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Did You Know: Travel Times for City of Toronto Commuters on Average are 60% Longer by Subway than by Car?

By: Dr. Frank Clayton

May 11, 2016

I chanced on some commuting statistics from the 2011 National Household Statistics, which caught my attention. The average duration of a morning commute for residents of the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) travelling by subway was 47.2 minutes in mid-2011, 61% longer than the 29.3-minute average commute by car. My first thought was that the subway times might be influenced by 905 commuters to the City of Toronto who drive longer distances, leave their car at a subway station and take the subway the rest of the way to work. To my surprise, the average commuting times for City of Toronto residents alone for cars and the subway were virtually the same as the Toronto CMA (see Figures 1 and 2 following this text). In fact, Ryerson University’s Professor Murtaza Haider in a July 2013 op-ed in the Globe and Mail revealed that transit trips in Canada were 81% longer than those by car.1

Why is this important? As Professor Haider explains it in a 2014 blog post, environmentalists and transit enthusiasts routinely overstate the benefits of public transit by claiming more public transit will reduce congestion or travel times, which he states is a myth.2 Transportation investment decisions should be based on fact not unsubstantiated claims. Professor Haider goes on to state:

“Neither more public transit nor more freeways will reduce traffic congestion or travel times. In fact, average trip times will increase for cities where a large number of commuters switch from using cars to public transit.”

The bottom line is that decisions about the most appropriate region-wide transportation network (roads and transit) should be based on facts not myths. The decision-makers should be insisting in getting all the facts though the application of comprehensive benefit/cost analyses incorporating economic as well as environmental and social variables before deciding on major transportation investments.

[1] Murtaza Haider, Public Transit is Better, But Cars are Faster. The Globe and Mail. July 2, 2013.

[2] Murtaza Haider, The Hard Truths About Public Transit in Canada. Huffington Post, updated August 30, 2014.

Dr. Frank Clayton is Senior Research Fellow at Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development.  

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