Toronto 'working overtime' to get people moving

A comparison of transit systems in five major Canadian cities shows just how much Toronto has fallen behind its peers when it comes to getting people moving.

Pembina Institute compares transit in 5 Canadian cities, finds Toronto is falling behind

Toronto built most of its subway network decades ago, and the city has added far less rapid transit in the past 20 years than other big cities in Canada. (CBC)

A comparison of transit systems in five major Canadian cities shows just how much Toronto has fallen behind its peers when it comes to getting people moving.

The Pembina Institute, an environment think tank, has taken a close look at the rapid transit that exists and that is being built in Canada's largest city, as well as in Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

Toronto has the longest network of rapid transit among those cities, but it hasn't been building much lately.

According to Pembina, only Montreal has built less rapid transit than Toronto over the past two decades. Over that time period, Toronto has added 18 kilometres of rapid transit, while Montreal has built only five additional kilometres. Those additions trail well behind the 44 kilometres of rapid transit that Vancouver opened in the past 20 years, as well as the build-ups in Calgary (29 kilometres) and Ottawa (23 kilometres).

The past two decades have seen Toronto add 87 kilometres of express bus lines, which is twice the amount added in Vancouver (38 kilometres) and five times the amount in Calgary (16 kilometres). Pembina says that Montreal and Ottawa haven't added express bus lines since then.

The bus improvements aside, Pembina says that Toronto is "working overtime" to get its people moving. Of the five cities surveyed, Toronto has the most people per capita taking rapid transit, but it has a smaller per-capita proportion of infrastructure available to serve its riders than in Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary.

While Toronto built a substantial base for its subway network decades ago, transit service hasn't grown as quickly at the same rate as the city's population. 

According to Cherise Burda, the Pembina Institute's Ontario director, Toronto has been "surpassed by cities like Vancouver and Calgary, which have adopted more flexible transit solutions to serve their growing populations."

While Toronto has a number of transit projects on the horizon, Pembina says the city is paying more to build them.

Toronto is in the midst of a municipal election in which transit is taking centre stage. Major candidates have put forward a series of transit proposals during the campaign thus far.

Mayor Rob Ford, the incumbent, is talking about major subway enhancements, though it is not immediately clear the city would pay for those improvements. 

John Tory has pitched a 53-kilometre surface transit line that he has dubbed "Smart Track" and believes can be built in less than a decade. To fund it, Tory would look to help from other governments and also using so-called Tax Increment Financing to provide funds.

Olivia Chow says that putting more buses on the road is the best way to improve the Toronto transit system in the shortest period of time. But she also supports the building of a downtown subway relief line.