Mapping the city: How transit can fix access to jobs in Toronto

Mapping the City is an ongoing series on the stories we can tell about people and places in Toronto through maps created by University of Toronto students and faculty.

In the second instalment, U of T News writer Romi Levine profiles the work of Steven Farber.

Read the first part of the series here

Toronto is a sprawling city – one that keeps growing in all directions to accommodate the growing number of people who come to live here. But its vastness has made it hard to connect every part of the city with public transportation. That, in turn, has created inequalities in opportunity, especially between high and low income households.

Steven Farber, assistant professor of Geography and Planning at University of Toronto, set out to find the link between transportation and opportunity by creating a series of maps with the help of U of T students Jeff Allen and Maria Grandez.

 “I showed the levels of opportunities in terms of how easily people can access jobs in the city by the different modes of transportation,” he says.

People who have cars have greater access to a larger selection of jobs, Farber says. Those who do not have cars have a much smaller geographical area to find employment.

Those without cars who live in downtown Toronto or along the subway line, he says, can access 30 per cent of the jobs car owners can. The number gets even smaller when you move away from the city centre.

“As you get further and further out from there, the accessibility ratios really drop off really really quickly – down to 5 to10 per cent for much of the city and less than 5 per cent outside the city of Toronto,” Farber says.

“For now, car drivers have it made,” he says. “Even if you complain about traffic and congestion and slower trips – if you take the situation of drivers and compare it to transit users, they’re still way ahead of the game.”

The key to closing the gap in accessibility is in beefing up Toronto’s public transportation, says Farber.

“When we’re trying to use transit to address these accessibility differences, you have to think about which low income neighbourhoods need transit investment more,” he says.

“The map clearly shows there’s huge swathes of suburban Toronto – Scarborough, North Etobicoke, North York, that are really lacking in transit connectivity to jobs in the region.”

One of the maps Farber and his students created evaluates the effectiveness of some of the proposed transit expansions – including the Scarborough LRT and subway extension as well as the Eglinton Crosstown – to increase accessibility to opportunity for transit users. In the map (below), the dark outlines show the areas where a new transit line would heighten accessibility for transit users from below 30 per cent to above 30 percent of what car owners can access.

It holds particular significance as Toronto City Council votes on a long-term transit plan.

“What we found is that the Eglinton Crosstown has the largest impact on increasing accessibility – which really makes sense,” says Farber. “Any line that cuts through the middle of the city from end to end is going to have very very large impact on increasing accessibility.”

He says the Scarborough transit expansion will greatly benefit those who live along the proposed lines, but “will do almost nothing for people who are just offsite.”

“Really what we should be thinking about is how we’re going to fund more widespread transit expansion throughout the suburbs and especially try to hit neighbourhoods where bringing transit will improve the quality of life and participation levels of people living there,” says Farber.

He says the best way to do so is by improving on existing bus routes.  

“We need to figure out how to make those routes more efficient and faster because we have the reach,” Farber says. “There are very few places in the city where there’s not a bus within 400 metres of someone’s house.”

Farber hopes to get this message across through his maps. He says displaying data in a visual way makes the information seem more personal to those who view it.

“I think it’s a hugely powerful medium for transmitting information and getting people to think about their surroundings and think about their city in a new way,” Farber says. “It really gets the neurons firing.”

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