“Traffic Congestion” In Toronto

Recent news reports made a great deal out of the Toronto Board of Trade’s 2010 Scorecard on Prosperity in which, among other things, we learn that Toronto is dead last in a list of cities as measured by the average commute time to work.  Even Los Angeles is better!

At the risk of suggesting that the Board of Trade is misleading, and that the Toronto media are gullible fools, there is a basic flaw in the way the report’s findings are presented.

The Board’s question is

  • “how long does the average person take to get to work”,


  • “how far does the average person travel to work” or
  • “at what speed does the average person get to work”. 

This measure combines the effects of network capacity (or lack of it), of travel demand, and of the dispersal of origins and destinations across the region.  People may choose to live a 90-minute drive from home because they prefer the lifestyle, because housing is cheaper or because their families are established in locations far from their present jobs.  This may not have been inherently “bad” when they made their choice, but the economics of the situation are changing as commute times and costs go up.

Lazy readers tend to look at only the summary (these things are called “Executive Summaries” for a reason), but the important stuff is buried down in the heart of the report.

On page 47, we find the following:

With the spotlight shining on Toronto, it is important to illuminate the areas where the CMA lags behind its global counterparts. Most glaring is Toronto’s embarrassing last-place finish on commuting time out of 19 CMAs. Despite the fact that commuting times for US metros may be somewhat underestimated, Torontonians’ 80-minute average round-trip journey to work is enough to merit a punishing “D” grade. Although Los Angeles was expected to top the list of worst-commutes, the city fell short of this dubious honour (by more than 24 minutes compared to Toronto). Even accounting for possible under-reporting, recent surveys in the US support our findings that Los Angeles is not the commuting beast of legend. According to Forbes.com (using 2006 Community Survey data), “what serves L.A. well is that all those office parks and strip malls dotting the basin make it easy for people to commute between surrounding municipalities as opposed to a central downtown location, and that makes commutes shorter in mileage terms.”

Exactly my point — the land use of a region is key to understanding its commuting patterns.  There may be jam-packed expressways, but if there are short, fast trips available to a lot of commuters, then the average value will fall.

A further problem is that the areas of study for each city vary widely.  The Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) Toronto reaches to Georgina Township at Lake Simcoe.  This means that a lot of very long distance (and hence long in time) commutes will be included in the overall average.  A footnote cited by the paragraph above notes that US CMA definitions are based on 2000 data and may underreport the size and average commute times of US cities.

A footnote at the end of the paragraph takes us to an article in Forbes Magazine with much more detail, and with interpretive information about cities in the USA that actually makes sense using many more variables than the average time to get to work.

The Board of Trade goes on to say:

Toronto’s long commute times are particularly troubling in light of the fact that these results are averaged on the basis of all modes of travel, not just automobile trips. In the Toronto CMA, only 29 per cent of commuters leave their cars at home, well behind all European metro regions. Just under 74 per cent of Parisians, for instance, commute by transit, walking or cycling (in first-place Hong Kong, the comparable figure is just under 90 per cent).

Toronto’s commuting problems give rise to serious congestion issues, as noted by a landmark study recently prepared by the OECD. In the 2010 “Territorial Review of Toronto, Canada,” the OECD notes: “High car-usage rates have led to traffic congestion, with annual costs for commuters in 2006 estimated at around $2.74 billion (US$) per year and the annual economic costs at $2.24 billion (US$) for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.”

Note the high non-auto modal splits in cities that are often cited as models.  These are not cities full of expressways, and they have land use patterns vastly different from the GTA.

Toronto’s high value is a direct result of development policies that encouraged sprawl by widespread highway construction.  In the short-to-medium term, road capacity grew faster than demand, and all was well.  However, the GTA now has far more residents, and its jobs are spread over a wide region.  This is not the sort of thing we can fix overnight with a few subway lines or busways.

Metrolinx’ The Big Move was supposed to address this problem, but even they, with extremely optimistic ridership projections for a transit network, could only divert about half of the projected growth in travel by 2031 from roads to transit.  The lion’s share of this diversion is for trips bound to major centres within the 416, and commuters between the outer GTA municipalities will not benefit nearly as much from the new network as those travelling to and from inner areas.  This is not a recipe to instill a love of new car/road-oriented revenue tools in the 905.

Forbes ranks the 10 best and 10 worst cities for commuting, and their results are vastly different from the Board of Trade rankings.

For the worst cities, Forbes lists San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas in spots 10, 9 and 5 respectively.  These are in positions 7, 6 and 2 (out of 19) in the Board of Trade list.  Dallas is second only to Barcelona, according to the Board of Trade’s numbers.

For the best cities, the top of Forbes list, pride of place, the gold star goes to Buffalo.

Of cities with over 500,000 commuters, fewer people spend an hour or more getting to work in Buffalo than anywhere else in the country.

I am sure we all want to move to Buffalo.

My point here is that it’s easy to concoct a metric, but you need to understand how it is constructed, what it actually measures, and whether the numbers coming out of the machinery are directly comparable.

Without question, the GTA has a lot of very long commutes thanks to the way it developed.  This is not a Toronto problem, it is a GTA problem.  It is the result of decades of paying lip service to planning principles and the need for a good transit system to keep pace with, no, to lead development and shape it around transit rather than auto travel.

Greater Toronto is not a “transit city” and will have to work very hard to earn such a title.  Meanwhile, reports about congestion must try to understand causes, not just raw numbers.  Politicians who quail at the thought of multi-billion dollar programs, who defer rather than lead, ignore what is happening around them.  We talk about concentrating development, of limiting growth into virgin territory, but we don’t want to spend what is necessary to focus that growth with good public transit.

That’s the message the Board of Trade should have shouted to the media, but it’s not the message anyone, at least the crew at Queen’s Park, wants to hear.

34 thoughts on ““Traffic Congestion” In Toronto

  1. Great breakdown, Steve. One has to wonder what the breaking point is for GTA commuters, when will we finally stop sprawling and start to act realistically.

    Even taking transit from Blythwood to Adelaide created a 100 minute round-trip for me, it pushed me to cycle as often as I can, cutting my commute time in half, and then moving downtown to within walking distance.

    I think a polycentric conurbation is how the GTA has to position itself for future development. We will have to start designating additional CBDs in order to alleviate congestion and commute time.


  2. LA’s traffic problems were so bad it was legendary. The region has invested heavily in PT since 1984 when really they only had buses and a massive highway system that was congested all day. Now, LA has a short subway and a number of LRT lines to complement its buses. They also have regional rail which relieves the highway system as well. LA was once a joke when it came to commuting, now when people say anything it just shows they haven’t been there in the last decade. California, is broke, but it hasn’t pulled funding for transit in LA or for the BART system in the San Fran area. I think Ontario should not be afraid of going into debt for certain needed investments such as education, health care and public transit.


  3. Transportation is a whole. We not only need more bus routes, more LRT routes, more subway routes, and more commuter rail, but we still do need more highways, and wider roads. This does not however mean we should go around destroying neighbourhoods to build any of the above.


  4. I think if anything this little episode illustrates just how low Toronto’s media standards have fallen (assuming they were high to begin with). Not one major media outlet has given the report the scrutiny that this site, and others such as urbantoronto, Spacing, BlogTo and others have. Were it not for those sites, and the people on them picking the report apart, I would never have known just how deeply flawed this report is.

    What’s even more disconcerting is how ill-served Toronto’s residents are by the media in the overall transit discourse in both this city and the province. If ignorance and misinformation are the order of the day in the media, then how can we possibly expect citizens to bring forward well-reasoned arguments to politicians in charge of creating transit policy? I’m just afraid that a perpetual cycle of ignorance feeding off itself drives further flawed media coverage of the issue, which in turn results in seriously flawed decision-making and policy implementation.

    It’s now gotten to the point where I don’t rely on any major news outlet for *any* substantive transit information, aside from only the most shallow regurgitation of a TTC or Metrolinx press release.


  5. A distant European conflict has come to my mind recently. The city of Munich has earned a bad reputation for itself in 1938 and it couln’t shake it off. The terrible “treaty” has prevented for long time both West Germany and Czechoslovakia to establish diplomatic relations plus nearby location of the Iron Curtain was a drawback, too.

    There was another “conflict” brewing: for some reason the City of Munich has laid into the ground and pulled again a section of the streetcar track on one street about three times over within a short period of time. Although the State of Bavaria wanted to behave in “see-no-evil/hear-no-evil” mode, this unnecessary work was too much for it, ordered immediate stop and asked the City to provide detailed analysis and forecast, how it sees itself by itself, within the State of Bavaria and within Europe.

    The result is positive: Streetcar routes have stabilized, subway routes were built, Main railway station rebuilt , and according to the latest announcement the DB (Deutsche Bundesbahnen) would like to build 14KM tunnel under the city to connect northern and southern suburbs.


  6. Hmmm … is it possible that Jane Jacobs got us into this mess? There’s an article in today’s Star that seems to lay the blame at her feet. Even if we put aside Spadina, what about the Scarborough and Richview Expressways? And, would the DRL have come 30 years sooner to address the capacity shortfall that would have resulted from the TTC’s streetcar abandonment policy of the 60s? So there you go … blame JJ and SFT … 🙂

    Steve: Yes, it’s all our fault. We could have a city full of crumbling expressways and a decimated downtown. Why we did not embrace this bold future vision torments me constantly. 😉


  7. Once again, like in the OECD report, the disconnect between the origin:destination relationship is ignored. So long as the city of Toronto has tax policies that makes job creation near impossible, transit spending within the city should be halted. Future demand, like current congestion, is not within the city, it is in the surrounding areas.

    Steve: There is a large backlog of demand within the city that needs to move from autos to transit. This is completely separate from any question about where jobs are created. By the way, the working population of downtown is rising, and this has been handled almost entirely by growth in transit and walking trips. Jobs have been lost in old, worn out industrial areas, and these are converting to residential areas. Tax policy is only one part of the equation. Other considerations include access to highways (for manufacturing jobs) and availability of a workforce.


  8. Steve,

    I think that the Board of Trade selected the correct metrics. “How long does the average person take to get to work” is what matters for ordinary people.

    Analysis of the densities and urban forms is important, but it is the next step. If sprawl causes long commute times, then we have to either build rapid transit, or gradually change the urban forms (for example, promote residential construction in / near the CBD and at the same time promote job creation outside downtown but near subway lines).

    Steve: Yes, but the spin on the BoT’s finding is that Toronto’s congestion is worse than LA’s. That is NOT necessarily true. If two cities have the same level of congestion, then the one with the longer average commute distances will have the longer commute times. A city with more congestion could have lower average times if it also had lower average commute distances. The absence of this info the the BoT makes city-to-city comparisons impossible and produces absurd results such as Dallas, one of Forbes’ worst 10 commuter cities, appearing second(!) in the BoT rankings.


  9. The problem is we don’t have policies that really tackle sprawls … Green Belt Act, Place To Grow Act, Move Ontario 2020 etc … non of these policies really tackle sprawl. The suburbs will always be low density even if the nodal developments are successful such as Downtown Markham, Mississauga City Centre, Scarborough City Centre, or Vaughan Corporate Centre these are areas that will still be surrounded by large tracks of post war houses, thus sprawl will continue . How can we create a transit plan that will address this? Pockets of high density neighborhoods around low density development is poor planning and is why the GTA will continue to see commute times rise.


  10. Forbes ranks Buffalo Number 1?

    Not surprising that it’s easy to get around in Buffalo, a city of only 290,000 that has lost over 200,000 residents since the 1950’s. I wouldn’t trade all Toronto’s problems for that!


  11. It’s not misleading – you just haven’t put yourself in the shoes if the commuter/traveller/citizen, and you misunderstand what the report is about.

    The point is that the quality of life of Torontonians is diminished by having to spend more time in transit – rather that at home, work or play.

    The study is not a transportation study – it’s a scorecard covering a very diverse factors pertinent to the GTA’s attractiveness/competitiveness.

    It’s interesting that the mayor of Toronto and the press have seized upon the delay/suspension of some Transit City streetcar projects. I’ve read in this blog on at least a few occasions that the Transit City scheme is mostly intended to provide local transit – not to improve commute times.

    Steve: As I have said elsewhere, The Board of Trade seeks to compare commute times between cities when this is only part of a more complex comparison. I agree that long commutes are bad for Toronto, but also argued in my piece that we have them specifically because we built a city and a road network to encourage long commutes, and now that the network is full, we reap the benefit, so to speak, of a bad design.

    LoS Angeles is not inherently better than Toronto because of its supposed shorter commute times.


  12. Here’s an experiment. Ask your co-worker, neighbour, friend, relative, anyone, etc,…

    Ask them “What is the distance of your daily commute (to work or school)?” Ask for the distance in miles or kilometers,… whatever they’re comfortable with. This is a trip most people do twice a day, 5 days a week, for years and years,… What you’ll find is most people won’t even have a clue about their travel distance. They’ll give you a estimated rounded off guess,… like 10km, 20km?

    Now rephase that original question,… but instead of asking about distance ask about time. “How long does it take you to get to work/school?” Now only will most people give you a much more accurate answer,… but they’ll usually able to give you their average time, best time and of course worst time,… usually with a story too! And the worst time story might involve the Yonge subway line being shut down!

    The vast majority of folks won’t have an idea of what their distance traveled for their daily commute,… simply because the amont of distance (in km or miles) really doesn’t matter to them. But these same folks will be very specific about the amount of time it takes for their commute,… why?,… because time itself is much more important to most people.

    Thus, I would say the Board of Trade selected the correct metrics by focusing on the amount of time the commute takes.

    Now to get TTC to tweak their network and focus on the time it takes their riders to commute. Why is it that the road routes that car drivers choose for their quickness in and out of the core (ie DVP, Gardiner, Lakeshore, Adelaide, Richmond, Jarvis/Mt Pleasant, lower part of Bayview) are thoroughfares that TTC have little or no presence?

    Steve: I agree with your methodology as it applies to one city. However, the Board of Trade is trying to compare cities, and that is impossible without knowing the distance travelled. Cities with shorter distances will tend to have better commute times.

    Why does the TTC not run on “fast” streets? Because in many cases they have nobody living there. Adelaide and Richmond are right next to Queen and King, and Jarvis has peak period service already.


  13. I’m really not certain what’s with all the hate against people who drive. People don’t live out in Markham for fun, they do it because they cannot afford to own elsewhere, and don’t want to rent anymore. The idea that stopping the Allen where it is was an excellent idea is even more ridiculous. Anyone who’s had to take transit though that area knows how bad it can get. Even if you were to take the highway back to Lawrence, you just move the problem north. If you destroy the highway south of the 401, you move that traffic on to Bathurst. Something needs to be done about this situation, and digging a tunnel to extend the highway to Davenport is not going to suddenly change the entire city into a US/New Jersey style urban wasteland. There is not enough space to put in a new highway anywhere else without knocking down a significant number of buildings, and hence it would be the final highway extension (of a new highway) between the DVP and the 427, ever. There is also space for a highway in Scarborough in the Hydro Corridor, which again, would not make Scarborough into (any more of) a wasteland, especially if both these extensions are tolled. Frankly, the express lanes of the 401 should have tolls as well. This whole thing is turning into a “People’s front of Judea” situation. When a pro-road organization comes out with a document that could get better Transit, people poo poo it, because of who it comes from.

    And in good news. It appears CN has told to Metrolinx/GO a key section of track west of Union Station.


  14. I don’t agree with Nick’s comment that says “People don’t live out in Markham for fun, they do it because they cannot afford to own elsewhere, and don’t want to rent anymore.” Of course there are affordable houses in the City of Toronto. They may not have the size and modcons of Markham’s plywood (actually particleboard) palaces, and the basements might be leaky, but they’re affordable. And they have TTC service and may be in walkable/bicyclable distance of shopping, schools, and recreation.

    As for extending the Allan to Davenport, it would be a huge waste of money tunnelling only to have the tunnel clogged full of stuck cars on the first day. There’s no place for traffic to go at Davenport and Spadina. Of course we could rip up already-packed Spadina Ave. for the benefit of Markham commuters, sort of like the Decarie Expressway in Montreal. No thanks.


  15. Where is the backlog? The increased ridership is a result of higher gas prices, not job creation. The pittance of new job creation that occurred in the city was downtown. The working population growth which you mentioned downtown, can walk or take existing transit. Before this recent tiny spurt in employment growth, even the core was losing jobs. Wards 20,27 and 28 combined the stats show an alarming trend. Between 1989 and 2004 these wards combined had lost 26,404 employment positions (Toronto employment survey). Between 1991 and 2001 the percentage of residents in these wards whom commuted outside of the city to work increased by 14.3%. Seeing that they are going outside of the city, not just the core, it is safe to assume that it is by car, not public transit, bike or on foot.

    Also consider that these stats miss a large portion of the influx of people that moved into the core after 2001 and are the least affected wards in the city. The outlying wards have fared far worse. With the province set to help expand public transit in Toronto, one must look at the potential for ridership growth. There are many factors effecting public transit utilization. The most influential are outside of the control of public transit operators have a greater impact on utilization than do ones under their control.

    All in all, the case for transit expansion in Toronto should be contingent on the underlying issues effecting demand being addressed.


  16. The other question is how many make this trip because of a decision that they made on where to live when they could have chosen to move elsewhere. There are lots of people I know that choose to live north of Kitchener, Guelph, Barrie etc. because they want the “life style”. This results in one way trips from 50 to 80 minutes. Is that the fault of the GTA? No, it is a result of a conscious choice that they made.

    When I got married we moved to Brampton because my wife would not live in the “city (anything south of Steeles.) I taught at Central Tech, Bathurst and Harbord, and took GO train and TTC after walking to the station. My total travel time was about 40 very relaxed minutes. I read the Globe on the way in and the Star on the way home. I was never so well informed.

    I later took a teaching job and Bloor and Dixie and my drive was12 miles and 22 minutes with just 5 traffic lights. Ten years later there were 27 traffic light and the trip was 45 minutes. I then moved to a “closer school”, my drive was now only 30 minutes but discovered that it was 4 miles farther away. Many of the drive times result from choices people make. Most people might not be as free to changes job locations as I was but many are. It is not the responsibility of Society to make it possible for everyone to spend less than 45 minutes in total commute time.

    If we build the highways that some people want then we displace a lot of people from homes in denser areas and reduce the population density. This will only increase the average travel time. Governments have to resist the developers’ desire to build large single family homes on “executive” lots. This is extremely inefficient for every one but them. We need to intensify existing areas and do mote mixed use zoning. My favourite street is Spadina. It isn’t perfect but it sure has intense usage and transit service.


  17. Some other interesting items:

    Page 29 Toronto had a -0.9% residential building permit growth over the last five years but that doesn’t not mean that we are not building residential unit but not as fast a 5 years ago. If they do not remove outliers then a city that went from 10 units 5 years ago to 100 last year would have a 200% per year average growth but it would be irrelevant. What is are residential building rate as a percentage of population, that might be a more relevant statistic. I would love to see this for the cities of Buffalo or Detroit since the end of WW II.

    Page 31. Toronto’s ranking in patent probably does not include the high tech area of Kitchener which is probably where it is because of its proximity to Toronto. The CMA for Toronto while it goes up to Lake Simcoe leaves out very ;large manufacturing areas of Cambridge, Hamilton Kitchener Waterloo and Guelph, all of which owe the sized and importance to their proximity to Toronto.

    As someone once said, there are liars, there are damned liars and then there are statistics. I would not trust any set of statistics unless you can also analyze the raw data and do a comparison of methodologies between areas.

    I will have to spend more time reading this document.


  18. To expand on Dave and Nick’s comments, the problem is double sided. You have the anti-car people saying that cars create pollution, more roads lead to more congestion, and that transit is the only way to reduce traffic. Then we have the pro-car people saying that transit is slower and less convenient than driving, and ends up being a multi-billion dollar social service. The result: Nothing gets done.

    Highways and rapid transit both have their places. Cars are not going away, but in a metropolis like Toronto we need to divert some trips on to transit. These trips also have to be competitive with driving, otherwise people won’t use it unless they have to. While local transit is lacking, regional transit is non-existent. This is a serious problem in a region as sprawled as Toronto, where traffic congestion hits the suburbs almost as bad as it hits the downtown, if not worse. If Transit City is “dead,” then the Progressive Conservatives would be smart to revive the GO ALRT plan, or something similar in operation.

    As for highways in an urban environment, they too have their place, but also must be implemented very cautiously. There are many cities which have highways through their cores, and are not dead like Detroit. In Toronto’s case, while the Allen/Spadina expressways should never have been built in the first place, the 400 south extension could have been built – if done right (which for the record, wasn’t going to be). Today, these expressways exist as the 427 express and collectors mess, and the Crosstown and Scarborough expressways exist as the 401 express and collectors mess.


  19. Whenever you see these studies. you have to ask, who paid for it, and what was their agenda.

    I agree though with you Steve, the matrix should be time over distance, if the average commuter in Toronto travels 35km in 80 minutes, is this worse then a commuter in LA who travels 15km in 65 minutes. Removing distance from the equation skews the results against longer distance travel for reasons other then needing space.

    Go anywhere outside of Toronto and you will see large crops of McMansions, huge houses on tiny lots, because the land is the most expensive part of the cost, they can pave over huge tracts of land, but the density is almost as high as in the core. This in itself isn’t always a bad thing, IF there is a community there and most people in that community live and work within it.

    Many of these developments have no infrastructure themselves, other then maybe a hasty market and a gas station. This means a long trip by automobile for just about anything. You can blame the province for some of this in that there was no requirement that sub-divisions had local infrastructure.


  20. What the province should have done post-war to reign in the boomers spreading their suburban ooze over good farmland: made the greenbelt closer, kept the railway lines we once had, added more, manufactured all of that in Ontario, built the highways we have, but not beyond the greenbelt. What a fine dense city, and with inner-ring suburbs of East York density, we’d now have! We certainly never had any vision of what Toronto should have become, nor have we now.


  21. Having lived in both Toronto and LA, I’ll just note that LA has an excellent highway system and a greatly improved transit system, whereas Toronto has a lousy highway system and a fair but stagnant transit system. It is the lack of imagination and leadership which is frustrating in Toronto. I have also lived in Vienna, and saw more expansion of the fabulous transit system there in eight months than in twenty-eight years in Toronto.

    Despite the quibbles regarding distances traveled and development patterns, long commute times are bad, and therefore special attention is required. Paris also has very far-flung suburbs, but an extensive surface rail system serves their needs. Toronto is far from saturated with surface rail (only three or four trains each way every day for Richmond Hill is an example); extension of the subway north is hardly practical when the trains are already packed leaving Finch. I would argue that GO train expansion joining regional bus transit hubs is needed, with the trains being made faster and cleaner by complete electrification. This way commute times can be reduced as well as made more pleasant and productive.


  22. It would be interesting to take an informal survey of readers here to see their normal commuting modes, round-trip travel times, and distances.

    My own stats are (I think) fairly depressing. Just getting from Chester to St. Andrew by subway now takes me 55 minutes round-trip on a good day, where “a good day” means only having to let two or three trains pass before I can get on. B-D isn’t nearly as bad as the Y-U-S in this regard, but I have a bum knee and need to be sure that I will get a solid hand-hold or I can’t board. I know this is my fault for attempting to board at 8:25am, but two years ago my round-trip time was regularly 10 minutes less.

    Steve: Just to be clear, the stats cited in the BoT paper and in Forbes are for one-way trips, not round trips. I agree that travel on the central part of the subway system is getting quite ridiculous and I know that trying to board at Broadview in the AM peak is an exercise in frustration. Nothing in the TTC’s plans for over a decade addresses this problem.


  23. @Greg:
    I live at Christie and Bloor. I work at Warden and Highway 7.

    I go there via Bloor subway and 68 Warden. I go back via Viva Pink, Yonge subway, and Bloor subway. It takes me about an hour and 15 minutes one way, or two hours and 30 minutes a day.

    The worst commute I ever had was Richmond Hill to UofT Scarborough. 2 hours one way, 4 hours a day.

    Density is measured in people per square kilometre rather than bricks per square kilometre. A detached house in Brampton houses no more people than a bungalow in East York but takes up more room. You could fit in more people and thus more community and more social activity by building a townhouse block on the same lot.


  24. Lets have a look at what former Mayor John Sewell has to say regarding who should pay for TC.

    If these light rail transit lines are so critical to the health of the city, why don’t the crybabies on city council fund them with increased residential property tax? Why don’t they take the mid-point for property taxes in the GTA, raising them so every homeowner pays $500 more a year than in the draft budget? That would pour about $400 million this year into these transit lines.

    If you want the lowest taxes in the GTA then you can’t afford all the transit improvements you want. If you want more transit, then maybe you can’t have the lowest taxes. Which is it for the crybabies?

    Steve: Crybabies on Council? Have you attended any meeting where property tax hikes are discussed? The gallery is filled with apoplectic folks who demand that Council do anything but raise their taxes.

    It’s odd that Sewell’s article appears on April 1, but I will presume he is serious in his proposal.

    The total city revenue from Property taxes is about $3.5-billion. To fund an additional $400m for transit expansion would require an across-the-board increase of about 14%. This would still leave us with funding problems for the regular capital repair budget and the operating budget.

    If someone wants to schedule a public meeting in which a 14% tax increase is on the table, they should bring heavy armour. Oh yes, that 14% assumes the taxes go up evenly, but Sewell was only talking about residential taxes. I am sure we would hear lots from the Board of Trade about how we were driving jobs out of the city if we tried to do this on the business tax rates too.

    Meanwhile, people who propose simplistic solutions should check their facts.


  25. I think Stefan is on to something here!

    Steve: Hmmm. Frequent suburban rail services. Sounds like electrified GO Transit to me.


  26. Steve,

    Yes I have been to council meetings when the issue of taxes has been on the table. Blaming the public for wanting something for nothing (more spending and lower taxes) is largely the result of council. From raiding the reserves, increases in provincial transfers and high business taxes, residents in Toronto are accustomed to be subsidised. Whose fault is that?

    Stating that it is politically impossible to raise residential taxes by 14% or more, therefore Sewell is being unrealistic, is foolish. It is more reasonable than expecting the rest of Ontario to pay for Toronto’s public transit. Promising to spend others money is the simplest political solution of all.

    If you are really interested in how the cities finances are going to work out, I suggest you read the works of Nobel laureate James McGill Buchanan. Pay particular attention to his writings on maximizing property taxes and the comparisons between short and long run maximization. In short, much higher taxes are coming to Toronto. By choosing the short run, the city has undermined its portion of the assessment base that produces a net gain of revenue.

    Steve: Can I add you to the list of guest speakers who will address the multitude on the subject of higher taxes? You write about high business taxes. Do you want the entire load of building transit to fall on property taxes?

    I am getting rather tired of people with “conservative” outlooks suggesting that the real solution is to raise taxes.

    By the way, once we build a nice new subway on Eglinton (or wherever) entirely with Toronto tax money, anyone who suggests we should have an integrated fare with the 905 can jump in the lake (provided that they pay for the ferry ride first).


  27. Steve,

    Just to add an additional rebuttal to Glen’s comment: “It is more reasonable than expecting the rest of Ontario to pay for Toronto’s public transit. Promising to spend others’ money is the simplest political solution of all.”

    Following this argument, the Prvince should stop subsidizing transit in Chatham, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Hamilton. London, etc. (all of which actually have a higher proportion of their transit subsidized by the Province than Toronto does). This logic basically says that transit should be left to wither and die across the entire Province because the Province shouldn’t be funding something that is of “local” benefit. This is shades of the Harris era “Common (Non)Sense Revolution” – download everything you can and balance the Provincial books on the backs of the municipalities.

    As well, I like your comment “By the way, once we build a nice new subway on Eglinton (or wherever) entirely with Toronto tax money, anyone who suggests we should have an integrated fare with the 905 can jump in the lake (provided that they pay for the ferry ride first).” We should be charging extra for every non-Toronto resident who rides the Yonge line between Eglinton and Union because that section was funded entirly by the TTC itself!


  28. I have been reading Stefan’s comments:

    “Despite the quibbles regarding distances traveled and development patterns, long commute times are bad, and therefore special attention is required. Paris also has very far-flung suburbs, but an extensive surface rail system serves their needs. Toronto is far from saturated with surface rail (only three or four trains each way every day for Richmond Hill is an example); extension of the subway north is hardly practical when the trains are already packed leaving Finch. I would argue that GO train expansion joining regional bus transit hubs is needed, with the trains being made faster and cleaner by complete electrification. This way commute times can be reduced as well as made more pleasant and productive.”

    In his latest post in “Human Transit”,“Australia: Pitfalls of Metro-Envy” Jarrett makes some interesting point about most suburban commuter rail line be radial with support for the CBD trips only. That is certainly the case with GO Transit’s rail network though its bus network does try to link non-downtown hubs together. Expanding the existing GO rail network and adding the new services that they talk about will do nothing to relieve this problem as they too are radial. What are needed are non-radial lines.

    The only non-radial lines are CP’s North Toronto Sub and CN’s York-Halton Subs. These are part of their main transcontinental lines across North America and their screams would probably exceed the pain threshold if they were told to allow frequent commuter service on them. The distance from CN’s Halton Sub to CP’s North Toronto Sub is about 15 km along Yonge Street. The distance from the North Toronto Sub to Union is just over 3 km at Yonge Street. These are the only non-radial lines south of Sudbury so they are the only ones available. IF, and it is a very big IF, the railways could be talked into allowing commuter rail service on these line then a series of fast cross town links could be built. The problem with CP’s line is that it would seriously overload the Yonge and probably the Spadina subways.

    CN’s line nicely parallels the 407 from the Toronto Durham border out to Burlington and would provide a link of all the major sites that the GO 407 express route serves. It would also connect outside of the 416 area all of the radial rail lines that are running or are planned. The use of the Galt, Belleville and North Toronto would connect everything but the two Lake Shore lines but it could connect with these also by running along the CN’s York and Halton subs at either end. A case could also be made for going down the Canpa Sub from Islington to Mimico Yard to reach the inner end of the Lake Shore West line.

    The first problem would be that the areas served by these services would be very low density and thus low demand at first. The second problem would be the potential overloading of Spadina and Yonge subways south of the CP. One solution would be to charge a premium fare for anyone who made the connection that would overload the subways in the peak periods. I don’t think that this is a problem that we will have to worry about because it doesn’t fit the GO-Metrolinx’ view that everyone, at least 95% of them, in southern Ontario wants to go to Union Station. It would be an interesting exercise to do a study and see what the effect of such cross town lines along with all day service on the radial lines plus a good set of feeder bus services would do in creating a new demand. It would at least set up a spider web grid. Well, we can all dream.


  29. Gord and Steve,

    Welcome to the present generation. Twenty years ago Toronto was the heart of the GTA. Today it is the sick man. Commuter flows have reversed.

    The balance of office space between Toronto and the rest of the region has clearly shifted since the 1960s. One study found that in 2004, 1.8 million square feet of office space was under construction in the suburban parts of the Toronto CMA, compared to less than 500,000 in downtown Toronto. Another study noted that between 1986 and 2003, the number of head offices of companies in the Financial Post 500 in Toronto fell from 171 to 136, while the number in the rest of the Greater Toronto Area rose from 32 to 62.

    TO Office Coalition Report

    Vaughan and Mississauga are net importers of labour from Toronto, and I believe that Markham is also. For the province to expand PT in Toronto proper, is bad policy until this dynamic is addressed. If the city gets serious about having a viable commercial assessment base, then I would argue that such an investment would be wise. But lets not pretend that we are at that point. The ‘congestion’ that is frequently cited in Toronto is not downtown (just watch the city cams on Breakfast Television or read the Cordon Count), it is outside the city.

    Steve: The report you cite is from 2005 which was certainly an era during which there was no growth in office space downtown. That situation is now changing, although not at its former rate. Downtown is not the only place for office buildings, by the way. A great deal of public transit demand, demand that is not very well served, travels between areas outside the downtown, and this is the demand Transit City would begin to address.

    In comparing tax levels between the 416 and 905, the coalition states that there are higher education taxes in Toronto than in the suburbs. True, and that is a deliberate policy of the Ontario government, not of City Council. You (and the office owner) should focus your efforts on Queen’s Park for that one.

    The relative balance between residential and commercial property taxes has been shifting for several years, and this process will finish sometime around 2015.

    If anything, this report argues for increased support for core area development which is more easily served by transit.

    With regards to your last comment ‘about jumping in the lake’. I agree, if Toronto pays for it out of non fare box revenue, then they should not be subsidising those from outside the city. Of course for 905ers to pay for that they may want to share in some of the other transfers that seem to go predominantly to Toronto.

    Steve: You are misrepresenting this table. It says quite clearly that “the 905 gets $x, other areas get $y”. Not “Toronto”, but “other areas”. The level of subsidy from Queen’s Park of areas outside of the 416/905 is a big issue for Toronto too. However, Toronto is not swimming in cash that was denied to the 905.


  30. Steve the ETBC program concludes with a tax rate that 2.5 that of residential. That is still too high! Especially when Toronto’s residential taxes are set to soar 48% in the next four years. This is why I stated before that the city needs to be serious about addressing this issue.

    WRT to transfer stats I am not misrepresenting them at all. Unlike you I have read the reports. The Star compiled them from the Untied Way report done by Price Water-House. The ‘other areas’ exclude Toronto because ” Including these regions in the analysis would make the provincial annual operating funding gaps in LHINs with high-growth populations even larger”.

    Steve: I tried to track down that report online and could not find it although I found many references and quotations, but no report. I am not trying to be willfully ignorant.

    In any event, if “other areas” exclude Toronto, I fail to see how this supports your argument which is, after all, against Toronto.


  31. Link to “Assessing the Gap, 2008 Update.

    Steve: Your quote from the footnotes did not give the full context. Here is footnote 8:

    Toronto and Northern Ontario were excluded from the Ontario average and other Ontario regions average calculations because of their unique situations:

    Toronto includes numerous referral hospitals (providing a specific type of highly specialized care) that other regions do not and the North regions face a unique
    situation due to issues of lack of economies of scale. We believe exclusion of both from average calculations is more fair and representative of the situation
    in the rest of the province. Including Toronto and Northern Ontario would increase the size of the Ontario average and make the per resident provincial
    annual operating funding gap between GTA/905 regions and the rest of Ontario even larger.

    Basically Toronto gets more because it has a different makeup of clients for various types of social funding. It also provides specialized services on a regional and provincial basis, although the degree to which this affects the calculations is not clear.

    What is clear is that the comparison numbers between the 905 and the “rest of Ontario” (which does not include the north or Toronto), does show that the 905 is getting less than its fair share, but not that Toronto is the culprit. As in many provincial programs, there is a redistribution of resources away from the GTA to other regions.


  32. The reason I purposely left out the referral qualification is that the issue itself brings up a whole lot of other issues. Yes, by nature of having so many Hospitals serving as the referral recipients, Toronto needs more money for this (which they get). Nearly half of the University Health Networks clients come from the 905 region.

    On the other hand, the surrounding GTA is clamouring for hospitals of their own, fully funded by the province like Toronto’s were. Complaining about 905ers using Toronto’s public transit and roads, subsidised by Torontonians, while the location of such services are located in Toronto is hypocritical. If Toronto is incurring extra costs, which is not the same as extra costs being occurred inside Toronto, then why are they not reflected in tax burdens? Residents of Toronto cannot complain of any unfairness. Resident’s taxes do not even cover the costs to provide Fire, Police, Ambulance, Libraries, Parks, transportation, etc.. If you want to go over the numbers, email me.


  33. From The National Post: The great gridlock joke

    Selected quotes…

    But now let us turn to what the congestion numbers really show, which is not what they say they show. Let’s also look at where the numbers came from and why, in truth, they are all really just fabricated fodder from the transit-industrial complex that hovers over urban transportation policy around the world and has all but seized control of Toronto.

    Torontonians are getting conned. There is no OECD study on Toronto congestion showing $5-billion in economic losses. It is also certain that the famed 80-minute commute that supposedly gives Toronto the worst gridlock in the developed world is at best statistically indefensible. It distorts Toronto commute times and misrepresents the true nature of urban travel.

    A big clue as to where the number comes from appears in the opening sentences of the OECD report on Toronto: “The OECD would like to thank the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, as well as city, provincial and federal officials” who provided the imformation, data and context for the OECD analysis.

    The now-famous Toronto Board of Trade commute time of 80 minutes, allegedly slower than other major North American cities, is a good example of the private car versus public transit divide. The 80 minutes is an average for Toronto of all commuters using all forms of transport to get to work. It’s from a 2005 Statistics Canada report, The Time It Takes to Get to Work and Back. But as the StatsCan report says, the most important factor in how long it takes to get to work and back is whether commuters use public transit. “All things being equal,” says StatsCan, “commuters who use public transit to work … spend an average of 41 minutes more on their daily commute than those using an automobile.”

    That 41 minutes more in public transit travel time brings the total commute time for TTC and GO transit users to 113 minutes (see tables). The average car driver spends much less, 72 minutes. Now I ask you: Is 72 minutes in a two-way commute to work an indicator of massive gridlock and congestion? Since when is a 36-minute drive to work an indicator of driving hell?

    The Toronto congestion story is all story, myth and statistical illusion.

    Steve: And I would be inclined to be slightly more favourable to your selection of quotations if you had included the substantial section about how Metrolinx used a consultant known for producing justifications of large public projects to crank out that congestion cost figure. It was a Metrolinx report, not something from Miller’s office, although the quote you selected might be misread to imply Miller had something to do with it.

    Metrolinx is big on “business case analyses” using methodology that is extremely suspect to justify projects and to choose between alternative implementations. These provide lots of work for consultants, some of whom appear to have only a passing familiarity with the GTA, but give their work a patina of respectability. Unfortunately, they tend to study lines one at a time rather than collections of lines, or alternative network structures, to determine a best case for what they are really supposed to do — built a network.

    Yes, we need proper economic analysis of what we might build, but we need a process that is clear, defensible, rooted in meaningful data, and addressing questions of network alternatives, not individual routes.

    As for the “congestion” scam, I have already written about this and feel that the numbers cited by the Board of Trade article totally misrepresent Toronto’s comparative situation. Alas, it is now commonplace for anyone who talks about transit to cite the “longer than LA” travel times without bothering to look under the covers. I don’t agree with everything Terence Corcoran writes in the Post, but there’s a lot of truth in his article.


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