Census Updates on Commuting Reported by CBC

The CBC website has a report about the drop in the percentage of people commuting by transit according to the recent census. In this piece, I am erroneously identified as a member of Rocket Riders. Although I have provided suggestions and advice to that group from time to time, I do not speak for them and my comments should not be construed as an official pronouncement by that group.

Here are my remarks. For the complete text, go to the CBC site.

Toronto transit advocate Steve Munro said the 2006 findings are disappointing because they show there is little change in the number of people taking public transit.

“I’m frankly surprised that’s it’s only gone down by a small amount as it has,” said Munro, a member of the Rocket Riders, a citizen advocacy group dedicated to public transit issues in the Greater Toronto Area.

Munro said part of the problem is much of the transit system in Toronto is oriented towards downtown, including GO Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission with its network of subways, buses and streetcars.

He said travel patterns show people are commuting in all different directions these days.

“It’s one of the biggest challenges for transportation planners,” Munro said.

“It’s an everywhere-to-everywhere kind of demand pattern, and that’s very hard to serve without building quite a large network of transit lines to make everywhere-to-everywhere commuting by transit possible.”

Munro said convincing people who live in areas outside the downtown core to get out of their cars will take large investments in transit in the GTA.

“We’re a long way away from having a really strong network in the outer suburbs to really make a change in the way people think about commuting in those areas.”

A stronger network will also reap environmental and economic benefits, he said.

For individual families, if the transit system can serve their needs, the cost of getting to work is lower. For cities, if the transit system moves people around efficiently, there is less stress on the roads, Munro added.

“The road system in the suburbs is full. There is a general economic benefit to having a better transit service. It means families don’t need a car for every member of the family to get around.”

10 thoughts on “Census Updates on Commuting Reported by CBC

  1. I live downtown and commute to York U (which, I guess, automatically puts me well outside of Steve’s target demographic). I am not surprised by declining transit travel numbers for a different reason: the downtown portion of the transit system is generally overcrowded, slow, and miserable. It is reasonable to believe that downtown commuters fully realize this and are choosing to drive instead.

    The periphery needs improvement, sure, but let’s not neglect the core. And I don’t buy that the only problem here is line management. I have taken enough crawling, packed streetcars downtown to know that capacity and speed are also clear problems on these lines, which need to be addressed to convince more people not to drive.

    Steve: My broadsides against line management stem from a long-held feeling that the TTC would rather blame all its woes on external forces than actually try to improve itself. Yes, we need more service and yes we need better speed. One thing I’m looking forward to is all-door loading with low-floor cars so that we don’t sit interminably while people file on past the operator and while shopping carts and baby carriages are wrestled onto crowded cars.

    Without question some areas are congested. Some of them are even congested in the rush hour, but many are not in the core and the major problems occur outside of the peak period. These areas are unlikely to ever see transit priority unless there is vastly more service to establish a real transit presence on the street. One car every 8 minutes is a pretty poor excuse for a right-of-way through the congested enterainment district on King.

    Meanwhile, the city does nothing about the complete loss of King Street from Bay to York to taxis even though this is supposed to be an area with transit-only lanes. This is clearly impossible unless we get rid of the cabs, but nobody wants to take on that battle.

    We need to address the problems we have today rather than focussing on complete segregation of road and transit traffic which, politically, is unlikely ever to occur. If the TTC can always say “you won’t give be a right-of-way, so don’t expect service”, we might as well give up now.


  2. Yes reduce the number of cars per family fleet. I am seeing newer development here, they are creating high density along some major corridors, Highway #2 and take a look at the town house complexes, 3-4 cars crammed in and they are parking on both sides of roads.

    We get young families moving here but we also get families that just feel the need to leave Scarborough, they move here and come with Teenagers those teens then find they need a car.

    Those that take in renters in their basement apartments, the tenants find they need to get a car if they can manage it also. We do not have permit parking out here yet but I voiced my opinion on it that probably surprised them. I felt that until we had an adequate transit system in place charging residents for extra cars needing to park on the street was nothing but a cash grab.

    The developers were pushing permit parking on the town as a solution to the narrow driveway issue.


  3. While you’re at it Steve, please be sure to explain to those guys why the Sorbara Line and the Flaherty Line are such bad, bad ideas……

    Steve: These are bad ideas, but for different reasons.

    The Sorbara Subway (aka the Spadina subway extension to York Region) should be an LRT line as part of a York LRT network. The problem is that we insist on building subways ever further away from areas where there is enough demand to justify the capital and operating expenses, while subjecting alternatives such as LRT to all sorts of scrutiny for “value for money”.

    Much depends on how you view the purpose of the line. If its primary goal is to funnel commuters into a subway going to downtown Toronto, then we need to examine what alternatives there are for people in that catchment area. If the primary goal is to improve travel within York Region, then being part of a larger LRT network makes more sense. As we have debated endlessly here before, it is impossible to eliminate all transfers. The question is where makes the most sense for a modal change to occur.

    If the goal is to spend money on construction and inflate the value of nearby land, then the subway is a great investment if only because it maximizes the work involved in building the line and, at least superficially, boosts land values for future condos.

    Flaherty’s Folly is quite another matter. If the goal is to improve the GTA commutershed in general, earmarking one line (number 17 of 17 in MoveOntario) for special treatment and extending it well beyond anyone’s plans is crass political opportunism. Flaherty loves to slag off Toronto for wasteful spending, but this does not apply to ridings he cares about. The Feds, both Liberal and Tory, seem to be very good at funding precisely the projects we don’t really need. This gets them off the hook for funding our much more extensive and expensive genuine requirements. Bribe a few voters and duck a funding request all in one simple move.

    Maybe we should all move to Peterborough in hopes that this will produce a demand to extend the Bloor Subway (the SRT wouldn’t have the capacity) all the way to that part of the world.


  4. Having lived in that area, the time required to get downtown without the Spadina extension to Hwy 7 is about 1 hr 45 min. With the extension, folks in that area will be able to get downtown in about an hour. For me, that makes it worth it. The northwest has been shafted long enough with very poor service into downtown Toronto. There’s no way an LRT line north from Downsview can provide the same speed.

    Steve: I didn’t say to start the LRT at Downsview, although an argument can be made for that. However, somewhere around Steeles/YorkU might be a good place to make the transition. As for people originating way up at Highway 7, they need both much more frequent GO service as well as a trunk east-west line to feed into both GO and the subway, wherever it ends.


  5. The problem really is that we spent 50 year destroying any transit business case in suburban Canada – and this is a problem that will take another 50 years to fix. Its no surprise that America stopped building transit in 1940 (the year the last New York City subway line opened) and spent the 25 years after 1945 plowing expressways through neighbourhoods where actually subways may have made sense. Canada was a decade behind (as usual) but we did the same damage; the same Ontario government that stopped the Spadina Expressway built an appalling number of suburban freeways around Toronto (403, 404, 410, and 407) that made suburb to suburb commuting easy as pie, and was the dream of low density developers. Intensification will take a lot of time and rely on changes in behavior that governments are reluctant to pursue. I noticed in the G&M today an ad to “consult” with the public on the 404 extension to Lake Simcoe. I’m not optimistic about major changes in policy anytime soon…


  6. Speaking of an east-west trunk line in southern York region, is GO still planning on running trains along the Steeles corridor? There was mention of it in the 90s but that it would take 30 years to implement, my understanding is that that has been shelved since it isn’t on MO2020. However, that GO service materializing, which could end up servicing Mississaga, Brampton (big challenges at Brampton though), Vaughan, Markham, and Pickering all in one swoop, an upside-down “U”, is needed to really give a strong justification to the Steeles West station – a parking lot doesn’t cut it, and the Steeles bus routes could and should service York U Commons anyway. I think most of us here have a shared hatred of the north half of this subway project anyway, but about that GO Steeles service, do you know if it is indeed shelved like I suspect?

    Steve: It’s not in any of the plans I have seen. The line in question is actually north of Steeles, certainly not a “walking transfer” from a GO line to Steeles West Station. This line is CN’s main freight route through the GTA and they would not give up track time on it for GO without substantial investment in additional capacity.

    The question I have, thought, is whether this is another case of the seductive nature of existing rights-of-way. If what we want is a service to knit together many locales in the Highway 7 corridor, the last thing we need is a limited stop service on the rail line which will totally depend on bus feeders and parking to make it a success.


  7. Re: extension of 404 to Lake Simcoe

    Let’s not confuse optimal mobility solutions for Toronto and near 905, with those for smaller, remote communities. It is quite sensible to reject highway expansions within the Toronto proper, as any such expansions will be immediately filled with cars; public transit improvements plus work-from-home arrangements are the only way to mitigate the gridlock here.

    Quite the opposite is true for the areas around the proposed 404 extensions. Massive local transit is just not viable there at present, while highways are needed both for personal mobility and for cargo shipments.

    In all fairness, the goverment of Ontario must serve all residents, not just urbanites / suburbanites.


  8. My brother was told once by a fellow passenger on a flight into Pearson that TTC stood for Take The Car. It’s attitudes like that and whatever has helped fuel those attitudes that are going to keep people off transit until somebody somehow finds some way of getting to the powers that be about fixing all the problems with transit. Still, if the province can get every last MoveOntario and Transit City project on the table, along with a few other projects, maybe that share of commuters going by transit can be bumped up by some appreciable amount.

    Steve: For decades, the purpose of major transit capital spending was job creation in the construction industry and improving property values. Converting large numbers of travellers to transit, or providing better service throughout the region had little to do with it because, demonstrably, nothing we have built since the Bloor-Danforth Subway and the Yonge line to Finch really addressed travel needs.

    The Spadina line was all about sanitizing the proposed expressway by putting a transit facility in the middle. It went to Yorkdale to serve the development of a shopping mall, not as a strategic part of the system. The SRT likewise goes to a mall, and via a route that had no local demand when it was built (some came, much later). In both cases, the choice of technologies made expansion very expensive, and the lines were stuck at their terminals which were both heavily dependent on bus feeder routes.

    Spadina inched up to Downsview only as a compromise between a York U and a Sheppard West route. Sheppard East was all about property development in North York and Mel’s manifest destiny as Megamayor.


  9. RE: David A.

    You’re absolutely correct – that, while transit improvements are good news for the urbs and suburbs, road travel make much more sense in rural areas. When the population is so disperesed that walking from house to house is folly, the car is a sensible choice. It is only in the city, with traffic lights and large scale stop-and-go driving, where the car becomes more of a luxury.

    However, while the provincial government serves all of Ontario, the majority of Ontarians live in and around the GTA (almost 2/3s, according to the ‘Place to Grow’ plan). Assuming all Ontarians are given equal value (hopefully!), this means that a large portion of the province’s resources should be invested here to achieve parity.

    Of course, I’m not suggesting that the investment should be proportionate to population; just pointing out that ‘in all fairness’ does not mean resources should be uniformly distributed by area.


  10. The TTC to be honest, could probably increase the % of people taking transit, if they just increased the speed of the system. There are so many sectors in Toronto where taking the TTC takes over double the time it takes to drive downtown, and the TTC is losing out on these downtown commuters who are driving at the moment.

    Yes people are going in all directions now. But the core market of the TTC (downtown) as I said can still capture a ton more riders. In fact I was shocked to read a stat (I think it was by Metrolinx) that showed inner suburban Toronto (ie within TTC service area) has only 50% modal split of transit to downtown commutes. That is below the 905, where something like 80% take GO Transit.

    Steve: The modal split for the inner suburbs is for all travel regardless of destination while the one you cite for the 905 is only for core-bound trips. Even then, the 80% factor likely applies only to people living near the primary rail corridors.

    What this shows, is that the TTC is way too slow, and people are hopping into their cars for the 15min trip to downtown, instead of sitting on the TTC for one hour.

    With a proper notwork of express buses, GO TRAIN shuttle buses, and other simple improvments, I am sure we can push the modal split up.

    Also, the idea that we can continue our current way of developing the way we are, with jobs spread across the GTA in business parks, and sprawl housing, and somehow increase transit use, is stupid. We are not going to increase transit in any meaningfull way, until we ground this region again, and recentre Toronto as the focus of the region again, and also build up downtown Hamilton and Oshawa as subdistricts.

    But if continue on the path of every suburb having 5 different business areas, we are never going to be able to serve that in any proper way.

    Downtown Toronto is the number one destination for transit, and it always will be. Just like in every other city, it is the core city that is able to sustain transit use. Far flung suburbs no matter how well designed, will never reach 80% transit modal share, like places like downtown Toronto can.

    And our decrease in transit modal share here in the GTA also mirrors the decrease in downtown Toronto as the focus of our region. The two go hand in hand.


Comments are closed.