A Heat Map of Public Transit Use in Toronto

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As residents of Canada’s largest city know all too well, Toronto’s crowded public transit system is under a constant state of development, with grand plans to unify the system with new lines that crisscross the region. But before any of that can happen, Torontonians must get around using a sprawling patchwork of subway lines, streetcars, city buses, rapid transit lines, GO commuter trains, suburban Viva buses and airport express trains.

We wanted to take a high level view of the system by examining where residents in the Greater Toronto Area tend to rely on public transit the most. Using data from the 2011 National Household Survey, we sliced up the city into census tracts, and mapped what percentage of employed residents in each area use public transit as their main mode of transport to get between home and work.

Some obvious trends jump out immediately. Wealthy neighbourhoods tend to not use transit as much as others (see the Bridle Path in North York, for instance). On the other hand, areas clustered around major TTC stations tend to have very high usage – see the dark red regions near Finch Station, Eglinton Station, or along the Bloor and Danforth lines. In fact, the tract with the highest usage sits just east of Danforth and Victoria Park, with just over two thirds of residents using public transit to get to work. Similarly, some of the isolated, distant areas with high usage tend to be clustered around GO Train stations, like Tom O’Shanter in the northeast, Mimico in the southwest, and Rouge Hill in the east.

But there are some surprises, too. Some tracts with incredibly high public transit usage rates are nowhere near any rail line, be it metro or commuter. Residents along the notoriously crowded 36 Finch bus line — which passes through dark red areas near Bathurst and Finch, and Jane and Finch — or the 32 Eglinton bus, have long been at the mercy of the city’s glacial pace of transit progress.

Methodology

Statistics Canada collects public transit usage data for employed residents over the age of 15. Public transit must be a resident’s main mode of transport to travel between home and work to count, as opposed to walking, cycling, driving, etc. Census tracts represent the most granular slicing of a city that Statistics Canada looks at, and typically represents an area with between 2,500 and 8,000 residents.

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  • Point about significant usage where buses only one that people under-appreciate. Too much focus on subways, more express buses are essential to get to major hubs like subway stations. The 196 from Shepard station to Downsview station is an example, I didn’t then need to take bus across Finch (which is busy) to get to Bathurst and Finch.

  • When creating a map having the subway station would help a lot, it’s hard to read already and without such markers possibly unnecessarily so.

  • Corey Burger

    Interesting map. The title is a bit misleading, as this is just journey to work data, so it should be “Heat map of work trips by public transit”. Work travel is a shrinking share of overall travel, so this data needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

  • rich1299

    In regards to the transit usage attributed to Mimico station the map shows higher transit commuting in the New Toronto area to the south west of it in New Toronto. I used to live there. It’s very difficult to get from New Toronto to the Mimico GO station as there is no direct route. It’s a time consuming trip and unpleasant in bad weather. On the other hand it’s about a 10-15 minute bus ride to either the Kipling or Islington subway stations, and both bus routes are heavily used, as well the 501 streetcar. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of transit commuting in the New Toronto area is by TTC due to the ease of travel to the subway and not GO from Mimico station as suggested in the article.

    The map shows lower transit use in Mimico where the GO station is located, a little higher in the immediate station area. From most of Mimico it’s a longer bus trip to the nearest subway station since it’s in between subway stations so not as direct a route like for Kipling or Islington. It’s much more likely that Mimico station only serves the immediate area especially as it doesn’t have a large parking lot.