rapid transit canada

Photo: W & J/Flickr

While it’s easy to envy New York City, London or Paris for their far-reaching subway systems, Torontonians should turn their envious attentions a little closer to home. According to a new report from the Pembina Institute, the big city lags other major Canadian metros on a number of transit infrastructure fronts.

The study compared Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver and looked into factors such as population, ridership and rapid transit creation over the last twenty years.

While Toronto may have the highest amount of transit riders per capita with residents taking an average of 133 transit trips per year, Calgary residents are better serviced. The city has more rapid transit infrastructure per capita than all the other cities on the list. (The report defines rapid transit as featuring vehicles that are separated from other traffic, get priority signalling, and have frequent enough service that the maximum wait time during peak times is just 10 minutes during peak times etc. etc.)

The report notes the discrepancy between ridership and new infrastructure, stating “it is clear that Toronto’s rapid transit system is working overtime to move riders around the city.” While it lauds the boom in express bus service and the upgrades to right-of-way streetcar service on Spadina Avenue (remember the Spadina bus?) and the existing St. Clair streetcar, there’s still the matter of dithering and “repeated changes to transit plans.”

The western cities were also busier in the last decade when it comes to building transit. Calgary created 22 kilometres of new rapid transit in the last 10 years and was closely followed by Vancouver, which opened 20 kilometres. Ottawa came in third place with 9 kilometres, while Toronto was second last at just 7 kilometres in the last decade. Montreal created 5 kilometres.

In the last 20 years, Vancouver came out on top for creating the most rapid transit with 44 kilometres. Calgary followed at 29 kilometres. The same pattern seen over the last ten years held true with Ottawa coming in third with 23 kilometres built in the last 20 years. Toronto and Montreal only saw 18 and 5 kilometres respectively.

For more details, check out the table from the Pembina Institute:

pembina institute transit

Here are a few other interesting points from the cross-country report:

  • Vancouver will get new bragging rights come 2016: the SkyTrain system is currently as long as the Toronto and Montreal subways and it will surpass with the upcoming opening of the Evergreen line.
  • Ottawa’s Bus Rapid Transit investments may have been a little too successful. After investing quickly in BRT plans over the last 20 years, Ottawa’s bus system is currently running at or over capacity. The report suggests it may have been wiser to invest in LRT or other higher-capacity modes earlier. The city opened its first LRT line in 2001 and is currently building a second.
  • Slow and steady wins the race in Calgary. The city built extensions to the C-Train opening every few years and also created a new westward line in 2012.
  • Montreal has 37 per cent of its residents living within 1 kilometre of rapid transit service, the highest amount among the five cities. However, Montreal has lagged on the new construction front with only the 5.2 kilometre subway extension to Laval built in the last 20 years.

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