Pearson Airport: New Draft Master Plan Includes Transit Hub
There are big plans afoot at Pearson Airport. The Greater Toronto Airports Authority has released a draft of a new master plan that explores how the airport will accommodate its unprecedented recent growth, and how it will better integrate itself into the region’s broader transit system.
GTAA CEO Howard Eng recently sat down with urban scholar Richard Florida, of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, to discuss how access to the airport can and must be improved.
The discussion came on the heels of an announcement of a partnership between Metrolinx and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to cooperate on enhancing the airport’s transit access. It is part of a larger announcement made by Premier Kathleen Wynne of high-speed rail service to Kitchener and London via the airport, as well as environmental assessments for electrifying the Kitchener Line and building a bypass for freight trains that conflict with passenger operations through Brampton.
The airport authority has acquired substantial property on the east side of Airport Road, on which it plans to build a new Regional Transit and Passenger Centre. It is intended to both improve direct access to Pearson Airport, and to serve as “Union Station West”–a centrally located transit hub for the western GTA. Included in the potential routes serving the new hub are the Kitchener GO RER and high-speed rail services, the Eglinton West LRT (an extension of the Crosstown LRT), the Finch LRT, Mississauga’s BRT, and various other bus services. As the largest single destination in the western GTA, Pearson is a reasonable location for a major connecting point in the region’s transit network.
Florida discussed the challenge of accessing Pearson, comparing it unfavourably with many other international airports. While UP Express has certainly improved transit access from downtown, Eng compared it with a “spoke” route like Heathrow Express, which connects Paddington Station in Central London with that city’s largest airport. He described a vision for Pearson to become a hub like Paddington, rather than a spoke.
The region’s rail transit system largely consists of spokes radiating from downtown Toronto. Though the plans remain amorphous, the idea of an additional nodal point in the western GTA with rapid transit routes radiating outward is a very good one. Eng pointed out that there are even more people commuting from the western GTA to the ‘northern arc’—the area north of Highway 401—than are commuting to downtown Toronto. However, only 6 to 7 percent ride transit, compared with 40 percent of those headed downtown. It makes a strong case for rapid transit in that corridor, with the airport as a key anchor.
As the airport improves its transit access, it has broader plans to accommodate rapid growth. In recent years, Air Canada’s dramatic international expansion and other new services have propelled Pearson to handling 47 million passengers last year—up from only 33 million in 2011. Eng has high aspirations for the airport, expecting 50 million passengers in the near term; over the longer term, he said that 100 million in thirty years “might be an underestimation.” That is more than every airport in the world today except Atlanta.