Urbanizing Mississauga’s transportation will be a priority for next mayor
Feature Image Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer

Urbanizing Mississauga’s transportation will be a priority for next mayor

Mississauga’s birth spilled out as a bedroom community next to the burgeoning belt of Toronto. 

Crowded train cars and street trolleys were what people escaped when fleeing the big city for the middle class dream in the suburbs, where the family car offered status and practical mobility. 

The sprawling subdivision design pushed by early developers who constructed cookie-cutter housing marketed to young families, created a template Mississauga is now trying to reimagine. But how do you undo fifty years of suburban growth?

A typical routine throughout the day involves a walk from the front door to the car, a quick drive through cul-de-sacs and maze-like neighbourhoods lined with slowly maturing trees, on the way to the local plaza for milk, or for a run to the nearest mall, or to pick up the kids, or to get a coffee at the nearest Tim’s.

People are literally hemmed inside a network of subdivisions with only one way in or out.

So how can younger residents, including many from abroad, move around a major city that was not built for walking, cycling or transit? 


Mississauga was not designed for walking, cycling or transit.

(Google Satellite)


The city simply was not designed to move without using a car.

But the demand for public transportation is growing. An increasing number of Ontarians cannot afford a car. Many want to live more sustainably. Others simply do not want to nest in a somewhat isolating subdivision disconnected from all the features of urban life. Some simply cannot stand idling in gridlock on the QEW, 401, 403 or 427. And with more and more working from home, the idea of commuting back and forth from a suburban retreat is being displaced by the desire to walk from one’s home office out into the bustling social life of the city. 

The City of Mississauga is trying to meet this challenge. How will its future leaders transform one of North America’s largest suburbs into one of its most dynamic urban destinations, much like global centres that have matured far beyond their former satellite city status, such as Bandra, Fort Worth and Yokohama?


The Mumbai suburb of Bandra has become its own international destination thanks to major transportation projects. Can Mississauga do the same?



A robust public transportation system in a city of sprawling, car-dominated subdivisions is starting to emerge, slowly. Bonnie Crombie’s successor will have to continue the work she helped push to the top of the city’s urban agenda.

Five mayoral candidates — Alvin Tedjo, Carolyn Parrish, Dipika Damerla, George Tavares and Stephen Dasko — were contacted by The Pointer and addressed their transportation plans for Mississauga. They emphasized a series of improvements ranging from Damerla’s plan to develop new east-west LRT connections to branch off from the Hurontario Hazel McCallion LRT line, to Tavarses’s plan to enhance bus rapid transit routes equipped with better rider information technology and more integration with other systems.

“We were built with subdivisions, with cul de sacs, crescents, and lovely little wandering streets. And these are not conducive to people using transit,” Parrish told The Pointer. “We can't go back and fix that. But we can get in some experts, world renowned experts, to do a complete evaluation of the system.”

Mississauga’s Miway system is the third largest municipal transit service in Ontario. Cameron MacLeod, executive director of Code Red Toronto, a transit group that advocates for better service and infrastructure across the GTA, said the city’s next mayor must identify and prioritize investments that lead to increased ridership levels. Removing parking lots and parking minimums, or reducing car lanes, for example, eventually get people out of cars.


Mississauga’s LRT flyover being constructed just north of downtown.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


Parrish says developing a modern Mississauga transit system is a challenge, due to decades of planning that was not shaped for anything but car use, including the surrounding highway network. Mississauga is not built on a grid system. The current frontrunner, according to polls, says staff and elected officials will have to be more creative, with more and more residents demanding transportation options. 

Transportation makes up 34 percent of Mississauga’s community emissions, creating approximately 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. These emissions, which are made up almost entirely from private vehicles, have a huge impact on the city’s overall emissions reductions targets. A swift shift to green infrastructure including municipal charging stations and clean public transit is required for Mississauga to reach its climate goals.

The City has set out a plan to accelerate its emissions reduction beyond the current targets of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050; to align with scientists who have asked governments to reach net zero as soon as possible.

But cities struggle to invest more in public transit unless they see higher ridership demand. Meanwhile, ridership will not increase unless service is accessible and reliable, with accompanying infrastructure to make transit more convenient than cars.

“[Ridership] doesn't grow because people just make a guess. They try out transit and if transit works for them, it builds up credit. So they can say ‘this works for me, this works for my day that got me downtown much faster’ or whatever the situation might be,” MacLeod said. “But if the vehicle is only there on time sometimes, or if you have to wait outside in the rain for 20 or 30 minutes before the vehicle shows up, that's not really an enjoyable experience. And so any resident that has other options that they're going to be thinking about those other options. And that's why we have such disproportionate car ownership.”


MiWay ridership numbers have recovered to, and surpassed, pre-pandemic levels.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


Dasko and Tavares proposed discounted ridership programs — Dasko said he would introduce lower fares for seniors and students while Tavares promoted his “Take the Bike and Bus Free” initiative which would incentivize ridership while also creating a safer environment for cyclists across the city.

A City staff report in October actually showed that increasing ridership across the City was prompting the need for fare increases, after prices were frozen during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2023, staff reported ridership had recovered to pre-pandemic levels, two years sooner than the City expected. 

“MiWay is experiencing greater pressure as ridership continues to grow, necessitating increased investment to improve and expand service levels” the staff report stated. 

Prior to April, when fare increases were implemented, Mississauga had one of the lowest city transit fares across the GTHA. While this may seem beneficial for individuals, it also results in a loss of revenue, reducing the City’s ability to increase service capacity. 

As of April 1, the City implemented the following fare increases: a 6.2 percent increase in PRESTO adult fare (ages 20-64), a 8.2 percent increase in PRESTO youth fare (ages 13-19), and a 6.3 percent increase to cash fare. Staff anticipate these increases will generate an additional $3.2 million in 2024.

MacLeod previously told The Pointer that these fare increases alone will not be able to expand the City’s transit network.

The City’s 2024 budget allocates $102 million for transit operations and $68 million for transit capital projects. But despite a need to increase service levels, the operation budget is a 3.2 percent decrease from 2023 and the capital budget is a 17.8 percent decrease from 2023. 

Many of the candidates spoke of developing partnerships with the provincial and federal governments to secure investments for the City’s transit network. But with Mississauga’s strained relationship with the province, and an increasing number of municipalities relying on funding from the feds, the money provided by upper levels of government alone will not be enough to get the City’s transit system to where it needs to be, especially since MacLeod said almost all of this funding from upper levels is for capital projects, not operations.

“There's a lot of money that's flowing into building new things, building the Hazel McCallion line, whether it's building a new GO station, those sorts of things, they do happen, and it's good to invest in those. But sometimes in the GTHA, we see a mistake where we build something, and then we never actually fund the operation of it,” he told The Pointer.

A report released early this year from the advocacy group Environmental Defence repeated this sentiment, encouraging the federal government to realign funding to better support communities. 

“Politicians like to cut ribbons rather than fund day-to-day service,” Nate Wallance, Clean Transportation Program Manager with Environmental Defence, previously told The Pointer.

This misaligned funding, the report found, has resulted in nearly 1,700 buses across the country sitting unused because there is no funding to pay new transit drivers and actually fund operations.

“Every municipality needs to be very careful. And it needs to be optimistic about the future and put more funding in because there's a big return on investment, to having efficient and consistent transit service for all of your residents. It really builds economic mobility, and  there's a lot of knock on effects,” MacLeod said.


Connecting MiWay with the GO Transit system will allow Mississauga residents to smoothly move amongst neighbouring municipalities.

(The Pointer Files)


Tedjo and Damerla both said the best way to get people out of cars and onto public transit is by making the system reliable and convenient. Tedjo envisions an integrated transit system that operates like a grid across the city, hitting all of the major nodes and neighbourhoods, making it easier to get from point A to point B.

This includes integration of MiWay with other regional transit systems. In April, Premier Doug Ford announced more service enhancements for GO Train lines across southern Ontario, with an additional morning rush hour trip from Milton to Union Station and an evening trip in the opposite direction. This line includes Mississauga stops at Meadowvale, Erindale, Cooksville and Dixie.

Tavares said that while the announcement from the PCs was a positive step, Mississauga needs to continue to push for concrete transit project timelines and penalties for delays.

“Mississauga relies heavily on transportation links like MiWay and GO Transit. It's crucial the government prioritizes these connections and is held accountable for promises made,” he said. “As a community, we must keep pushing for the all-day GO Train service and other transportation upgrades. We need transparency, clear timelines, and consequences for project delays.”

Parrish said that while the federal government previously committed to helping fund increased service on the Milton line, this has not come to fruition.

“We were told over many years that the feds would do it as long as the province joined in now in this last budget, and we're hearing crickets from the federal government,” she said. “So we're gonna have to obviously put some pressure on them, remind them of their recent or not so recent promise that once the province comes into it, that they will join.”

Damerla said she would continue to support and push for a single fare that would allow Mississauga residents to combine their rides on MiWay and GO Transit into one fee that would provide a rebate for taking municipal transit to and from the provincial GO system.

Dasko and Parrish also provided unique ideas for connecting Mississauga to Peel’s other municipalities and with Toronto. 

“This will probably be a joint effort between the three mayors of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon,” Parrish said. “If we all work together, we can try to come up with a system that's going to work well for the whole region.”

She also expressed interest in connecting Mississauga to Toronto’s subway system to connect people directly with downtown. Currently Mississauga is along the route of the Dundas BRT which is proposed to run from Highway 6 in Hamilton all the way to Union Station. Dasko proposes transitioning this from a BRT system — which prioritizes buses over other forms of transportation — to its own subway line that would connect directly with downtown.

“The time is now to update,” he said.

Damerla said she will also fight to bring the subway system into Mississauga.

But while subways often attract a lot more attention, MacLeod argues that all forms of public transportation — including subways, LRT, BRT and traditional bus routes — have a place in the city’s transit future, each providing their own benefits.

A bus can easily be rerouted along a detour and is ideal for more temporary routes. Rail transit can easily be expanded using just one operator but the capital costs to build these projects are much greater. 

“It's a spectrum of different types of vehicles, different capacity levels, and how much we prioritize them,” he said.


The Hurontario LRT was supposed to open this year.



The biggest ticket transit project in Mississauga right now is the Hurontario LRT. The project, known as the Hazel McCallion Line, will begin at the Port Credit GO Station and make 19 stops along the 18-kilometre route up Hurontario that ends at the Brampton Gateway Terminal. 

In 2019, the provincial government signed a $4.6 billion contract with Mobilinx for the construction of the line, but the City of Mississauga was told it would need to shoulder an additional billion dollars for operational costs over 30 years. The City has asked that this cost be uploaded to the province but so far no commitment has been made. Tavares has repeatedly pushed during his campaign for these costs to be covered by the Province. 

“Initially, we were assured that the Ontario government would cover all costs, including any overruns. However, given the strained relationship between Mississauga and the Ontario government, I'm uncertain about this assurance. In business, it's crucial to have everything documented,” Tavares said. “Why hasn't Mississauga taken steps to secure written agreements? Without such documentation, we leave ourselves vulnerable to financial challenges in the future.”

Damerla stressed that she would push for a “new deal” between the Province and Mississauga, similar to what has been seen between the Province and the cities of Toronto and Ottawa to shoulder operational costs of the LRT. 


Damerla’s transit plan includes three east-west LRT lines branching out from the Hazel McCallion line.

(Dipika Damerla)


Recently, Damerla came out with a plan she has titled “Fast-track Mississauga” which includes three additional east-west LRTs on top of the north-south Hazel McCallion Line. Damerla is proposing LRTs for Derry Road from Hurontario to the Malton GO Station; on Eglington from Erin Mills to Renforth; and on Dundas from Hurontario to Kipling. She also plans for electrification and additional stops for the Lakeshore GO line. 

“There are several studies and plans for more transit for Mississauga. It is time to fast-track them and build more transit NOW so we don’t become gridlocked,” her website states.

While Damerla’s plan may be the most ambitious, she has provided few practical details about how to make it a reality. The construction of high-order transit like LRTs is handled by Metrolinx, which would need to be involved in the studying, design and eventual approval of any new LRTs. Mississauga is able to advocate for these projects, but the eventual approvals fall to the Province and Metrolinx. Damerla has also provided no details about how the ambitious plan would be funded, with a conservative estimate based on per-kilometre LRT costs, putting the Fast-track plan in the neighbourhood of at least $15 billion. 

During a candidate debate Wednesday evening, Damerla described her plan as “practical” and “robust”, noting that it was based on plans already in place by the City and Metrolinx. 

“It’s not just sort of made up,” she said. 

It’s unclear which plans she is referring to. 

The biggest concern for many Mississaugans with the Hurontario LRT is the status of the Downtown Loop. Initially scrapped by the provincial government in 2019 touting that it would save approximately $200 million of capital costs, Ford has recently reinstated his commitment to the three additional stops around the city centre, one of the most populous areas of Mississauga. City staff has said the loop is critical to supporting the downtown core, which is expected to grow by 50,000 residents in the next two decades. By 2051, the inclusion of the downtown loop will give 72,000 people access to high order rapid transit.

The City has continued to advocate for the loop in its budget submissions over the past few years, and while the Province reaffirmed its commitment in the 2024 budget to find the loop, key details and documentation about funding and future design are still missing.

Dasko said, as mayor, he would sit down with the Ministry of Transportation, or the Premier, to reach a deal on the downtown loop. 

Damerla said that while she was happy to see the loop mentioned in the 2024 budget, she will continue to push for funding.

Several mayoral hopefuls state they will also pressure the Province and federal government for funding for hybrid and fully electric buses. Currently the City has a cost sharing agreement with both the Province and the feds for the purchase of 358 hybrid electric buses between 2022 and 2027. The federal government is providing 40 percent of the $359.7 million price tag, with 33.3 percent coming from the Province and the remaining 26.7 percent shouldered by the City. By the end of this year, nearly 60 percent of the City’s transit fleet will be hybrid electric.

But staff also noted that beginning in 2025, the City should look at the possibility of acquiring fully electric buses or BEBs. Damerla, Dasko, Tedjo and Parrish all said they support this measure, but Tavares said that without further commitment for funding, he cannot support the initiative.

Tavares told The Pointer that he is in support of removing the car allowance for councillors and using some of the funds saved by supplying each member of council with a free bus pass. 

Tedjo and Damerla both said they support councillors using transit and standing as a role model for residents, with Damerla stating she would ask for an analysis conducted between Mississauga’s money spent on the car allowance and that spent in other municipalities to make an informed decision.

Contrary to his earlier claims that public transit is necessary and more people need to get out of their cars and onto buses, bike paths and trails, Dasko said the car allowance is necessary for councillors to travel to conduct business. 



Email: [email protected]

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