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Heavy Toronto traffic on the westbound Gardiner Expressway. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Heavy Toronto traffic on the westbound Gardiner Expressway. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

No end in sight to Toronto's commuter pain: survey Add to ...

Torontonians are more aggravated by their daily commute than residents of New York, Los Angeles or Montreal - and they say there's no end in sight, according to a new study.

IBM released its commuter pain index, a survey of 8,192 people in 20 cities around the globe, on Wednesday. The report polled commuters on a range of issues including time spent getting to work or school, how traffic affected their health and whether commuting caused them to be less productive.

While the top ranks were mostly filled by cities in the developing world (Beijing fared worst), respondents in Toronto were unhappier with their commutes than in any of the other four North American cities included in the list. Montreal fared better, ranking fifth best.

More Montrealers reported commuting early in the morning or in midafternoon, which could explain why they appeared less vexed about getting around the city than their Toronto counterparts, said IBM vice-president Pat Horgan.

"It comes back to the trend towards more people living in urban centres," Mr. Horgan said. "Urbanization happens faster than their infrastructure can catch up."

As for Canada's largest city, Carol Wilding, chief executive officer of the Toronto Board of Trade, said Hogtown commuters may simply be fed up because, despite all the debate over transit, little has actually been built.

"That emotional distress will go down if they see some progress," she said.

Transportation experts caution that the index must be taken with a grain of salt, pointing out that the sample size is small, the survey doesn't appear to include a margin of error and it measures peoples' subjective responses, which can sometimes be rather removed from reality.

"If you talk to people in Vancouver, you'd think that the traffic is worse than Bangkok, when it's actually not that bad," said Craig Townsend, a public transit expert at Concordia University and native of the Lower Mainland.

Murtaza Haider, a Ryerson University professor who has studied travel and infrastructure, said some research suggests people like to have some distance between their work and family lives. A thorough 2006 survey by Statistics Canada even suggests that Canadians actually prefer commuting to some other daily tasks, such as cleaning the house or buying groceries, he said.

"As a driver," he said, "you are sitting in the most comfortable chair you own … listening to your favourite tracks on a fine-tuned sound system in a climate adjusted to your personal preferences while you are sipping your favourite gourmet coffee."

Ranking of the emotional and economic toll of commuting in each city on a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most onerous:

  • Beijing: 99
  • Mexico City: 99
  • Johannesburg: 97
  • Moscow: 84
  • New Delhi: 81
  • Sao Paolo: 75
  • Milan: 52
  • Buenos Aires: 50
  • Madrid: 48
  • London: 36
  • Paris: 36
  • Toronto: 32
  • Amsterdam: 25
  • Los Angeles: 25
  • Berlin: 24
  • Montreal: 23
  • New York: 19
  • Houston: 17
  • Melbourne: 17
  • Stockholm: 15
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