Part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Regional Municipality of York is made up of nine local municipalities: Aurora, Georgina, East Gwillimbury, King, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Whitchurch-Stouffville. The 1,776-square kilometer area has a population of just more than a million residents and the area is growing. By 2031 it is expected to reach 1,500,000.
“In 2009 I was one of about 30,000 people that moved to this region,” says York Region Transit (YRT) General Manager Richard Leary. “Every year 25 to 30,000 people move to the York region because it’s a place that’s growing. It’s an innovative place and it has so much to offer. “I wanted to be part of it and I was very grateful that I was selected to be part of that.”
Leary says he followed the footsteps of his father and started as an operator in Boston and eventually worked his way up in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), eventually to chief operating officer. “I kind of followed in his footsteps, started in transit in 1984 as a part-time train attendant on the old elevated structure on the Orange Line.” He continues, “I was going to school during the day and driving trains nights and weekends and the college degrees provided opportunities for me when I moved over to the revenue department.”
Leary says, “It was an established organization that dated back to 1897, so there’s a lot of history there. It was a great experience and a great opportunity to learn and work at. “The MBTA is such a large organization you meet peers throughout the industry.” He adds, “It’s all about partnerships and working together.” In 2009 he retired from the MBTA and he started at YRT in November of that year.
“I made the decision I was going to retire after 25-1/2 years and really looked around North America to see where the opportunities were at,” Leary explains. “This location appeared and the York region, it was a very exciting area of North America that really got it. It was committed to public transportation and committed to it in the sense of integrating transit with economic development and also the social and environmental benefits to all.”
He saw the province and the region had a commitment to public transportation as they were building subways into the area from Toronto, they were putting bus rapidways throughout the region and there was a huge investment in the region with transportation at the forefront of that investment.
“The financial and backing is there to support, from both the federal, the provincial government and Metrolinx. That commitment has been demonstrated all across the GTA,” Leary says.
When looking at York Region’s Vision 2051, many of the trends the region is looking to cope with are impacted by transportation options. The region is facing a quickly growing population, including a growing again population. They expect a 250 percent increase in the population over the age of 65 between 2011 and 2051.
The region is dealing with health issues related to lifestyle, particularly with children in relation to obesity, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, Type 2 diabetes, mental illness and cancer with lack of physical exercise and poor eating habits being cited as contributing factors.
The climate is changing for the region with temperatures growing warmer and violent storms increasing in frequency.
Local, alternative and renewable energy sources are becoming more important for the region. With the expected growth, a new approach in managing services is required, including transportation demand management and reduction in energy use, “with more emphasis on transit, walking, cycling and complete streets.”
Moving around the region is a challenge and it notes that increasing mobility in the future will rely on a diverse range of transportation options.