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Passengers make their way past waiting vehicles at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in West Vancouver, British Columbia (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
Passengers make their way past waiting vehicles at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in West Vancouver, British Columbia (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

The Canadian commute: By car, alone Add to ...

It’s the 1 per cent to which no one would aspire.

As the Toronto region grapples with how to fund the biggest transit-building project in a generation, new federal data show the lengths to which the country’s most extreme commuters are going to try to beat the congestion.

One in 25 Toronto-area commuters drive away from home before 6 in the morning, new data show. And in spite of leaving so early, about 16 per cent of these people are on the road for more than 60 minutes each way, more than double the average local commute.

Country-wide statistics on commuting, released Wednesday as part of the 2011 National Household Survey – the replacement for the cancelled long-form census – come amid growing recognition of the cost of congestion, which is hampering the economy and threatens to hurt the global appeal of the country’s cities.

Claude Dauphin, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said from Ottawa that his organization’s latest figures show that urban gridlock costs Canadians an average of 32 working days of lost productivity per year. All that congestion costs the national economy more than $10-billion annually – and that’s not including a price tag associated with greenhouse gases.

The data released Wednesday show that, overall, Canada remains a car-dependent nation in spite of the delays.

Nationally, the average commute is about 25 minutes each way and nearly 80 per cent of people drive to work. The vast majority of the remainder take public transit. Small numbers walk or cycle to work.

The data also show the key role played by transit and other forms of sustainable transport in getting people off the road in the country’s biggest urban centres, where around 30 per cent of commuters don’t drive.

The previous 2006 census did not include information on commute duration or what time people left home. Other numbers from the new release are roughly in line with figures released in 2006, though a straight comparison is impossible because the data were gathered in different ways.

Drilling into the 2011 data shows that its averages disguise a range of very different realities across the country. Slightly more women than men commute in Charlottetown, a reversal of the national average. And few people report taking transit in the PEI capital, where roughly 90 per cent of commuters say they drive and almost all of the remainder report walking or cycling.

People commuting by car in Montreal and Quebec City tend to drive alone. Although this is a trend across the country, these cities outstripped the national average (83 per cent) by several points each.

About 5.1 per cent walk to work in Winnipeg, in spite of its reputation for harsh weather. This is short of the national average of 5.7 per cent but ahead of warmer climes such as Toronto, where 4.6 per cent walk.

Saskatchewan’s two main cities lagged well behind other urban centres in the incidence of sustainable transportation, defined as transit, walking and cycling. Less than 12 per cent of commuters in Regina and Saskatoon went to work these ways, compared to a national average of 19 per cent. Figures ranged from 16.5 per cent to 22 per cent in the other main prairie cities.

The average one-way commute time in Vancouver was 28.4 minutes, but that total varied dramatically depending on how and when people went to work. Those leaving before 6 a.m. and taking transit were en route an average of nearly 50 minutes, while drivers leaving between 8 and 9 in the morning took an average of slightly under 24 minutes.

My commute is an easy 17 to 19 minutes in well-flowing Vancouver traffic. I gave up cycling as a 50-minute ride robs me of too much precious family time. By driving I have one more hour to play with my kids, or go for a run or a swim. Buses are not much better as they take about 45 minutes each way.

READERS TELL US ABOUT THEIR COMMUTES

Maciek Kon, Vancouver

My commute is an easy 17 to 19 minutes in well-flowing Vancouver traffic. I gave up cycling as a 50-minute ride robs me of too much precious family time. By driving I have one more hour to play with my kids, or go for a run or a swim. Buses are not much better as they take about 45 minutes each way.

Matthew Mackenzie, Oshawa, Ont.

I love my job and I love my home life, so it makes the commute worth it, but it negatively affects my day because I get very little sleep and it makes me quite inactive due to lack of time to exercise. I live in Oshawa, drive 15 minutes to the GO train, take a one-hour train into Union Station, then a 15-minute TTC [subway] ride up to Yonge and Eglinton. It’s over three hours a day sitting on my rump! I’m generally up at 5 a.m. and home around 8 p.m. I’m pretty sure it’s making me chronically sleep deprived and I’m getting pudgy!

Elliott Richardson, Bedford, N.S.

I drive about 50 minutes from Bedford (suburb of Halifax) to Acadia University. It really sets up my day since I’m able to listen to podcasts about professional development and get my mind ready for the upcoming day. On the way home I’m able to talk hands-free to people back home or business conversations. It’s a good way to unwind the day.

Lindsey Benson, Jasper, Alta.

My daily commute is the best part of my day. The road I take to the ski hill where I work is usually quiet and empty. I usually get to see some wildlife like bears, elk and the odd deer and usually take the time to get ready for my workday. So many people commute to work, and if you are stuck in traffic or busy, it can get frustrating. I take a positive look at the drive/commute to work as my ‘me’ time for the day, where it’s okay to think, breath and contemplate life.

Keenan Dion, Winnipeg

I really enjoy walking to work every day. Even in –40 wind chills it feels good. It takes me 25 minutes each way so when I get to work in the morning, I’m already awake and don’t need that caffeine charge that so many others do. On the way home, I find it relaxing and can wind down before I make it home. Plus, it’s decent exercise, I don’t need to pay for parking, gas, bus fares, or even get frustrated by sitting in traffic.

Daniel Grzymisch, Thornhill, Ont.

I live in the northern GTA and drive to midtown Toronto. The daily drive affects my day negatively, as from the beginning of my day I have to deal with jammed, very badly damaged roads and a lot of avoidable grief produced by careless people who park anywhere, obstructing even more the already complicated morning traffic. Authorities should concentrate on developing efficient and affordable public transportation. I would definitely use it if it was reliable and at a reasonable price.

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