With a working population of nearly half a million, Toronto's burgeoning Downtown is the premier economic region in Canada, with the greatest output of prosperity generated in the heart of the country's largest city. The second largest? It's not in Vancouver, or Montreal, or Calgary. Employing some 300,000 people, the second largest economic region in the country is the area surrounding Pearson International Airport.

While the area's employment numbers are impressive, a new report argues that the lack of accessible transit presents a crucial hindrance to long-term economic potential. Prepared by Urban Strategies for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), the report's findings demonstrate "an urgent need for a multi-modal transit hub... in this key area." 

An aerial view of Pearson International Airport, image by Jack LandauAn aerial view of Pearson International Airport, image by Jack Landau

Unlike many of Canada's largest economic clusters, the area is not a Downtown transit hub, with "very limited transit connectivity" giving workers few commuting options. Instead, the area's robust economic output is attributed to its proximity to Canada's largest airport, which served a record 41 million passengers last year, directly connecting to 67% of the global economy. Located "at the convergence of five 400 series highways," most of the employment zone—which straddles the borders of Brampton, Mississauga, and Toronto—is in Peel Region, which is "itself the fastest growing in the GGH." 

A new hub could effectively knit together existing but disparate services into aA new hub could effectively knit together existing but disparate services into a more effective network, image courtesy of GTA

In the midst of the region's fast-paced growth as an employment centre, however, the report notes that "traffic congestions is reaching critical levels." Given the infrastructural limits and comparative inefficiency of automobile-based transportation, "[t]he creation of a new regional transit hub serving Toronto Pearson and the surrounding employment area would represent potentially one of the most effective, efficient, and productive transit investments in the region."

Though the much-publicized UP Express delivers an express rail connection to Downtown, Pearson continues to trail many other large international airports in transit options. The share of passengers using transit to reach the airport remains low at 8%, while much of the surrounding area remains somewhat underserved.

Comparing Pearson to other worldwide airports in transit connectivity, image couComparing Pearson to other worldwide airports in transit connectivity, image courtesy of GTAA

Nonetheless, the report argues that "Toronto Pearson is well situated to evolve into something more functional and valuable for the region." Given the variety of transit networks (seen below) that serve the surrounding areas, the creation of a secondary transit hub—alongside Union Station—could effectively knit together a wealth of transit services into a more cohesive and efficient network. (The recently revived western extension of the Crosstown LRT would likely prove a good starting point.)

An overview of the transit services that approach Pearson, image courtesy of GTAAn overview of the transit services that approach Pearson, image courtesy of GTAA

The report touts the multi-modal transit hub as a driver of local job growth and regional prosperity, growing the airport employment area while facilitating more fine-grained, interconnected transit service across the GGH. For Toronto—currently the 8th most congested city in North America—the productivity lost to commute time could markedly decrease, with the added benefit of a more environmentally-friendly transit network.

We will keep you updated as the preliminary plans for a multi-modal transit hub at Pearson continue to evolve. What do you think of the report? Feel free to make your voice heard by leaving a comment in the space below this page, or by joining the ongoing—and informative—conversation on our Forum