Regional PlanningTransportation/Transit

Conquering the Last Mile

By September 13, 2016 No Comments

Urban planners and transportation experts are generally cool, buttoned-down, earnest folk. So if you ever want to see them wring their hands with worry, just ask them about the “last mile.”

The last mile is that trip commuters take to get from their homes to transportation hubs, or from their hubs to workplaces. Sometimes inconvenient and usually time-consuming, studies show the last mile afflicts thousands of commuters in the GTHA. And it isn’t going away. Especially since the GTHA is expected to grow by 3 million people in 15 years.

So how can we change this?

On September 20, the Ryerson City Building Institute will host a #LastMile Meet-Up at the Ryerson University campus to discuss potential solutions for overcoming the last mile. More than 200 planners, policy-makers, and practitioners have registered the sold-out free public event.

Official trailer of the Ryerson CBI #LastMile Meet-Up

In addition to commuters, the last mile haunts transit planners and policy-makers who want to get people out of their cars and using other methods to get to their GO station, such as as transit, bikes, or car-sharing services.

These two examples of GO station mode split below illustrate a well connected GO station and one another of the tumbleweed variety

In the morning, 64 per cent of commuters drive to the Yonge-Sheppard station, while as much as 97 per cent drive to the Bramalea GO station. Photos curtasy of Metrolinx Mobility view originals click here

Who can blame them? Cars are bad news for our rapidly growing cities. They are expensive to operate and maintain, they generate air pollution, and when they are not stuck in congestion, most vehicles spend their lives quietly depreciating in parking lots while their owners are at work.

Getting Connected

But there are some exciting innovations from around the world that could be adopted to help current and future GTHA commuters get to and from their GO stations.

High-tech Singapore is currently testing a system that allows commuters to summon autonomous pods using their smartphones to get to their destinations in air-conditioned comfort. India is going low tech. It plans to make up to 10,000 bicycles available to commuters at 300 bike stations to address the last mile problem.

Some jurisdictions in the U.S. are experimenting with so-called “micro-transit”, limited route vans and mini-buses that take commuters to a transportation hub.

Closer to home, we’re seeing some small steps in the GTHA. Like other North American cities, Toronto now has UberPool, which matches different passengers travelling on a similar route with a driver headed in the same direction. And Toronto’s Bike Share plans to expand its fleet of bicycles to various TTC subway stops and GO stations. There are also plans to develop housing close to GO stations that would make it possible for residents to walk to their transportation hub.

But are these approaches enough to help Toronto commuters, who spend an average time of 82 minutes commuting each day?

After all, every year GO carries about 61 million passengers, and parking facilities at GO stations are currently at capacity or nearing capacity. By operating 69,000 parking spaces for its customers, GO Transit is North America’s largest parking provider. But here’s an interesting fact: while almost 60 per cent of commuters drive to their local GO station, 75 per cent of them live a short bike ride away.

Getting Growth on Track

Clearly, things need to change. The Province of Ontario is currently investing $32 billion in new transit throughout the GTHA over the next 15 years. This means we get a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make transit more accessible and convenient to thousands more people – and provide more affordable housing options – by intensifying around transit hubs.

In fact, the city building institute’s latest report Suburbs on Track describes how the province’s proposed improvements to its Growth Plan can help solve the last mile.

And this transit evolution can start by bringing together city builders and the public to discuss potential solutions that will address the last mile.