Sustainability is a major pillar of Ontario Province’s Metrolinx expansion project. In the Greater Toronto area, public transportation used to consist of a few train lines, plus separate bus lines with their own rates, an airport connected to the city by roads, and highly congested traffic on regional roads and highways. Metrolinx is changing all of that with its comprehensive mass transit plan.
In 2006, the provincial government of Ontario mandated that the province invest heavily in transit infrastructure, and created Metrolinx to carry it out. Since then Ontario has invested billions of dollars in constructing new rail lines, integrating transit services, upgrading stations, and setting up social media sites. The system now has 52 sets of trains, more than 500 buses, and will cover more than 11,000 square kilometres with public transit services.
Capital expenditures on the new system totalled $2,238 million in 2014-15, paid for by a combination of provincial, municipal, and federal resources. In addition to upgrading stations and parking lots, and adding new buses and trains, Metrolinx developed a plan to start switching from fuelling trains with diesel to electricity, beginning with core sections in the Georgetown and Lakeshore areas.
The Regional Transportation Plan is a long one by North American standards, carrying out to 2031 and requiring re-evaluation every five years. It is expected to cost about $50 billion and includes movement of goods, as well as people. Metrolinx developed its plan in collaboration with the Ontario Ministries of Transportation and Municipal Affairs & Housing to make sure their respective land-use, growth, and investments plans supported each other.
To ensure that sustainability was built into every aspect of the business, Metrolinx established a Metrolinx Green Team, consisting of 200 “sustainability champions” throughout the organisation. These champs engaged stakeholders, customers, and other employees in developing a basic strategy framework to report on the social, economic, and environmental impact of the business. They defined sustainability metrics and developed an action plan to improve performance.
Following are several projects currently in action:
Streamlining travel – Not only have Metrolinx and its subsidiary, GO Transit, added trains to existing lines, they have also planned out and started to build several new lines to help relieve congestion in downtown Georgetown, Toronto, Hamilton, and neighbouring cities. This includes an electric express line from downtown Toronto to the Toronto Pearson International Airport that takes 25 minutes, and is expected to remove 1.2 million car trips from the road during its first year of operation.
To keep track of all of this travel and better plan their transit schedules, Metrolinx set up an online data warehouse to help its 11 partner transit agencies analyse their ridership statistics.
Working for high standards – In building and upgrading all of their structures, Metrolinx committed to the highest design and work standards, developing “Excellence Guidelines” to apply to all stations, bus terminals, and parking garages. They also developed guidelines to ensure that any collaborative work done by third parties would meet their standards of excellence.
Day to day operations, the part of the daily grind that passengers come into contact with, are carried out by Metrolinx employees with three focal points to guide them: They serve with passion, think forward, and play as a team. Each employee is expected to put their heart and mind into giving excellent service, both to customers and to each other. Employees look for new, constructive ideas to improve services, offering suggestions through an online service called Soapbox. All company staff is expected to work together in a spirit of trust and mutual respect.
Energy challenge program – At the end of 2014 Metrolinx carried out a three-month awareness program to engage employees in reducing energy use, both at work and at home. It worked. The company is already saving an estimated $1.5 million in energy costs annually.
Metrolinx also started using software to monitor locomotive fuel use and idling, which reduced excess idling (hence fuel use) by 66%. They checked and refined the temperature and light settings in bus maintenance facilities, and they installed LED parking lot lights at 23 Metrolinx transit stations.
Smart Commute program – Metrolinx has a solid commitment to reducing traffic on the roads. With its community Smart Commute program, the company is inspiring the region’s residents to explore different commuter choices, such as carpooling, bicycling, and public transit. By the end of 2014, 340 workplaces had signed onto the program, representing more than 730,000 commuters. Now Metrolinx is working to promote sustainable school travel as well.
Electronic customer service – Not only did Metrolinx start integrating the ticket purchasing system and rates across all bus and rail lines, introducing their new PRESTO card, but they also equipped their buses with automated announcements and digital signs to alert passengers to the next stops. Passengers can access the company’s mobile transit website via their smartphones, since most of the stations and bus terminals have WiFi access. All the signage, logos, symbols, and maps are now uniform throughout the transit area.
Community relations program – The government expects that the project will create a total of $24 billion in net benefits for the region. Metrolinx is already setting up strategic partnerships with national and local companies to offer amenities and enhanced services to travellers. CIBC provides access to Canadian and foreign dollars via multi-currency ATMs at Union Station and Pearson Station.
For municipal transit Metrolinx set up a Transit Procurement Initiative to help small and medium-sized cities purchase buses in bulk. The 289 buses they have bought so far have saved the municipalities approximately $5.7 million. All buses are fully accessible.
The company has become popular with the public, promoting itself and connecting via social media. Its “Ms. Snooze” video generated more than 25,000 Twitter engagements within two weeks. Metrolinx has 17,000 followers on Twitter, 2,100 on Instagram, and 13,400 on Facebook. Its Flickr views have surpassed two million.
Human resources development – In 2014-15 Metrolinx hired 258 new staff, paying fresh attention to diversity. It reorganised several company groups to increase efficiency, and developed a new hiring strategy with 35 deliverables to meet Metrolinx’s current business requirements. Further working toward improvement, the company established a link with the Schulich School of Business to help staff increase their leadership abilities, and it holds regular forums for all staff who have current leadership responsibilities.
Between its own ambitious plans, the ideas of its staff through the Green Team and through Soapbox, and contributions of the public via social media, Metrolinx is set up to continue to carry out its high standards for the foreseeable future. The company is already getting recognition, with LEED gold standard awards for its newest facilities, acknowledgement as a top employer in the Toronto region and in Canada, transit and logistics awards, and green business awards.
As stated by Bruce McCuaig, company President and CEO, “It’s a great time to be involved in transportation. The network we build today and tomorrow will be with us for a century or more. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished and excited about what’s to come.”
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