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Getting More from Our Transit Investment

The Big Move addressed the need to “catch up with growth” by recommending a dramatic expansion of major transit infrastructure across the region. While considering the need for additional infrastructure, the updated Regional Transportation Plan will focus more on making the best possible use of the region’s transit assets and maximizing the return on prior investments. This section discusses ways in which Metrolinx and its partners can make transit and other modes an even more valuable and integral part of daily life for millions of the region’s residents.  

The next RTP will look at providing greater transportation access, frequency, reliability, speed, affordability, comfort and convenience. 

Creating a more seamless regional transit experience for customers will present several challenges: better integrating GO Transit with nine municipal transit systems (and integrating the nine with each other); providing better connections between transit and other modes; tapping into the power of new mobility technologies and business models while avoiding their pitfalls; meeting public expectations, and overcoming fiscal challenges. 

Different strategies are needed for different transit markets in the region. For example, areas with slower growth and lower densities need different approaches from areas with higher growth and higher densities. Some options - like shared mobility - may have the greatest potential to address gaps in a low growth area, while the biggest impact in a high growth area may be made by enhancing local transit service, or by combining enhanced local service with other options. However, no option needs to be considered in isolation from others (see Figure 7).

Figure 7: Transit Solutions for Different GTHA Markets

A graph describing the fare service integration structure for four different transportation markets: emerging; urban and growing; urban and stable; stable and suburban

GO Regional Express Rail: A Critical Catalyst

The next RTP will need to reinforce the commitments and progress that the dramatic expansion of GO train service envisioned in the GO Regional Express Rail program will deliver. These include:  

New and Existing Stations. Metrolinx is proposing several new station locations that will add to the 64 existing GO stations, pending funding confirmations. The next RTP will further support development of GO stations as important hubs for daily activity, and not simply arrival and departure points.

Access to Stations. Convenient station access for pedestrians, cyclists, transit customers, drivers and car-poolers is key to making GO RER service a success. While parking at GO stations will remain important for many communities across the region, Metrolinx is also working with local transit providers and municipalities to make it easier to reach stations by other modes, to reduce the reliance on additional parking spaces at GO stations as GO service is enhanced and ridership grows. 

Continuing Transit Expansion

Creating connectivity. In considering what future rapid transit projects are needed in the GTHA, the next RTP will start with The Big Move’s many completed, underway or funded, projects. It will then consider what the remaining gaps and additional needs are to service regional growth to 2041.  

In general, the next plan will focus on additions to the rapid transit network by improving its reach where needs are identified or where connectivity could be improved (e.g. through the addition of “missing links” between different corridors and strengthening connections to GO RER), or by servicing emerging
corridors with high transit ridership potential (e.g. strengthening the GO bus network to complement GO RER). 

Re-enforcing the Growth Plan. Figure 8 shows areas in the GTHA that were dense enough (i.e. having at least 50 residents plus jobs per hectare) to support cost-effective transit service delivery as of 2011 (in orange), and development areas that were not transit-supportive in 2011 but will be by 2031 (in red).

Figure 8: Existing and Future Transit Supportive Areas, GTHA (2011 and 2031)

A GTHA map outlining the plan for transit growth in supportive areas

People-Centred Transit

Offering a more integrated and intuitive transit experience. The next Regional Transportation Plan will emphasize the key role of the GTHA’s nine local transit systems in providing service to support expanded GO and other rapid transit services.  

Over time, the goal of offering transit users a consistent, familiar experience regardless of where they travel in the region will become even more important. Transit systems are adopting common approaches to planning and delivering service. The streamlining of cross-boundary transit trips, which today are complicated by different routes, schedules, fares and hours of services, will help to advance this goal. Taking transit across boundaries should be as seamless as driving across boundaries. 

Focusing on customer needs. The customer is the starting point for all decision making processes. By approaching every decision with a customer-centric focus, it is ensured that every aspect of the transit experience—from schedules to seats—demonstrates value for riders. Services such as real-time schedules, system-wide trip planning, and bike sharing will continue to improve the customer experience. Already, initiatives such as the GO-Zipcar partnership and the PRESTO electronic fare card are providing an enhanced transit experience for customers.

The commitment to customers also extends to the spaces they pass through on their way to their daily commute. Metrolinx Design Excellence is our commitment to integrate design thinking into all significant capital investment projects at an early stage. This ensures that the infrastructure that is built is more than just functional, it is a vibrant and constructive addition to the urban fabric. This means an increased focus on architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, public amenities and customer experience.

To improve the customer experience, Metrolinx is also providing additional amenities and services at GO stations. For instance, the GO-Zipcar partnership, launched in 2014, has already expanded to thirteen stations across the region. As well, by the end of 2016, ten GTHA transit agencies will accept the PRESTO electronic fare card that enables integrated payment and fare structures, in order to simplify the payment system for

Expanding the grid of frequent transit networks. Transit systems across the GTHA are focusing on complimenting their downtown-focused or GO station-focused radial networks with frequent transit networks (FTNs) that offer more frequent transit service (generally every 10 minutes or less) on direct, grid-based routes anchored by major hubs including GO and rapid transit stations. In 2015 the TTC introduced a Frequent Transit Network - a grid of 10-minute minimum frequency bus and streetcar service on major routes. A regional Frequent Transit Network would benefit from consistent practices (e.g. priority measures, service standards and marketing) across transit systems to deliver a level of service that is consistently aligned with growth patterns across the region.

There are several areas of sufficient density outside Toronto to support frequent transit services that could be anchored by connections to GO RER, as shown in Figure 9. Numerous municipalities in the GTHA have implemented planning efforts and analysis to designate new frequent transit network lines in their Official Plans.

Figure 9: Areas of Opportunity to Expand Frequent Transit Service Anchored by GO RER

A GTHA map highlighting areas for expansion of frequent transit service

Preserving and improving connectivity to key destinations. One advantage of a frequent transit network is that it can service multiple commercial and employment areas, increasing access to jobs and services for residents throughout the region. It can also involve community-based transportation services, an important component to improving connectivity in low-density communities. With a focus on meeting the transportation needs of a local population, community transportation also has the potential to play a growing role in flexible, demand-responsive approaches to delivering transportation services. 

Moving people, not just vehicles. A conventional objective of road operations is to move as many motor vehicles as possible, regardless of how many people they carry. This means giving all vehicles equal priority on roadways. In congested areas, this can lead to slower speeds, lower reliability and higher operating costs for transit. Shifting the focus to moving as many people as possible (rather than vehicles) gives priority to transit vehicles, resulting in more efficient operations, higher speeds, greater reliability, and ultimately, increased ridership. 

This shift in thinking leads to measures like reserved transit lanes on arterial roads and expressways, and transit priority signals or queue jump lanes.

An Integrated Fare System

A transformative opportunity. The frustration associated with transit trips across municipal boundaries is all too familiar for customers. Extra fares, additional travel time, and cumbersome transfers all provide barriers to seamless, region-wide transit. The explosive growth of the GTHA, particularly areas outside the core, have highlighted the need to address this problem.  

Through integrated planning with transit agencies, and encouraging cooperation among municipal governments, the goal is to provide a more seamless, simple, and customer friendly way for riders to complete their journey. The emergence of the PRESTO electronic fare card and payment system has provided a strong platform to rethinking regional transit fare structures and revenue-sharing agreements.

An integrated, harmonized approach to fares. This is the goal. To ensure that the transit system is considered as a whole, and not a disparate group of services that don’t reflect the needs of customers. For the first time, Metrolinx is addressing this challenge on a system-wide basis that considers both GTHA’s unique situation, and the relationship between fares and ridership.

Mobility Hubs

A complex challenge. One major recommendation in The Big Move was to create a system of 51 “mobility hubs” (see Figure 10). A mobility hub is an area that includes a major rapid transit station and its immediate surroundings, and serves a critical function as the origin, destination, or transfer point for a significant number of trips.  

There is a focus on serving the “first mile” and “last mile” of transit trips, and on supporting higher-density development. The creation of successful mobility hubs requires effective land use and transportation planning, committed private sector partners, and a shared vision among stakeholders. 

Accelerating action. The next RTP offers an opportunity to review and refine the criteria for the designation of mobility hubs, and to consider updates to the list of mobility hub locations in view of new rapid transit plans or development activities. Ontario’s proposed Growth Plan amendments would prioritize integrated land use and transportation planning in “strategic growth areas,” including mobility hubs. 

Figure 10: Mobility Hubs Designated in The Big Move

A GTHA map outlining mobility hubs

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