Transportation is responsible for 31.4% of the GTHA’s emissions. Before 2020, emissions were rising by at least 1% per year. Reduced travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a sharp drop of 18.4% in 2020. These gains were largely sustained in 2021, even as travel restrictions were lifted, increasing by only 2.3%.
We need to ensure that recent trends – such as increases in flexible working and active transportation – are sustained while ensuring transit ridership recovers. Further reductions in transportation emissions will require a multi-pronged approach.
Investments in alternative modes of transportation are needed to sustain recent gains in cycling and ensure transit ridership rebounds. Increases in cycling continued into 2021, and while activity remained centralized mainly in the City of Toronto, there was evidence of this positive trend in regions across the GTHA. Transit ridership dropped to 39% below pre-pandemic levels in 2021 but has been rising since late 2021. Continued investments in both capital infrastructure and transit operations will be critical to capturing additional mode share.
Widespread adoption of permanent flexible working policies and smart land use planning can significantly reduce private vehicle use. Transportation demand management measures can play a major role, as evidenced by the significant emissions reductions in 2020 and 2021. Flexible working, in particular, has proven to be wildly popular and with limited impact on public expenditures. In the long run, policies that promote mixed-use developments and densification can reduce average trip distances, encourage increased active and public transportation use, and reduce the need for car ownership.
Zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) must replace fossil fuel-powered private (and commercial) over the next decade. Private vehicles will continue to make up a significant portion of our overall mode share for the foreseeable future. There is evidence that urban deliveries are on the rise, likely leading to increased commercial travel activity overall. Adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and EV charging stations are critical, enabled through supportive policies and incentives from the federal and provincial governments. Eliminating tailpipe emissions, however, will achieve only partial reductions unless Ontario’s electricity grid is decarbonized in tandem.