research institutions to obtain federal and provincial research resources. These matching funds may be from local and municipal government, or from the private sector.

University researchers can apply for government funding for transport research either on a project-by-project basis, or through funding from university centres and research networks. In addition to the technical merits of proposals, the geographical equity of fund allocation appears to be a factor in the selection of fund recipients.

The Transportation Association of Canada (TAC), which comprises officials from the provincial and municipal Ministries of Transport, is another instrumental organisation in transport research and development. Based on national, regional, provincial, and local research needs, TAC produces problem statements and requests for proposals. Research institutions can form teams to compete for TAC funding, which is pooled resources from government agencies at all levels.

Intelligent Transportation Systems Canada (ITS-Canada) has close ties with Transport Canada in ITS-related training and research.

Other national government agencies, such as Environment Canada and Industry Canada, are involved in funding transport research aligned with their respective agency goals.

Organisations responsible for the institutional framework and funding:

Funding Sources and Support Initiatives