Toronto Pearson: Making the connections that matter

Guest Author by Guest Author | May 1, 2018

By Hillary Marshall, Vice President, Stakeholder Relations and Communications, Greater Toronto Airports Authority

Toronto Pearson is Canada’s largest airport in terms of total passenger traffic and North America’s second-largest airport in terms of international traffic. The airport is a vital engine of Canada’s economy, helping facilitate international business, create jobs and grow tourism. Passenger traffic at Toronto Pearson is forecast to nearly double over the next 20 years, and with this growth the airport’s contribution to Canada’s economy will only increase in kind.

Of course, growth also brings its share of challenges, and for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), ground congestion has reached critical levels. To better connect travelers and residents on the ground and to help unlock the next stage of growth for the airport and for Southern Ontario, Toronto Pearson is working with world-class architects and planners, government and other stakeholders to build a Regional Transit and Passenger Processing Centre that will represent a significant leap forward in the way that people connect to the airport, to jobs, to each other and to the world.

Growth for the airport, growth for the region

To better understand why a ground mobility hub at Toronto Pearson makes sense, it is important to realize just how rapidly the airport, the GTA and the province are growing. Last year, 47.1 million total passengers traveled through Toronto Pearson, representing an increase of 2.8 million passengers (+6.2%) over 2016. Passenger traffic at the airport has about doubled every two decades since the 1970s, and by the mid-2030s, total traffic at Toronto Pearson will have nearly doubled again to some 85 million passengers.

Ontario’s population rose 10.6% in 2017, and is projected to grow by 30.3%, or more than 4.2 million, over the next 25 years. What’s more, the provincial economy has grown faster than Canada’s and those of all other G7 nations for the past three years. And good news for the future is that the total number of employed people in Ontario is projected to grow from about 6.8 million between 2010 and 2015 to about 8.5 million between 2036 and 2040.

The story for the GTA is no less impressive. The area is projected to be the fastest-growing region of Ontario, with its population increasing by almost 2.9 million, or 42.3%, to reach 9.6 million by 2041. Moreover, the GTA’s share of provincial population is projected to rise from 48.3% in 2016 to 52.7% in 2041.

More activity, more ground congestion

The growing number of people living, working, playing and moving throughout the region over the next two decades means that the GTA’s already serious ground congestion challenges will only worsen. While the focus of this conversation generally centres on downtown Toronto, there are other vital population and job clusters in the GTA that are struggling with congestion.

A recent study by a non‐partisan research organization, the NEPTIS Foundation, showed that the Toronto Pearson airport employment zone (AEZ)—the second largest employment zone in Canada after downtown Toronto—currently accounts for about 1 million car trips per day. Notably, less than 10% of trips into and out of the AEZ are by transit. Moreover, the West Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA) generates more than 4.5 million trips per day. Only 7% of these trips are by public transit.

Drive times to Toronto Pearson are expected to rise by an average of 30% over the next 20 years, and the truth is, Toronto Pearson and the GTA are behind the curve when we look at the ground connectivity of other airports and city regions around the world. By the time they were the size of the GTHA, New York City and Chicago each had at least two major ground transportation hubs. Only 10% of passengers take transit to Toronto Pearson—compare this to 40% and Amsterdam Schiphol, 50% at Hong Kong Kai Tak and 60% and Shanghai Pudong. 

Connecting the region on the ground

Toronto Pearson’s Regional Transit and Passenger Processing Centre will take advantage of the high concentration of travel demand generated by the airport and surrounding zone; provide an economically critical missing link in the regional transit system; connect people to economic opportunities in the AEZ; and provide networked transit service to many of the region’s most disadvantaged communities. The mobility hub will also stimulate ongoing, high-value economic activity beyond the AEZ and support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.

Influential voices have publicly supported the project, including former Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca; Toronto Mayor John Tory; Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie; Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey; and more. Richard Florida, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, Professor of Business and Creativity at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and renowned urban theorist, recently wrote in the 2017 GTAA Annual Report that “having a global hub airport is fundamental to Toronto’s economic competitiveness,” and that “investment in a new regional transit centre at the airport will only enhance and reinforce this progress.”[

The GTAA has engaged HOK to design the Regional Transit and Passenger Processing Centre at Toronto Pearson. HOK is a leader in sustainable, high-performance design and has led major aviation and transportation projects at some of the world’s most travelled international airports. HOK will lead a design team that includes WSP Engineers and Weston Williamson + Partners, and the initiative will include engagement with many different stakeholder groups, including airport partners, government and local community members.

The GTAA also recently announced that it is partnering with Metrolinx to study potential transit connections to the Regional Transit and Passenger Processing Centre. This represents a major step toward the goal of better connecting the region to itself and to the world, and in the process further driving prosperity across the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario and Canada at large.

The GTAA, along with stakeholder partners that span the aviation industry, government and the private sector, is committed to turning the challenges associated with growth into opportunities for a better-connected region. We believe that an airport can do more than simply see Canadians off on a journey or welcome them home. The better we move, whether on the ground or in the air, the higher we can all fly.

Nov 24, 2006 – Toronto, ON – Aerial views around the Greater Toronto Airport. Photos by John E. Sokolowski/Giffels

The article was provided by a third party and, as such, the views expressed therein and/or presented are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

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