Commuting in Toronto: an Analysis

By Ahnaf Ferdous

With a population of around 2.8 million people in Toronto proper, and 6 million across the GTA, there’s no question that Toronto is the most populous and one of the fastest growing cities in Canada; from 2011 to 2016, there was a 4.46% increase in population. During that same period, hardly any transit projects, service improvements or increases in road capacity have been implemented (in fact, they’ve been cut). All of this gives rise to the endless frustration of gridlocked traffic and ridiculously full vehicles. The million dollar question then is: why is Toronto’s transportation system so poor?


Winter Woes


Every commuter’s worst fear is heavy snow. Snow can be beautiful when one is looking out from a window, but it’s another story on the roads. Everyone is taken by surprise when heavy snowfall hits: drivers, pedestrians, snow ploughs, and train operators alike. Snow ploughs try their best to clear major roadways in the early hours before the hectic morning rush, and their effort must be commended. However, snow can continue to accumulate on missed non-major roadways, or reaccumulate if it falls heavy enough. This can cause distress for drivers who must drive to work in these conditions, especially if their cars are not equipped with snow tires.


Nonetheless, commuters who take transit are affected the most by far. Walking to a bus stop can be a challenge if the distance is long and sidewalks are in poor condition or covered with snow. More important is the issue of how well the buses can operate in these conditions, particularly within the TTC. TTC buses are not equipped with snow tires at all, since it is not a requirement for these buses, which have large enough tires with treads that can maneuver through the snow. However, the fact remains that buses, especially articulated buses used on busy routes like Eglinton or Dufferin, are extremely slow treading through the snow, and are prone to be stuck. Additionally, catenary and third rail fires caused by ice buildup can shut down whole streetcar and subway lines, and diesel engines in buses are notorious for not starting in cold weather. Thus, bus, streetcar and subway service tends to become slower, or disappear entirely.


Considering morning exams, this can be quite stressful for commuter students, who set their alarms earlier and plan ahead, but things do not quite work out all the time. This can be seen right here at Skule, where we have had unfortunate records of students missing ESP II quizzes due to station disturbances in inclement weather. So, what can be done? Perhaps increasing bus frequency beforehand based on weather forecasts could solve this issue for all commuters. Looking at long-term solutions, implementing more redundancy in the network with extra lines or weatherproofing transit infrastructure and vehicles. Anyways, commuting in the winter in Toronto sucks, but for now the only thing that we can do is make sure we check the weather regularly and always have an alternate route or plan with us just in case anything goes wrong.

Construction Impacts, Present and Future


Construction also plays a large part in Toronto’s traffic congestion. The downtown core is so littered with various construction projects that it’s a common source of anxiety for morning commuters coming in from the suburbs. On the bright side, major projects such as the Gardiner Expressway reconstruction and the massive extension of the 407 East Highway this past summer may improve commuting for certain portions of the populace.


A couple of months ago, however, the introduction of tolls on the DVP has caused a huge uproar from commuters, who now not only have to endure their morning commute but also pay out of pocket. Nevertheless, many believe that the introduction of these tolls could improve traffic flow, as seen in other cities which have used this practice, and the revenue could be used to fund improvements elsewhere in the system. At least something is being put into place to try to improve traffic. In addition, subway, LRT, and commuter rail (such as the Spadina, Eglinton, and Finch projects and GO Transit electrification) are being built by GO Transit, Metrolinx, and the TTC (as well as transit agencies in the 905) to expand Toronto’s small subway system in order to match the hundreds of kilometres of rapid transit offered in other large cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong.


How do I ride?


After taking into consideration all the aspects of commuting in Toronto, a decision needs to be made. Particularly for university students, transportation can be a major factor in deciding whether to save money and commute the whole semester or to find a residence within walking distance of the university.


Toronto’s transportation network is far from perfect, but changes and modifications are being put into place to improve the commute for the future. So, in the meantime, make sure you know about any construction that is occurring on your route, and consider all possible detours to get to your destination. If you can afford it, finding an apartment downtown might be a relief from a boring commute and a lively experience.


If you think you can handle the commute or do not think you want to live downtown, bear the commute for now because changes are happening. For commuting students, if you have an early exam or quiz, the best you can do is get up earlier and pack everything the night before, check for subway/bus closures beforehand, and have a backup plan (like Uber) just in case. Let’s just hope that the average daily Torontonian commute time of 65.6 minutes, which is decent for the ‘worst in Ontario,’ doesn’t become worst in the world.  

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