Metrolinx draft transportation report aims to optimize GTHA transit

By 2041, Metrolinx wants transit users in the GTHA to rely on a "seamless transportation system" that’s so good, they won’t need a car.

Ryerson transit expert warns commute times not likely to decrease

Metrolinx is still working toward all-day, two-way GO Train service, but it's turning its attention to improving transit users' experience once they arrive. (Canadian Press)

By 2041, Metrolinx wants transit users in the GTHA to rely on a "seamless transportation system" that's so good, they won't need a car.

To accomplish that, the transit agency is releasing a draft regional transportation plan that aims not only to create new routes, but to optimize connections where service already exists. The draft plan also includes recommendations about how future stations should be designed and integrated into communities.

But to be successful, Metrolinx will need municipalities to reconfigure the spaces around local stations. Meanwhile, one transit expert points out despite decades of planned improvements, Metrolinx's report doesn't predict transit-based commutes will get any shorter, which may drive many to hang on to their vehicles.

Leslie Woo, Metrolinx's chief planning officer, says the new vision — which builds on "The Big Move" plan — aims to put transit users' needs front and centre.

"If we set the framework correct, we will be all moving in the right direction," Woo told CBC Toronto.

On the left is what Metrolinx would like in the future: transit stops in developed areas with pedestrian and cycling access. (Metrolinx)

For example, future transit stations will feature easy pedestrian and cycling access and ideally be located near developed areas where people work. Woo says it will be "critical" for municipalities to work with Metrolinx to ensure that can happen, and improve the so-called "first and last mile" of commuters' journeys.

"I would say we can't succeed without the municipalities," she said.

"Our problems are at the scale of the region, and we need solutions at the scale of the region."

A City of Toronto spokesperson confirmed staff are reviewing Metrolinx's plan, which was released this week. If approved by the agency's board on Thursday, the organization will launch a series of meetings with municipal leaders and also hold a public consultation process.

There's a lot to review.

Metrolinx is aiming to improve the first and last mile, or 1.6 kilometres, of the commute for people travelling within the GTHA. (John Rieti/CBC)

The draft recommends pushing ahead with delivering projects — Metrolinx says 16 are in the works, including the Scarborough subway — but also adding many more priority bus routes and light rail lines. In total, the rapid transit network would expand from 68 km to 1,623 km.

There are also plans for more HOV and HOT lanes (from 73 km to 1,130 km) and to more than double the length of the current cycling network.

Metrolinx is aiming to more than double their bike infrastructure in the GTHA as part of its plans. (John Rieti/CBC)

The report also seeks to prepare Metrolinx for an uncertain future. For example, improving autonomous vehicle technology could dramatically change how people get around, and could lead to some viewing cars as a service to hire, rather than something to own.

The report also looks into the potential effects of climate change on the system.

'Time trumps everything else'

But Murtaza Haider, an associate professor at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management who focuses on transit issues, says none of that will make getting around any faster.

Here's how Metrolinx anticipates transit travel times will change within the GTHA by 2041. (Metrolinx)

"I think the travel time trumps everything else," he said, noting many can still get to their jobs faster by car than by transit.

"Any transit plan, any investment in public transit should be done to create transit travel opportunities that are competitive in travel time with cars."

Haider does, however, praise plans to improve transportation options once travellers reach their stations.

Woo says the plan will be crucial to the region's growth and liveability.

The report itself states: "There can be no slowing down of the current multi-billion dollar commitments made to expand transit infrastructure."

John Rieti