At its Board meeting today, Metrolinx officially released the draft version of its 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, commonly referred to as the Big Move. Originally released in November 2008, the Big Move has served as the blueprint for transit expansion in the GTHA for nearly a decade, covering all transit expansion up until the year 2031.

In accordance with the Provincial Act that created Metrolinx (Metrolinx Act, 2006), they are required to review the GTHA Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) at least every 10 years. Given that we are now almost 9 years after the launch of the original, Metrolinx is undertaking a review process to update the RTP, and extend its planning horizon to 2041.

The evolution of the Big Move though the RTP Update process, image courtesy of Metrolinx

This review process began in August 2016, when Metrolinx released Discussion Paper for the RTP update, which allowed both municipal staff, politicians, and the general public to submit feedback through various mediums, including online and via public consultations. These consultations helped refine the scope and priorities of the RTP update, and ultimately brought the document before the Board for approval today. Following this approval, the Draft RTP update will be available for public comment.

When the Big Move was initially released in 2008, Metrolinx was still very much in a "start-up mode", having been created just two years earlier. As a result, many of the projects and priorities found in the Big Move were adopted nearly wholesale from existing municipal Transit Master Plans, the most notable of which being the City of Toronto's Transit City plan, which Rob Ford infamously 'cancelled' on his first day in office. And while the Big Move did outline the general concept of Express Rail, it was not until the 2014 Provincial Election when a more precise vision and scope for Regional Express Rail (RER) was defined.

The 15-Year Plan from the 2008 Big Move, showing Transit City and Express Rail, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The updated 2041 frequent rapid transit network, image courtesy of Metrolinx

Despite these shifting and evolving priorities, the Big Move also established a set of 10 strategies to improve transit over the next 25 years, ranging from building a comprehensive regional rapid transit network, to implementing an integrated transit fare system, to building communities that are designed with transit and active transportation in mind. While these may seem like vague ambitions, they have in fact guided much of the transportation and land use policy over the better part of the last decade, in tandem with the Places to Grow Act.

While the 2041 RTP update bears many similarities to the original Big Move, there are some areas where greater attention has been paid. One of the first that is mentioned in the RTP update is the emergence of new technologies. When the Big Move was first released in November 2008, the iPhone had only been available in Canada for a few months. Dynamic transit trip planning on mobile apps was still in its infancy, and Uber, a company which would ultimately come to define the "ride-sharing economy", would not even be founded for another four months, let alone make its way to Toronto. "The shared economy is bringing forward different opportunities, and our plan needs to take that into account", said Chief Planning Officer Leslie Woo during her board presentation.

The predicted evolution of AV technology, image courtesy IBI Group

Autonomous Vehicles were also largely seen as a "someday" product, whereas today companies are testing AVs on public roads, and many experts see a significant marketshare for AVs by the middle of the next decade. This shift is acknowledged in the 2041 RTP update, with specific attention being paid to shared mobility and autonomous mobility. No doubt the update due for approximately 2027 will focus on these items more heavily, as the technology matures and adoption increases.

Projected Modal Split change from today to 2031, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The second is the greater amount of attention being paid to the first mile/last mile issue. As was covered in a previous article, GO in particular is facing a pressing issue surrounding its business model. Up until now, it has largely been centred around suburban commuters driving to their stations, and taking the train inbound into Union. This model has lead to a sea of parking surrounding most suburban GO stations. A strategy that Metrolinx has adapted in the past few years, and that is being codified into the 2041 RTP update, is to increase the percentage of riders arriving at GO stations via modes other than single occupant vehicles from 38% to 62-64%.

Sample of effective walkable distances in two GTHA neighbourhoods, image courtesy of Metrolinx

Another component of the first mile/last mile issue is the way we structure development in the proximity of rapid transit stations. To increase the effectiveness of transit, both the development density and street pattern need to be optimized to put more people within a 10 minute walk of the closest rapid transit stop.

With the Draft 2041 RTP update now publicly available, Metrolinx will now "undertake a comprehensive outreach and engagement plan for receiving public comments on the Draft Plan" that will last 90 days, before submitting the final version of the RTP for Board consideration this December.

You can join the discussion on Metrolinx's 2041 RTP Update by visiting our forum page, or by leaving a comment below.