Transportation

The Global Commuting Crunch

By Ben Bull
Published December 14, 2007

The Toronto Star's excellent Commuter Series concludes today (if you haven't been following it, read it here.)

Fittingly, it's Urban Affairs Columnist Christopher Hume who signs off, and he does so in true Hume cut-to-the-chase style:

Whatever the appeal of the car may be, mobility has little to do with it. The truth of this lies not just in the extreme congestion and epic commutes documented this week by Star correspondents, but also in our mind-boggling capacity to put up with it.

If nothing else, the Star's Commuter series - during which we rode along with nine to fivers (and six to fourers, and five to three-ers) from all over the globe - has confirmed one thing to those commuters among us: We are not alone.

Whether it be James Darley's two hour trek from Radnage to London or Liu Ya'ou's 75 minute car, train and bike triathlon in Beijing, it seems that the dual pressures of urban sprawl and overpopulation are taking their toll all over the globe.

In the GTA, commuting by the numbers goes like this:

In the 1960s a typical suburban household would make 20 per cent of its trips by transit. By 2007 that had dropped to 10 per cent.

Kilometres of carpool lanes on provincial roads in the Toronto region this year: 39

Kilometres of carpool lanes projected for 2031: 400

Number of car occupants on average in Toronto in the 1970s: 1.25

Number of car occupants in Toronto now: 1.1

Percentage of trips taken on transit in Toronto: 35 percent

Percentage of trips taken on transit in York Region: 9 percent

Percentage of Toronto-area residents who say traffic congestion is a severe problem: 41 percent

Average Toronto-area round trip commute time in 2005: 79 minutes, up from 68 minutes in 1992

Proportion of Toronto-area workers with a round trip commute of an hour or more: 66 percent

To Hume's point, that we have a "mind-boggling capacity to put up with" commuting, I would have to agree. I myself wasted three hours of my day for six years of my life before I finally moved out of Hamilton. As to what to do about it, well, Hume suggests there is really only one solution: make it harder still:

What will be required [to fix the commuting problem] is something even more punishing than gridlock, no matter how bad it grows. The answer will include a program of road tolls, vehicular taxes, registration fees, parking restrictions and higher fuel prices.

Once thing's for sure: whether we impose penalties on commuters or not, one way or another it's just going to get harder.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted December 14, 2007 at 14:39:14

As I've been going on and on with friends, family and acquaintances, my belief is that 'the car issue' is not one predominantly of energy use, or of pollution created...or even, on the other side of the coin, one having to do with communities, sustainable living, or common-sense movement of people. The issue of 'The Automobile' surely incorporates all of the above, but to me, its very core is one that goes beyond all this. For the automobile has become the very foundation of life in North America, the primary expression of our materialistic society. Even though it's really just a modern-day extension of the horse. Which, as we all know, was never seen as anything more than a means to get ourselves from Point A to Point B.

Never mind the fact that our transportation paradigm is founded on the car. (Imagine, if you will, if Henry Ford's efforts had not borne fruit, and that instead of a road-based transportation system, somehow, someway, we'd ended up with a rail-based one. Yes, this is alternative-reality musing. But seriously; think about it...) Because it is a much-coveted possession, such a great indicator of where you are in your life (according to the prevailing value system; all one has to do is watch tv for several hours, or pick up a few magazines and browse the ads, and you'll see what I mean about the pre-eminence of The Automobile in our North American world), to me you have to acknowledge that in order to change mindsets regarding how we should be moving people, you have to change value systems, not try to scare people into changing their default or hammer them with intelligent argument to get them to see the light.

By and large, change doesn't happen unless there's either a) a crisis, or b) a sexier option is created. (But even if we could overnight change all cars to non-petroleum fueled states, would this really accomplish anything? That is, if cars were suddenly not bad for the environment at all...and I know this is a leap for some people to even conceptualize...would that be an acceptable alternative? Would the die-hard 'energy-efficient/eco-friendly movement of the masses' proponents be satisfied? No? Why not...?)

From what I see, unless we're talking crisis, we're never going to change the mindset, never going to shift the paradigm until 16 year old males don't yearn to own their first cars, and instead are focused on actually DOING something, rather than seeing the car...merely a means of getting them around...as the be-all and end-all.

Until then, I think I'll just keep on walking.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 14, 2007 at 17:49:06

The basic biological drive of us and all animals is to make oneself (emphasis on self) as sexy as possible. Compensating-for-something young guys in trucks, cougars in Beetles, middle aged money in Mercedes.

That's what the car does in our subconscious, and you can't fight biology. You can only temper it by realizing this and regulating the ability to harm others by vanity.

If anything else were true, we would all be driving Civics.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 14, 2007 at 20:46:35

Hey! I drive a Civic. :)

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2007 at 23:43:22

what does it mean if you have a '91 mazda 323 hatchback? and it's black, baby!

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By adrianna (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2007 at 13:30:28

So do you think those commute numbers are the same for Hamilton and area. I certainly see a 1 in 10 average of multiple passengers on the QEW every day heading east, A lot of wasted resources but I think we have to an incentive to car pool /or transit or ?? I tried on a trial basis for a month but my and the others riders schedules messed us up. Maybe time to try again .

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By jb (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2007 at 00:20:54

ummm, Schmadrin, apparently we all don't know that horses were never more than a way to get from point a to point b, i certainly did not. on what historical information do you base this slightly ridiculous assumption? that is a very romantic view of the past to say the least. the exact same relationship existed between owning horses and owning cars. people were fanatic about the breed and age and the speed of their horses. it was a status symbol along with one's carraige and livery and number of servants or just wagon, cart or saddle. the idea of status just shifted to the automobile. and it will shift to whatever equally unimaginable thing replaces the car.

p.s. i drive a truck and i walk to work

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 17, 2007 at 08:32:55

Am I compensating for something if I drive a 94 Sentra 4 door?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 18, 2007 at 11:42:26

Civic here too! Darn sexy, baby.

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