Renters & Public Transit

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One question that has long intrigued me is the question of whether or not public transit use is related to renting? On the face of it, it seems likely: renter households typically have lower incomes than owner households, and in theory at least may be more likely to use public transit than personal vehicles (which are more costly to own and operate than public transit). On the other hand, most rental housing in southern Ontario is concentrated in the province’s larger cities, and it’s the larger cities which have the most extensive public transit systems; many smaller cities and towns have no public transit at all, so even low-income households have no choice.

Answering this question ideally means using demographic data (from the Census) to separate public transit users into renters and owners. I don’t currently have access to detailed data like this, so I’ve had to make do with a more generalized approach. The chart below compares the percentage of households which are renting against the percentage of workers who use public transit to commute in Ontario’s ten largest cities (by population) and ten smaller cities with populations ranging from approximately 31,000 to 52,000.

As noted above, this chart is a generalized approach to a rather specific question. What can it tell us? First of all, it’s obvious that percentage public transit use correlates strongly with population, confirming that public transit use is nearly always highest in larger cities. Much more interesting, however, is the percentage of households renting: this has no apparent correlation to either population or percentage public transit use since (for example) such smaller cities as Stratford, St Thomas, Woodstock, and Chatham have much higher percentages of households renting than much, much larger cities such as Vaughan, Markham, Brampton, and Mississauga. Overall, there doesn’t appear to be much link between renting and public transit use, although as I noted above, data of greater detail is needed to properly confirm this.