Driven by a growing population and an export-based economy, transportation networks across Ontario are evolving to move people and goods more safely, efficiently and sustainably. Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation is working with municipalities to ensure transportation systems support not only a globally-competitive economy, but equally important, a high quality of life for citizens.
Originally called the Department of Highways, the name change to Ontario Ministry of Transportation in the 1970s signalled a recognition that governments were broadening their perspective and developing transportation networks to meet 20th century needs.
In the 21st century, the perspective is even broader: transportation affects economies, environments and communities. Balanced transportation networks are fundamental to a modern society and liveable cities. It’s all connected. Whether car-pooling the kids to soccer practice, trucking exports across the border, or commuting by rail between home in Barrie and work on Bay Street, getting from point A to point B must be safe, seamless, affordable and environmentally sustainable.
Working across jurisdictions, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) provides leadership to ensure transportation systems in Ontario operate to their best. This means coordinating efforts to develop strategic policies and legislation, conduct long-range planning, promote public transit, and make strategic investments in transit technologies and infrastructure, all to facilitate modern, high-performing transportation networks.
Choosing public transit
A key priority for the Ontario government is to increase transit ridership: to provide convenient, comfortable, accessible alternatives to the automobile, reducing traffic congestion and pollution.
We’re making progress. Use of municipal transit systems in Ontario’s 15 largest urban centres has increased every year between 2003 (610 million passengers) and 2008 (715 million). Ridership could reach 809 million in 2012.
Serving a population of more than six million people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), GO Transit’s bus/rail ridership (almost five million passengers in its first year, 1967) has grown to 55 million.
To make the transit experience seamless across jurisdictions and as convenient as possible for passengers, a single-fare “smartcard” is integrating public transit across the GTA, Hamilton and Ottawa. The PRESTO card is being rolled out in stages through 2010 and 2011.
Making transit even more integrated, GO Transit and the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority have been brought together into a single entity, Metrolinx.
Metrolinx released its regional transportation plan in November 2008. The province’s $11.5 billion MoveOntario 2020 funding – the largest public transit investment in Canadian history – forms the foundational investment in Metrolinx’s priority projects, including rail and rapid transit in the GTHA.
In tandem with this strategy is “GO2020,” GO Transit’s 10-year plan, released in December 2008, to expand service and make this alternative to the car even more attractive. Since 2003, the province has invested nearly $3.7 billion in GO Transit, adding new train stations, bus terminals and railcars to the system.
To help municipalities fund local public transit, two cents of the provincial gas tax is delivered to them via the Dedicated Gas Tax Funds for Public Transportation Program. In its first five years, the program provided a total of $1.3 billion to 118 municipalities, benefiting 92 transit systems.
Maximizing all modes
An effective transportation system is multimodal and sustainable. But moving people and goods efficiently requires not just vehicles and infrastructure, it also requires a plan – one that makes the best use of all available means of transportation – and factors in economic, social and environmental objectives.
Out of this comes the concept of the “transportation corridor” which, in Ontario, serves two aims: to better link urban growth areas in already densely populated areas, and to expand capacity to our all-important border crossings. MTO is working with its partners to plan corridors:
- from the Niagara border to the GTA;
- in the GTA West area between Highway 400 and Guelph; and
- the Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway and Trade Corridor, addressing the movement of goods between Windsor and Quebec City.
As the country’s busiest airport, Lester B. Pearson International Airport is a transportation hub used by millions. Most passengers arrive at, and depart from, the airport by private vehicle. An alternative is under construction: a rail link to Toronto’s downtown Union Station (itself a hub for bus, subway and inter-city rail). This link will eliminate millions of automobile trips a year, and will be completed in time for the Pan American Games in 2015.
To encourage municipalities to make sustainable transportation a reality, the province provides financial assistance to initiatives promoting cycling, walking, transit and trip reduction, through the Ontario Transportation Demand Management Municipal Grant Program.
More than any other province, Ontario’s economy is profoundly affected by border traffic. In 2009, Ontario’s trade with the continental United States amounted to almost $241 billion, with almost three-quarters of those goods moved by truck; approximately six million of the 35 million vehicles that crossed the border were trucks.
Moving those goods to market – and travellers to their destinations – quickly, efficiently and safely is the thrust of the biggest single highway project in Canadian history.
Ontario has partnered with Canada, the United States and Michigan to implement a long-range transportation strategy, including a new border transportation system being established now at Canada’s busiest border crossing, Windsor-Detroit. (In 2009, $88.2 billion worth of goods crossed here, representing 31 percent of Canada’s total road trade.)
The gateway includes an access road extending Highway 401 to a Windsor inspection plaza, a bridge across the Detroit River and a Detroit inspection plaza and interchange. Construction began on the access road (the Windsor-Essex Parkway) in 2009.
Transit is one way to reduce our environmental footprint. Recognizing that roads – and private vehicles – will still be a large part of the transportation system, we need to ensure they are used in an environmentally-conscious and sustainable way.
In November 2008, MTO launched the Green Commercial Vehicle Program. It offers an incentive to businesses to purchase hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles and to retrofit heavy-duty vehicles with anti-idling devices. Grants cover as much as one-third of the capital cost of eligible technologies. By December 2009, 230 companies had applied for 1,900 grants, and $2.3 million had flowed to successful applicants.
To encourage vehicle-sharing, MTO created high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes on the province’s 400-series highways. (HOV lanes can be used only by vehicles with two or more occupants; carpooling commuters are rewarded with a briefer journey on a less-congested roadway.) The program has been successful: traffic volumes in HOV lanes, and demand for carpool lots, continue to grow.
To support the use of electric vehicles, Ontario has launched a “1 in 20 by 2020” campaign to make one in 20 cars in Ontario electric 2020. (Leading the way, approximately 500 electric vehicles will be added to the Ontario Public Service passen