1.3 GTHA CHALLENGES
The GTHA will continue to be one of Canada’s fastest growing areas over the next few decades. Today, the population is just over six million people. By 2031, the population is estimated to grow to 8.6 million people – all of whom will need to move around. Clearly this growth will require a massive increase in transportation infrastructure; the issue is what form this infrastructure should take.
Increasing Reliance on Cars
The GTHA has become increasingly dependent on private automobiles for mobility. The number of car trips on the GTHA’s roads is increasing at a faster rate than that of the population: between 1986 and 2006 the number of trips made by automobile in the GTHA grew 56 per cent compared to a population increase of 45 per cent.
A Region Designed For Cars
Dependence on cars is in part a result of how communities have been built in the GTHA. Lower density, dispersed development has resulted in a pattern of travel that is less and less focused on downtowns and other core urban areas and hence more difficult to serve by transit. We have continued to respond to automobile demand by expanding the road network. The province’s new Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, adopted in 2006, addresses this by mandating the development of mixed-use, transit-supportive, cycling- and pedestrian-friendly communities.
Associated with the increasing reliance on cars, the GTHA is experiencing ever-worsening traffic congestion. Currently, more than two million automobile trips are made during the peak travel period each morning in the GTHA, with that number forecast to approach three million trips by 2031. Traffic congestion is already excessive and is expected to become even more severe in the future. Traffic congestion increases the costs of the region's transportation activities, negatively impacts the region's economy, and impairs the quality of life by costing travellers’ time and money, degrading the environment and causing accidents.
The principal economic and social costs of congestion are:
- costs of reduced economic output and accompanying job loss;
- costs of travel delays for auto and transit users and the unreliability of trip times;
- vehicle operating costs associated with higher traffic volumes;
- environmental costs of vehicle emissions; and
- social and economic costs of the higher frequency of accidents.
According to a study commissioned by Metrolinx on the economic costs of congestion in the GTHA, in 2006 the annual cost of congestion to commuters was $3.3 billion and the annual cost to the economy was $2.7 billion. If nothing is done to improve the transportation system, this cost can be expected to increase significantly, with population growth bringing about an increase in daily traffic demand and thus exacerbating the level of congestion. Under current trends, the cost of congestion experienced by GTHA residents is forecast to increase considerably by 2031, resulting in an increase in costs from $3.3 billion per year to $7.8 billion. The cost to the economy would experience a similar increase, with a reduction in GDP due to excess congestion rising from $2.7 billion in 2006 to $7.2 billion in 2031.
Disconnected and Varied Transit Services
The GTHA’s public transit system is currently comprised of nine separately-governed local transit agencies and one regional transit provider. This patchwork of systems is poorly integrated, making travel across boundaries by public transit an inconvenient, frustrating, unattractive and costly option for many travellers. Given that one out of every four trips in the GTHA crosses a regional boundary, these arrangements need to change if transit is to attract a larger share of trips. Transit use in the GTHA is also highly variable, with much higher transit ridership in the City of Toronto than in the surrounding regions.
Years of Under-Investment
The GTHA transportation system has not kept pace with population growth. Construction of rapid transit, which averaged approximately 135 kilometres per decade from the 1960s to the 1980s, all but ground to a halt over the past two decades.
This lack of investment contrasts sharply with what is happening elsewhere in the world. In the United States, most large cities have invested heavily in rapid transit. Madrid, Spain — only slightly smaller than the GTHA — has built more rapid transit facilities during the past decade (88 km) than all of our subway and light rail lines (77 km) combined.
The roads, highways, subways, streetcars, buses and regional rail services in the GTHA are being pushed to their limits, and customers are suffering with crowding and poor reliability. The current system does not offer the traveller a high level of customer service or assurance that they can get where they need to go on time and comfortably.
Inefficient Use of the Existing Road and Highway System
Years of under-investment in infrastructure aside, we are not even using our existing transportation infrastructure as efficiently as we could be. The average car on the GTHA’s roads transports just under 1.2 people during the peak period — in essence, consuming a tremendous amount of energy and wasting significant amounts of road space to transport empty seats. At full capacity, a standard 40-foot bus is about 10 times as space-efficient as a typical North American car. Research also suggests that a significant percentage of trucks circulate empty or not fully loaded. Unlike what is the case with almost every other scarce resource, road users receive little information and few price signals that would help them optimize their use. As a result, demand often exceeds supply, even when supply is expanded.
The costs associated with building roads, highways and transit are considerable and the financial resources available to build them are limited. It is in everyone’s best interests that we ensure we are using our existing infrastructure as efficiently as possible, while at the same time we invest in more.
Our Competitiveness in Jeopardy
Our economy is changing fast. An increasing number of workers and businesses provide services to a variety of clients and require the ability to travel efficiently around the region. Employers need an efficient transportation system to attract the broadest talent pool possible. Our companies are fully integrated in the global marketplace and rely on predictable and efficient shipping times for their supply chains. Delays can reduce our competitiveness in a just-in-time environment.
Lack of Options in Areas of Higher Social Need
There are many people in the GTHA who cannot afford to own a car and many more who stretch their available resources to do so. As energy costs increase, the potential for social exclusion grows, as more people are unable to afford to participate in activities due to the high cost of travel. Access to frequent, fast and affordable transit is therefore crucial for equity and social cohesion. As illustrated in Appendix B, there are several pockets of concentrated social need in the GTHA. The transportation system needs to improve the mobility options for people in these areas, connecting at-risk, vulnerable and disadvantaged communities to the jobs, social services, and health care facilities which can improve people’s lives.
The average car on the GTHA’s roads transports just under 1.2 people in the peak period.
Transit uses much less road space than single-occupant vehicles. At full capacity, a standard 40-foot bus is about 10 times as space-efficient as a typical car.
Protecting Our Agricultural Lands and Natural Areas
As the GTHA grows, so too does the imperative to protect our natural areas and agricultural lands. The GTHA is blessed with some of Canada’s richest farmlands and most precious natural areas. The province of Ontario took a bold step in protecting these lands with the establishment of the 1.8 million acre Greenbelt, as well as with the adoption of the Provincial Policy Statement and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The transportation system plays a critical role in shaping growth and development, and will therefore be an important part of efforts to protect these lands.