I recently had the unfortunate and very frustrating experience of trying to arrange some personal travel within the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle using public transit rather than my own vehicle. The following are but two examples of why people still drive everywhere in this country.
Kingston, Ontario is an apparently inconsequential hamlet of some 150,000 people located right on the major East-West corridor (Highway 401) about 250 kilometres east of Toronto. There is one Greyhound inter-city bus a day that goes from Kingston to Toronto. It leaves at 7 AM, takes 9 ½ hours, routes through Ottawa, covers a total distance of 566 kilometres, and costs $104 plus taxes (one way).
Then there’s Peterborough, another inconvenient urban centre located just an hour east of Toronto. With a population of 120,000 and growing, a couple of major post-secondary institutions, and a huge tourist industry one would expect that getting there from, say, Montreal would be easy. Well, to get to Peterborough from Montreal by Via Rail – oops, sorry, Via Rail doesn’t service Peterborough. You have to get off the train in Cobourg and somehow find your own way the last 50+ kilometres. But just getting to Cobourg would set you back a cool $112 (one way).
Until Canadian travellers have a properly functioning inter-city transportation system (other than air), we will never get out of our cars. It’s just too painful and expensive to consider anything other than driving, especially if there is more than one traveller involved.
If governments are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from private vehicles, a really good place to start would be to use some of the billions spent on building more highways with more lanes to subsidize intercity mass transit by rail and bus to bring costs and convenience in line with personal use vehicle travel. Do that and people would start to leave their cars at home, opting instead for fast, convenient, and relaxing travel to their destinations. And then, perhaps, we won't need quite as much blacktop.