Traffic congestion in the GTA is making the drive to work increasingly insufferable for people living in Toronto as well as those who live in the suburbs and commute.
Experts and commuters say the situation is going to get worse as investments in new roads fail to keep pace with suburban growth. What was once a one-way flow into the city in the morning and out again in the afternoon along major arteries like the 401 and Queen Elizabeth Way, is now a two-way street. As jobs have moved to the suburbs, commuters have followed. For many, GO Trains and a patchwork of regional transit services don’t work.
Tough trip to work? Drivers, tell us your commuting horror stories.
“We are experiencing unprecedented levels of congestion, and the problem is evident with all modes of transportation,” said Baher Abdulhai, a professor in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto. “It’s getting out of hand.”
Abdulhai said decision-makers need to revamp their thinking on transportation in the GTA, which is causing stress to drivers and pressure on their vehicles, he added.
“The longer we wait without providing significant solutions, the magnitude of deterioration (of congestion) from one year to the next will be much, much worse,” he said.
As part of a week long look at transit in the GTA, The Star has profiled two commuters to get a street level view of the problem. One drives from Oakville to Brampton every day and the other from Oshawa to Scarborough.
Here’s what they think, how they manage and what they think can improve things.
Terry Mathews, 54, Oakville to Brampton
Oakville resident Terry Mathews tries to be at work in Brampton every day for 7:30 a.m., so that he can leave earlier in the afternoon to beat the traffic and make it home before his 8-year-old son goes to bed.
While suburban dwellers who drive between their home and workplace in Toronto struggle daily with massive traffic congestion, things are not that much better when commuting from one GTA suburb to another.
Mathews, director of financial services at Hudson’s Bay Company, takes the same route every day: the 403, then the 410, and finally Queen St. in Brampton.
The morning drive isn’t so bad – about 30 to 40 minutes – but in the afternoon, Mathews is on the road for at least an hour and 10 minutes, almost triple the time it would take to make the 40 km drive in normal traffic.
“In the morning, the commute is boring, repetitive, slow, mind-numbing, but I don’t find it frustrating, because I’ve just gotten used to it,” said Mathews, who has lived in Oakville since 2001 with his wife and two sons, aged 15 and 8.
“In the evening, I have the radio, I have blue tooth, so I can have a business conversation. I try to make the drive as productive as possible.”
Mathews, who also coaches hockey in his dwindling spare time, said he aims to leave work no later than 5 p.m. so that he can be home before son Luke’s 8 p.m. bedtime.
“There’s no question that the time I spend in traffic has an impact on the time I spend with my family,” he said.
But Mathews admits his options to make the drive easier are limited. His family has no intention to move, and Mathews loves his job in Brampton.
There are of course some things that Mathews said could be improved in terms of transportation infrastructure, but he isn’t holding out much hope. They include keeping trucks out of the left lane, more frequent GO Train service and a comprehensive study looking at the usefulness of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes.
So for the foreseeable future, he will continue to drive his relatively fuel-efficient BMW 1 Series to Brampton every day, at a cost of about $75 in gas, plus the occasional fee for taking the 407, which he calls “prohibitively expensive.”
“(Sitting in traffic) is a car killer, and there’s a significant cost to that,” he said. “But also, sitting on your rear end for 40 hours a month in traffic is just not good for your health.”
Dennise Campbell, 48, Oshawa to Toronto
In recent years, Dennise Campbell has been leaving her house in Oshawa earlier and earlier to make it to work in Scarborough.
Campbell works in IT for one of the big banks, and is usually on the road by 5:30 a.m. in the hopes of beating the traffic.
“But it doesn’t work,” she said. “I get on the 401 at Harmony Road, which is the easternmost exit in Oshawa, and usually traffic has already stopped by the next exit…Because I live close to the 401, you’re kind of hostage to the 401. There really isn’t an alternative.”
Campbell has lived in the Oshawa area all her life, where the housing is much more affordable than closer to her workplace, and has been working in Scarborough since 1993. When she first started her job, she said the near 48 km-drive was easily about 35 minutes each way.
But now, it can take that much time just to navigate through Scarborough traffic to get up to the 401 from her job in the Birchmount Road and Eglinton Avenue area, making the drive home as long as three hours sometimes.
The GO Train isn’t an option because Campbell needs train service with a more flexible schedule. She has three children at home, two of whom are still in school and busy with extracurricular activities. None of them is awake when their mother leaves in the morning.
“Luckily, my mom helps me out by taking them to school. If I didn’t have that, I’d be really in trouble,” she said.
She said while she’s fortunate she doesn’t need to be at work for a certain time, the drive is nonetheless very stressful.
“I don’t let it bother me,” she said. “I put the music on and I shake my head some times, wondering how some people get their driver’s licenses.”
Campbell drives her mother’s Chevy Cobalt during the week, which is easier on gas. She estimates she spends about $50 to $60 a week on gasoline, about half of what she believes she’d be paying if she took her own car, a Chevy Traverse.
She said she would like to see better alternatives to the 401 other than the 407, which is too far for Campbell’s purposes and expensive.
“They’re doing all of this house building in Oshawa, but none of the infrastructure is being kept up to accommodate all these residents,” she said.
Campbell is very much looking forward to the spring, when her office is set to move a bit closer to the highway, saving Campbell some time on the road.
“But I’ll still have the 401 to contend with.”
A tale of two drivers
Name: Terry Mathews, 54, Finance executive
The commute: 40 km. - Oakville to Brampton
The verdict: Morning trip 30-40 minutes. Afternoon commute 70 minutes or more.
Cost: About $75 in gas a week
Quote: “The time I spend in traffic has an impact on the time I spend with my family.”
Wish list: Trucks out of the left lane, more frequent GO service, proof HOV lanes work.
Name: Dennise Campbell, 48, IT for big bank
The commute: 48 km. - Oshawa to Scarborough
The verdict: On the 401 at 5:30a.m. GO Train not an option. Afternoon drive, once 35 minutes, can now take several hours.
Cost: $50 to $60 a week
Quote: “You’re hostage to the 401. There really isn’t an alternative.”
Wish list: Better options to the 401. Better roads to keep pace with development.
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