by Linda Montgomery

The Toronto Port Authority became PortsToronto a few months ago, the new branding comes during a past year CEO Geoffrey Wilson calls “our most significant in the history of our organization”. Commitment to the community and to sustainability initiatives protecting the environment has never been stronger according to Wilson; this should be music to the ears of Toronto Waterfront residents. 

One milestone was the launch of their first Sustainability Report meant to track annual progress, using GRI international standards, towards key priorities including traffic and noise management, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste, and investing in the waterfront community.  While it is a work-in-progress requiring additional goal clarity and metrics, it does signify an important step in the right direction.

 As most Toronto Waterfront residents know, PortsToronto owns and operates Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport where 2.5M travelers passed through last year, the two main Port of Toronto terminals providing operations for importing and exporting 1.6M tonnes of cargo last year, and the Outer Harbour Marina.

As a government business enterprise, they are federally accountable through Transport Canada guided by a board representing all three levels of government. The new name was chosen to better connect with their consumer businesses and reflect what they actually do; “making connections” for people and products between Toronto and the world by developing infrastructure to serve Torontonians and the GTA economy.

2015 was profitable, with
contributions back to the public purse but no commercial jets.

PortsToronto has been a profitable business since 2009 contributing back to the public purse. In 2015 they made $55.9M in overall revenue of which over 80% came from the airport, and net income of $5.9M went back into operations including community and sustainability initiatives. PortsToronto paid a total of $14.1M back to taxpayers in 2015 through payments in lieu of taxes and realty tax to the City, and in gross revenue charges contributed to the federal government. 


If you call the Toronto Waterfront home, you see it a residential community first, rather than a mixed-use neighbourhood co-existing with business, tourists and connected to GTA economic growth. Many Waterfront residents rejoiced near the end of last year when Marc Garneau announced the new Liberal government would not support airport expansion plans ending the possibility of commercial jets flying into the island airport. “Ultimately our relationship with the community is about balance and managed growth to ensure our operations continue to contribute to, and not overwhelm our waterfront,” says Wilson.

Neighbourhood traffic congestion and noise improvements.

The airport pedestrian tunnel completed last July marked a milestone that also eased neighbourhood traffic congestion. More than 90% of airport passengers now choose the tunnel according to a Dillion Consulting study, significantly reducing traffic surges from ferry runs and improving passenger flow. The tunnel has resulted in a 75% drop in vehicles queuing northbound, leaving the airport along Eireann Quay. The study also looked at how much surrounding area traffic is due to the airport, and found this to be on average 10% to 16%, including up to 60% airport traffic on Bathurst Street north of Queens Quay, and 15% to 35% along Queens Quay east of the airport. 

PortsToronto works diligently in a number of ways to mitigate and minimize the noise from airport operations according to Wilson. The 2015 Noise Management Report showed residents may be slightly less disturbed by airport noise; complaints decreased 6% to 386 complaints from 410 the year before, on the heels of a 20% complaint decrease in 2014. For residents living close to the airport, the study recorded a 60% complaint decrease from both ferry and mainland operation noise. 

Last year Vortex, a new system for logging and tracking complaints, resulted in 99% of responses within the committed 5-day window. Also, there were zero violations of the nighttime landing and departure curfew between 11:00pm and 6:45am. Future plans include upgrading and adding to noise monitor terminals on the island and Webtrak, a free app for information on aircraft you hear flying overhead, will continue to be available on their web site at

Waterfront residents can look forward to some relief from the loud blasting noise of airplane engine run-up testing; plans are in the works for construction of an acoustically and aerodynamically designed Ground Run-up Enclosure (GRE) that will dampen this annoying necessity of aircraft engine safety. 

This will be part of a major 3-year airport restoration project starting this summer which will also modernize the aging runway paved surfaces and install new LED lighting. Construction will take place at nighttime with construction equipment delivered on barges to limit traffic congestion, backup alarms on construction vehicles will be turned off to limit noise, and water trucks will assist with any dust suppression. 

Commitment to environmental
initiatives and the community.

PortsToronto has invested over $8M in environmental and community initiatives since 2009. During the past year 40,000 tonnes of silt and driftwood were removed from the waterfront, including dredging up riverbed sediment buildup to prevent the Don River from flooding. The muddy debris and sediment is transported, then deposited and sealed in designated cell areas on the Leslie Street Spit. 

Cell #2 is currently being sealed, and will be converted into natural coastal wetlands by early 2018. Native vegetation will be planted in partnership with the Toronto Region and Conservation Authority to create biodiversity aimed at increasing fish and wildlife populations, and to provide natural recreational space. PortsToronto signed a 3-year agreement with Bullfrog Power to continue using 100 per cent green electricity across all operations, part of multiple initiatives to reduce emissions and energy use across all operations including those of the airport’s airlines and tenants. 

Over $500K annually is spent on community investments such as a project to “green” downtown school grounds, and with organizations like Redpath Waterfront Festival, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Disabled Sailing and Ireland Park Foundation. PortsToronto collaborates with the community through regular community liaison meetings with representatives from Waterfront BIA, Bathurst Quay, York Quay and others. 

Waterfront residents can look forward to PortsToronto’s sixth annual Sail-in Cinema at Sugar Beach this summer. Last year 11,000 people and 100 boats viewed family movies under open skies from a giant, two-sided cinema-quality screen with custom audio set atop a barge in the Harbour. Books on film is this year’s theme for the three-day event starting on August 18th; final movie selections will be chosen by public vote from a curated shortlist at 

Moving forward, Waterfront residents should look to next year’s Sustainability Report to gauge PortsToronto’s progress on the noise, traffic congestion, and other environmental and community issues they care about. An actual GRI compliant report with clear sustainability objectives and measures for each category, and sustainability built into operational goals and seen as a driver of business performance, are standards to aspire to that might well lead to another significant year of milestones. 

Linda Montgomery is Associate Editor of Toronto Waterfront Magazine, a technology industry marketing professional and a Toronto Waterfront resident.