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Commuting by the numbers

How we commute was changing even before the pandemic began. If public transit is going to replace single passenger cars for the daily drive, understanding these shifts is critical.

March 25, 2022

5-minute read

How we commute was changing even before the pandemic began. If public transit is going to replace single passenger cars for the daily drive, understanding these shifts is critical.

11,666,840: Number of workers who commuted in Canada’s 35 Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) in 2016. Of that number, 8,839,205 (76%) commuted by car. The average one-way commuting time for a long commute by car was 74 minutes.1

78%: Percentage of Canadian commuters in 2016 who travelled by car as either a driver or passenger. Commuters who worked further away from the city centre were more likely to use a car to go to work than those who worked closer.2

Increasingly, commuters are coming from farther away. The 2016 census reveals that urban spread across Canada continues with peripheral municipalities of CMAs experiencing higher population growth. Population growth between 2011 and 2016 was higher among peripheral municipalities (+6.9%) of CMAs, compared with central municipalities (+5.8%). This confirms the popular belief that the urban spread phenomenon is occurring and/or is continuing in many of the CMAs in the country. Milton, Ontario, for example, which is located west of Toronto, saw a 30.5% increase in its population between 2011 and 2016.4


Average length of commute by city and mode of transportation, 2016

Mode of transportation Toronto Montreal Vancouver Calgary Ottawa-Gatineau Edmonton Quebec Winnipeg
Public transit 50 min 44 min 44 min 42 min 42 min 40 min 35 min 36 min
Car 30 min 27 min 27 min 24 min 25 min 24 min 21 min 23 min

How we commute is changing

In most CMAs, the proportion of people working in the city core has declined while the proportion of people working outside the city core has increased. Calgary saw the largest proportional decline in workers whose job was located within 5 km of the city centre, decreasing 11 percentage points (from 49% to 38%) since 1996. The second largest decrease in workers who worked within 5 km of the city centre (a decline of 8 percentage points, to 30%) was seen in Edmonton. In the eight largest CMAs, a majority of workers were located outside the city core in 2016.6

28%: Percent decline in Montreal workers between 1996 and 2016 who relied on cars to commute to work. In all eight of Canada’s largest CMAs, the number of people going to work by car dropped during this time frame, with Montreal seeing the biggest drop, equivalent to 58,100 additional workers taking public transit to their jobs in Montreal.7

Percentage change in type of type of commuter between 1996 and 20168

City Within city-core commute Traditional commute (outside-to-inside city core) Reverse commute (inside-to-outside city core)
Toronto -16.2% +48.2% +62.4%
Montreal -47.4% +47.3% +48.8%
Vancouver -26.7% +61.5% +54.6%

Sustainable transportation

Among the three largest CMAs—Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver—commuters from Toronto were most likely to use sustainable transportation (42.5%), mainly as a result of slightly higher public transit use compared with Montreal and Vancouver.9

40%Percentage of commuters in Ottawa-Gatineau who use sustainable transportation, the highest proportion among large CMAs (excluding the three largest). Edmonton had the lowest proportion at 27.1%.10

Within southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe, Hamilton had the highest proportion of commuters using sustainable transportation at 27.8%, while St. Catharines–Niagara had the lowest, 20.8%.11

In focus: Commuting in Toronto

17%: Percentage of Toronto workers who spend over 60 minutes each day commuting to work. Toronto has the highest proportion of workers that spend over an hour commuting each day, followed by Montreal (12%) and Vancouver (11%).12

Toronto commuters also had the longest median distance commute in 2016, at 10.5 km. The next longest median commutes were those of workers in Ottawa–Gatineau at 9.2 km and Calgary at 9.0 km.13

17.8km: The average distance from place of work to city centre in Toronto. In 2016, Toronto had the greatest average distance, followed by Vancouver, with 13.5 km. Both CMAs had an increase of 1.4 km from 1996 to 2016, speaking to the decentralization of employment from metropolitan cores.14The average distance from place of work to city centre in Toronto. In 2016, Toronto had the greatest average distance, followed by Vancouver, with 13.5 km. Both CMAs had an increase of 1.4 km from 1996 to 2016, speaking to the decentralization of employment from metropolitan cores.14

26%: Percentage of workplaces located more than 25 km from Toronto’s city centre, up from 20% in 1996. This increase reflects a trend across large metropolitan areas in Canada, which have seen employment moving away from city centres.15

58.1: Percentage of Toronto workers with a commute of less than five kilometres who used public transit as their main mode of commuting in 2016. When the commute length increased to 10 kilometres, the number who relied on public transit dropped to 26.1%.16

54.6%: Percentage of Toronto workers that are between-suburban commuters, travelling from their home in one suburb to work in a suburb more than five kilometres away. This percentage has remained essentially unchanged over the past two decades (54.5% in 1996).17

12.5%Percentage of between-suburban commuters in Toronto (with a commute of more than 5 km) who used public transit in 2016. This is a decline from 1996, when 13.1% of between suburb commuters in Toronto used transit.18

Notes

All illustrations by Katie Sheedy

1 Yaropud, T. Gilmore, J. & LaRochelle-Côté, S. (2019, February 25). Results from the 2016 Census: Long commutes to work by car. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

2 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

3 Statistics Canada. (2019, December 2). Commuting in Canada’s three largest cities. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2019086-eng.htm. 

4 Statistics Canada (2017, February 8). Census in Brief, Municipalities in Canada with the largest and fastest-growing populations between 2011 and 2016. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/ce... 

5 Statistics Canada (2017, November 29). Journey to work, 2016 Census of Population. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

6 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

7 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

8 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

9 Statistics Canada. (2017, November 29). Commuters using sustainable transportation in census metropolitan areas. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/ce... 

10 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

11 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... Statistics Canada. (2019, December 2). 

12 Commuting in Canada’s three largest cities. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2019086-eng.htm. 

13 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

14 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

15 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

16 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

17 Savage, K. (2019, May 29). Results from the 2016 Census: Commuting within Canada’s largest cities. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n... 

18 Statistics Canada (2017, February 8). Census in Brief, Municipalities in Canada with the largest and fastest-growing populations between 2011 and 2016. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/ce...;

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