do the math

It's bloody difficult being pro-transit in Toronto. Twenty (erm, getting on thirty) years ago we had the best public transit system in North America. Then, due to a number of factors — including a provincial government that was elected twice on a platform that included gutting the provincial capital — it's gotten worse and worse. "Why should Toronto have that when we don't?" was the question, and the answer was "They shouldn't." Never mind that over ten per cent of the entire country's population lives here, creating an urban area very different even from Canada's other major urban centres.

Still, it's my home town, and I like my home town to be as car-free as possible. I do own one of these money-pits, simply because the lack of urban planning forces one to, but the fewer places I have to walk, bike, or take public transit, the happier I am.

It's the places that are difficult to get to by public transit that make it impossible to always do that.

The Golden Horseshoe — the span of Lake Ontario shoreline reaching from Hamilton to Scarborough — has several different transit systems, which technically all link together. You have to pay again at each changeover, and just getting to a changeover point may necessitate several transfers, depending on where you live. What people who usually drive everywhere don't understand is that every changeover, and even every internal transfer, causes another delay. Besides having to add in waiting for the next bus/train/whatever as travelling time, the public transit-taker has to re-settle themselves into the new vehicle each time.

Travelers also have to make sure, in order to minimise transfer times, that they have all their passes/tokens/tickets lined up and ready to go. Unlike in Europe and some cities in North America, the Golden Horseshoe transit systems still mostly achieve this by having people queue to talk to someone at a booth. The only fully automated points-of-purchase often have queues as long as the ones at the booths, simply because there aren't enough of them.

Last spring I mentioned taking a combination of tram and train from my Amsterdam hotel to Schiphol Airport on a Good Friday. I covered 30 kilometres in 45 minutes for about five bucks, give or take some leeway on the currency exchange, and taking into account that the cost of living is slightly higher there. I had to transfer twice: my total was one tram ride to a changeover point (Amsterdam Centraal), buy a train ticket from an automated kiosk with no queue time, and then get on a train after a few minutes of wandering platforms before I found the right one.

To do the same trip here costs about the same, but it takes 90 minutes on a good day. Do I need to mention the vehicles aren't as clean and the whole thing feels more like an endurance test than a commute?

Here are some sample per-week (five working days) cost breakdowns to travel 35 km using two systems in the Greater Toronto Area using public transit. The example trip is from Toronto to Mississauga. If you want to get an idea of how much it costs someone using public transit to cover 35 km, just add any two of the items in the list together:
  • $46 a week for the GO
  • $25 a week for Missy Transit
  • $30 a week with a Metropass ($121 a month divided by 4 to get a weekly average)
If you think the two-system comparison is not a good example, remember how many people commute between Mississauga/Brampton or vice versa and Toronto every day. Or Richmond Hill. Or Markham. A lot of them wind up taking two transit systems just to get to where they're going.




It's not unusual for the price of employment being to spend most of the rest of one's waking hours on buses.

In comparison, it only costs $30 a week in gasoline to drive the same distance using a medium-sized car. Yes, that's $30 a week, period. Sure, there are maintenance and other ownership fees, but if you own a car anyhow... why would you take public transit?

It's not for the cost savings, that's for sure. It has to be because you believe in it.