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Commuting Back to Campus

New report on how post-secondary students get to school sheds light on needed measures during the pandemic
October 05, 2020

With Ryerson students studying remotely this term and next, commuting to campus may not be top of mind. But a new study points to changes needed to help college and university students get around safely in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, post-pandemic.

In fall 2019, Ryerson’s Dr. Raktim Mitra led a study called StudentMoveTO, which conducted the largest-ever survey of student transportation to better understand the travel patterns, experiences and preferences of students from ten post-secondary institutions in the GTHA. The study looked at all modes of travel — including walking, biking, driving, and using local and regional transit — and found that on average, GTHA post-secondary students have a one-way commute distance of 14.6 kilometres with a duration of 45.9 minutes.

Between all ten post-secondary institutions, Ryerson students have, on average, the second-longest commute times across all modes of travel, and more Ryerson students use regional transit (such as GO Transit) as their primary mode than at any other institution. Ryerson students rely heavily on public transit overall, with 77% using local and regional transit as their primary way to get to campus (see table below). The length of these trips, as well as the requirement for some to transfer between transit agencies (ex. Metrolinx to TTC), points to the need for sufficient transit capacity and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission when the time comes to return to campus. 

Local and Regional Transit as Primary Mode

Institution % of Students
Ryerson University 77%
OCAD University 74%
York University 72%
Centennial College 67%
University of Toronto 57%
Durham College 53%
Sheridan College 50%
Mohawk College 47%
Ontario Tech University 46%
McMaster University 45%

Along with his co-investigators from University of Toronto, York University and OCAD University, Dr. Mitra chose to release the report and the data now, in the middle of COVID-19-related restrictions, because pre-pandemic data can inform planning for post-COVID travel - particularly as transit agencies and providers continue to ramp up their service. Pre-pandemic, the insights generated through this initiative would have supported effective transportation policymaking, planning and innovation in a busy, congested, unequal region. Given the pandemic, the findings take on added urgency, as they provide an evidence base to safely and equitably help return hundreds of thousands of students to campuses across the region. For example, with over three quarters of Ryerson students relying on some form of public transit for their daily travel, it is critical that safe and reliable transit service is in place across the region during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that students feel confident in their commutes as they return to campus.

The report (external link) , “StudentMoveTO: From Insight to Action on Transportation for Post-Secondary Students in the GTHA, 2019 Transportation Survey Findings,” presents the key preliminary findings from the survey, and highlights the need for changes to transportation services and infrastructure that would foster safe mobility as campus activities restart in a post-COVID world. These changes would increase the quality of life for students and the overall vitality of the GTHA and its transportation infrastructure.

Visit the StudentMoveTO website (external link)  for more information and to access the 2019 survey report and a video that highlights the key findings.

Additional Data


Local Transit as Primary Mode

Institution % of Students
Centennial College 60%
York University 57%
Ryerson University 55%
OCAD University 51%
Durham College 48%
University of Toronto 47%
Mohawk College 44%
Sheridan College 40%
Ontario Tech University 39%
McMaster University 31%

Average Commute Duration -- All Modes

Institution Duration (minutes)
York University 57.4
Ryerson University 56.8
OCAD University 52.0
Centennial College 47.6
Sheridan College 44.8
Ontario Tech University 41.7
University of Toronto 41.7
Durham College 39.8
Mohawk College 31.8
McMaster University 30.7
Grand Total (Average) 45.9

Average Commute Duration -- Local & Regional Transit

Institution Duration (minutes)
York University 69.8
Ryerson University 66.9
Sheridan College 65.0
OCAD University 62.6
Ontario Tech University 61.4
University of Toronto 57.9
Centennial College 55.3
Durham College 53.9
McMaster University 48.1
Mohawk College 43.3
Grand Total (Average) 61.2