While Toronto hasn't descended into total commuting chaos after the first week of the Pan American Games, moving through the city is still a daily challenge for many of the people who live and work here.
Leading up to the games, the City of Toronto introduced temporary high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to many of the highways and roads in and around the city. Carpooling has increased for commuters trying to meet the three-occupant requirement to use the lanes and Uber also introduced a pilot carpooling service to share rides using the HOV lanes. Commuters were warned to expect delays and to make alternative work arrangements if possible.
Pan Am's impact on traffic is still unclear: Road data from the Ministry of Transportation hasn't yet been released.
While the games continue until July 26, with events across southern Ontario, many commuters from across the Greater Toronto Area are still in the swing of their normal work routines. Although people were encouraged to work from home during the games, many are still driving or taking transit to their workplaces every day. Some say they haven't seen much difference in the time it takes to get to the office, while others complain of jammed subway cars, highway gridlock and doubled commute times. These are a few of their stories
Sean Polden, 36
Commute: St. Catharines to Burlington, then the GO train to the Financial District in downtown Toronto
Up until the beginning of July, we would take advantage of the HOV lanes between Burlington and Oakville. My partner and I commute together and when our daughter is in school, she commutes in with us. Now it's just the two of us, so we can't use the HOV lanes and we don't drive from Burlington because of the increased delays. Especially this month, it's been really rough, and to avoid the traffic chaos, we've been taking the GO train. As it is, we already leave at 6:30 in the morning to get to our jobs. And we couldn't leave too much earlier and drive through traffic because there's that work-life balance. And two hours of commuting each way is kind of enough. Taking the HOV lane during a regular commute for us would probably save us at least half an hour, which works out to the same amount of time as getting on the GO train at Burlington and going to Union Station. But where the big difference is, is cost. It works out to a difference of about $400 a month added onto our budget.
Sangeeta Panat, 41
Customer support at a medical organization
Commute: From Morningside in Scarborough to Bay and Bloor, via the 401 and Don Valley Parkway
I generally don't drive [to work], but I was driving the past couple days – I had a few errands to run in the west end. I find that HOV lanes are great, but it would be better if there were more lanes to work with. There's an express lane, and we only have three lanes on the 401 around Scarborough and they just cut one more. But it is a little frustrating, considering that I left early – normally, I leave about 7:15 and get downtown by 8, 8:05. Now it takes me an hour and a half to get where I need to be. An HOV lane would be great on a regular basis as long as they make a brand new lane. I used to live in California, and there, the HOV lanes are very common, and it's two or more people, and it's very efficient. Again, you need that extra lane.
Manny Da Silva, 34
Commute: From 401-Don Valley Parkway area to downtown Toronto
I've had to change my route to accommodate for the extra traffic that's on the DVP. I've had to avoid the DVP at Don Mills and go further east. I tried doing my usual route and the travel times have just drastically increased. I've noticed that traffic – especially, say, for example, northbound on the DVP – is jammed as soon as you get off the Gardiner. First time I tried, it was impossible. I think it probably added around 30 or 40 minutes. It's nice when you get to use the HOV lanes, but it's challenging to find not just one person, but two people that can go with you to and fro. Fortunately, there's two guys at work here that kind of live up in my direction, but it's only in the afternoon that I can drop them off. I wasn't comfortable enough using those third-party sites because it's like you're inviting strangers into your own car, right? And being a dad, I just don't want to put myself at risk. The idea sounds good on paper, but realistically, it's difficult.
Alex Soutsos, 24
Works at CI Financial Corp.
Commute: The GO train from Mississauga to Union Station
I find that my GO Train line in general to be delayed a lot. At the beginning of the Games, it was delayed every day, which was a little frustrating. But it's kind of gotten back to its normal pattern now. I do notice larger-than-normal volume for people just riding the train in general. It's a huge inconvenience. Because I go to the gym in the morning, so I'm already up at just before 5 a.m., then I have to be on a specific train if I'm going to make it to work. I try to be at work 20 minutes before. That way I can get in, I can get settled in, I can start, I don't want to feel rushed. When I find the public transit system is unreliable – it tells you it's going to be there at 8:05, then it doesn't get me there until 8:40 – it's a huge frustration to me because it reflects badly on me at work. If I'm always saying I'm late, eventually they're going to get to a point, 'Is it actually him or is it actually the public transit system?'
Works at an ad agency
Commute: From Liberty Village to North York, via the Gardiner and the DVP
I guess my First World problems gripe is more about how it's been communicated than the actual commute itself. I drive opposite traffic during rush hour to my office because I'm in Liberty Village and I work in the North York area, just north of Eglinton. So, I'm going north on the Don Valley Parkway as everyone's going south. I did notice that, for example, this morning, it was an extra half hour to get to work. Once you get a little more north on the DVP, that's when you get all the traffic, where the 401 is, so everyone's jammed up. It's a little frustrating. I'm lucky enough to have a job where I can work from home a lot of the time, so personally, it's not as bad because I can be a little more flexible. But I haven't really taken advantage of that yet. Transit isn't really an option because it would be a streetcar up to a subway up to a bus, and it would take me longer to take transit than it would just to drive. It seems like the Pan Am commuting ads are just saying, 'Just put up with it.'
Patrick De Guia
Commute: Streetcar and subway to Union Station
I took the streetcar and the subway from where I live right now to the core and it was just as simple as if I'd taken it any other day. I went to Union Station and all the way up to Queen at 8 a.m. Even in the past couple days, I haven't seen any difference between Pan Am traffic and non-Pan Am traffic, so it's pretty good.
Natasha Khosla, 24,
Commute: Runnymede station to Leslie station, via the Bloor, Yonge and Sheppard subway lines of the TTC
Normally, if there's no delays, it'll take me just under an hour – 45 to 50 minutes. Now it takes me a good hour and a half to two hours. And sometimes it's worse coming back than going there. Monday was the worst day. It's so terrible that it's draining. It's already stressful enough getting to work, but then there's no seats – there are so many more people. The part that really just gets me: It's really stupid, but they make an announcement every morning on the northbound line, like, 'Good morning everyone!' And the Toronto commuters are looking at each other like, 'Seriously? You don't do this every day. We know that you just do this because of the Pan Am Games.' It's kind of fake and it's not helping our situation commuting. It would be better if there were subways running on time. It's hard to be in a good mood and it's hard to smile because you just want to get to work on time.
These interviews have been edited and condensed