Metrolinx: Navigating Uncertainty

Recognizing the limitations of resilience plans based on a linear forecast, Metrolinx conducted a scenario planning exercise led by WSP as a part of the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) update to help prepare for multiple possible futures strategically.

As the regional transportation authority for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), a region experiencing rapid population growth, Metrolinx recognized the need for a robust and flexible resilience plan that could withstand the test of time. Mindful of the limitations of plans based on a linear forecast, Metrolinx conducted a scenario planning exercise led by WSP called “Navigating Uncertainty,” as a part of the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) update to prepare for the next 25 years strategically and to test the resilience of proposed strategies.

 

Why Scenario Planning?

In any business across the private and public sector, short- and long-term plans are critical as they provide organizations with a guide to follow when making decisions and safeguarding assets during emergencies. However, planning for the future is a difficult task, as change is constant, and the future is uncertain. For this reason, Metrolinx chose to follow the scenario planning exercise, which helps to shift the conversation from what we think will happen to what could happen, thereby enabling the implementation of strategies effective in various alternative futures.

 

Which alternative futures were considered? 

Following WSP’s lead, Metrolinx developed six alternative future scenarios that illustrate what the future encompassing various trends might look like, which aids in identifying the key trends it would need to be aware of most. Scenarios were developed based on the researched trends and data, which were then validated by a panel of experts from a wide range of disciplines.

The six scenarios were as follows:

  • Rapid Adoption of Emerging Technologies
  • Rapid Growth of Core Areas
  • Extreme Climate Change
  • On-Demand Economy
  • User Pay Economy
  • Economic Decline

 

How were the scenarios tested?

To demonstrate the impact of the alternative future scenarios on different people across the region, six personas were created. The personas enabled Metrolinx to picture what life would look like for each of them in 2041 in the scenarios developed and identify a wide range of travel requirements that it would need to consider in its RTP. For each scenario:

  • the major driving factors that shaped the scenario were defined;
  • major implications of the alternative future scenario and potential strategies and actions that could be taken to mitigate key impacts were described;
  • a walkthrough of one persona’s day living in 2041 under the alternative future scenario was illustrated;
  • and the thoughts of other personas on what the alternative future scenario meant for them were presented.

 

How were the scenarios used?

Exploring alternative futures not only deepened Metrolinx’s understanding of the impact of emerging trends on the GTHA’s diverse population, but it helped to unveil the need to set strategies beyond transit infrastructures. The scenarios aided in expanding the policies and programs that were considered as part of the 2041 RTP update and helped to facilitate the resiliency evaluation of strategies and actions considered for the potential investment portfolios that were shortlisted. For instance, when it became clear that the pricing/transportation demand management (TDM) portfolio was underperforming on measures of transport equity and access, adjustments targeting the equity concerns were made, enhancing the portfolio’s performance. Overall, scenario planning exercise supported the development of an RTP capable of meeting the needs of all end-users and helping the organization to thrive for the next 25 years to come.