Far more job opportunities are available with a 30-minute commute by car than by public transit

Joseph Quesnel

The debate continues: should governments prioritize funding for roads or invest more in public transit? According to a new policy brief from the Frontier Centre, the sooner governments abandon their bias against cars, the better.

A recent study by Jeff Allen and Steven Farber from the University of Toronto sheds light on work access as measured in travel time to work in 10 of Canada’s largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs). The study measures “30-minute job access,” or the number of jobs that can be reached within a 30-minute drive.

Not surprisingly, cars provide access to significantly more jobs within a 30-minute radius than transit.

For instance, in Winnipeg, approximately 144,400 residents with vehicles have “30-minute” access to their jobs, whereas only 33,300 residents have access via public transit. This translates to 4.3 (430 percent) more job opportunities accessible by car than by transit.

car public transit job

Photo by Annie Spratt

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It’s important to recognize that Winnipeg boasts better 30-minute work access via public transit than most of the 10 cities examined, with only Montreal and Vancouver doing better.

In Montreal, automobiles provide access to about three times as many jobs within a 30-minute radius compared to transit. Conversely, in Edmonton, cars give access to almost 10 times as many jobs within a 30-minute trip.

And unfortunately for public transit, trends indicate a shift away from larger metropolitan areas that can best support public transit. The destructive COVID-19 lockdowns permanently damaged downtown economies by accelerating telecommuting and work-from-home arrangements.

Despite declining ridership, many politicians and policymakers seem oblivious to this disruption and continue advocating for increased transit infrastructure. However, the reality is that cars offer superior mobility and access to many more job opportunities within a 30-minute commute, especially in cities like Winnipeg.

There’s a growing trend of intentionally lowering speed limits to discourage car usage. And then there is the “15-minute city” craze, which seeks to discourage mobility and redirect economic life to denser, self-contained, and walkable/transit-oriented micro-economies. These initiatives reflect the pervasive “war on cars” mindset among urban planners and climate-chattering class advocates, who often try to force choices on Canadians that they resist for valid reasons.

Good intentions aside, forcing people to use public transit is not the answer, especially in areas with shrinking downtown job prospects. Despite having one of the better-designed transit systems in Canada, Winnipeg still faces one stark fact: cars provide superior mobility and access to significantly more job opportunities within a 30-minute commute than transit. The security issues on public buses, such as attacks on drivers and aggressive passenger behaviour, further highlight the inadequacy of transit solutions, which won’t be addressed simply by throwing more money into transit.

While it may still be politically incorrect to say so – cars remain king.

Rather than force people onto buses (or worse – expensive Light Rail), policymakers should prioritize upgrading and extending existing road infrastructure to maximize economic growth and opportunity.

The data on “30-minute work access” serves as a wake-up call for policymakers fixated on anti-car policies that are at odds with the preferences and choices of real people benefiting from the opportunities enabled by the superior mobility of the automobile.

Joseph Quesnel is Senior Research Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. www.fcpp.org

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