Study: Commuting to work

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Canadian commuters took an average of 26 minutes to travel to work on a typical day in 2010, including all modes of transportation. The average commuting time was longest in the six largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs), each of which has a population of more than 1 million.

Commuters in these metropolitan areas spent 30 minutes on average getting to work. Those in mid-sized metropolitan areas of between 250,000 and fewer than 1 million people took 25 minutes.

The average commuting time was longest for commuters in the CMAs of Toronto, 33 minutes, Montréal, 31 minutes and Vancouver, 30 minutes.

In both Toronto and Montréal, more than one-quarter of commuters had travel times of 45 minutes or more, which was much greater than in any other metropolitan area. Another one-quarter had travel times of 30 to 44 minutes.

Roughly 82% of commuters travelled to work by car in 2010, while 12% took public transit and 6% walked or bicycled.

Commute longer by public transit than by car

Commuters who used public transit took considerably longer to get to work than those who lived an equivalent distance from their place of work and went by car.

Nationally, users of public transit spent 44 minutes travelling to work, compared with 24 minutes for those who went by car. (Commuting times are door-to-door. Times for public transit are generally longer because its use can involve walking to a transit stop and waiting for a bus.)

In the six largest metropolitan areas, the average commuting time was 44 minutes for public transit users and 27 minutes by car. The gap in average commuting time was slightly larger in mid-sized metropolitan areas: 46 minutes on public transit and 23 minutes by car.

The gap was not a result of distance travelled. Among workers in CMAs with at least 250,000 residents who travelled less than 5 kilometres to work, car users had an average commute of 10 minutes, compared with 26 minutes for public transit users. The same held true for longer commutes.

Note to readers

This release is based on an article in Canadian Social Trends that uses data from the 2010 General Social Survey on time use. A section of the survey dealt with commuting to work.

The study focuses on people whose main activity during the week preceding the interview was working at a paid job or for themselves. People who were on vacation that week were excluded, as well as those who worked at home. The result is a sample of 6,650 respondents representing about 13.2 million workers in 2010.

Average commuting times in the three largest metropolitan areas followed the general trend. In Toronto and Vancouver, it took public transit users about 20 minutes longer than car users to get to work. In Montréal, the difference was much smaller, about 10 minutes.

Most car commuters find public transit inconvenient

The 2010 General Social Survey asked workers who did not use public transit if they had ever tried using public transit to travel to work. They were also asked how they rated the level of convenience of public transit.

Of the 10.6 million workers who commuted by car, about 9 million reported that they had never used public transit for their commute. About 7.4 million of these people thought public transit would be somewhat or very inconvenient.

About 1.6 million car commuters, or 15% of the total, said they had tried using public transit to get to work. A slight majority of them (53%) considered it inconvenient.

Workers satisfied in general with commuting time

In general, satisfaction with commuting times was high: 85% of commuters said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the amount of time it took to get to work, while 15% were dissatisfied.

Dissatisfaction was more common in larger urban centres, where commuters had more frequent encounters with traffic congestion. The proportion of dissatisfied commuters was highest (20%) in census metropolitan areas with 1 million residents or more. Outside these areas, the proportion of dissatisfied commuters ranged from 8% to 10%.

Public transit users were more likely than car commuters to be dissatisfied with their commuting times (23% versus 18%). This was primarily because it takes them longer on average to get to work.

As commuting time increased, the pattern was reversed. For example, 21% of car commuters with commuting times between 30 and 44 minutes said they were dissatisfied, compared with 10% of public transit users.

The connection between commuting times and stress was clear. Of the full-time workers who took 45 minutes or more to travel to work, 36% said that most days were quite or extremely stressful. In contrast, this was the case for 23% of workers whose commuting time was less than 15 minutes.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4503.

The article "Commuting to work: Results of the 2010 General Social Survey" is now available in the August 2011 online issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 92 (11-008-X, free), available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.