Trudeau’s New Year’s Resolution: Improve Public Transit

Mohamad Yaghi

Road works, traffic jams, and long drives – these are all typical everyday experiences urban commuters in major Canadian cities face. Often, many rightly complain that travel to and from work takes a considerable amount of time out of their day, but, contrary to the popular discourse, there have been substantial improvements to the problem over the past two decades.

In 1992, the average time to commute to and back from work in major cities in Canada was around 49 minutes, but since then, that average has shrunk to around 26 minutes.

This drastic reduction is clearly a success, but although it has improved the quality of life of Canadians in major cities, one must remember that it is due to a clear set of policies that need to be continued and expanded upon. There are a variety of reasons that commute times have reduced so drastically, but one of the main reasons is due to increased use of public transit.

Therefore, the Prime Minister of Canada and the mayors of the country’s largest cities need to invest a considerable amount of the additional $60 billion the Liberal Party campaign pledged to spend on infrastructure projects on public transit. Improving and maintaining a variety of public infrastructure projects is critical in order to restart Canada’s economy, but investing mainly on public transit yields the most benefits.

  • First, any investment in public transit will create a source of employment. Not only are construction workers temporarily needed to build any future projects in public transit, but also maintenance at such facilities will require permanent employees.
  • Second, if residents in major Canadian cities are given the option of accessible and cost-effective public transportation, they will most likely not use cars to commute. This will create less traffic, less wear and tear on roads, and therefore the costs of maintaining freeways and roads would also decrease.
  • Thirdly, public transit encourages commercial interest in specific neighborhood because its increased accessibility and government investment. Areas that do not have access to public transit often tend to suffer from a lack of economic diversity because commercial accessibility is key.
  • Lastly, in order to improve the overall quality of life in most Canadian cities, greater and more effective public transit system must be in place. Residents that live further away from urban centers and may not be able to afford a car may have more difficulty in reaching important medical and financial destinations, and offering reliable and affordable transportation would assist them and make cities more habitable centers. Reports, like “Making the Move: Choices and Consequences”, have suggested that lack of public transit in certain areas sharpen racial and ethnic divisions. Communities that do not have access to public transit may feel sidelined from government focus as opposed to areas that do.

Nowhere are the benefits of transit clearer than in Toronto, where commuters that have access to public transit will, by a large margin, prefer that mode of transportation as opposed to driving to work. Below, a chart portrays the increased number of commuters in Toronto over the past two decades. Even though there has been a dramatic rise in the number of commuters in Toronto, commute times have reduced from around an hour to 32 minutes. Such drastic change can be attributed to more effective and faster public transit.


Even as the city’s population (and its commuter base) grows, Toronto was able to reduce transportation times. Responsible public transit legislation and meaningful transportation policy have contributed to this decrease in time, but Torontonians have played a large role in this change by opting to use public transit instead of driving to work – and also started to bike more.

The graph below demonstrates that change over the years. With more investment in public transit, commuters have increasingly used public transportation instead of cars. From this data, it is apparent that government funding in new subway lines and streetcars, though costly and marred by delays from manufacturers, has been increasingly put to good use.


Recent developments on the Gardiner East have put this issue in the spotlight. Even though John Tory and many in city hall want to improve the Gardiner East, the cost of the project is project to be $1 billion and take four years to complete. That money could have been funneled into a public transit initiative that could have benefited more Torontonians. Currently, the Gardiner East only caters to 30 per cent of all commuters that use cars. Also, the main reason commute times increase nowadays is because of roadwork.

Although Torontonians prefer cars over public transit, trends are changing and government investments in public transit should be prioritized. Politicians across Canada face this immense challenge, but as cities begin to change, policies and government spending must reflect those changes.

Trudeau’s pledge to exclusively set aside $10 billion only for repairs and maintenance of current public structures is imperative, but Canada needs to think about the future – investment in public transit is one way of doing so.

*All data was retrieved from Statistics Canada


Mohamad Yaghi is a Master of Public Policy Graduate, 2017. He is interested in urban, foreign, and security policy and enjoys long-distance swimming. While Mohamad is not at the School of Public Policy and Governance, you can find him buying a bucket of coffee or reporting.

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