Toronto Traffic Problems

Toronto Traffic Problems


As the provincial capital of Ontario,Toronto is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and inhabits a population of approximately 2.8 million people. It is the largest city in Canada and the fourth largest city in the world. Toronto has rapidly grown and developed making it a center of focus for researchers in developmental studies and demographics, among others. The high population and rapid development in the city has been accompanied with traffic congestion and stagnation, the most notable of which is the mounting gridlock that threatens to grind the city to a halt in the near future. The political gridlock concerning the government operations is a leading factor that has not only failed to resolve the congestion issue, but also heightened it. This paper seeks to analyze the root causes of the situation, including the political and economic factors and make a further assessment of the actions that the government as well as the private sector have taken in order to correct this problem.

Toronto Traffic Problems: The Political Gridlock


Toronto has consistently hit the headlines due to its transportation problems, the most notable of which is traffic congestion that affects all the major routes across the city. The high level of traffic problems in this region has triggered both academic and government interest groups to conduct studies and researches to identify the causes and propose solutions of the menace. According to the recent government estimates, the present traffic crisis costs Toronto’s economy a loss of $11 billion every year, which is a rise from $ 3 billion in 2006 (Transport Canada, 2006). This is mainly caused by the huge number of drivers who are normally stuck in the traffic jams every day, and waste time which they would have spent on productive activities in the office with their families back home (Cox, 2004).

Various studies reflect the rising congestion problems in the city of Toronto, and also reveal the role that the government plays to inhibit further improvement and thereby exacerbate the situation. One such factor being the political gridlock between the Liberals and the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) despite the fact that very little information exists, which offers a clear direction of the steps that the government, or private investors may undertake to ease traffic congestion.

This paper seeks to examine the traffic congestion problem in Toronto, with the objective of finding out the role of political gridlock in the failed attempt at finding a viable solution to the problem. The paper will further analyze how these differences among political parties and major political figures have worsened the situation and led to the escalation of the problem. In order to attain this objective, the paper assesses data from different primary and secondary sources which is divided into three sections.

The first section will provide a brief overview of Toronto and its recent development while the second section gives an evaluation of the problem of transportation and traffic congestion and the third part gives recommendations and practical solutions to the problem.

Background to the Study

Toronto is home to some of the world’s most coveted transport infrastructures, and these are inclusive of the Toronto Pearson International, Billy Bishop Toronto, Buttonville and Downsview Airports (Daniel, 2011). Furthermore, the city is served with numerous provincial and express highways, such as the Highway 401, which has received much attention and accolade for being the most traversed upon road in America, the Allen roads, Don Valley Parkway as well as the Gardiner Expressway. These road systems were built by using an architectural design that is popularly referred to as a concession road system, by the colonial masters in order to ease access to their farms, most of which were split into 100-acre plots (TomTom, 2012).

The government of Toronto or the larger Ontario has to date not undertaken any substantial steps to alter these designs or improve them to accommodate the rapidly growing populace of the city. As a municipal, the government of Toronto is headed by the mayor of the city in addition to being served by a forty four-member council. Even though these roads and air transport systems are attractive in nature, the city still lacks sufficient transportation system, and this has led to continuous growth of traffic congestion within the region and beyond. Research reveals that Toronto is among the three worst cities in terms of traffic congestions in the whole of Western Hemisphere, with the other two being Vancouver and Montreal (TomTom, 2012). Today, Toronto has an estimated population of 2.8 million inhabitants, which is more than triple of its population in 1950 and this figure is further increased when taking into consideration the population of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which has close to 6 million people. This city, which is also the provincial capital of Ontario, is one of the fastest growing cities in the globe, and many people immigrating into Canada prefer it as their favorite destination. Like many other large cities in the world, such as Buenos Aires, and New Delhi, Toronto is currently faced with massive traffic problems partly due to its huge populace and the poor urban planning and governance (TomTom, 2012).

Literature Review

As Cox (2004) rightly points out, the Government of McGuinty opines that constructing more roads will only increase the traffic level in the roads, hence increasing congestion, instead of decreasing it. One of the solutions that planners initially proposed was to resolve this problem was constructing more roads and increasing the number of operational transits. Unfortunately, researchers have found out that such an action cannot resolve this problem, and this follows a study that was conducted on other cities across North America (Wood, 2012). According to those who oppose this proposal, even though it may offer smoother transportation during the initial stages, the construction of new highways and introduction of new transit systems will attract more commuters to start driving. This will perpetuate the traffic problem back to where it started and lead to a perennial vicious cycle.

Two facts are inevitable in the current situation of the city and the first fact is that the population of the city will continue to grow at a steady pace and the second fact is that the city currently lacks any plans, whatsoever, to change the current situation of the traffic congestion. These two realities point to an escalated problem for Toronto in the near future, and the data from research reports are a clear indication of this. The Smart Growth Panel of Central Ontario has estimated that nearly all motorists in the city spend an extra 30% of their commuting time on the road at peak traffic hours, and in particular in the region of Golden Horseshoe and the same statistics have predicted that this figure is likely to rise to over 70% by 2030. This demands the urgent need for the government to halt the political gridlock that has been going on between the federal and the local government (Wood, 2012).

The gridlock was as a result of the disjointed efforts from different factions of the government, with the then Federal Minister for transport, David Collenette, who prioritized the Toronto transport system as a problem.

In this regard, the federal government has been advocating for and disbursing funds, and this began with the $600 million dollars that was issued by the federal government in support of the SHIP (Strategic Highway Infrastructure Program) and two years later a further $2 billion was provided for the same cause. On the other hand, the City councilor, Olivia Chow opposed such massive highway and road constructions, and instead lobbied for an alternative transportation provision. In her opinion, the most feasible solution for the Toronto transportation problems would be to build more lanes for bikes and Light Rail Transit (LRT). The City Hall, in contrast to the two ongoing proposals that had already been tabled, was considering charging citizens for congestion, a move that would drive the government to monitor and charge drivers depending on how frequently they made a trip to the Central Business District and other priority centers. This pricing system is very similar to what is employed in other large cities including Stockholm and London (Maria, Eliasson, Hugosson, and Karin, 2012).

Similarly, for Toronto Airport systems, several factors have caused an upsurge in congestion over the years. The first reason for the dramatic rise is the rapid growth in the population of users of this mode of transport, which has demanded for an increase in both aircrafts and personnel (Daniel, 2011). To deal with this scenario, all of the airports under the Canada National Airport System have since expanded their sizes and operations to an optimum level, yet, even this expansion has not been sufficient to eliminate the looming danger of traffic congestion that is expected to mount by 2030. According to Daniel (2011), the congestion charges and pricing is one of the proposed and most viable solutions for this traffic problem.

The Historical Cost of Traffic Congestion

There have been wrangles within the Toronto government with regard to the best solutions for the current traffic situation in the region, and these began in the previous terms of leadership. In 2003, the costs of traffic congestion started skyrocketing, and even spiralled out of hand for the city planners as well as the government. This caused the most reliable route in Toronto which was then, the Toll route 407, a loss of 20 million dollars within four months (Egbuna, 2003) while the prices of fuel and gas hit 70% increase. To worsen matters for the motorists, the insurance companies raised their rates to the maximum hence calling for the urgent need for the government to unite and operate together in finding an amicable solution (Chowdhury, Santen, and Schadschneider, 2000).

Similarly, thousands of citizens lose up to four hours every week in the traffic congestion on the major roads in Toronto and this time would have been spent on more productive work, or bonding with their families, instead of being stuck in the middle of the highway at peak hours of the day. Moreover, research has shown that congestion has also resulted in delays in getting to work, school, hospital or other appointments on time, and this may cause the subsequent loss of business opportunity or catalyze other punitive measures. In addition, there has been an increase in the emissions of green house into the atmosphere, which come from fuel waste of the vehicles that are caught up in traffic jam. On a more serious note, traffic congestion reduces the ability to deliver emergency services because when the vehicles are stuck bumper-to-bumper, they make it impossible for ambulances and fire-extinguisher trucks to gain through-way in order to deliver urgently required services.

Causes of the Congestion

Increased ownership and utilization of vehicles

This is a major reason for the increased traffic congestion, not just in Toronto, but in every other big city in the world. Nevertheless, the situation is exacerbated in Toronto because nearly seventy percent of the entire population that owns vehicles drives to work and to make things worse, non-motorists, such as cyclers and pedestrians are also compelled to compete for the little space on the roads, hence increasing the stress on the roads that is already beyond control (Chowdhury et al., 2000). Another problem that facilitates the congestion problem is the small number of passengers per vehicle and this is mainly attributed to the fact that in most instances, the number of occupants that ordinary cars can transport ranges between four and eight. However, most vehicles in Toronto are reportedly carrying only one or two people at any given time, instead of making use of the public transport, which can ferry more than forty passengers per trip. However, most people prefer to use their private means of transport because the government has neglected the public transport systems, and there are cases where buses over 15 years old are still plying some routes and carrying passengers. According to Chowdhury et al., (2000), this makes it very uncomfortable for people to use public means of transport to and from their homes and reduces their enthusiasm for this mode of transport.

Poor planning           

In addition, poor planning within the federal and the local government has also contributed to the current congestion situation in Toronto and this is so because like in every other country around the globe, the government has a bigger responsibility, to make sure that, it provides sufficient social amenities to its ever-growing population. Despite being aware of this, the government of Canada, and the local Toronto government have both failed to meet the expectations of their subjects, who now have to bear the brunt of the government’s poor planning (Helbing, 2001). For instance, the political gridlock within the government has made it impossible for civil engineers to design the best passes for pedestrians and cyclists, and this has subsequently compelled these groups to share the congested roads with the motorists. Additionally, the gridlock has resulted in the construction of poor roads, some of which do not connect to the main roads hence leading to wastage of capital, space and other resources used in the construction.

While some political leaders in the local government advocate for alternative methods of decongestion and are against construction of too many roads and highways, the municipality still engages in building various passes through thoroughfares, and this has resulted in the utilization of public space without solving the problem at hand. Furthermore, the poor planning within the government has led to placement of road signs in the wrong places hence causing increased congestion as opposed to easing the flow of traffic (Helbing, 2001).


Research within the government operations also reveals that the dispute between the different political divide has enhanced the corruption levels within the government hence causing an increase in the embezzlement of funds that were reserved for improving traffic conditions within the city. This has also caused a lapse in implementation of laws by the government, unevenness in the implementation and inadequate administration of justice to the criminal offenders. This not only stalls the improvement of congestion in Toronto, but also worsens the situation because motorists become more ignorant of the laws they ought to follow (Gilles, and Turner, 2011).

Practical Solutions

One of the most palpable causes of traffic congestion in Toronto is the large number of private cars that owners use to commute to work, which ferry an average of only two people and as such, the cheapest way to reduce the congestion problem is to encourage people to use public means of transport, which carry more than forty passengers at once. This move will result in decongestion and also reduce air pollution because fewer vehicles will ply the road. In addition to this, this move will save personal vehicle owners the cost of fueling their cars owing to the unused gas needed to fuel the personal cars. One way to attain such a goal is by discouraging the use of private cars, and this can be done through imposing additional taxes for every car driven or parked within the city (Gilles, and Turner, 2011).

The second solution to the traffic problem in Toronto is improving the public transport systems. In light of this point, it is necessary to highlight the failure by the TTC to improve the conditions of transits within the city. Not only has the commission failed to raise new transit systems into operation, but they have also kept the old ones in operation under deplorable conditions, thus causing discomfort for the passengers (Jonas, 2009). In retrospect, the TTC must replace the old infrastructure with new ones, and also service those that are still capable of offering the passengers comfort during operations. This will convince the personal car owners to use the public transport systems, and in the long run lead to a reduced congestion of the traffic.

Thirdly, it is pertinent for the government to improve the transport systems within the city, and this needs massive planning and funding. Findings of previous research reveal that the current transport infrastructure is not only inadequate, but also insufficient to accommodate the rapidly growing pollution and in order to address this situation, the government ought to consider alternative means of transport, like the subways, which operate underneath the roads. In addition, the infrastructure can be designed in a manner that discourages the use of private cars within priority areas, including the central business districts. In this light, the government of Toronto and Canada as a whole can borrow a leaf from cities such as Stockholm and London, which have already implemented automated billing systems (Maria, et al., 2012). These systems use GPS, vehicle ID systems and cameras to locate every vehicle and automatically charge owners an additional fee for access and parking whenever the drive their personal cars into the city center.


In order to attain the objective of decongesting the traffic in Toronto, and perhaps in other cities within Canada, there is so much more that needs to be done. The following are some of the recommendations that all the stakeholders need to consider in order to realize the greater goal. Firstly, the government needs to stop the ongoing political gridlock that is currently acting as an obstacle to the implementation of any viable plans of decongesting the city transport systems. It can only do this by using the disparities between the diverse political parties as a tool to collect different ideas for a lasting solution, instead of fighting against each other.

Secondly, the government must combine efforts so as to develop the necessary plans for implementing major projects such as constructions of subways and billing systems. These are high cost projects that also take a long time to implement, hence making it impossible to implement based on political approach. Additionally, the government must co-operate within itself to eliminate the ongoing corruption that has hindered the implementation of legislation that was supposed to protect the roads, road users and ensure safety of the public, and at the same time ease the flow of traffic.


Without doubt, this paper has shown that there is indeed a massive traffic congestion problem within Toronto, leading it to be ranked amongst the worst cities in North America. The paper has further identified and discussed a number of reasons for this problem, including the high population, increased vehicle ownership and usage as well as poor implementation and planning of intervention programs. The paper has shown that there are repercussions which the city suffers due to this congestion and these include the loss of billions of dollars from the economy, disruption of people’s schedules and increased pollution. The last two sections of the paper have highlighted some of the viable options that can be used to remedy the situation, and also pointed out some of the actions the stakeholders need to take in order to alleviate the congestion problems. It is the hope of every Toronto citizen that the government shall halt the ongoing political gridlock and take necessary measures to deal with the traffic situation.


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