I knew that, compared to Europe, it would be more about cars than about public transit. It also makes sense. Canada is the second largest country in the world, and to get to most of the places you have to drive. Sometimes you have to fly, but usually you have to drive.
With so many people on the road you can expect delays. I thought I was prepared for this, but apparently I was not prepared for driving in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). For those not so familiar with this area, it is defined as the City of Toronto and the four regional municipalities that surround it, and it makes a lot of traffic news.
I already got a taste of how it was going to be on the first day I drove to work. After five minutes on the highway – for my Austrian readers, yes, you usually have to take a highway to get to work here – the traffic completely stopped. I panicked. Standing on a highway like waiting for the traffic lights to turn green means in Austria you can turn off the engine and make yourself comfortable. It means that something has happened and it will be a while until the road is cleared again. I panicked because I thought I was going to be late on my first day at the Canadian office.
As soon as I put my hand on the key to shut off the engine, the cars in front of me started to move again. They even accelerated to almost speed limit within the next few seconds. I was very relieved, but I was also very confused. This had never happened to me before.
I am used to it now, the abrupt stopping and the fast accelerating. This actually happens quite often, and never only once. It is high speed stop-and-go traffic. My theory is that the volume of cars combined with the frequent exits and on-ramps every two kilometres causes this. Maybe someone else has a better explanation?
The tricky thing about driving in the GTA is that, except during rush hour or at the beginning and the end of a long weekend, you never know if you are going to be stuck in traffic or not. I remember when my parents came to visit me the first time and I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get to the airport to pick them up. Their flight was scheduled to arrive in the afternoon, and the whole morning I was checking the traffic on the radio, online and on TV. While I was observing the situation on the roads, the travel time changed from one and a half hours to two hours to forty-five minutes. It sounds a little obsessed, I know, but I wanted to be there when my parents arrived. On the other hand, I didn’t want to hang out at the airport for two hours.
In the end, I waited one hour in the arrival hall. It was okay. There was coffee and I saw lots of happy faces. People were greeting their visitors or welcoming their loved ones back home. I guess, I also had a big smile on my face when my parents came out of that door everyone was staring at. As we walked to the car my mom asked me how long it would take to get to my place. I answered, “Forty-five minutes to two hours, depending on traffic.”