Exploring the Relationship between Big-Box Retail and Consumer Travel Demand in the Greater Toronto Area


  • Ron N Buliung University of Toronto
  • Tony Hernandez Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity
  • Joshua E Mitchell Masters of Spatial Analysis, Ryerson University


consumer travel behaviour, power retail, big-box stores


Canada’s retail landscape has been structurally transformed by the widespread development of large format (big-box) retail since the mid-1990s. Emphasis placed on convenience, price, and auto-based accessibility, coupled with design elements of big-box agglomerations has produced new modes of consumer retail interaction. In view of these recent changes, it is surprising that little effort has been extended to studying the transportation impacts of big-box retail. This paper explores the relationship between consumer travel behaviour and the expansion of large format retail facilities within Canada’s largest metropolitan region, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Data have been drawn from the 1996 and 2001 Transportation Tomorrow Surveys (TTS) and combined with a longitudinal retail structural database. Regional travel flows and “big-box” case studies suggest considerable auto-dependence for shopping activities, particularly in the suburban cities of the GTA. Rising retail capacity at case study locations appears to have been matched by a dramatic increase in auto-based shopping travel. Evidence from this research points to a potential gap between consumer activities and the prevailing sustainability objectives of transport and land use policy initiatives.

Author Biographies

Ron N Buliung, University of Toronto

Assistant Professor Department of Geography University of Toronto at Mississauga

Tony Hernandez, Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity

Director Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity Ryerson University

Joshua E Mitchell, Masters of Spatial Analysis, Ryerson University

Graduate Student Masters of Spatial Analysis Ryerson University