Rush Hour Traffic Doubles Commuters’ Travel Time: Report

April 1, 2015 Updated: April 1, 2015

OTTAWA—Cities worldwide are experiencing ever-higher levels of congestion, and Canada is no exception. Several Canadian cities made it onto this year’s global index from GPS maker TomTom, which ranked traffic congestion in over 200 cities around the world.

TomTom’s data, which was based on individual GPS car usage, showed that traffic congestion nearly doubles journey times during the evening rush hour. In 2014, the average Canadian commuter lost 84 hours while delayed in traffic in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.

The index ranked Vancouver at 20, Toronto 47, Ottawa 59, Montreal 75, Edmonton 97, and Calgary 101 when it comes to congestion. Worldwide, the most congested cities were Istanbul, Mexico City, Rio de Janerio, Moscow, and Salvador.

But Benjamin Dachis, senior policy analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute, says that while there have been numerous studies that have attempted to track congestion, the issue is far more complex and costly than many estimate.

In 2014, the average Canadian commuter lost 84 hours while delayed in traffic in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.

“The study that you see from TomTom is only part of the story,” he said.

“The thing about all those studies is that it makes the assumption that the cost only affects the person that makes a trip. What they ignore is what happens when a person doesn’t go because the congestion was so bad.”

“The nature of the hidden cost of congestion [studies] is that it is only a big number when it is in big cities.”

Earlier this month, Dachis authored a report for C.D. Howe on congestion costs in Vancouver, estimating them to be between $500 million and $1.2 billion a year. The report estimated the impact of congestion, including the cost of forgoing trips and altering consumer behaviour to avoid congestion.

“The best way to solve congestion or to deal with excess congestion is pricing. When you are thinking of congestion on the Lions Gate Bridge or the 401, the Don Valley or the Gardner, the real solution to ensure that you don’t have a long wait is to put a price on access of those roads,”
said Dachis.

“That price should vary depending upon your usage. At 4 or 5 p.m. the cost should be very high, but at midnight it should be very low.”

A previous C.D. Howe report found that the cost of congestion in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton was between $1.5 billion and $5 billion per year.

“Governments across Canada have not been accounting for the full costs and benefits of infrastructure investments. In the case of transportation investments, the benefits of urban living—access to a broad range of jobs, activities, and knowledge—exist because of the relationships between people living close together,” the Toronto study concluded.

Statistics Canada data shows that in 2010, Canadian commute times averaged a surprisingly short 26 minutes on a typical day. Those figures included all modes of transportation. Statistics Canada estimated the average commuting time was longest in Toronto at 33 minutes, Montreal, 31 minutes, and Vancouver, 30 minutes.

Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.