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EVENT RECAP: Transportation Symposium 2024 - Are We There Yet?

Board President & CEO Giles Gherson.

We brought together industry leaders, experts and visionaries to take stock of challenges and examine the long-term trends influencing transportation, transit and urban mobility in the Toronto Region.

A sold-out crowd at the Board’s ninth transportation symposium heard from an all-star lineup of transportation and infrastructure professionals. It was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the most impactful trends in transportation development and look into the future of transit in our city and our region.

Transportation is foundational for our region's economy. To set the stage for the day’s conversation, the Board’s President & CEO Giles Gherson noted that Toronto’s forebearers were forward thinking, with a vision and shared ambition to enable a prosperous city. But, as Gherson reminded attendees, “in recent decades as our city and our region have massively grown, our transportation system didn’t. As a result, we find ourselves feverishly playing catch up and in a big way.” He warned, “it won’t just be a question of how much we can build, but how quickly and cost-effectively. We need to get Toronto moving again and plan for the future at the same time. Ultimately, there’s no path to prosperity without improved mobility.” 

State of Transit

Ontario’s Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria echoed this sentiment while sharing an update on Ontario’s $60B transit expansion.  

“Building transit is never easy, but it’s going to be good for people.  That’s why we are taking decisive action to get shovels in the ground…These are generational projects that will have a generational impact. It’s all about bringing the province together.”

In a panel session moderated by Metrolinx Chief Planning Officer, Karla Avis-Birch, our guests learned about new and emerging travel trends across the region. Mobility patterns have changed significantly, something that Laura Miller, Head of Public Policy & Communications, Canada, Uber and Eve Wiggins, Director of Transit at the City of Mississauga were quick to point out on their panel. Teresa Di Felice, AVP, Government and Community Relations at CAA joined them in emphasizing the growing importance of data when it comes to transportation planning and advocacy.

In addition to tracking mobility patterns, digital tools are transforming transit infrastructure as we know it. In the pursuit of improved frequency, comfort, security and speed, companies like Alstom are working hard to securely integrate existing digital tools into rail infrastructure. Eddy Thésée, Vice President of Cybersecurity at Alstom explained the complex IT requirements of modern rail by describing new trains as “data centres on wheels.” He also reminded the audience that despite the introduction of new technology, the top priority will be maintaining the status of rail as the safest mode of transportation in the world.

Learning Lessons

Kicking off the afternoon session, award-winning author and journalist Dan Gardner highlighted lessons from his book How Big Things Get Done.  He explained the challenges of delivering big projects on time and budget, an issue that often faces transit projects. As he explains, the key is to “think slow, act fast,” highlighting global examples of projects that got it right. It was a message that carried through the remainder of the day, and a theme picked up by Martin Imbleau, CEO of VIA High Frequency Rail. Imbleau explained the vision and the scale of this project, highlighting the potential and benefits of high-frequency rail and the excitement he had to work on the biggest Canadian transportation project since the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Building big things is notoriously difficult, and in the world of transit, there are few better at it than former TTC CEO and Senior Vice President for High-Speed Rail at Amtrak, Andy Byford. He shared examples of best practices for transit leaders to manage partners, governments, and community expectations. Leaning on his experience in London, New York and Toronto, Byford brought a great mix of local and global learnings and proposed real, tactical approaches to transit delivery.

Getting it Done

With so many transit projects underway, the management and delivery of big projects emerged as the day’s key theme. Richard Inglis, Executive Vice-President - Ontario Line, Metrolinx, and Russell Jackson, Global Transit Director at AECOM discussed the importance of avoiding pitfalls during the building process by promoting more flexible partnerships and forging better understandings.

One of the must-attend events of the year for our region’s transportation industry, this year’s symposium was no exception as participants gained an informative, enlightening, and inspiring look at one of our most critical industries. It was an in-depth look at the state of our current transportation landscape and a look ahead to the future of our growing transportation ecosystem. As Gherson observed: Are we there yet? No, but we’re well on our way.

Thank you to our Transportation Symposium partners.

Presenting Partners

Symposium Partners

Visionary Partner