Commuter Life: Is Living Outside Of The City Worth The Hassle?
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Is Living Outside Of The City Worth The Commute?

A writer from Hamilton crunches the numbers.

I really did enjoy it at first. Sitting on the GO train for two hours every day—from Hamilton to Toronto, and back again—offers a glorious, uninterrupted opportunity to read. During the first month of my commute to my job downtown, I devoured six books. I hadn’t read six books so quickly in years. In the mornings, the train ride felt like a gradual easing-in to the day, and in the evenings like decompression, a chance to mentally unwind after work. One of my coworkers told me it seemed very European, taking the train into the city every day.

The novelty wore off fast. I began to understand why, when I first told friends and colleagues I was commuting in from Hamilton, they recoiled in horror.

An eight-hour workday becomes a 12-hour one when you live cities away—80 kilometres one-way, in fact. I leave my house at 7 a.m. and I’m rarely home before 7 p.m. It doesn’t leave much time for anything else. I commute, I work, and I go to bed early so I can rise at the crack of dawn the next day and do it all over again.

I moved back to Ontario last fall, to my parents’ house in the Hamilton suburbs, and started a six-month internship in Toronto. Commuting made sense. I wouldn’t be making much money—not enough to afford living in Toronto—and my parents kindly offered up their place rent-free. I’d save my money, and once the internship ended, I’d move to the city. Taking the GO train was preferable to driving, given the out-of-control congestion on the QEW and the Gardiner Expressway every day.

It takes an absurdly long time just to get to the train station. I spend nearly an hour each day bumper-to-bumper, staring at brake lights, swearing at other drivers on Highway 403. Lately, when I finally make it onto the train, I’m so tired I struggle to keep my eyes open. I have not read six books in the last month. And at the end of the day, I merge with the throngs of people surging along Front and Bay Streets toward Union Station. All in the name of saving money!

I don’t regret the decision to commute. But when I calculated my expenses about two months into my internship, I was surprised to find I wasn’t saving as much money as I thought I would:

Monthly costs

GO train $370
Car insurance $200
Gas $120
TOTAL $690

I know I could find an apartment, with roommates, in Toronto for that much. When I lived in the city a few years ago, I paid $650 per month.

I wondered: Is it worth it, financially, to live outside Toronto and commute in?

Rent in Toronto is notoriously high. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s fall 2015 rental market report, the average rent of a bachelor apartment in Toronto (excluding the suburbs) is $983. Add to that the cost of a Metropass to get to work every day and you’re paying about $1,100 per month, less if you’re bunking with roommates. (Rent for a Toronto two-bedroom is $1,651, on average.)

Here, a breakdown of the estimated cost of living in GTA neighbourhoods and hopping on public transit to get into the city.1

GTA commuter costs. Map by Sean Marshall.

I have about two months left until my internship ends, and I’m going to stick it out on the train for the remainder. The ride itself isn’t so bad—rush-hour commuters take a business-like approach to their daily grind. We’re polite, but not friendly. We know and abide by the etiquette: no small talk, no sprawling baggage, no smelly food, and absolutely no staring at the others around you, packed like sardines into the train car. Professional commuters are masters of the averted gaze.

For me, the commute means long days that infringe upon my productivity, social life, and sleep—that’s the part that I hate. If you’re saving money, it’s all worth it. But I’m counting down the days until my move to Toronto, when I can throw my hard-earned dollars at a landlord rather than at GO Transit.

  1. These costs are estimated. Presto calculates small discounts depending on how often you use your Presto card. I calculated the costs using 40 trips per month, which is a five-day work week, for a period of four weeks. All rental figures come from the CMHC’s fall 2015 rental market reports for the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton and Brantford CMAs

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