Public Transit vs. Private Car Costs

I (Kevin, Co-Founder of Fight Gridlock) was recently asked about transit costs compared to the cost of private car ownership.

“We ought to be looking for ways to make the costs of public transportation as near to free as we can. If we calculated all the costs of having someone drive a car versus taking transit – It probably cost society far more for the car driver – that the car driver doesn’t pay themselves. We all do. And this is without putting a cost on the environmental impact.”

Fight Gridlock fully acknowledges that nothing is “free”. Like anything else, transportation funding is always about “how much does it cost”, and “who’s going to pay for it”. That said, this is an interesting enough topic to dive into to better understand how transportation is funded and value for money.

This article will look at the topic in two ways:

  1. What is the out-of-pocket cost for these trips?
  2. What is the cost to society to enable trips by public transportation vs. private automobile.

Internalized (Out-Of-Pocket) Costs

Private Automobile

Generally, the variables in private automobile transportation are what kind of automobile, whether it is new or used, how many automobiles, and how much mileage is applied. This could be influenced by lifestyle stages such as whether a person has a partner or not, and whether children are being transported regularly. This article will explore a few scenarios, with all costs cited from CAA Driving Costs Calculator, Province of Ontario. Annual mileage of 20,000km on a new automobile is assumed.

Last accessed: February 24, 2018, 10:19pm

Scenario Car Ownership Annual Cost
One Adult, No Kids Compact Car $7,534.81
One Adult, Two Kids Van $9,874.18
Two Adults, No Kids Two Compact Cars $15,069.62
Two Adults, Two Kids One Compact Car,
One Van


Public Transit

Let’s build out the same scenarios using public transit. There is some overlap in variables, but there are also unique differences. For example: Committing to owning a van accumulates costs whether the van is used to full capacity of not. While monthly public transit passes are available for children, they are not always the best use of money if a child does not need public transit every day. This article will assume the purchase of Brampton Transit monthly passes.

Last accessed: February 24, 2018, 10:35pm

Scenario Monthly Passes Annual Cost
One Adult, No Kids One Adult $122 * 12

= $1,464
One Adult, Two Kids One Adult
Two Child/Youth
$122 * 12 = $1,464
$105 * 12 = $1,260

$1,464 + $1,260 + $1,260

= $3,984
Two Adults, No Kids Two Adult $122 * 12 = $1,464

$1,464 + $1,464

= $2,928

Two Adults, Two Kids Two Adult
Two Child/Youth
$122 * 12 = $1,464
$105 * 12 = $1,260

$1,464 + $1,464 + $1,260 + $1,260

= $5,448


Externalized (Socialized) Costs

The tricky thing about public transit is that some of the cost is recovered at the fare box, and the rest is paid for by taxes — which every Brampton resident pays into. Further confounding the matter is that cost recovery is not limited to Brampton residents. This brings us to the second part of this article: What is the cost to enable trips by public transportation vs. private automobile?

2017 Brampton Transit Costs

Operational Costs Source:
Last accessed: February 24, 2018, 11:43pm

Capital Costs Source:
Last accessed: February 24, 2018, 11:43pm

Item 2017 Cost
Operations (Drivers, Staff Wages) $136,909,597
Capital (New Buses) $71,421,000
Total $208,330,597


This total cost does not take into consideration any grants received by the provincial government, or any cost recovery from the fare box.

Factoring In Census Data

Census Source:
Last accessed: February 24, 2018, 11:59pm

Census data suggests that Brampton’s population was 593,638 people in 2016, and that an estimated 13.96% of the population uses public transit as their main mode of travel. This works out to be an estimated 82,872 people.

The same census data suggests that 75.89% of Brampton’s population is a driver of a car, truck, or van as their main mode of travel. This works out to be an estimated 450,512 people.

What Are The Costs?

A cost of $208,330,597 to provide transit to approximately 82,872 people amounts to a full cost of approximately $2,513.88 per person annually.

If an estimated 450,512 people each pay $7,534.81 per year to drive a compact car, this amounts to a total of $3,394,522,322.72 — that’s over 3 BILLION DOLLARS — being paid into a system to support private automobile transport.

Even with no cost recovery at the fare box, a fully subsidized transit system costs 3 times less per person than what it costs for the public to pay for private automobile ownership.

The total contribution being paid to support private automobile ownership is more than 16 times higher than the total cost of the entire Brampton Transit system.

Survey Says…

Have you seen these commute visualizations created by Anthony Smith?

Fight Gridlock is happy to see this graph, and we commend Anthony for his amazing efforts to help the public interpret data in meaningful and interesting ways.

This was a wonderful reminder of information that was presented during the HMLRT discussions in 2015:

“Over 65 per cent of all trips were taken within the Region and consists mostly of trips within Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon. It shows that improvements towards intra-regional transit and local short-distance active transportation trips could have a more significant impact on overall transportation.”

Source: Peel Long Range Transportation Plan, Update 2012

Based on the 2016 Census, the percentage of Brampton residents working in Peel has increased slightly to almost 67%. In terms of regional transit connections to neighbouring municipalities and how they compare to Brampton council’s “top 3 priorities” from 2013 — Queen St. service to Vaughan, GO train service to Toronto, and LRT into Mississauga — actual commute patterns of Brampton residents might be indicating that these priorities are worth revisiting.

  • Travel to Mississauga: 28.9%
  • Travel to Toronto: 19.9%
  • Travel to Vaughan: 6.0%

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016325.

As always, we appreciate data (and maps!), and will continue to advocate for factual, evidence-based decision making from our elected representatives.

New 410 Highway Lanes Opened


Ontario has opened two new lanes on Highway 410, from Highway 401 to Queen Street in Brampton, to improve traffic flow and get commuters moving.

Kevin Montgomery, founder of Fight Gridlock in Brampton, an advocacy group that promotes increased transit and cycling options for Brampton residents, believes that “induced demand” will quickly fill up the extra lanes.

Source: New 410 Highway Lanes Opened – Stand UP for Brampton

Alternative HMLRT Routes, Redesigning Gateway, and Our Position

By Kevin Montgomery, co-founder, Fight Gridlock in Brampton


February 15, 2017 is the next important date in the Brampton Light Rapid Transit (LRT) story. This is the day that two key items are being brought forward to Committee of Council at 9:30 am:
  1. A report and request to begin procurement of an Environmental Assessment (EA) Study on “alternative routes” between Gateway Terminal (at Steeles and Main) and the Brampton GO Station (see here for a rough map from the staff report on where these routes would go); and
  2. A project update on the stops for HLRT, and Gateway terminus design.


Daytime meetings are challenging for participation. But, Fight Gridlock will be represented by me, Kevin Montgomery.
9.2.1. Report from C. Duyvestyn, Director, Transportation Special Projects, Public Works and Engineering, dated December 19, 2016, re: Budget Amendment and Request to Begin Procurement – Purchasing By-law Section 4.0 – Light Rail Transit Extension (Alternative Routes) Environmental Assessment Study from Gateway Terminal to Brampton GO Station – Wards 1, 3 and 4 (File IA.A [16-3130-101]).
9.2.2. Report from C. Duyvestyn, Director, Transportation Special Projects, Public Works and Engineering, dated January 13, 2017, re: Hurontario Light Rail Transit Project Update – Stops – Wards 3 and 4 (File IA.A [16-3130-481]).

1. EA Study on “alternative routes”

This report will request that Council allow $4.4 million to begin procurement for the EA of 2 alternate routes: Kennedy and McLaughlin. Further proposed is that a new staff position be created to oversee the EA study. Recall that the original HMLRT EA Study took 7 years to complete. This will be much the same.
After discussing this situation and hearing from residents, Fight Gridlock’s position is that it’s too rash to jump to an LRT solution on these alternate routes. Recall that the existing Züm ridership of Main St. was considered in the merits of LRT on Main St. There was much debate on the value of LRT on Main St. based on ridership numbers. While there are existing bus routes on McLaughlin and Kennedy, neither have Züm service. For reference: McLaughlin operates on about a 15 minute cycle during rush hour. Kennedy is about 7-10, which is better. But Main has a 5-10 frequency, with articulated buses for more capacity — which is often met.
Fight Gridlock will propose a revision of terms for the EA to pilot Züm first on alternative routes. This will allow accrual of ridership data, and allow transit users to show their preference of routes to the Downtown Terminal.
Another co-founder of Fight Gridlock in Brampton was quoted in a media article saying that Council could ask for money for alternative routes from the higher levels of government in 2017, before the study is complete. A majority of Council has the democratic ability under procedural rules to pass such a motion. There are positives and negatives with that approach. After reading the staff report, considering the situation, and hearing from residents, Kevin will be outlining pilot suggestion.
Should my suggestion fail, Fight Gridlock will of course respect the expert consultants to provide more information on transit options in Brampton. We will read every word, attend every meeting, and offer suggestions along the way.

2. Gateway Terminus Redesign

This is a fun one. Here’s what Gateway would have looked like with the HMLRT:

(click to enlarge)

And now with the Hurontario LRT (HuLRT) Gateway redesign….

A stop hierarchy has been developed for the HuLRT service. It will closely follow the existing Züm stops from the Mississauga border to the Gateway Terminus. The redesigned Gateway terminus will be at grade — on street level, on the south side of Steeles Ave. No doubt, this is to accommodate options for expansion at a later time as you can see by the tracks going east or west. A grade-separated pedestrian connection (tunnel) is proposed to connect as many as 400 passengers every 5-10 minutes to start, eventually growing to 600, from the LRT terminus to the Gateway Terminal.
A Public Open House will be held on February 28, 2017, in the City Hall Atrium to provide the public with an update on the Hurontario LRT project. Watch out for that.
Fight Gridlock’s position is that a tunnel is probably the best approach to connecting the LRT terminus to the Gateway Terminal. A grade separated crossing ensures that pedestrian traffic is able to connect between transit points uninhibited. Street-level traffic also remains uninhibited. Further, at a junction like Steeles and Hurontario, which moves at a quick speed, it’s important to separate vulnerable road users to achieve Vision Zero.

Overall Thoughts

Overall, we are sad that Brampton finds itself in this situation compared to where we could have been. We could be talking about the next phases of the LRT, instead of divergent routes. We could be leveraging Queen’s Park and Ottawa to extend and expand, instead of the time it will take to debate the drawing board. We could be holding public meetings right now on phase two of the plan, as Cambridge, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, and other cities are doing. Ironically, the first public consultation meeting for the Waterloo Region LRT Phase Two expansion happens on the same day Brampton will be discussing the HMLRT alternatives. We had hope in 2015 that 2017 would be different. Yet here we are. One thing hasn’t changed and that’s the fact that people still care, still want better transit, and a group like ours still exists (and enjoys the time we volunteer doing this advocacy!).

Fight Gridlock’s Approach, Principles, and Goals

Our group wants more transit options in Brampton. We want more service and more people to have the choice of leaving their car at home. The founding principles of this group are evidence-based planning, good transit design and best practices, and supporting networks. While we want new infrastructure in Brampton, we also believe in providing analysis, research, and speaking out about choices. We feel compelled to be a group that doesn’t blindly accept what is being offered. Rather, we will provide feedback. That doesn’t mean we’re against progress, shovels getting into the group, or action. Quite the opposite: We want to see more places in Brampton get better transit, not fewer.
There are many other transportation projects in Brampton we support: Expanding the local bus service, complete streets (IE better walking/cycling conditions), GO Transit’s Regional Express Rail project including the construction of the Halton-Brampton Rail Freight bypass (subject of a future article), and the Queen Street Rapid Transit Master Plan Study.
Our original position on transit planning in Brampton has not changed since our founding in 2014. We support an integrated, rapid, efficient, transit-rider oriented, regionally and locally connected, network of transit lines in Brampton. We don’t support alternatives; we support an “all of the above” approach. We continue to support the City of Brampton Transit and Transportation Master Plan (which is supported by the City’s Official Plan) and only wish to see the network grow, rather than duplicate, leading to inefficiencies. We want to see a bigger network, not a smaller network for more resources inefficiently executed.
At the end of the day, this situation is all about transit riders, both regular and irregular, no matter where they are going in Brampton or at what time of day. We sincerely want better transit service right now, and decisions that lead to better transit service quickly. That’s the motivation behind this group’s advocacy efforts.
What are your thoughts on these updates? Let us know in the comments. If you want to depute to City Council and tell them what you think, or write to them, please let us know.