Plane, train or automobile: which is the better way from K-W to Toronto?

Three K-W friends decided to take three different modes of transportation to see who would get from Kitchener to Toronto the fastest, and which was the most effective way. The results may not be what you expect.

Analysis took into account direct, indirect costs and qualitative factors

Friends Taylor Jackson, Matt Scobel and Colin Calvert before setting out by train, plane and automobile on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017 (Submitted by: Colin Calvert)

At first, it seems like a classic algebra question: If a train, a plane and automobile leave Kitchener at 6:47 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, which will get to Toronto first? And which mode of transportation will arrive in time to make an important meeting downtown at 9:00 a.m ?

The question reflects a real-life experiment conducted by Colin Calvert, of Solve CFO, and friends Matt Scobel and Taylor Jackson last week. 

They wanted to know which mode of transportation was the least time and most cost efficient, for people travelling between Waterloo region and Toronto, and which made the most sense as a justifiable business expense.
Colin Calvert said he 'got lucky' on his commute between Kitchener and Toronto; the drive only took him an hour and 45 minutes. (Submitted by: Colin Calvert)

"So the three of us get together, at 6:47 a.m., we take off from the Kitchener GO station. I'm driving, Taylor's taking the train and Matt's on the plane — or taking off to get to the airport," Calvert told CBC Radio on Wednesday.

When FLYGTA launched its daily Toronto to Kitchener service back in October, the airline pitched the route as a way for commuters, especially the business community, to get out of the gridlock on Highway 401 and into Toronto in record time. 

That month was particularly hard on highway commuters, with the 401 highway closed four times in nine days due to collisions.

Race rules

The parameters were simple:

  • They would all depart at the same time (6:47 a.m., the scheduled departure time for the GO train), from the same location: the rail station in downtown Kitchener.
  • Scobel would take an Uber vehicle from the Kitchener GO station to the Waterloo Region airport, and a similar taxi at the other end after landing.
  • The car driver, Calvert, left the train station and headed by highway to Toronto. He had to park in a location in Toronto offering all-day parking.
  • The final destination — where Scobel had an important business meeting — was a 10 minute walk from Toronto's Union Station. 

The three took wagers from their friends, and the airplane overwhelmingly led the bets. 

"It's just getting busier and busier on the highways and we've, as a region, recognized a need for connecting our short-hop cities," FLYGTA's Chris Nowrouzi told CBC K-W when the airline launched. 

Flight, train delays

That morning, though, the plane wasn't as reliable as promised. The airplane Scobel was supposed to take off in was delayed. The GO train also got a slow start; as Calvert pulled away in his car, the train still hadn't left the station "so I got a little bit of a head start," he said.

In the end, it was Calvert by car who arrived first, at 8:36 a.m. Jackson arrived at 9:00 a.m. but Scobel "experienced the worst case scenario," wrote Calvert in his own analysis of the three trips. Scobel ended up missing his meeting; his flight didn't land at the Billy Bishop downtown airport until 10:07 a.m.

"I dominated the two of them," said Calvert with a laugh. "I showed up about half an hour before Taylor. And Matt had some unfortunate circumstances with his plane. It didn't actually start so they had to fly in a new plane to get him there."

Time is money

Though the car proved to be the fastest way to get between the two cities that day, it wasn't the most cost-efficient — especially when indirect costs such as en route productivity, were taken into account. 

"So for me, I can't get anything done [when driving]," said Calvert. "Taylor was able to be productive for about an hour and Matt, you might think that you can be productive taking the plane, but when plane is only 20 minutes in the air ... there's not really any time to sit down and get into any sort of rhythm."

That made Jackson, with a GO ticket costing $61.40, the winner as the most efficient use of time and money, said Calvert. 

"The train was also the cheapest from an indirect cost perspective, because you had the least amount of lost time," he said.

The three also took into consideration qualitative factors such as stress and mental exhaustion during the commute —  and Calvert admits he was "very lucky" the day of the race, making it to Toronto by car in 1 hour 45 minutes. 

"So I didn't have a lot of stress, but I think if I'm doing that a couple times a week, and I'm playing traffic game every time I'm doing that, the stress level can probably start to rack up," said Calvert. "Whereas Taylor, he was playing the ukelele on the train so he was pretty carefree."

Calvert said he knows the race wasn't a definitive test, and believes on another day the plane ride would have been far more competitive.

So the three plan on trying it again in the new year with a sequel to their plane, train and automobile Toronto commuter test.

With files from the CBC's Carmen Ponciano


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