Everyday thousands of people from the Greater Toronto Area make the daily commute to the downtown core for work or school. For many commuters, taking the GO Transit train system is a timely and effective option for getting downtown.

GO Train

Since 1967, GO Transit has evolved from a single GO Train line along Lake Ontario’s shoreline into an extensive network of train lines and bus routes. Today, GO runs 185 train trips daily, carrying approximately 180,000 people. On the heels of the launch of GO’s SMS campaign to keep passengers informed, we’ve compiled a study about train-commuter activities. With at least 96% of GO’s train ridership consisting of trips to and from Union Station in downtown Toronto, we were curious to see what kinds of activities riders occupied themselves with during their commute.

Over the span of one workweek we observed more than 800 commuters during the morning hours of 8am to 9am, and evening hours of 5:30pm
to 7pm. For an average of 50 minutes each ride, we noted the various activities of the commuters. These activities were organized into three main types: paper, for activities that involved paper or printed materials; digital, for activities that required a digital device; and human, for activities that were either social or personal and did not involve a paper
or digital object.

Commuter Activity on the GO

We were pleasantly surprised by the results of our observation. During the commute, reading a newspaper was by far the most popular activity in both the morning and evening hours. This was followed by activities such as napping, conversing and BlackBerry use.

When reviewing the different activities observed, we found the strongest connection between individuals who used their BlackBerry and read a newspaper during the train ride. There were also significant connections between individuals who read a newspaper and napped, and between those who used their BlackBerry and napped. It was interesting to see that there were no individuals using other tablet devices or DVD players, and that iPad users did not perform any other activities while commuting.

Commuter Activity & Connections

In the morning, we found that paper, digital and human activity levels
were about equal. However, in the evening, human activities dropped significantly, while activities in the paper and digital categories increased. There were also significant connections between individuals who:

  • used BlackBerrys and napped
  • used BlackBerrys and conversed
  • read a newspaper and napped
  • read a newspaper and conversed
  • read a newspaper and played Sudoku or crosswords

Commuter Activity Breakdown

It’s interesting to see where some of the strongest connection are. BlackBerry users were often performing multiple activities whereas iPad, e-Reader and laptop users were content to be occupied with their one device. What conclusions can you make?

Download the poster to have a look at the visualizations showing all of
the activity observations and connections, as well as the morning and evening breakdowns.


At Pivot, we love creating stuff like this for ourselves because it helps us understand people in their environments. We decided that others in the community might also benefit from our findings so we’ve posted our work here for free. Gathering data and compiling it into a visualization takes both time and effort, so we ask that you please give credit where credit is due. If you wish to find out more about this observation or find out how Pivot can use design research methods to do a visual study for you, please drop us a line at hello@pivotdesigngroup.com. We’d love to hear from you!

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