Commuters in the Greater Toronto Area suffer through longer round trips than their counterparts in 18 other major centres, including notoriously congested Los Angeles, according to a new report commissioned by the Toronto Board of Trade.
The board's second annual "scorecard on prosperity" concluded the average GTA commute lasts a punishing 80 minutes for drivers and public-transit riders alike, putting the region an "embarrassing" last place behind not only L.A., but also the gridlocked metropolises of New York, London and Montreal.
"The report shows [commute times in the GTA]are getting worse," said Carol Wilding, the president of the board of trade. "So there's another clearly strong proof point and evidence that says they're getting worse; we've underinvested. We've got to get on with it."
The study is being released less than a week after the provincial government unveiled a deficit-battling budget that postpones $4-billion worth of investments in new rapid transit in Toronto and York Region, a decision that prompted harsh criticism from the board and Mayor David Miller.
Commuting times aside, the scorecard has some confidence-boosting news for the GTA. It ranks the region fourth-most prosperous among 24 global cities, behind only Boston, Dallas and Barcelona.
Driving that success is the GTA's ability to lure and retain the planet's brightest and best. The GTA is first in proportion of foreign-born residents, first in percentage of the work force employed in professional careers such as engineering, medicine and law, and seventh in percentage of the population with at least a bachelor's degree. The region is also more livable than competing cities, with a relatively low cost of living and homicide rate.
But the Conference Board of Canada, which conducted the research for the board of trade, was perplexed that the GTA's ability to attract smart workers hasn't translated into more significant economic gains. On that front, the region's performance is mediocre. It is middle-to-bottom of the pack in employment, GDP and GDP growth, productivity and productivity growth, the size of its initial public offerings and the number of patents secured, the report concludes.
"[This is true]despite the fact that we're relatively affordable as a place to do business and as a place to live and despite our A grade as an attractive, terrific place to live," said Anne Golden, president of the Conference Board of Canada.
She suggested sluggish GDP and productivity growth were not unique to Toronto, but plague many Canadian cities. Taxes aren't to blame, the report concludes. The GTA's overall tax burden is lighter than every U.S. city surveyed and much lighter than in London or Paris. Greater Toronto does, however, shoulder a heavier tax burden than Halifax, Calgary, Vancouver or Montreal.
Most of the data upon which the study relied are from before the recession hit in 2008, including the traffic data. They are from 2006 in the case of Canada, Europe and Sydney, Australia, and 2008 in the case of U.S. cities. The report cautions that some of the U.S. commuting times may be underestimated.
The report includes more recent figures within the GTA. It concludes that the City of Toronto weathered the worst of the recession better than its bedroom communities, although the whole region suffered some absolute declines.