According to the 2011 Canadian Census, 23.3% of Torontonians rely on public transit to get to work every day (Statistics Canada, 2011). Public transportation is an industry fueled by rapid population growth, urbanization, and modernizing life styles (Polat, 2012). It is predicted that the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) will reach a population of 9 million by 2031 (Metrolinx, 2015a). Public transportation relies on local demographics, which influence the demand for transit services in the region (Polat, 2012). The unprecedented growth in the GTHA is forcing the current public transportation network to reach its limits in terms of service quality (Hemson Consulting Ltd. 2016). The pressure to accommodate every demographic of traveler reflects the need for expansion and change with the region's growth. As such, there is great potential with regards to the region’s economic and social standing.
Metrolinx, a branch of the Government of Ontario, is conducting an expansion project to bring two-way GO service on all rail corridors (Metrolinx, 2015a). The project, termed Regional Express Rail (RER), is the government's response to increasing demand for transit in the GTHA. The upgrades will increase ridership by converting to electric train systems, cutting wait times, shortening travel times, and providing new all-day rail service during weekdays, evenings, and weekends (Metrolinx, 2015a). It is projected that this could result in a 140% increase in overall ridership over the next 15 years. The estimated capital investment to deliver the recommended GO RER program by 2024 is $13.5 billion (Metrolinx, 2015a). Overall, by boosting transit ridership and electrifying rail corridors, the RER project will have substantial environmental benefits by reducing emissions from personal vehicles.
Improving access to GO rail services is another priority of this project. Implementing RER in the GTHA requires increasing the number of stations on the current GO Transit corridors to encourage ridership from underserviced areas (Metrolinx, 2015a). Determining the number and placement of new stations is crucial to improving transit access. There are already a number of stations proposed along the GO rail corridors, however, there is little reporting on the technicalities of their placement. There are still sections of the network that can benefit from the addition of new stations which have not yet been included in the scope of current studies. This project analyzes a number of factors reviewed from literature regarding where stations should be placed in order to increase ridership.
The main factors affecting the placement of RER stations are local population density, age, employment, employment, and income, as these are the characteristics that determine ridership (Uspalyte-Vitkuniene and Burinskiene, 2007; Loon et al., 2011; Polat, 2012; Wardman and Batley, 2014). In addition to the socioeconomic criteria, physical constraints such as line location and distance to existing stations are applied to further narrow down the placement of stations. Given these criteria, quality of life in the GTHA is expected to improve as a result of improved transit service and access. In Europe, the social system is built around public transportation as transit networks are far more developed and integrated into their society than their North American counterparts (Arampatzis et al., 2004; Wardman and Batley, 2014), thus the outcome of transit projects in the GTHA are still debated.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allow for the manipulation of spatial data in order to analyze information and visualize relationships (ESRI, 2018). The benefit of GIS to this problem is that the Metrolinx RER project is inherently a spatial issue. GIS has the ability to integrate environmental and socioeconomic data (Malczewski, 2004) derived from varying scales of databases, such as Statistics Canada (federal), Land Information Ontario (provincial) or the Metrolinx database (regional) (Arampatzis et al., 2004). GIS also allows for the ability to overlay data in a way that gives a full representation of how each of these factors are present in the individual census tracts of the GTHA. The results of this study will show which census tracts have the highest suitability for station upgrades.
Purpose of the Research
The purpose of the project is to apply a multi-criteria evaluation (MCE) of the census tracts in the GHTA to identify potential locations for future infill stations along the RER corridors. These locations, compared to those already provided by Metrolinx, provide insight on the objectivity of urban transit planning in Toronto.