Researchers Propose Buses to Ease Toronto's Class Divide
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Researchers Propose Buses to Ease Toronto’s Class Divide

Map by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute.

The map of Toronto, above—created by research associates at Richard Florida’s Martin Prosperity Institute, or MPI, and released last week as part of a series of mayoral election–themed research briefs—depicts a city divided not by political affiliation (as the electoral colour scheme indicates), but by occupation and access to public transit. The report’s authors are suggesting that, to bridge this divide, Toronto should pursue a more expedient transit expansion strategy, involving bus rapid transit.

The red regions on the map are parts of the city where service sector jobs—which the MPI defines as jobs where people “are paid to perform routine work directly for, or on behalf of, clients”—predominate. The blue regions are areas where the majority of jobs available are so-called “creative class” jobs—Florida’s term for any type of work where a person is paid primarily for thinking or problem-solving.
The researchers who compiled the data (graduate students working for MPI, and not Florida himself) were struck by how tightly clustered Toronto’s creative jobs are, and by how closely those jobs hew, geographically, to subway lines. They say this indicates that Toronto’s subway network doesn’t benefit all types of workers equally.
“When you look at our map, and you look at who is best served by something like the subway system, it’s the people in the creative occupations, which tend to make more [money],” said Patrick Adler, the report’s lead researcher and a graduate student in geography at the University of Toronto. “If you’re a creative class worker, you’re probably more likely than any other kind of worker to drive to work, but if you choose to take the subway it really works out well for you.” Service and working-class employees, meanwhile, are less likely to have easy access to speedy rail transit at their places of work, because their jobs are more evenly distributed across the city.
Addressing inequalities in transit access is a major policy goal for all of this year’s mayoral contenders, each of whom advocates either light rail or subway expansion, or some combination of the two. Adler and his team, upon studying their data, have proposed a different solution: bus rapid transit, or BRT—which is when road infrastructure and bus scheduling are altered in any of a number of ways to give buses priority over car traffic. Usually, it entails giving certain bus routes their own separate, dedicated lanes.
“Our recommendation about rapid bus systems was a very pragmatic one. We understood that the planning horizon for even light rail is so long, and there are so many variables,” said Adler, alluding to the political travails of Transit City.
BRT is currently scarce in Toronto. There’s a dedicated busway between Downsview Station and York University. Another BRT route is under consideration for along Kingston Road and Danforth Avenue between Victoria Park Avenue and Eglinton Avenue East, in Scarborough. York Region, Mississauga, and Brampton are all in the process of implementing BRT systems.
“We were trying to think of something that could be implemented even with the City’s current resources,” said Adler.
Adler and two other MPI research associates used census data as the basis for their work, and so all the individual segments that make up the map are census tracts. Their research brief contains additional policy recommendations.
“We weren’t expecting such a strong pattern. And I don’t think this pattern would exist every other place,” said Adler.
“And it’s really kind of cool.”