Transportation has long been a contentious issue in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). The way we get around affects our productivity and how much time we get to spend with loved ones, the quality of the air that we breathe and what our climate impact is. So when Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with regional transportation planning, released its draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for public comment, The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) was keen to respond. After all, it’s a 20+ year directive that will shape how Ontarians move across the region.

Let’s start by unpacking what’s in the draft plan. Insights from a resident’s reference panel as well as public and stakeholder feedback received on the discussion paper informed this important planning document. The Regional Transportation Plan centres on five key strategies:

  1. Completing the delivery of ongoing and previously planned regional transportation projects;
  2. Connecting more of the region with frequent rapid transit;
  3. Optimizing the existing transportation system;
  4. Integrating land use with transportation development and
  5. Planning for future transit innovation.

Given the importance of the Regional Transportation Plan to the region’s emissions reduction efforts, TAF collaborated with the Pembina Institute to prepare a joint submission to the consultation.  Below, we will explore some of the main commitments made in the Metrolinx plan and how the plan needs to be improved to get in line with Ontario’s climate goals.

Read the TAF and Pembina Institute submission on the draft Regional Transportation Plan.

The Good

In the plan, Metrolinx commits to increase modal shift from personal vehicles to public transit through transportation demand management tools. Some of the outlined options include High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, parking charges, and carpooling. This is a great start, but more ambition is needed. For instance, the HOV plans should also include the option of mobility pricing tools. This would provide incentives for individuals to avoid single-driver trips while simultaneously generate revenues for other transportation projects.

The plan’s strong commitment to the creation of a frequent rapid transit network is also reassuring. Providing regular bus services to areas without the current population density to support light rail or bus rapid transit service is a great short-term solution. But Metrolinx should partner with developers and municipalities to support increased population densities near existing transportation systems. This could mean more mid- and high-rise towers within walking or cycling distance to GO stations.

The Bad

Transparency: There’s a lack of clarity around business case analysis that needs to be addressed. Metrolinx uses business case analyses as part of their evaluation to identify and prioritize transit infrastructure projects. However, the framework and assumptions for these evaluations are not transparent. This is very concerning. Given the billions of dollars required to build out the envisioned infrastructure, the public and other levels of government should have a full view of the decision making process to ensure that project selection is based on sound evidence and clear criteria.

Funding: The draft Regional Transportation Plan estimates capital costs of $45 billion to complete the outlined projects. Yet Metrolinx does not propose a plan for how to pay for these initiatives. A recent report by Transport Action Ontario indicates that the agency faces a funding gap of over $2.4 billion per year for capital as well as operating and maintenance costs. Metrolinx has an important role to play in recognizing funding shortfalls and proposing sustainable funding tools for regional transport infrastructure. Failure to do so will derail the Regional Transportation Plan.

We know that Metrolinx can do better. Its previous transportation plan, The Big Move, was accompanied by an investment strategy that outlined various funding tools for municipalities and the province to pay for the proposed measures. Metrolinx should provide updated guidance on what new revenue sources municipalities and the province should tap into to make the Regional Transportation Plan a reality.

The Ugly

Finally, the carbon emissions calculation methods outlined in the draft plan disappoint. Metrolinx did not estimate emissions savings for transit projects, nor did it calculate the impacts of the Regional Transportation Plan on the province’s climate targets. Given Ontario’s 80 per cent emissions reduction commitment by 2050, public transit plays a critical role in bringing down transportation emissions.

It is essential that Metrolinx’s far-reaching plan addresses the role transportation plays in regional carbon emissions. We need a plan that shows how Metrolinx will reduce transportation emissions in line with provincial climate targets.

The Regional Transportation Plan is a significant opportunity to achieve deep carbon emission reductions in the province. We hope that Metrolinx gets on board and further aligns its plan with Ontario’s existing reduction commitments.