The Union Pearson (UP) Express will soon enter service and offer a high-speed travel option to the airport, but it’s still not nearly enough to address current congestion levels.
That’s one of the early conclusions of a study by consulting firm McKinsey and Company on future planning options for Toronto Pearson International Airport which will reach its passenger capacity within three decades.
McKinsey planning director Bruce Simpson presented the study’s preliminary findings as part of a panel discussion at the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) Monday, May 4 on prospects for Pearson’s long-term future, which includes the need to have reliable mass transportation options to the airport.
While Metrolinx has ballyhooed UP’s potential to remove one million cars from the street during its first year of operation, 2.5 million after two years, Simpson said even if UP hits those targets – by operating at full-capacity with around 800 peak-hour riders between Union Station and Pearson every day – it would still only represent eight per cent of total airport passengers.
“The other 92 per cent are still on the road, and that’s not going to make your drive to Pearson a whole lot better,” he said.
Beyond UP, Simpson said future transit improvements like SmartTrack and GO Transit rail expansion need to take into account travel to the airport and look to cities like London, UK and Hong Kong for inspiration.
“We need other answers (beyond UP) and for all the other plans out there, they need to think about the last mile to the airport,” he said.
Simpson was part of a moderated panel of global transportation experts sharing ideas over the course of a couple of hours at TRBOT on how to boost Pearson’s passenger capacity over the next 30 years regionally and further strengthen its status as a global travel hub. The event was organized by the Toronto chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI).
Pearson’s modest beginnings date back to the 1970s when it averaged just 10.5 million passengers a year flying out of two terminals. It now has an additional terminal and nearly 40 million passengers per year, and the second highest percentage of international travelers in North America.
Howard Eng, president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority which runs Pearson’s operations, attributed the rise to global finance acting as an economic driver for the Toronto region.
“The world is changing, it’s changing fast,” Eng said. “Economic development has now pushed us to the point the airport has to grow to serve the needs of the region.”
Eng said Pearson recorded nearly a seven per cent increase in passenger volumes last year alone, with the rise credited predominantly to international travel. At this rate of increase even conservative projections have Pearson at 64 million annual passengers within 20 years.
Thomas Bosco from the New York and New Jersey Port Authority which runs five airports including JFK and LaGuardia as well as bridge and tunnel connections between the two U.S. states, said operations were divided into specialized functions, with smaller airports serving particular needs. LaGuardia for example serves as the primary destination shorter flight and for convenient entry into Manhattan while JFK handles the bulk of international travel.
“Each airport serves a unique and specific role,” Bosco said.
Like Pearson, he said the Port Authority’s operations are growing in record amounts every year, with a projected 180 million passengers by 2034. To meet the demand Bosco said significant investment was needed from the U.S. government.
“Unfortunately given the current state of our infrastructure we’re not going to meet that demand,” he said.
Normand Boivin, a Montrealer who has served as the chief operating officer for Heathrow Airport for four years admitted the privately run UK airport is woefully underserving its passengers.
Even with nearly 95 million passengers per year the airport is still operating below its capacity and Boivin admitted competitors like Dubai International Airport have now passed Heathrow when it comes to travel volumes.
“Dubai is eating our lunch,” Boivin said.
Boivin said the future for one of the world’s busiest airports lies in constructing a third runway at a cost of 17 billion pounds which would also require substantial transformation the equivalent of Toronto eliminating the Hwys. 427/409 and 401 ramps to the airport and subsuming the municipality of Milton.
He urged Toronto not do as London has “planning the future for 30 years” but come up with a decisive and well-thought out solution to deal with future demand.
When it comes to funding airport expansion ULI Toronto director Richard Joy said most of the money can come from private funding such as user fees. But he said infrastructure like better surface transportation options will need a government commitment.
“That’s a challenge the province is wrestling with, and will continue to wrestle with,” Joy said. “And our needs aren’t going make those challenges any easier.”