Ryerson University: Research says your commute impacts your academic success

Results from the largest-ever study on student transportation show that despite changes in travel frequency and habits due to COVID-19, transit needs to remain accessible to post-secondary students. Students reported that their commute is a barrier to campus participation.

College and university students in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) account for more than 600,000 daily commuters on an already crowded transportation system. To better understand the habits and needs of students who use transportation, StudentMoveTO, external link began researching ways to improve student transportation in 2018. Ten universities and colleges from across the region participated in the study and more than 15,000 students provided input in 2019 to inform the findings.

The research, led by Raktim Mitra of Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, was designed to help identify the changes needed to increase the quality of life for students, and the overall vitality of the GTHA and its transportation infrastructure.

“Post-secondary students in the GTHA have really long commutes. In fact, 30 per cent of them have a one-way commute time to campus of one hour or more,” said Mitra. “As students start coming back to campus post-pandemic, long commutes will continue to have a major impact on their academic performance, social participation and well-being.”

Results of the study indicate that commuting impacts academic performance, with 61 per cent of students reporting that their commute is a barrier to their campus participation.

An important statistic to note is that nearly one third (30 per cent) of students viewed their commute as a barrier to their academic success.

A graph that highlights what barriers students face based on their commute
The StudentMoveTO survey found that students consider their commute when it comes to picking courses and participating in events on campus.

Pick courses based on commute: 48 per cent.
Commute is a barrier to academic success: 30 per cent.
The StudentMoveTO study also covered an incredible period of change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. A pre-post pandemic survey compared student travel behaviours and changes.

More than 75 per cent of students who used local public transit to commute to colleges and universities in fall 2019 continued to commute by transit post-pandemic, in spring 2022. Overall, the use of local transit for commuting fell only marginally from 45 per cent in fall 2019 to 43 per cent in spring 2022. The frequency of local transit use also declined post-pandemic. Of all students who were using transit “almost everyday” for transportation purposes pre-pandemic, only 40 per cent were doing so in 2022. Instead, the majority (57 per cent) were using transit on a weekly or monthly basis.

Mitra says that fast and reliable public transit is still important for students, and that transit must remain accessible to them.

Now that Mitra and his research partners from other institutions – including the University of Toronto, York University, OCAD University and McMaster University – have completed the StudentMoveTO study, they will bring these insights to their community partners; Metrolinx, City of Toronto, The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) and Maximum City. They will translate the research insights into actions that will improve transportation systems in the region, and ultimately, improve student well-beinng.

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