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Journey to Work Reference Guide, 2006 Census

Catalogue no. 97-561-GWE2006003

Definitions and concepts

The census collects information on the journey to work including concepts such as place of work status, workplace location, mode of transportation, commuting distance, and commuting flows between the residence and workplace. These data are often used in conjunction with age, sex and labour and income variables to paint a picture of workers and commuters at their place of work.

The characteristics and concepts related to the journey to work appear in the population universe. These data are collected for persons who are non-institutional residents 15 years of age and over who worked at some time since January 1, 2005. These data are generally published for a subset of this group, the employed labour force. However the data can be tabulated for many different labour force activity components.

Users should be careful when comparing these data with other sources as there may be differences in the definitions used and how the data are collected. Some common issues include:

  • The number of workers counted by the census in a given geographic area may differ from the counts derived from other sources, for example, business and establishment surveys, since companies with more than one location often report all of their workers as working at one location (e.g., head office). In addition, the census only collects detailed information for a person's main job. Persons having more than one job are only counted at their main job.

  • In the census, work at home estimates are based on a person's main job and where they work most of the time, whereas many surveys ask respondents if they work some of their hours at home. As a result, these surveys report a much higher estimate of the work-at-home population than does the census.

  • Commuting distance may be inflated for persons who work outside the areas covered by census metropolitan areas or census agglomerations, since the workplace location is usually coded to a single representative point for the census subdivision of work. This can affect the calculated commuting distance, particularly when the census subdivision of work has a large area.

  • The census assumes that the commute to work originates from the usual place of residence, but this may not always be the case. In some cases, respondents may be on a business trip and may have reported their place of work or mode of transportation based on where they were working during the trip. Some persons maintain a residence close to work and commute to their home on weekends.

  • Students often work after school at a location near their school. As a result, the data may show unusual commutes and an unusual mode of transportation.


Journey to work data are obtained or derived from the information collected through questions 46 (place of work) and 47 (mode of transportation), along with place of residence information.

The questions appear on the 2006 Census Form 2B (long) questionnaire, which was used to enumerate a 20% sample of all households in Canada.

For persons living in private households on Indian reserves, Indian settlements and in remote areas, data were collected using the 2006 Census Form 2D questionnaire. The questions asked on the Form 2D questionnaire were the same as on the 2B questionnaire, but the examples, where provided for place of work, were more relevant to these areas.

Please refer to 2006 Census questionnaires for more information.

For more information on all of the questions of the 2006 Census please refer to the 2006 Census questions and reasons why the questions are asked, or refer to Definitions by question number, which gives a list of all census variables sorted by question.


Workplace location are available for the entire country by the Standard Geographical Classification (SGC). This hierarchical classification includes provinces and territories, census divisions (CDs), and census subdivisions (CSDs).

Workplace locations that fall within a census metropolitan area (CMA) and census agglomeration (CA) are also available for more detailed geographies including census tracts (CT),  dissemination areas (DA), dissemination blocks (DB).

Workplace locations can also be provided for most other units in the Hierarchy of standard geographic units for dissemination, 2006 Census.

For mode of transportation, the detailed classification includes the category 'other method.' However, some tables use a collapsed classification in which the category 'other method' is combined with other small categories.

Please refer to the tables accessible from the Data section of this document to view the specific classifications created for these variables in 2006 Census standard and specialized data products.


Journey to work characteristics are collected for the 20% sample population for all non-institutional residents 15 years of age and over who worked at some time since January 1, 2005.  The 'Journey to work' data available for each individual depends on the place of work status.

Place of work status:  This variable is applicable for every individual in the journey to work subuniverse.  It identifies the place of work status using four categories: worked at home, worked outside Canada, no fixed workplace address, usual place of work. 

Workplace location: This variable is only applicable for those individuals that have a usual place of work or who work at home.  The location is entered into a set of address fields if they have a usual place of work or taken from the Usual place of residence if it has been indicated that they work at home.  If the full street address was not known for the usual place of work, the name of the building or nearest street intersection could be substituted.

Commuting distance:  This variable is only applicable for those individuals that have a usual place of work.  It is calculated using the straight line distance between the residential area Representative point and the workplace location representative point.  

Mode of transportation: This variable is only applicable to those individuals that have a usual place of work or who have no fixed workplace address. It identifies the primary mode of transportation that was used to transport the individual between their place of residence and their place of work using eight categories: car, truck, or van – as driver, car, truck, or van – as passenger, public transit, walked to work, bicycle, motorcycle, taxicab, or other method. 


2006 Census

Census Trends, 2006 Census

2001 Census

1996 Census

Note: Subprovincial data comparisons over several censuses should be made with caution since geographical boundaries may have changed.

Data quality

For information on the data quality activities that took place during the 2006 Census, refer to Data quality verification in place for the 2006 Census.

For information on factors that may impact the quality of census data, such as response errors and processing errors, please refer to the 2006 Census Dictionary, Appendix B Data quality, sampling and weighting, confidentiality and random rounding.

The evaluation of the journey to work variables was carried out at various levels of geography including the Canada, province and territory and census metropolitan area levels. Workplace locations were investigated at more detailed levels, such as census divisions, census subdivisions and census tracts. Evaluations carried out include:

  • examination of total imputation rates
  • comparison of the distribution of unedited and edited data to determine if any data bias is introduced by imputation
  • historical comparison with data from the previous census
  • comparison with other sources of data, as applicable.


2006 Census processing was similar to previous censuses but also featured some innovations, such as the option to respond over the Internet and the use of scanning to capture the data.

Every effort was made during each stage of the census to minimize error, ensure logical coherency, and promote reliable and accurate results. 

Further details on the processing steps and data evaluations are available in the 2001 Census Technical Report - Journey to Work.

Coding of workplace location

The responses to the place of work and name of firm questions were used to code the workplace location. The proportion of responses done by automated coding was 61.9%. If special codes such as invalid responses or out of scope responses are excluded, then 55.2% of the responses that were assigned a geographic code were done by automated coding. The remaining responses were coded by coders using computerized applications designed specifically for workplace location coding. The systems included several reference files such as a postal code file, street address file, business file and place names file as well as a computerized mapping application.

Edit and imputation

During data processing of the journey to work variables, inconsistent or missing responses are replaced with acceptable values. This is done by identifying persons in the same geographical area that have similar characteristics to the 'failed' record and then copying their values to fill in the missing or erroneous data. Very few changes were made to the edit and imputation methods for the 2006 Census regarding these variables.

Table 1 shows the imputation rates for the journey to work variables. For workplace locations located within a census metropolitan area or census agglomeration, the response is either fully coded, partially coded to the census subdivision level or uncodeable. As a result, imputation is used to correct for non-response but it is also used to complete the geography for the levels below the census subdivision when a response was partially coded.

For comparison of the imputation rate for workplace location in CMA or CA areas with workplace location in non-CMA/CA areas, the values for 'imputation non-response (a)' should be used.

Table 1
Imputation rates, Canada, 2006 and 2001 censuses
Variables Imputation rates
2006 2001
Source: Statistics Canada, censuses of population, 2001 and 2006.
Place of work status 6.6% 6.5%
Workplace location (CMA or CA) Imputation for non-response (a) 6.9% 6.6%
Imputation for partial coding (b) 5.4% 5.1%
Total imputation for geographies below CSD level (a+b) 12.3% 11.7%
Workplace location (non-CMA/CA) 8.8% 6.2%
Mode of transportation 6.1% 6.4%

For 2006, the level of partial coding was fairly similar across census metropolitan areas and most census agglomerations; however, there were a few smaller census agglomerations where the level was notably higher, resulting in a higher imputation rate for workplace location below the census subdivision level. The census agglomerations affected (total below census subdivision imputation rate) are Bay Roberts, N.L. (50.7%), Wood Buffalo, Alta. (30.0%), Brooks, Alta. (23.2%), New Glasgow, N.S. (23.0%), Prince Rupert, B.C. (22.8%), and Temiskaming Shores, Ont. (20.2%).

Comparison with internal and external data sources

In order to evaluate the data collected from the census, the journey to work findings were compared to internal and external data sources.

The primary source used for internal comparison was the 2001 Census. For place of work status and mode of transportation comparisons were made for Canada, provinces and territories, census divisions and census metropolitan areas. For workplace location, the comparisons included detailed geographies such as census subdivisions and census tracts.

Mode of transportation data was also compared with the 2006 Households and the Environment Survey (HES). The comparison was limited to those geographical areas covered both in the 2006 Census and in the Households and the Environment Survey sample.

For the most part, 2006 journey to work data compare well with the previous census. Census mode of transportation data compared well with the Households and the Environment Survey data.

Historical comparability

The journey to work concepts have remained fairly consistent since the current version of the place of work question was adopted in the 1996 Census.

Comparability of workplace location data is affected by any changes to the underlying geographic areas. A significant number of changes to census subdivisions and census tracts typically occur with each census.

Further information on the Historical comparability of journey to work data is provided in the 2006 Census Dictionary, Appendix D.