1.4 GLOBAL CHALLENGES
The trips that we make in trucks, cars, ships, buses and airplanes are the source of about one-third of all greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted in Ontario. These GHGs contribute to climate change and its effects, such as drought, floods, rising sea levels and more frequent incidents of extreme weather. Climatic instability, in turn, is reducing the life expectancy of built infrastructure and interfering with day-to-day operations. The storm in August 2005 that washed out a portion of Finch Avenue in Toronto was singled out by the insurance industry as the most expensive natural disaster in Ontario’s history. Transforming how we travel around the GTHA is part of the solution to arresting climate change and achieving the province’s GHG reduction targets under its Go Green Action Plan on Climate Change (for more information, see the backgrounder “Climate Change and Energy Conservation, December 2008”).
Increasing Energy Costs and Peak Oil
Anyone who has had to fill their tank lately knows that the price of oil has fluctuated dramatically in recent years. Canada-wide, the average retail price of gasoline reached $1.32 per litre in June 2008, up from $0.68 per litre in June 2003. Had the Canadian dollar not strengthened against the U.S. dollar in that time, a litre would have reached about $1.75. With predictions that the production of oil will peak in the next five or 10 years, an upward trend in prices is likely to continue over the long term. The costs of fuelling private automobiles and trucks will become increasingly unsustainable and unpredictable. Metropolitan regions that are fully automobile dependent will be more adversely affected by rising fuel costs than those with more balanced transportation systems. Providing more energy efficient mobility choices also reduces our dependency on fossil fuel imports.
By the year 2030, 61 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. This trend is even more pronounced in Canada where nearly half of the population now lives in the six largest urban regions—the GTHA, Montréal, Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton. What is more, the population in these urban regions is increasing rapidly: between 2001 and 2006, two-thirds of the population growth nationwide occurred in just these six regions.
Densely populated regions, if planned appropriately, have smaller carbon footprints per person than less dense areas, which tend to be more car-dependent. In addition to not being well-suited to transit, low-density development also consumes a lot of land. In 2003, the Neptis Foundation estimated that if business-as-usual development trends continued, 1,070 square kilometres of agricultural and other natural land — almost double the area of the City of Toronto — would be urbanized in the GTHA between 2000 and 2031. With the delineation of the Greenbelt and the adoption of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the rate at which land is consumed by development in the GTHA is expected to decrease. However, a more balanced transportation system is essential to the success of both the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt.
National economies are in a state of flux. They have become more complex and increasingly more dependent on creativity and innovation. Increases in productivity, a fundamental indicator of standard of living and economic well being, have remained modest in Canada over the past 10 years and are falling behind other G8 nations, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). We need to start now to meet the travel needs of the workforce of the future. For example, we can increase productivity in Ontario by providing transportation access to groups who historically have had limited access to the labour market, such as new Canadians, visible minorities, Aboriginals, youth, persons with disabilities, and older workers.
During this century, for the first time in history, the United Nations forecasts that the number of people in the world over the age of 59 will surpass the number of people under the age of 15. In Ontario, the population aged 65 years and over is expected to more than double to 3.5 million in the next 25 years. The shifting age distribution of the population will have a direct impact on mobility and transportation issues. The percentage of people with a driver’s licence begins to decline after age 59. Without access to viable alternatives to driving, many seniors may become isolated, limiting their access to the services and social connections they need.
The World Health Organization predicts that there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world by 2015 and more than 700 million of them will be obese. How we travel contributes to our vulnerability to this major health risk. One study found that each hour spent in a car on a daily basis is associated with a six per cent increase in the likelihood of obesity. In contrast, every kilometre walked per day was associated with a 4.8 per cent reduction in the likelihood of obesity. Arguably, no group is more affected by automobile dependency than children. While in the GTHA less than one in every four children walk or bike to school, the amount of time that children spend in cars has increased exponentially: between 1986 and 2001, weekday travel by car for 11 to 15-year-olds increased 83 per cent versus 11 per cent for adults.
Emissions from motor vehicles also have impacts on respiratory and cardiovascular ailments and cancers. Toronto Public Health estimates that air pollution gives rise to 440 premature deaths and 1,700 hospitalizations each year in the City of Toronto alone.