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Bricks & Sticks

by Desi Auciello

Desi Auciello is the 2006 GTHBA President, and is also president of Cachet Estate Homes.

Wasting away in "gridlockville?"

Date: November 10, 2006

If Rob MacIsaac, chair of the newly established Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, missed it, he needs to have a read of a very interesting study released earlier this week by Statistics Canada.

While we all like to complain about gridlock, it turns out that some of us quite like the time we spend in our cars.

A study based on Statscan data published earlier this week in Canadian Social Trends found that the proportion of workers who reported that they liked their commute to and from work was actually higher than the percentage who were negative about it (38 per cent versus 30 per cent).

One out of every six workers, about 16 per cent, even said they liked commuting a great deal. About three per cent of all workers said the time they spent commuting was their favourite activity of the day.

Commuting was not the most unpleasant activity for many people. A higher proportion of workers said they disliked any number of activities, such as cleaning the house and doing grocery shopping, more than they do commuting. For many, the time they spent commuting was one of the few times in the day they had to themselves (these are probably the people you see singing in their cars).

Roads vs. transit
The study also found that workers who get to work by public transit are more likely to dislike their commute than those who commute by car.

The workers who are really most likely to enjoy commuting are those who bicycle to work, the study found. However, 2001 Census data showed that only about one per cent of commuters rode a bicycle to work, whereas 81 per cent used a car, truck or van.

Not surprisingly, enjoyment is higher among those workers who like their jobs. This correlation was one of the strongest found by the study. But whether they like their job or not, enjoyment declines with the length and conditions of the commute. Workers who lived in larger cities were less likely to enjoy commuting than workers who resided in smaller centers.

The study's results showed that on the whole, workers have a relatively positive attitude toward commuting. However, some important differences were found based on factors such as mode of transportation, age, place of residence, and so on.
Users of public transit were less likely to enjoy commuting than drivers. In 2005, less than one-quarter (23%) of people who traveled between home and work on mass transit said they liked commuting. This compares with 39 per cent of commuters using cars.

This difference in the level of enjoyment between drivers and public transit users can be explained mainly by the fact that public transit users take on average a longer time to get to work and back than car users. When the two groups were compared on the basis of equal commuting times, public transport users were just as likely to enjoy commuting as automobile users.
Multi-modal commuters

However, this was not the case for workers who had to use both their car and public transit to get to work. Taking travel time into account did not eliminate the statistical correlation. When compared to car users, given an equal commuting time, they were still less likely to enjoy their commute.

As a result, of all commuters, the people who have to take both the car and public transit are the ones for whom commuting is most unpleasant.

The fact that the majority of these commuters have to transfer from one mode of transportation to another, and therefore, endure additional waits or the frustration of missing a connection, may account for the difference.

Balanced investment
Notwithstanding my tongue in cheek title to this column, I am not suggesting for a moment that we should be happy with the status quo when it comes to the overall transportation network here in the GTA. In fact, infrastructure was the hottest topic of discussion when builders from across Canada met last week under the auspices of the Canadian Home Builders' Association urban council.
The study in question certainly argues for balanced investment between roads and transit, but the most important thing is the investment itself, and on that note, I would say it times that all levels of government dropped the politics and games and started to work together to make the necessary infrastructure investments in roads and transit, not to mention sewer and water.

What's worse? Traffic gridlock or political gridlock? Mr. MacIsaac's challenge will be to break down the political posturing including barriers to seamless inter-regional transportation. We wish him well.

The study "Like commuting? Workers perceptions of their daily commute" is now available in the November 2006 issue of Canadian Social Trends, Vol. 82 or on-line at www.statcan.ca (click on Publications).