Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on travel behaviour and demand in the GTHA

How will COVID-19 impact the travel demand and travel behaviour of residents of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA)?

The Travel Demand Modelling Group (TDMG), headed by UTTRI associated faculty Professor Khandker Nurul Habib, has initiated five new research projects to explore this question:

  1. Assessment and measurement of the factors influencing the choice of using transit during COVID-19 recovery period and post COVID-19 era.
  2. Study into the use of Shared Travel Modes (SiSTM) during COVID-19 recovery period and post COVID-19 era.
  3. Do we need to redesign our activity-based travel demand models after COVID-19? A Survey to collect data on changes and adaptations in daily activity: Travel patterns during and post COVID-19 scenarios.
  4. Assessment of the impacts (temporary and long-lasting) of COVID-19 lockdown/restraints on households’ preferences of dwelling type, home location, and neighbourhood choices for residences.
  5. A benchmarking household travel survey following COVID 19: Assessing the impacts on household travel demands.

Research results will be available as early as August 1, 2020. The projects are summarized below.


Project 1: Assessment and measurements of the factors influencing the choice of using transit during the COVID-19 recovery period and post COVID-19 era

Transit in Toronto is undergoing infrequent challenges due to the drastic fall in transit demand since the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic. Moreover, the extent to which such an unprecedented event will affect the habitual transit riders’ travel behaviour, in the long run, is yet to be discovered. Currently, the pressing question for both the transit agencies and travel demand modellers is: Will the fear of disease transmission lead to the beginning of the end of public transit?

To answer this question, a choice-based Stated Preference Experiment on Travel mode and specially Transit choice behaviour (SPETT) will be conducted in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to investigate the unrevealed key attributes of the commuter’s travel decisions in making transit trips in future. The SPETT study will contribute to a better understanding of the impact of the pandemic on transit ridership and route choice decisions at present as well as at distinct phases of the pandemic in upcoming days.

The SPETT will be based on an online survey. The participants of the survey will be asked to provide their preferences regarding hypothetical situations representing different phases of the pandemic. Advanced econometric models will use survey data to quantify the impact of influential attributes on future transit trip decisions.

Sk. Md. Mashrur, Kaili Wang, Patrick Loa, Sanjana Hossain are working on this project with the overall supervision of Professor Nurul Habib.

The study area is the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and the target sample is 400 random individuals. Data collection will take place from June 20 to July 15, with analysis and reports concluded by August 1, 2020.

Project 2: Study into the use of Shared Travel Modes (SiSTM) during COVID-19 recovery period and post COVID-19 era

As we continue to navigate through this unprecedented situation, the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on travel behaviour have yet to be determined. To understand the impacts of the pandemic on the use of shared travel modes (i.e. ride-sourcing and taxi) in Toronto, the “Study into the use of Shared Travel Modes (SiSTM)” will be conducted.

The impact of ride-sourcing on urban mobility has received significant attention from both policymakers and researchers alike. In many cities, ride-sourcing services are more popular and used more often than when they were first introduced. Due to the relative novelty of ride-sourcing services, it is unclear how the pandemic will affect the use of ride-sourcing services in the future.

Understanding both the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on the use of ride-sourcing services will help to inform strategic decisions regarding the management of urban transportation networks.

SiSTM has two primary goals:

  1. to investigate the impacts that the pandemic has had on the propensity to use shared travel modes, and
  2. to understand the influence of attitudes on said impacts.

To achieve these goals, SiSTM will collect information from Toronto residents using an online survey. The survey will have two sets of pandemic-related questions. The first section will ask survey participants to indicate how the pandemic has affected their use and perceptions of shared travel modes. The second section will ask participants to anticipate how the pandemic will affect their use and perceptions of shared travel modes once the pandemic is over.

The data from this survey will be used to develop advanced econometric models that will quantify the relationship between socio-demographic factors and the propensity to use shared travel modes.

The SiSTM team consists of Patrick Loa, Sanjana Hossain, Nora Liu, and Sk. Md. Mashrur, with the overall supervision of Professor Nurul Habib.

The study area is the City of Toronto. Data collection will take place from June 20 to July 15, with analysis and report creation concluded by August 1, 2020.

Project 3: Do we need to redesign our activity-based travel demand models after COVID-19? A survey to collect data on changes and adaptations in daily activity-travel patterns during and post COVID-19 scenarios

The COVID-19 pandemic affects people’s lifestyle and activity-travel behaviour. People may reassess daily routines and find potential alternatives and methods for most of their activities (e.g., teleworking, e-shopping, online social/religious activities, etc.). However, this raises the concerns that many of our usual/habitual activity-travel behaviour may be altered once and forever.

Unprecedented contexts (during the COVID-19 lockdown) of flexible office hours, telecommuting, and online social/religious gatherings/events will have long-lasting effects on the way we lead our lives in post-COVID-19 era.

If so, past predictions of any activity-based travel demands model will be doubtful, if not totally wrong.

It is essential to assess how and to what extent the COVID-19 lockdown has affected the core assumptions of our daily activity-travel schedules. Therefore the primary goal of this project is to capture the short-term and the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on activity-travel demand and scheduling behaviour. Such data will not only reveal the changes in activity-travel behaviour but also help to assess and retrofit the assumptions and the flexibility of current travel/activity scheduling models.

The research team consists of Alireza Dianat, Saeed Shakib, Jason Hawkins, Patrick Loa, and Sanjana Hossain with the overall supervision of Professor Nurul Habib.

The study area is the City of Toronto. Data collection will take place from June 20 to July 15, with analysis and report creation concluded by August 1, 2020.

Project 4: Assessment of the impacts (temporary and long-lasting) of COVID-19 lockdown/restraints on households’ preferences of dwelling type, home location, and neighbourhood choices for residences

For most Greater Toronto Area residents, COVID-19 has changed the way we live drastically. There have been significant changes in our social lives and daily activities. Nowadays, many of us are exposed to new activities such as telecommuting, online grocery shopping, food and drink pick up services, and so on. All of these new activities, combined with imposed restrictions, have shaped our new lifestyles.

Our pandemic lifestyles have a strong potential to affect our “normal” lifestyles in lasting ways. In the short-term, we might decide to adopt some of these new activities and add them to our typical daily routine. This will cause a change in our society’s activities and travel behavior. Once our short-term routine changes, we start to reconsider our long-term choices.

The choice of residence location and dwelling types are long-term choices and the primary interest of this survey. Will these choices change in response to demand shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic?

The objective of this study is to model location choice changes by collecting data on people’s location choice behavior when they are exposed to different possible scenarios.

Researchers in this study are Saeed Shakib, Jason Hawkins, Sanjana Hossain, Nora Liu, and Kaili Wang, with the overall supervision of Professor Nurul Habib.

The study area is the Greater Toronto Area. Data collection will take place from June 20 to July 15, with analysis and report creation concluded by August 1, 2020.

Project 5: A benchmarking household travel survey following COVID 19: Assessing the impacts on household travel demands

Following the COVID-19 lockdown in Spring 2020, it is expected that the travel demand of people may gradually peak up again. However, there has been plenty of speculation on how and which direction it will take in return to normalcy. Amid uncertainties about future recurrences of the pandemic in various scales and forms, it is unclear when the “new normal” situation will return, and what it will look like.

The disruption to daily life – including flexible work schedules, telecommuting, e-shopping, and online social/religious activities – may change the travel patterns of many urban residents.

It is, therefore, essential to have real/revealed evidence (ground-truth data/observation) of travel demands in a post-COVID-19 lockdown situation. Such data will work as a reference to the future datasets to assess the return to normalcy, as well to the past datasets to assess the effects of lockdown.

The Transportation Tomorrow Survey (TTS) has been the core travel demand dataset in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area since 1986. The latest TTS was in 2016, and the next one is expected to be in 2021-2022. However, without any reference dataset of the same kind in Fall 2020, any future dataset will be questioned unless it is in a distant future from 2020.

This project will conduct a household travel survey, precisely as the planned 2021-2022 TTS with the addition of a section on behaviour and attitude. The survey will use TRAISI software and be conducted online. In addition to a daily travel diary, the survey will also collect information on how the respondents perceive their travel demand will change in the future as they experienced the Spring 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.

The study area is the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), with a sample size of minimum 1,000 from each regional municipality (to be confirmed). Data collection will take place from September 15 to November 30, with analysis and report creation concluded by December 31, 2020.


About the Travel Demand Modelling Group (TDMG)

The Travel Demand Modelling Group (TDMG) is based in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto.

Principal Investigator: Professor Khandker Nurul Habib

Researchers: Alireza Dianat (PhD Student), Jason Hawkins (PhD Candidate), Sanjana Hossain (PhD Candidate), Nora Liu (MASc Candidate), Patrick Loa (PhD Student), Sk Md Mashrur (PhD Student), Saeed Shakib (PhD Student) and Kaili Wang (MASc Candidate).


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