Equity is an important factor in public transit as planning decisions can significantly impact a resident’s ability to access opportunities in their community. Durham Region Transit (DRT) is taking the steps necessary to ensure our decision making is evidence informed and considers a social equity focussed approach to transit.

As one of Ontario’s largest regional transit systems, DRT serves a diverse population living in urban and rural areas. The impacts of decisions made across the organization must be considered for the various group’s residents across our region.

These social equity guidelines are intended to ensure that when planning and managing the transit system, residents have equitable access to transit services.

Importance of Equity in Transit Planning

Transit can be viewed as a "gateway" service that either breaks down or reinforces factors that lead to a healthy and high-quality way of life. Transit planning decisions have the potential to deepen, create, or alleviate inequities that already exist within our communities.

Equity in service planning considers how services and resources are distributed, ensuring everyone in the community has access to transit, including those that rely on it the most. Social equity considerations adopted as part of the transit planning processes will ensure that the benefits of a reliable and equitable transit network are accessible to the widest range of community members for generations to come.

Transit planning obviously requires technical analysis, but it also requires an equity analysis where planners factor in sociodemographic realities.

Transit Realities and Barriers

DRT is committed to equitable transit investments and removing barriers for users across our Region.

Below is a general overview of some of the realities and barriers faced by equity priority groups when accessing transit services:

Newcomers to Canada can find navigating the transit system challenging, especially for those with language barriers or facing settlement challenges such as isolation, unemployment, underemployment, and untreated trauma.
The number of seniors choosing to age in place is increasing. Over time, medical problems and aging can result in losing the ability to drive. As a result, seniors may be accessing transit for the first time in decades and are faced with navigating a form of travel they are not used to.
Experiencing high rates of poverty
For many residents experiencing high rates of poverty, transit is their link to opportunity. They may have no or limited access to a vehicle and rely on transit as their primary means of transport. For this group, transit access means access to jobs, school, childcare, medical appointments, and recreational activities.
People that identify as 2SLGBTQ+ describe not feeling safe from discrimination and harassment. In addition, the design and location of transit facilities are often not inclusive of all genders.
Sole parent families
Public transit can often be the primary travel mode for sole parent families with low incomes. These families are more likely to make “linked trips” which include a stop on the way to another destination such as daycare, work, shopping, and children’s extracurricular activities.
Persons with disabilities

Persons with disabilities or limited mobility often face significant challenges when snow and ice prevent them from getting to a bus stop to access public transit. Other issues include the lack of benches at bus stops where passengers can rest while waiting for transit, long distances to buses, and long waiting periods1.

In addition, diverse residents in Durham’s underserved or rural neighbourhoods face unique challenges related to the overlapping disadvantages they experience because of their identities and where they live:

Priority neighbourhoods

Residents experiencing low income in the Region’s seven priority neighbourhoods2 are more likely to travel by transit to precarious employment with earlier and later start and end times than residents in other communities.

Youth in rural areas
Youth in rural areas have been facing challenges with finding educational and work opportunities, resulting in many young residents commuting to larger communities or leaving rural areas altogether.
 Seniors in rural settings
Many seniors in rural settings are also choosing to age in place. With more youth seeking opportunities outside of rural areas, these seniors may not have access to a ride with family or friends as was previously more common.
Rural employees
Rural businesses and farms rely on employees travelling into the rural area from neighbouring cities and towns. For many rural employees a car is simply not available, so the lack of transit options makes rural employment unfeasible.

It is imperative that DRT staff factor in these and other transit realities when planning transit services and incorporate a multiplicity of perspectives. This awareness can help develop and deliver services that are responsive and relevant to clients and communities and, ultimately, address unintended barriers within our transit system.

Incorporating an Equity Focus

We tend to design our processes for people who appear similar to us, which allows many exclusionary practices to persist. Instead of “treating people the way that you’d like to be treated,” we should instead treat people the way they would like to be treated and avoid providing services based on our own preferences. This approach supports and respects the skills and experiences of diverse Durham residents.

Equity priority groups are communities that have been historically disadvantaged and face barriers to full participation in Canadian society. These disadvantages have been created by attitudinal, historic, social and environmental barriers based on age, ethnicity, disability, economic status, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation and transgender status, etc.

Equity Priority Groups

There are several groups that that requiring additional consideration when planning DRT services:

  • Indigenous people
  • People from various ethnic and cultural communities
  • Immigrants, refugees, and undocumented people
  • Lone parent families
  • Persons with disabilities
  • Persons experiencing low income
  • Age (Seniors, Youth, Children)
  • Gender
    • Second language and literacy barriers

In naming these equity priority groups; DRT acknowledges that these communities are not mutually exclusive. Individuals may self-identify as belonging to more than one group.

Communities of Focus

Priority Neighbourhoods

The seven priority neighbourhoods identified by Durham Public Health are home to approximately 91,000 residents (15 per cent of Durham Region’s population) that require focus to build on health and well-being. These neighbourhoods rank poorly in terms of overall income, education levels, and employment.

The seven priority neighbourhoods are:

  1. Downtown Ajax – Ajax
  2. Downtown Whitby – Whitby
  3. Downtown Oshawa – Oshawa
  4. Lakeview – Oshawa
  5. Gibb West Oshawa
  6. Central Park – Oshawa
  7. Beatrice North – Oshawa

Rural Areas

Almost 85 per cent of Durham Region’s geography is rural, with the townships of Brock, Scugog and Uxbridge making up the majority of Durham’s rural area. Home to about 90,000 residents and 25,000 jobs, the rural areas of Durham face unique challenges.

Rural areas in Durham continue to change, and the following factors have been increasing contributing to mobility challenges.

Opportunities for youth
  • Many rural areas have faced challenges with maintaining opportunities for young people resulting in many young residents commuting to larger communities for education and work opportunities or moving out of rural areas due to a lack of local work opportunities.
  • Public transit access is becoming more important as more youth delay obtaining drivers licences or don’t have access to a vehicle due to financial or medical reasons.
  • Transit can provide access to educational and work opportunities either within a rural area or to neighbouring communities. The availability of transit assists youth living in rural areas to be able to work in their community.
Aging in place
  • Many residents in rural areas are aging in place, increasing the number of residents that will be unable to drive due to medical or age-related reasons.
  • Older adults in rural areas may need to travel to specialized medical care in larger urban centres, and either cannot or do not want to drive into busy areas, such as the downtown Toronto Hospital Row.
  • Transit can provide older adults with access to shopping, medical, and leisure services in their local community, or in neighbouring communities. Access to transit will help older adults age in place or within the communities that they call home.
Non drivers
  • For some residents in the rural areas, driving is not an option.
  • Transit can provide access to educational, medical, and work opportunities either within a rural area, or to neighbouring communities. Transit can increase independence, as these residents no longer need to rely on rides from family or friends.
 Rural businesses
  • Many rural businesses and farms rely on employees travelling into the rural area from neighbouring urban areas. For many of these employees a car is not available.
  • Transit provides the link between employees and employers, giving rural employers a larger labour pool to draw from, and the same access to labour as their urban counterparts.
 First Mile, Last Mile
  • Depending on travel needs within the Region, many customers face challenges accessing the transit network due to limited pedestrian networks, road conditions that favour fast moving vehicles, subdivision design, and gravel shoulders.
  • DRT will work with Municipal partners to address the accessibility challenges for the first mile, last mile accessible, including in rural areas.

DRT’s Equity Checklist

This section introduces a transit equity checklist for service planning. It is a series of considerations to guide us as we seek to understand how our decisions and actions either break down or reinforce barriers and inequities facing the groups identified above. It is not designed to be prescriptive, rather it is a prompt for important front-end considerations. Reviewing this checklist helps to think through and articulate how we’re integrating equitable and inclusive approaches into transit planning.

People and participation

  • When identifying the community groups that will benefit from or be impacted by a proposed initiative, have you asked, “who’s not here?”
  • Have you collaborated with community members and learned their needs?
  • Have you identified relevant performance metrics/indicators that address equity and the social wellbeing of the community?

Destinations, routes, vehicles and stations

  •  Does the proposed project increase access to essential goods and services and/or employment for equity priority groups?
  • Have you considered the social and political history of the area?
    • Have you considered physical and social safety issues and safety for all genders and abilities?

Social Equity Goals

DRT’s Social Equity Goals

Listen and learn

DRT will continue to engage and listen to identified equity priority groups to further understand needs and experiences to support an inclusive and equitable transit system. DRT currently engages with a variety of committees that represent the groups identified, such as the Age Friendly and local accessible committees. To further advance engagement, DRT staff will strive to engage, listen, and learn from relevant groups and organizations.

Train and grow

DRT will continue to seek training opportunities on social equity and inclusion to provide staff with the knowledge and tools to ensure equity planning is a standard practice within our daily operations.

Deliver and set measurable goals.

Realistic and measurable goals will ensure DRT delivers on the commitment to social equity.

Social Equity Initiatives

DRT has established the following social equity initiatives to ensure all residents and visitors in Durham Region can rely on transit for their transportation needs.

Service design guidelines

DRT leverage a monitoring framework to establish the type of service delivered (demand response or scheduled routes), and that the service is sustainable and efficient.

Ridership minimums in priority neighbourhoods

The ridership productivity minimums influence the span and levels of service.

The type of service and frequency planned for an area and shelter installations are based on ridership and boardings. For example, a bus shelter is considered at a bus stop recording 20 or more daily passenger boardings. In priority neighbourhoods, recorded boardings and ridership will be increased by 50 per cent to accelerate the deployment of bus shelters, moving from demand response to a scheduled service, and increases in service frequency during busier times of the day. For example, in a priority neighbourhood, a bus shelter will be considered at a bus stop recording 15 or more daily passenger boardings.

The ridership productivity guidelines for rural service already reflects a lower minimum average boardings due to lower density and greater distances travelled.

Supporting Infrastructure

Transit shelters
DRT will install shelters near locations such as retirement residences, hospitals, community centres, medical centres and transfer stops.
Stations, terminals and hubs
Social equity guidelines will influence amenities and design at terminals by ensuring that equity priority groups’ needs are met.

Washroom designs will include gender neutral facilities and spaces for infant changing and nursing.

New initiatives will be implemented to improve access to electronic trip planning, information, and real-time information by considering Wi-Fi access through mobile devices, electronic customer kiosks, real-time information displays and customer information lines.

Wayfinding information will be improved and expanded, including the use of accessible formats.

Service proximity

A customer’s journey starts from their home, school, work, or other location, and getting to the transit stop, hub, terminal, or station. Travel experiences will be improved by removing barriers and reducing distances to bus stops and hubs.

DRT will work with Regional and Municipal partners to identify, address, and remove barriers to accessing transit services in their neighbourhoods by:

  • Identifying gaps in the sidewalk network connecting transit stops, hubs, terminals, and stations.
  • Developing opportunities for additional protected road crossings.
  • Identifying opportunities to increase proximity of new and existing neighbourhoods through new multi-use pathways.

Public transit can be an important service to supporting and nurturing underperforming employment zones within the Region. DRT will work with Regional Planning and Economic Development to ensure that our services support the growth and regeneration of existing employment areas.

Measuring progress

DRT use a variety of measurement tools to evaluate effectiveness through an annual monitoring system. On an annual basis, DRT will evaluate Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to improve and enhance equitable transit within Durham Region.

INIT system
The INIT system includes onboard technology and planning and reporting software. In addition, INIT contains automated passenger counting technology which can track DRT ridership and capture accurate data for reporting. This tool can help determine crowding levels and ridership levels within priority neighbourhoods.
GIS data
Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), DRT analyze data related to land use, transit boarding points, transit routes and demographics. GIS contains geoprocessing tools that perform buffer/distance analysis to determine travel times and walking distances to DRT boarding points.
Statistics Canada census data
Statistics Canada provides information that supports DRT to better understand the population within Durham Region related to its economy, society, and culture. Data reflects average household income, education levels, population numbers, age, and employment status.
Customer service call centre

Calls that generate feedback assist to determine areas for improvements. Each call related to boarding point relocation, safety concerns and route alignment is tracked and reviewed by staff including improvements implemented resulting from customer feedback.

On an annual basis, DRT will report on improvements made to shelter placement, accessibility improvements and transit routes serving established neighbourhoods and On Demand availability improvements.


Equitable, high-quality public transit will ensure Durham residents can increasing access employment, health care and healthy food, childcare, and recreational activities. The DRT transit system will continue to evolve to better reflect the needs and values of Durham’s diverse communities.

Equity considerations are not tangential to the success of transit planning but central to the task connecting people and enhancing liveability for generations to come.

1Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2002). Human Rights and Public Transit Services in Ontario. Consultation Report. P.14. Human Right and Public Transit Services in Ontario - Consultation Report

2The seven Priority Neighbourhoods identified by Durham Region Health Department are communities that require focus to build health equity. They are: 1) Downtown Ajax – Ajax, 2) Downtown Whitby – Whitby, 3) Lakeview – Oshawa, 4) Gibb West – Oshawa, 5) Downtown Oshawa – Oshawa, 6) Central Park – Oshawa, 7) Beatrice North – Oshawa. Making Children the Priority: Early Childhood Development in Priority Neighbourhoods