TOD and parking among hot topics during latest Metrolinx community meeting – Burlington hosted the event

As the series of Metrolinx town halls continue to attract customers, community members and questions about the course of transit across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the most recent gathering inside the local GO station sees a wide variety of topics tackled.

It was a fitting meeting place – especially if you had questions about transit.

The latest Metrolinx Town Hall was held inside the Burlington GO station on Feb. 5. The east-end of the 20,000 sq. ft. space was transformed into an auditorium – the newly renovated building itself quickly became part of the conversation.

Image shows the crowd sitting on folded chairs inside the station.

The crowd listens to answers – and asks questions – during the latest Metrolinx Town Hall. (Brian Main photo)

In the audience, was an executive member of a local real-estate developer. He wanted to know more about Metrolinx plans for transit oriented development, which involves a mix of commercial, residential, office space and entertainment around a transit stop.

TOD The Way Forward

Metrolinx President and CEO Phil Verster acknowledged that while the space everyone was sitting in was esthetically beautiful to look at, there were missed commercial opportunities in its development that could have significantly offset the construction costs.

“I would say, this building has nearly no concept of retail built into it,” Verster said. “The way we build stations in the future will not be like this.”

“We currently move 81million people a year.” – Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster.

In partnership with Infrastructure Ontario, Metrolinx is now looking at ways to better leverage value of its transit network and real estate portfolio. The goal is to have higher density, mixed-use developments that are also connected, next to or within a short walk of transit stations and stops. Not only will that help keep the costs of building new stations down, it will also encourage transit use.

Image shows Phil Verster listening carefully.

Phil Verster – coffee in hand – and his senior leaders listen to a question from the audience. (Brian Main photo)

A recent example of this type of joint venture is the new Union Station Bus Terminal, which will open to the public in the coming months. Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines is constructing two office towers (81 and 141 Bay Street) and an overbuild park spanning the GO rail corridor, which will be the first of its kind for the city. The new GO bus terminal will be located inside one of those towers.

Parking Concerns

Parking was also on the minds of some customers and local community members at the Burlington GO Town Hall. Specifically, there were concerns about a recent news article, suggesting Metrolinx was exploring the idea of adding more paid parking spots.

A man speaks into a microphone, as others around listen.

A member of the audience makes a point during the Feb. 5, 2020, town hall. (Brian Main photo)

Verster set the record straight and addressed rumours about sweeping changes to Metrolinx parking policy. He told the room Metrolinx has not made any policy decisions.

However, he acknowledged that Metrolinx does have a serious parking problem.

“We currently move 81million people a year,” Verster said.

“By 2031, with all of our infrastructure improvements and running more frequent trains… we’ll be moving 200 million people. We can’t give them all parking.”

At the moment, Metrolinx is among the largest parking providers in North America. There are more than 72,000 parking spots, and when you include the spots Metrolinx rents and leases, as well as Park and Ride spots, that number jumps to nearly 76,000.

Image shows a camera pointed toward speakers.

A camera person trains a lens on Metrolinx’s senior leaders during the community gathering. (Brian Main photo)

According to the 2017 GO Rail Passenger Survey, 62 per cent of customers drive alone to GO stations. Additionally, many of those customers live within one kilometre of the station.

First Mile, Last Mile

Metrolinx Chief Planning Officer, Mathieu Goetzke, told the crowd part of the solution to the parking problem is solving what’s often referred to as “first mile, last mile.” Essentially, it’s about convincing customers to leave their vehicles at home, by giving them better, faster and easier ways to get to and from the station.

Metrolinx recently ran a six-month pilot program with ride-share company Lyft. There was also another pilot with Uber to promote the ride-sharing service as a way of easily connecting to the UP Express service.

Metrolinx also recently-launched a request for proposal for an autonomous vehicle shuttle trial, which will look at how and where autonomous vehicles can support the public transit system. During the six- to 12-month run, residents will have an alternative option for getting to Rouge Hill GO station, helping to reduce traffic congestion and parking demands.

And Metrolinx is still moving ahead with its plan to construct an additional 23,000 parking spots. That was good news to hear for many of Aldershot customers in attendance. Their station has one of the most utilized parking lots along Lakeshore West line. Additional parking spaces will be built on the south side of that station.

Aldershot is a hub for Hamilton commuters, who often drive to the station given that at the moment, it has more frequent Lakeshore West train service.

More Service into Hamilton?

One customer who makes that drive every day, wanted to know when he could expect more train service into Hamilton.

Metrolinx does not own any of the corridor infrastructure past Burlington GO Station, so any planning, designing and building has to be coordinated with the freight carriers who do own the rail.

That work is actually further along than many people may think. For example, much of the construction that is completed so far is not visible to the public because it is located below York Boulevard in Hamilton.

A shot of the large gathering inside the station.

Even the Burlington GO station itself became part of the conversation. (Brian Main photo)

Mark Childs, Metrolinx’s chief marketing officer, took the microphone to answer questions about whether Metrolinx will continue to offer the ‘Sunday Funday’ offer after the end of this week’s pilot period. You can see a story on that program here.

“What’s exciting for us since we’re here tonight, is that Aldershot, Clarkson, and in fact here in Burlington, has been three of the highest stations of using the Sunday (offer) over the last eight week pilot.” Childs said.

He added Metrolinx will continue to evaluate the data collected over the trial period and will come back with a recommendation regarding the program shortly.

The Metrolinx Town Hall series hits the road again soon. To learn more, just click here.

Story by Matt Llewellyn, Metrolinx spokesperson, media relations and issues senior advisor.