Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science


Geography and Environment


Long, Jed A.

2nd Supervisor

Gilliland, J



Transportation research has shown that socio-demographic factors affect people’s mobility patterns. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these effects have changed in accordance with changing mobility needs adapting to the pandemic, including restrictions on in-person gatherings, closure of in-person businesses and working from home. We investigate two gaps in current knowledge in this area of transportation research: to what extent the association between socio-demographic factors and mobility metrics have changed, and how these associations vary across geographic space. We also investigate how closely Ontario’s Public Health Unit boundaries, based on which pandemic restrictions were applied, reflect actual travel regions, and how travel regions changed throughout changing pandemic restrictions. We used aggregate de-identified cell tower location data to measure mobility metrics and to determine flow-based travel regions. Mobility metrics were modeled with socio-demographic data from the 2016 Canadian Census using a linear regression model and a geographically weighted regression model. We find that certain associations between socio-demographics and mobility have changed from what we have previously observed before the pandemic, and we can see the variation of these associations across space. Our flow-based travel regions computed using the Cluster Leading Eigenvector algorithm show that mobility became more localized when pandemic restrictions were in place, but that regionally-targeted restrictions did not necessarily reflect observed travel regions. These findings will improve our understanding of how socio-demographic factors affect mobility patterns in different communities, and demonstrates the importance of measuring these associations at a more fine-grained level using models that consider spatial variation to best reflect the nature of these associations.

Summary for Lay Audience

Mobility has a major effect on people’s day-to-day lives. People need to travel to get to work, get to school, go shopping, attend appointments, and participate in leisure activities. Previous research has shown that travel patterns are different for different people. In the past, we have seen that demographic factors, such as income, age, gender, race, and job status, affects how long, how far, and what method people use to travel. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, various different restrictions on social gatherings, in-person work, and business operations were put in place across the world, changing the need for people to travel to destinations that they would normally need to travel to. Knowing that people’s mobility patterns are affected by demographic factors, we look to see if changes in mobility patterns due to the COVID-19 pandemic were also dependent on demographic factors in Ontario, Canada. We found that the change in the length of time and distance people travelled after pandemic restrictions were put in place is affected by certain demographic factors, but that these effects are different depending on where in Ontario you look. The results show that patterns observed at the local level differ from patterns observed for the study area as a whole. We also identified travel regions in Ontario, which are geographic areas where a large amount of travel tends to take place within the region, and a smaller amount of travel tends to take place from one region to another. We found that these travel regions shifted over the course of the pandemic, indicating that people’s travel destinations were changing along with changing pandemic restrictions. We also found that these travel regions did not align with Ontario’s administrative boundaries for applying regionally targeted pandemic restrictions, which could limit the effectiveness of these regional restrictions. This research helps us to understand more about how social geography plays a role in human mobility in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how pandemic restrictions affect overall regional travel patterns.