Theses Doctoral

The Better Way: Transit Service and Demand in Metropolitan Toronto, 1953-1990

English, Jonathan

This dissertation contends that the decision of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission to introduce a grid of frequent, all-day bus service on arterial roads in newly built, low-density suburban neighbourhoods is responsible for Toronto’s unique ability to attract suburbanites to transit. Toronto’s approach is in stark contrast with the that followed in most North American urban regions, where auto-oriented suburban built form is considered to make transit unviable, and therefore transit service outside the urban core is typically very limited. The Ontario government’s establishment of metropolitan government in the Toronto region in 1953, at a time when transit remained a popular mode of transportation, encouraged and empowered suburban politicians to pressure the TTC to expand service to their constituencies. In response, the TTC developed a plan for suburban bus service that succeeded, in terms of ridership and financial performance, far beyond its expectations. This success, in turn, encouraged further service improvements and government support for transit, producing a virtuous spiral of service increases, ridership gains, and government funding increases, which stood in sharp contrast with the vicious spiral of ridership declines, service cuts, and fare hikes that plagued transit systems in most North American cities. This dissertation is the product of archival research in Canada and the United States, as well as a series of interviews with policymakers, planners, and activists who were engaged during the period. The Toronto model offers valuable lessons for transportation planning across North America. It demonstrates that it is possible to achieve high transit mode share, even in areas that are not designed as explicitly transit-oriented communities. This means that it is possible to shift trips away from the automobile without needing to entirely rebuild the suburban neighbourhoods where most North Americans reside, an unachievable goal on the timeline required to avert catastrophic climate change. It also demonstrates that the benefits of large capital investments in rapid transit and rail projects will only be maximized when paired with operating funding to ensure that the new infrastructure is embedded in a broader network of frequent local transit service.


  • thumnail for English_columbia_0054D_16280.pdf English_columbia_0054D_16280.pdf application/pdf 4.56 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Sclar, Elliott
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 30, 2020