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Background: Profile of the Region

A Dynamic Region

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is a growing and prosperous metropolitan region. Its diverse and talented population, dynamic economy and robust institutions have helped it become an increasingly attractive place to live, work and invest.  

The GTHA is one of the fastest-growing regions in North America, expected to add approximately 110,000 new residents every year from 2011 to 2041, joining the 7 million people who are already here. The need to keep the region moving over the long-term - to get people and goods where they need to go - is a complex task that involves several levels of government, service providers, businesses, communities, institutions and all of us as individuals.

Figure 1: Map of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Including the GTHA and the GO Service Area

A map outlining the different regions of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, indicating whether they have GO Service

The Region: Key Facts
8,242 km2 - 1.5 times the size of Prince Edward Island
30 municipalities, 9 municipal transit agencies, 1 regional transit agency

Population Growth in the GTHA

Cities and suburbs will grow in population. The GTHA’s population is expected to grow from 7.2 million people in 2015 to 10.1 million in 2041, creating a denser population (see Figure 19).  

The City of Toronto will remain the most populous municipality, but most growth will happen elsewhere - with Durham, Halton, Peel and York regions seeing population increases of more than 50%. Over the last decade, demand for urban living in central Toronto, rising house prices and the Growth Plan’s implementation has encouraged a greater mix of housing types among all new dwelling units in the GTHA (see Figure 19).

Figure 19: Projected Growth in GTHA Population

A bar graph outlining the projected growth of the GTHA Population from 2001-2041

As shown in Figure 20, the share of seniors (age 65 and up) is expected to increase dramatically as the population continues to grow, becoming the dominant age cohort by 2041. This has strong implications for future mobility throughout the region.

Figure 20: Share of Dwelling Units by Type

A bar graph indicating the share of housing types by unit in Toronto and the GTHA

Figure 21: Proportion of GTHA Population by Age Group, 2016-2041

A line graph indicating the projected proportion of GTHA population by Age group from 2016 - 2041

Employment Growth in the GTHA

Employment will grow and the location of jobs will shift. The number of jobs in the GTHA is expected to keep pace with population, rising from 3.3 million in 2011 to 4.8 million in 2041 (see Figure 22). Since 2006, employment located inside and outside of the City of Toronto has been relatively balanced.  

However, the City is forecast to be home to only 36% of the region’s jobs in 2041, with the majority of growth forecasted to be outside Toronto. This is in part due to the population-related growth outside of Toronto and the growth in non-office sectors. To support employment growth, the existing and planned transportation system needs to take into account the growth in jobs and their location across the region.

Figure 22: Total Employment and Office Employment in the GTHA

Two bar graphs side by side, one showing the numbers of total employment, the other the numbers for office employment from 2006 - 2041

A shifting economic foundation. The GTHA’s economy and employment patterns have changed in the last three decades. Almost 200,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared since 2001, mostly in older industrial areas, and the sector’s share of regional employment dropped to 10% in 2015 from 20% in the mid-1980s. Increasingly, the region’s economy is based on professional and technical services (including knowledge-based organizations and creative businesses) in addition to the retail, healthcare and institutional services required by a growing population.

The location of jobs is a determinant of how people travel to work higher density, office employment tends to be more conducive to transit use, for example, whereas lower density employment types, including warehouse and manufacturing facilities and low density suburban office parks, are more difficult to serve with transit. People tend to choose how they get to work based on where they work rather than where they live, so to keep the region moving transit needs to align with where jobs are located in sufficient density to support transit use.

Office growth in downtown Toronto. Since 2006, in a reversal of trends in the 1990s, there has been more than twice as much major office development in Toronto’s core as everywhere else in the GTHA (see Figure 22), growing from representing 40% to 46% of the total office employment in the GTHA in the last ten years.

Downtown Toronto will likely remain the focus of office development for some time, in part due to the competition among employers to attract a young workforce. This downtown-oriented growth reinforces demand for transit services that feed Toronto’s core. At the same time, with the implementation of GO RER bi-directional service, there is an opportunity to cluster office growth outside the downtown core around suburban rail stations and in Urban Growth Centres served by this program.

The growth of megazones. At the same time as growth in Toronto’s downtown core, another important economic trend since 2001 has been the rapid emergence of large employment centres near Highway 407’s interchanges with Highways 404 and 400, and around Lester B. Pearson International Airport. “Megazones” are not homogenous across their area - they typically consist of various uses which makes consistent transportation access difficult. These three suburban “megazones”.are not well served by transit and have become major contributors to regional traffic congestion. While together they host about 15% more jobs than downtown Toronto (543,000 versus 465,000), they generate about 250% more car-based work trips (950,000 versus 267,000).

Some firms in these areas need access to low-cost labour to be competitive, meaning that public transit is vital to their ability to attract potential employees. However, the megazones have relatively poor transit access related to the areas where potential workers live, creating an opportunity for new services. The map in Figure 22 shows the potential labour force accessible to different areas of the GTHA within 45 minutes by transit (including walk access time, wait time, transfer time(s) and in-vehicle time). The map highlights many areas that have high employment (including megazones, shown as red dashed circles), but are relatively difficult for people to access by transit. There are also many areas that are accessible to many people by transit, but there are few jobs in those areas. Given the vast possible variances between areas of high employment or population, different transportation solutions will be needed to serve different contexts.

Figure 23: Accessibility to Labour Force within 45 minutes by Transit (2011)
(Areas with high employment but poor access by transit – are circled in red.)

A map of the GTHA indicating areas with a workforce within 45 minutes by transit

Falling transit potential in older employment areas. Although manufacturing employment has dropped, the demand for space in older industrial areas and inner suburban business parks has not changed because automation and logistics are allowing businesses to be more productive with fewer employees. However, the decline in potential transit commuters in these areas makes quality, cost-effective transit service even more difficult to provide.

Travel Demand

With the growth in population and jobs comes growth in travel. In 2011, a total of 13.2 million trips were made on average, by all modes (except school bus), each day within in the GTHA. Of these, 3.3 million were made during the morning peak period (6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.). By 2031, the number of trips in the morning peak period is expected to grow to 4.5 million.  

The number of person-trips made by car or transit in the morning peak hour will increase from almost 3 million in 2011 to almost 4 million in 2031 with the committed transit network in place (See Figure 23).

Although the number of transit trips will increase by about 36% between 2011 and 2031, the number of auto trips will increase by almost the same proportion (33%), from about 2.4 million trips in 2011 to 3.2 million trips.

Provincial investments in rapid transit infrastructure have allowed the region to keep up with overall growth – this is significant. However, transit mode share is not expected to increase significantly by 2031, remaining constant at approximately 20% of all trips taken in the region. The committed rapid transit network will meet the demands of population growth, but will not have a significant impact on overall transit mode share (see Section 3.3 for a full discussion of 58 mode share). While more people will take public transit, the car can be expected to remain the most prevalent travel mode for most people.

Figure 24: Growth in Total Morning Peak Period Trips

A bar graph showing the total trip growth and modes of transportation in the GTHA from 1991 - 2031

*Does not include School Bus

Travel demand patterns are changing. Figure 24 shows the change in total trips from 1991 to 2031, as a percentage of all trips in the GTHA, for different travel markets (specific trip origin and destination combinations). The largest travel market is for trips within any single or upper tier municipality outside of Toronto, with trips growing from 34% of all trips in the GTHA in 1991 to almost half (47%) of all trips in the GTHA by 2031. In addition, trips destined to downtown Toronto are decreasing from 14% of all trips in the GTHA in 1991 to only 9% of trips in 2031. Together these present challenges for maintaining and growing transit mode share, as the current transit network is heavily focused on radial trips into downtown, and does not serve the demands of cross-regional travel as well.

Figure 25: Relative Morning Peak Period Travel Demand for Different GTHA Travel Markets, 1991-2031

Six line graphs showing the demand for different GTHA travel markets

Making Transportation and Land Use Work Together

Communities with mixed land uses provide more opportunities to bring home and work closer together, reducing the length of motorized trips and making walking and cycling more attractive. Greater density in new and established communities leads to more cost-effective transit service, which in turn enables better service and higher ridership (see Figure 25).  

Intensification is an opportunity to improve the mix of uses and density at the same time, while also makingbest use of transportation investments. Ontario’s Growth Plan calls for the development of complete communities that not only minimize distance between living and working spaces, but utilizes a fast, reliable and integrated transportation system to keep people and goods moving.

Targets for density and connectivity. The Growth Plan envisions compact, mixed-use and transit-supportive communities where people can live, work and play through their lifetimes. It sets targets for municipalities to increase land use densities in established communities, urban growth centres, greenfield areas and around major transit stations. The Growth Plan also requires municipalities to plan communities that offer diverse housing types, mixed land uses and a variety of employment opportunities, and to support walking, cycling and transit through urban form and a highly connected street network. The proposed Growth Plan continues to strengthen these policies. This includes planning for complete communities, setting density targets for major transit station areas, identifying and protecting priority corridors, and improving the design of transit stations.

Figure 26: Relationship of Urban Density to Transit Mode Share by GTHA Ward, (2011)

A scatter plot graph showing the relationship of population density to method of transportation in the GTHA, in 2011

In 2006, the Growth Plan set out the provincial policy directions to intensify the existing urban areas, and the proposed Growth Plan recognizes the importance of going even further by proposing a 60% intensification target.

While implementation of the Growth Plan has begun, it is a long term plan. Many years are needed to address the challenges that exist with respect to integrating growth with public transit infrastructure:

  • From 2001 to 2011, only 18% of new population growth in the GTHA happened near frequent transit networks, and only 10% happened within 1 km of a GO station (see Section 3.2 for further discussion).
  • Very few of the 333 “major transit station areas” identified in official plans across the Greater Golden Horseshoe have achieved the densities recommended by the Ministry of Transportation’s Transit-Supportive Guidelines:
    • By 2011, only 24 out of 68 existing Toronto subway stations met the threshold of 200 people and jobs per hectare.
    • Only 1 out of 22 existing light rail or bus rapid transit stations met the threshold of 160 people and jobs per hectare.

The Growth Plan and the Regional Transportation Plan work together to ensure that where and how the region grows aligns with frequent and rapid transit. Proposed amendments to the Growth Plan - part of the Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review - are currently available for public feedback (to September 30th, 2016). The proposals include new policies that identify strategic growth areas where development and transit infrastructure should be aligned and integrated.

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