All About Public Transportation in Mississauga, Ontario

A Mississauga Transit bus operating Route 8 waits to depart the Square One transit hub. Note the "S" on the destination sign designating it is heading in the southbound direction. This is the only provider I know who does this, which I find helpful. Christopher MacKechnie

Mississauga is the city directly west of Toronto, Ontario.  Historically a bedroom community, this prototypical suburban sprawl city of now over 710,000 has attracted businesses who wish to locate along its many expressways.  Although there are some historic small towns sprinkled throughout the area, the vast majority of Mississauga is made up of wide arterials and cul-de-sacs that smart growth proponents constantly rail against.

  The “downtown” area is centered on a large enclosed shopping mall that continues to be surrounded by acres of parking.  Despite the challenges, Mississauga Transit, now known as “MiWay” (literally it is either MiWay or the highway), the city department responsible for providing local bus service in the city, has thrived.  GO Transit, the provincial agency responsible for operating regional transit in the Toronto area, operates train and bus service both to downtown Toronto and other suburbs.  The rest of this article will focus on MiWay.

Transit Providers and Network

MiWay operates eighty-four routes, of which six are express routes and fourteen are school routes.  Interestingly, the color scheme is similar to that of Los Angeles Metro, with local routes being orange and express routes being blue.  MiWay’s 460 buses are driven by 930 operators, with the peak requirement being 351.

MiWay’s ridership continues to increase.

  While calendar year 2013’s 50.9 million boarding was only a bit more than the 49 million in 2011, the 2011 number was 5.9% more than in 2010, which was 5.2% more than in 2009.  The 2013 numbers correspond to an average weekday ridership of about 175,000 and about 48 rides per capita. Plans call for as many as 59 million passengers by 2018.

Today the network has evolved from a radial system with a focus on connecting to the Toronto subway at Islington Station to more of a traditional grid network.  On major routes service operates twenty-one hours per day, from 4 AM to 1 AM the following day.  On major routes, service operates frequently throughout the day with some routes having buses come by every twelve minutes even at night.  Only six peak routes and fifteen off-peak routes have headways greater than every 30 minutes, with seven peak routes and two off-peak routes having headways less than every ten minutes.  Certainly Mississauga’s transit system has come a long way in thirty years, when only a handful of routes even operated on Sunday.

In November 2014 the first phase of Mississauga’s transitway opened.  Using mostly dedicated bus lanes on an east-west freeway, the transitway carries passengers from the central part of the city to the Toronto subway and the Toronto International Airport.  As of May 2015 five stations are currently opened, with a further eight planned.

Fares and Funding

Like most Canadian transit agencies, MiWay cash fares are high – as of May 2015 C$3.50 for all passengers, even students and seniors.

  Fortunately, most people buy either passes or take advantage of the Presto smart card e-purse option.  An adult monthly pass is C$120, while a senior monthly pass is C$57.  E-purse single rides range from C$1.65 for children to C$2.90 for adults, with a maximum weekly cap functioning as a defacto weekly pass.  Fares vary for bus and train service operated by GO Transit.

In 2015, MiWay’s operating budget is C$61.9 million and the capital budget is C$42.6 million.  In 2015, 1.26 million annual service hours will be provided on weekdays; 114,000 on Saturdays; and 71,000 on Sundays for an annual total of 1.44 million.  The farebox recovery rate hovers around 51-52%, great by American standards but lower than the Toronto farebox recovery rate.  Most of the rest of the funding comes from the city budget, with small amounts from the provincial and federal governments.

  While direct city funding is unusual in the United States, I believe by making transit compete with other city priorities that overall efficiency is improved.

Projects

In addition to the Transitway, plans are being developed for an at-grade light rail line to operate along Hurontario Street, a major north-south street that carries MiWay’s busiest bus route, from Mississauga to Brampton, the next city to the north.  GO Transit also has plans to significantly improve commuter rail service in the area, including electrifying existing tracks.

Lessons for Other Transit Agencies

For years Mississauga Transit’s bread and butter was ferrying downtown Toronto commuters either to the subway or to a commuter rail station.  While still important, city upzoning at major existing transit terminals has created greater demand for bus services in the city.  In some respects, transit’s success was due to the city taking a leap of faith by significantly increasing service on its existing grid of bus routes to the extent that random transferring became possible without long waits.