The Personal Cost Of Commuting To Toronto

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CBC Toronto's Gridlock City series continues this week, looking at the challenges the city faces as it works to improve transit and ease congestion on our highways. In this second installment, reporter Steven D'Souza looks at the effect that commutes can have on family life.

Three hours a day, 15 hours a week, 60 hours a month, over 700 hours a year. Sian Gibson has done the math on her commute and it doesn't add up.

"I'm spending 30 days commuting a year, and it's absurd, it's just silly," she says sitting on the GO Train on her way in to work from her home in Whitby, Ont.

She's been assessing her commute ever since she moved to the suburbs three years ago. The mother of two used to live in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood, but the family sold their home for the space and sense of community offered in Durham region.

It's a choice she's constantly learning to live with.

"This was a choice my husband and I made and we have to figure out how to make it work."

She used to be a stay-at-home mom, raising her two sons. But two years ago she decided to go back to work in Toronto.

Gibson now has a lot of time to think things over. Her commute totals three hours a day, a multi-modal trek from Whitby to Toronto’s Yonge and Eglinton area. It includes a drive to the GO Station, the train ride in, and finally a stretch on the subway.

The commute takes its toll on her family life. On weekdays she's not around to help with homework or make family dinners.

"You don't have a live-life balance and you wonder, you question a lot of things."

'Quality of life' issue

It's parents like Gibson that Ryan Sim was thinking about when he created the Redeem the Commute app.

Sim is an Anglican pastor tasked with setting up a new church in Durham region. While researching the needs in the area, people he spoke with talked repeatedly about the impact of commuting on family life.

"They felt they had very little time at home and it was really just impacting their quality of life," says Sim, an entrepreneur who also studied as an engineering physicist.

The mobile app and website allows commuters to take parenting, marriage and spiritual courses. The courses take about 10 minutes each.

"The time on the train, or on the bus, or in the car is a little tiny bit of down time in a very busy lifestyle when people can pause [and] think about bigger questions of life and we wanted to help people really redeem what feels like wasted time," he says.

In two months, the app has been downloaded 400 times. There's an audio version for drivers and a video version for people on trains or buses.

For Gibson, redeeming her own commute means sometimes missing a train to spend an extra moment with her sons.

She recalls a time last month when her 10-year-old came running to her just as she was about to head out the door.

"He climbs on my lap and says: 'Mommy I miss you, and I don't want you to go to work today,'" she recalls.

Faced with missing the train and a long drive to work, she chose to savour the moment.

"Those cuddles are few and far between — especially with a boy — so I chose to do the cuddle and I missed the train. But it was totally worth it."

ALSO: How much is your commute costing you? Check out Natural Resources Canada's Commute Calculator here.

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