Torontonians are driving more since pandemic began, city report finds

A City of Toronto report says people are travelling through the city more since the pandemic began, but deciding to drive more than other modes — a situation that could spell danger as the holiday season approaches, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

MADD’s CEO Andrew Murie told CTV News Toronto he’s hoping that the city does more to encourage other modes of transportation, including by licensing more drivers for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to give people plenty of options to get home other than drinking and driving.

“We’re going to have no drivers available, and when they’re available the costs will be through the roof. And people are going to make really bad decisions. We’re actually going to put drunk driving back to where it was before ride-hailing,” Murie argued.

The report also shows that ride-hailing delays in the city have risen from about 2.5 minutes to just under 6 minutes a trip.

“If you or I had a cardiac arrest right now, it would take on average about six minutes for an ambulance to pick you up — that’s still extremely fast,” said Thorben Wieditz of RideFairTO.

The city report says ride-hailing trips dropped to 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in April 2020. Friday and Saturday night trips were most affected.

By July 2021, that had recovered to about 43 per cent. That’s a faster recovery than transit — at 38 per cent as of July — and even walking — at 33 per cent, the report said.

Downtown bicycling has recovered to about 76 per cent, and downtown vehicle volumes are at about 74 per cent, the report said.

One explanation could be the perception of safety, said Shauna Brail, an associate professor in the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of Toronto.

“There’s a greater sense or perception of safety in terms of transmission of disease in a ride-hailing vehicle than on public transit,” she said. “Whether that’s true or not is a totally different matter.”

The TTC has cut some service after suspending some workers who had not conformed to its vaccine mandate.

And the City of Toronto has paused issuing vehicle for hire licenses after it emerged that it was offering thousands of drivers licenses despite not providing mandatory training that had been ordered by Toronto’s city council.

The issuing will resume once a driver training accreditation course is established and applicants have completed a driver training course.

Councillors made the move in response to a fatal crash involving an Uber driver in 2018 — but the pandemic delayed its implementation.

The report said that the number of ride-hailing trips fluctuated with public health orders, showing day-to-day impacts of decisions that Toronto residents made in response to COVID-19 concerns.