Pictured: Dundas Square, Toronto. .

Exploring Post-COVID Travel Shifts in Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area Among Post-Secondary Students

Authors: Attiya Haseeb and Raktim Mitra

Research Context

Transportation patterns around the world have been greatly influenced by the COVID-19-related risks and public health restrictions. The short-term disruptions in daily mobility patterns observed during COVID-19 pandemic may lead to new habit formation and produce longer-term changes in travel behaviour. Travel behaviour changes among today’s young adults, belonging to Generations Y and Z, are particularly important as they are environmentally more sustainable compared to the previous generations. A disruption in their travel habits due to COVID-19 pandemic and potential formation of new travel behaviour may have important implications for longer term environmental sustainability and planning of new transportation infrastructure.

Research Objectives

Focusing on Canadian post-secondary students and using longitudinal travel data, two research questions are addressed:

1) How did post-secondary students’ travel behaviour change post-COVID 19 pandemic?

2) Are these travel behaviour changes associated with their socio-demographic characteristics and other important life events?

Study Area and Data

Study area: Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), Canada

Data: Longitudinal travel data collected in fall 2019 through StudentMoveTO program:

- Collected online from post-secondary students of 10 universities and community colleges in fall (Nov – Dec) 2019

- 330,000 students were invited for survey and more than 18,500 students completed the survey(response rate:6%)

- Contact information from volunteering students collected for potential participation in the future studies

2022 travel data collected through a follow-up online survey:

- Email invites were sent in spring (March – April) 2022 to 5,723 individuals who earlier completed 2019 SMTO survey and consented to participate in future studies

- 850 individuals participated in the follow-up survey (response rate - 14.8%)

- Some respondents completed education and joined the workforce since 2019

Key Findings

Geographical Variations in Commute Mode Changes

Correlates of Commute Mode Changes

Students aged 25 to 30 years were more likely to shift from public transit to cars.

A shift from public transit to cars was more likely among those who were working for more than 20 hours, compared to the those who did not work.

Access to cars was associated with mode shift to cars both from public transit and active modes.

Students who completed their education since 2019 and started employment were more likely to switch their commute mode from public transit to cars.


Increased dependence on car due to COVID-19 pandemic, may revert more quickly if post-pandemic policies are focused on providing inexpensive, accessible and convenient travel options.

Travel demand management programs can be introduced at workplaces (e.g., public transit subsidy), in collaboration with employers, that discourage car use among employees.

Transit service providers may also consider introducing low-cost public transit passes particularly for those young people who are transitioning to work force after completing their education.

Future transportation plans should provide efficient public transit supply to address the needs of young people residing in suburban areas where an increased use of cars is arguably more prevalent.