Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

Canada country profile

By Hilary Holden MSc Transport Planning (1999)

Hilary Holden

At present I am leading a team focused on defining the transit investment plan for inclusion in the 2017 update of the City of Toronto's Official Plan. In parallel, we are progressing the planning and approvals for the top four priority projects (surface streetcar priority, new subway line, new LRT and enhanced heavy rail). I also find time to collaborate across the organization to work out how we can make transformational changes that prioritize use of sustainable modes as Toronto continues to experience unprecedented growth. Before I took on this new position at the City of Toronto in summer 2015, I led the Transportation Consulting business in Canada for international consultants Arup.

The key transport challenges in Canada include the urban population growth which is putting pressure on commuter networks in a country where 80% commute by car and 12% by public transport. There is no national transport strategy. Most transport projects require contributions from 3 tiers of government: Federal, provincial and local. Politics often gets in the way of delivering a good plan – progress stops and starts as political leaders come and go.

One of the major transport initiatives currently underway is the TransLink's Transport 2045 Plan for Vancouver and Metrolinx’s 25 year Big Move Regional Transportation Plan for Toronto. In the office, we’re working with Metrolinx helping them deliver the Big Move, finishing designs for two new subway stations and starting designs for new underground LRT stations. We’re also working with the private sector, sharing our expertise and vision for sustainable developments. The team in Toronto developed Arup’s commercial MassMotion pedestrian and crowd modelling simulation software and has used it to help design projects worth billions of dollars including the city’s historic Union Station, San Francisco Transbay Terminal and Montreal Trudeau Airport.

I plan to significantly grow the size of the transport planning team here over the next few years. I would love to attract back a Torontonian who has gained experience abroad - I think the www.torontohomecoming.ca initiative is a great idea. In 1913, my great grandfather came to St Thomas in Ontario from Liverpool to work on the railways – a century on, I’d like to see better use made of the comprehensive rail network and faster intercity trains that rival air travel.

When looking at the skills an ITS graduate can bring it is worth noting that transport planners are a rarity here, most come into the profession as urban planners or engineers. 

If I were to give any advice to other people considering a job in this country I would say there is lots of transport planning work to be done, good jobs to be had and new skills to be shared. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know fellow professionals in the region and setting up strategic alliances. Being far from home means finding new ways to stay in touch and make new friends – follow me on Twitter @HilaryHolden.

Canada can be infuriatingly bureaucratic, but I’m sure it is the same in most countries.  Canada is an expensive country and Toronto the most expensive city. It is the second biggest country in the world. Half the people in the City of Toronto are now foreign-born, according to the 2006 Canadian census, making it more diverse than Miami, Los Angeles or New York City and the average commute times in Toronto are 80 minutes (two way) compared to New York 69 minutes, London 74 minutes, and Paris 67 minutes.