Majority of Toronto commuters still get in cars to get to work: census

Statistics Canada says the number of people who rely on the car to get to work in the Toronto area has decreased only slightly since five years ago.

The number of people who rely on cars to get to work in the Toronto area has decreased only slightly since the last census was released five years ago, Statistics Canada says.

In 2006, there were 2.4 million commuters in what the agency calls the census metropolitan area of Toronto, and 71.1 per cent of them used a car to get to work, either by driving or as a passenger.

Only 22.2 per cent of commuters used public transit to get to work, Statistics Canada said Tuesday, releasing data on where Canadians work, how they get there and travel times.

A total of 4.8 per cent walked to work, while only one per cent biked.

The percentage of commuters who used a car to get to work in 2006 is a drop from the 2001 census, which showed 71.4 per cent of commuters either drove to work or hitched a ride in another vehicle.

Analysing the data

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, who has provided suggestions and advice to 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."

Commuting distance similar both years

According to Statistics Canada, the median commuting distance in 2006 was 9.4 kilometres. In 2001, the median distance was 9.2 kilometres.

Statistics Canada defines "median distance" as meaning the point where half the population in a given region travels more than that distance, and the other half travels less.

Commuting distance is calculated on a straight line from home to work, not the actual route travelled. For most commuters, the actual distance would be longer.

Oshawa, Ont., has the distinction, according to the 2006 census, of having the longest median commuting distance in Canada at 11 kilometres. The shortest commute in the country is reportedly in Regina, where it is less than 4.6 kilometres.

Abbotsford, B.C., had the highest reliance on the car. Statistics Canada said 93.2 per cent of commuters either drove to work or were passengers in a vehicle.


With files from the Canadian Press