Public transit systems that are accessible and efficient are important in building a sustainable country with connected cities and rural areas. In Canada, vast expanses of wilderness and long distances between cities, towns, and rural communities, pose unique challenges for public transport systems.
In this article, we explore public transport statistics in Canada from journey numbers to revenue and cost of transport in larger Canadian cities. We also take a look at how the Canadian public transit sector is investing in future transport systems to ensure they are sustainable and accessible to all Canadians.
Public Transit Statistics for Canadians
- Despite showing some improvement, public transit journey numbers in January 2023 at 118 million, remained significantly below pre-pandemic journey numbers.
- The public transit revenue was $267.6 million in January 2023.
- Toronto has the most expensive public transit prices in Canada.
- Men, younger Canadians, black, and people living in metropolitan areas are more likely to commute to work on public transit.
- 27% of Canadians do not feel safe when travelling on public transit alone.
- The average bus driver’s salary in Canada is just under $46,500, while a train conductor’s average salary is just under $96,000.
- The Government of Canada is investing $14.9 billion into improving the public transit system in Canada.
Public Transit in Canada
Canada has a public transit system that serves both urban and rural areas across the country. While major cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal have a range of public transit options including buses, subways, and light rail, smaller cities and towns generally offer regional bus services.
Public transit options connecting cities and regions include air, rail, and bus links. Because of the vast distances, travelling by air is usually the fastest way to travel across the country. However, not all places are located near airports so for some locations rail or bus services may be the only option.
Organising interconnected travel across such a large landmass is challenging, especially with different regions having their own public transit systems but the Canadian public transit sector is trying to make it easier with initiatives such as coordinated schedules and fare integration.
The public transit passenger numbers in Canada were hugely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As people stayed at home, the passenger numbers fell to a fraction of normal numbers. Even those who were still working outside of the home were often opting for other forms of transport in favour of public forms of transit.
Before the pandemic, in January and February 2020, there were 163.9 million and 161.2 million journeys made on public transport across Canada. By March 2020, the number of passengers was almost half with only 88.5 million journeys.
The lowest number of passenger journeys was in April 2020 with only 25.7 million journeys. In May 2020, the number of journeys had picked up a little with 28.4 million journeys made and in June there were 38.5 million journeys. Just when it looked like passenger numbers could be recovering with 62.9 million journeys made in September 2020, there were new surges of the virus, and passenger numbers fell back down to 26.4 million in January 2021.
The public transit passenger numbers stayed low for most of 2021, reaching 91.1 million in December 2021, which was still significantly below pandemic levels. Despite an improved situation regarding COVID-19, passengers were slow to return to using public transit with journey numbers remaining below 100 million for most of 2022.
By September 2022, things were looking more positive for the public transit sector, with passenger journey numbers climbing above 100 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic. In September, October, and November there were 117.4 million journeys made on public transit in Canada. The latest available journey numbers, from January 2023, show further improvement with 118.4 million journeys.
Public Transit Revenue
As fewer people were using public transit because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this had a direct impact on public transit revenues. In February 2020, the revenues were still $349.9 million but in March they were down to $236.4 million, and $56.3 million in April 2020.
As the passenger numbers picked up slightly towards the end of summer 2020, the revenues reached $108.9 million in July and $143.2 million in August. The first time the revenue climbed to over $200 million since the pandemic was in November 2021 when the revenue was $201.2 million.
During 2022, the monthly revenues continued to improve as more passengers returned to using public transit. The revenue was $267.6 million in January. It was the highest since the pandemic although still $82.3 million less than in February 2020.
Public Transport Prices
According to a survey by Picodi that looked at transport in selected cities around the world, Toronto has the most expensive transport in Canada. In March 2023, the average monthly pass in Toronto cost $156. Calgary was the second most expensive, with a monthly pass costing $112. Winnipeg, Montreal, and Vancouver came next with $107.8, $102.55, and $94, respectively.
Compared to other cities across the world, residents of Toronto spent the fourth largest portion of an average net monthly wage on a monthly travel pass. In Toronto, a monthly pass costs 3.7% of the average monthly net income. The cities where people paid a larger percentage were Sao Paulo, Istanbul, and London. The percentages were 14.3%, 7.5%, and 7.4%, respectively.
Who Uses Public Transit in Canada?
There are currently no national surveys on household travel in Canada, other than the census where the information collected on travel is fairly limited. Until recently, there was just one question focusing on journey to work and emphasising the mode typically used to travel to work. In 2021, a new question was added that allowed respondents to select all the modes of transport they use to get to work as well as the one they use most often.
The other limitation of the census data is that the question only asks about work trips. This excludes people who use public transit outside work journeys and those who are not in the workforce.
Men Are More Likely to Commute Using Public Transit
Based on the census data, 15% of men commute to work using public transit compared to 11% of women. For both genders, travelling by car, either as the driver or a passenger, is the most common mode of commuting to work.
Younger Canadians Use Public Transit the Most for Work Journeys
The younger workers in Canada are more likely to use public transit to get to work than older Canadians. 20% of 15-24-year-olds and 16% of 25-34-year olds use public transit. The portion of workers using public transit gets smaller as the age groups get older. Only 8% of workers aged 65-74 and 6% of those aged 75 or over use public transit for work commutes.
Black Canadians Commute to Work Using Public Transport the Most
Black and mixed-race workers were the most likely to use public transit at 38% and 29%, while Indigenous and white workers were least likely to use it at 8% and 9%.
Canadians with Lower Incomes More Likely to Use Public Transport
People on lower incomes relied more on public transit, with 23% of workers in the lowest decile using it to commute to work. People in the highest decile were the least likely to commute using public transit at 10%.
Very Few People Outside Metropolitan Areas Commute Using Public Transport
71% of Canadians live within metropolitan areas that consist of an urban core with one or more neighbouring municipalities. Those who live within metropolitan areas are more likely to use public transit. 17% of commuting workers in metropolitan areas use public transit compared to just 2% outside them. Often, this is at least partly because there are no viable public transit options available.
Safety on Public Transit
According to an Ipsos poll, 27% of Canadians do not feel safe when traveling on public transit alone. However, they feel safer when travelling with family or friends. In Toronto, the portion of people not feeling safe when travelling alone is 44%.
Following acts of violence on public transit systems, 31% of Canadians say they are more wary and aware of their surroundings than before when using public transit. 19% avoid travelling at night and 17% are taking extra precautions for their safety, such as carrying pepper spray.
Some Canadians, 14%, say they avoid public transit entirely and 13% are using public transit options less. 18-34-year-old Canadians are the most likely to have changed their traveling habits than older Canadians. For example, while 29% of 18-34-year-olds are taking extra safety precautions, the percentages are 17% for 35-54-year-olds and 9% for people over 55.
How Much Can You Earn Working in the Public Transit Sector?
How much you can earn working in the public transit sector in Canada depends on, for example, where you live, the job description, and your experience. For example, according to the recruitment website Indeed, the average base salary for a bus driver in Canada is $46,494 per year. However, some companies pay considerably more, and drivers can earn over $70,000 per year.
A train conductor in Canada can earn $89,876 per year based on salary information on Talent. A train engineer can earn around $93,000 per year on average. Since these are average salaries, pay for new employees can be much lower, while experienced conductors and engineers can earn more, depending on the location and company they work for.
Investing in Public Transit in Canada
Over the next eight years, the Government of Canada is investing $14.9 billion in developing a fast, reliable, affordable, and clean public transit network. The aim is to continue providing an essential public transit service and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will help Canada meet its climate targets.
The total investment includes several funds such as the Rural Transit Solutions Fund, worth $250 million, which supports local transit solutions for Canada’s rural and remote communities. The Zero Emissions Transit Fund of $2.75 billion supports the electrification of public transit and school buses by purchasing 5,000 zero-emission buses and building the infrastructure to support an electric bus network.
In addition to supporting local solutions and the electrification of bus fleets, their investment also includes $400 towards the Active Transportation Fund. It invests in projects building new and expanding existing networks of bike lanes, pathways, trails, and pedestrian bridges.
Being such a large country, different regions and cities in Canada have their own public transit systems that pose challenges for an interconnected public transit network. The public transit systems across Canada were seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and journey numbers and revenue are still not back to the levels they were before the pandemic.
Based on answers to questions on how Canadians commute to work, most are still travelling to work by car either as drivers or passengers. The Canadian government is investing $14.9 billion in improving the public transit system to offer more Canadians a reliable and accessible public transit option and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Canada has several public transit systems with regions and cities having their own systems. The frequency, reliability, and accessibility of those transit systems vary, with large metropolitan areas generally having better public transit systems than smaller places.
Because different companies offer public transit depending on where you are, the cost of travel varies. Toronto has the most expensive monthly travel pass at $156. Charlottetown has one of the cheapest at just $20.
There is no national survey on how much Canadians use public transit. However, in January 2023, there were almost 120 million journeys made on public transit in Canada. This was still below the number of journeys pre-pandemic when there were over 160 million journeys per month.