How to make Toronto's transit more equitable

A new study introduces transit equity into the discussion about where to build transit. Poor people pay an additional price for public transit - in time and health.

Researchers at York U reimagine a more fair Toronto transit system

Weston Road, south of Eglinton Avenue, looking northward. This was one of the routes studied by researchers looking for a more equitable transit system. (City Institute)

Everybody pays the same fare to ride the TTC.

But if you're poor, chances are you're paying more each month than more affluent riders. That's not only because you can't afford a Metropass, but that you're paying a lot more in terms of time and well-being.

A new study shows that people in low-income neighbourhoods in the GTA have longer commutes, which are mostly by bus instead of subway, and it affects their health.

A new study introduces transit equity into the discussion about where to build transit. Poor people pay an additional price for public transit, in time and health. Matt Galloway spoke with urban planner Sean Hertel. But first we heard from a commuter. 11:50

Sean Hertel is an urban planner, and researcher at the City Institute at York University. He's the co-author with Roger Keihl and Michael Collins of a new study commissioned by Metrolinx, called Next Stop: Equity.

He said commutes, time, health — it's all connected. He identified the suburbs, the focus of the City Institute and the study, as "economic and social peripheries" of Toronto, and said there is a connection to less expensive housing that fuels the commutes.

What will lighten the burden for citizens of these communities is better transit, the report concludes.

"It's not being done effectively in the suburbs," said Hertel.

He said the majority of the commutes are east-west, which are routes generally served by buses.

When riders take the bus, they choreograph their entire day around the bus schedule. That becomes a sort of house of cards for some riders.

"It's a mental drain, just planning the trip," he said.

"I heard about a woman rushing to the bus to catch the bus with two children. She knew if she missed the bus, she'd miss every other appointment that day. She fell and broke her arm in three places."

He said a simple solution would be to minimize how many times a person has to get on and off a bus in a single trip.

But it's also about subtleties of the commute: buses and bus stops are often dirty, drivers are not responsive. He said these factors matter in terms of a rider's dignity.

Metrolinx funded the research as part of its review of the Big Move regional transportation plan — on which the agency is spending upwards of $50-million. Metrolinx will use this report to inform the review.

 The report makes a number of recommendations about how to make fares more affordable.

"There are three things that affect equity — it's the routes or the network; frequency and quality of service; and what you pay and how you pay for it," said Hertel.

In total, the study makes 18 recommendations for more equitable transit. Some of those are:

  • Creating a consistent regional framework for transit fares, including discounted passes for low-income residents and more broadly defined groups of students;
  • Ensuring new development near transit stations does not result in a net loss of affordable apartments or displace vulnerable residents;
  • Augmenting service to employment destinations, especially those trips made in off-peak hours, through a further analysis of evolving commuting patterns, especially outside the downtown core;
  • Improving customer service, including vehicle and station comfort and cleanliness.

Read the whole report here.