GTA commuter system faces growing pains

An urban transit advocate warns that Greater Toronto Area commuter systems cannot handle the predicted growth outside downtown Toronto.

A recent Toronto Board of Trade report indicated that the flow of commuter traffic has changed. It called the 416 area-code region a “magnet” for living and the 905 area-code region a growing work destination.

This poses a problem for those commuters travelling from the City of Toronto to work in Mississauga or Oakville or Pickering. Transit advocate Steve Munro says those municipalities don’t have the capability to handle the increasing traffic.

“The transit systems in the 905 are not well developed at all,” Munro said. “There is a huge problem that the road systems (of the 905) and the outer 416 (are) simply not designed to handle huge numbers of commuters.”

Munro said that the Board of Trade report came as no surprise.

“(The 905 is) where all the development land is,” he said. “The 416 is itsy-bitsy (compared with) the huge amount of space 905 takes up.”

At a recent GO Transit meeting, transit officials discussed redesigning GO stations in 905 areas to deal with traffic congestion. David Ryan, mayor of Pickering, raised the prospect of 905 region GO stations becoming destinations for commuters from Toronto.

Munro said municipal transit service tends to focus on simply getting to the GO station, not moving commuters around suburban areas.

Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, environmental transportation co-ordinator for the City of Mississauga, believes Mississauga Transit has the answer.

“The Square One area is the best transit in (Mississauga,)” she said.  “Mississauga Transit as a system is growing… (and we will see) more mobility hubs.”

The Mississauga experience echoes what the mayor of Pickering wants to see. A representative of his office said that the plan is to have GO stations evolve from a gateway/junction model to that of a bona fide destination. Metrolinx has actually named Pickering’s GO station as a future mobility hub.

“It is a paradigm shift in thinking for us here in North America,” Mark Guinto of the mayor’s office said. “In Europe they have had a great deal of success.”

Munro is yet to be convinced.

“There is this (notion of) ‘reverse travel,’ where people show up at a transit hub expecting a fleet of busses (to take them) not outbound, but inbound,” he said.

He calls the Toronto Board of Trade report ironic because it highlights this new commuter flow problem.

“We haven’t spent any money on transit focused inward (the 905 municipalities),” he said. “How much longer is it going to take to address this?”

Hayward Gulati said things will progress slowly, but surely.

“We’re on a really good path,” she said.

Filed by Meghan Housely