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Throughout the Greater Toronto Area, 4.2 million people are busy going about their lives – a figure that is expected to double by 2020. With congested roads and poor air quality identified as some of the most pressing issues, action is required to ensure that the region continues to bustle with economic and human activity.

Within the City of Toronto, about 70% of commuters travel in single occupant vehicles (SOVs), and 30% use alternate modes of transportation. Outside the city proper, that changes to 95% and 5%, respectively.

The City government is one of the biggest employers in Toronto, with an employee base of more than 17,000 full-time and 4,500 part-time workers spread out over 398 work sites.

A pilot Smart Commute program held at the North York Civic Centre was successful at encouraging some employees to make the switch from single occupant vehicles to more sustainable modes. Numbers suggest that up to 16% of employees may have made such a change over the course of the pilot. Employees at this site were encouraged to join, and an incentive program helped raise interest in the website. They were also encouraged to walk or cycle to work, with arrangements made for showers at a nearby facility, and secure bike locker facilities added on-site. At the same time, the city rolled out a transit discount program for all its employees.

With the success of the pilot, City Council gave its support to expanding the program across the corporation and a city-wide commuter survey was undertaken to collect the information needed for a successful roll-out. Program staff identified changes to City policies, such as introducing policies to support alternative work hour arrangements, as key elements of the work plan over the coming years. Awareness is being built at all levels within the organization of the growing need for programs such as this one. Support for sustainable commuting options is building.

According to Rod McPhail, director of Transportation Planning, “the Smart Commute project demonstrates the leadership of the City of Toronto in spearheading and supporting this project regionally, while also working to implement the program with its own employees, and later leading to expansion though outreach to businesses.” The entire Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton will benefit greatly if the Smart Commute Initiative continues and grows to more capably develop the market and encourage commuting options.