Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Transit use up, driving down in Vancouver census region

with 12 comments


This was what I was looking for yesterday. Gordon Price and Christina de Marco have now had time to look at the stats release. And this really is a good example of how to spin not very much into a good news story.

Gordon even manages to make it about development and retailing, which given the census only looks at Journey to Work is quite a feat but is a nice sidelight on my musings about Save on Foods.

More than a decade ago, when Gordon Price was a Vancouver city councillor, the civic government required Urban Fare to have 200 underground parking spaces for customers of the Yaletown supermarket.

Price, who regularly shops at Urban Fare, has never seen more than one-quarter of those parking spaces occupied, even during rainstorms.

“No one really thought that people would walk to do their grocery shopping, because people drive,” said Price, who is now director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University.

The story is about commuting – but the first section manages to deal with an outdated traffic engineering “standard” about parking requirements. This is media manipulation of a high order, and I take my hat off to him. Not only that but conventional wisdom would have it that if you provide free parking people will use it. Which, if true, would have made Lansdowne Mall much more successful than Richmond Centre.

But we are getting off track.

“We’re on track for about a four-per-cent increase [in public transit use] in 2007 over 2006,” said Snider, adding that TransLink is concentrating on providing better service to suburban areas where car use is still relatively high — the suburbs in the south Fraser River area. In the past year, Snider said, “south of Fraser has received at least 50 per cent of additional service hours” that TransLink has created.

“They’re also getting newer buses there as we retire the old ones,” he said.

But of course he is not talking about mode share. And south of the Fraser has a lot of catching up to do, and 4% is way below what is needed to just catch up to recent population growth. And I doubt that getting a nice new bus wins you many more car drivers. “I think I will stop driving to work now. The bus is newer.” Naaah. Not gonna happen.

Nice new bus at Surrey Central
Nice new bus at Surrey Central

Christina DeMarco, manager of regional planning for Metro Vancouver, said she was “excited” by the census findings.

Well, when you have a job like hers, you have to grab what excitement you can. But she does manage to spin a rather lack lustre performance into a success story

Another telling statistic is that in the past 10 years, population growth in the region has been 15.3 per cent, with a matching growth in car use (15 per cent). However, transit use increased by 40 per cent.

Which sounds so much better than having to say we are still at 11% mode share for all trips, and for the journey to work we still are not as advanced as the other large urban regions which have much denser centres

Contrarily, large suburban business parks are being built away from transit lines.

Vancouver, at 16.5 per cent, still lags behind Toronto (22 per cent) and Montreal (21 per cent) in transit use, but the gap has closed.

“We’re on the right trajectory,” DeMarco said.

Clive Rock called this kind of thinking “steering a ship by only watching its wake”.

We are only going to do well if we can reverse the trend in employment dispersal – and Gateway will not do that!

Commuting Distance

If you are interested in Victoria there is a big Canadian Press story which emphasizes age differences: the young are more likely to walk, bike or bus to work.

The census doesn’t ask commuters why they chose their mode of transportation, so it’s not known if younger workers pick greener commuting options because of their concern for the environment or whether their choice was related more to financial considerations.

I think it is making a virtue of necessity – and as a correspondent recently pointed out, young people are finding it much harder these days to get a decent job, let alone buy a house and a car. (Although a quick scan of the high school parking lots around here shows that some kids get really nice cars as soon as they get their licences.)

Written by Stephen Rees

April 3, 2008 at 8:59 am

12 Responses

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  1. I was surprised at all the hype given this on BCTV and of course the obligatory scenes of SkyTrain. Too much hype and not enough meat.

    On another note: Drew Snyder, TransLink spin doctor, in a letter to the editor in Sunday’s province, stated, “80% of SkyTrain’s ridership comes from buses.” This statement gives rise to all sorts of speculations.

    What it tells me is that SkyTrain is very poor in attracting the all important motorist from the car.

    Malcolm J.

    April 3, 2008 at 10:59 am

  2. That map shows commuting distance, the darker the colour, the farther the distance. It was much easier to read in the paper edition.


    April 3, 2008 at 12:22 pm

  3. How are they able to compare data to 2001 – wasn’t there a lengthy transit strike in 2001 that skewed all the related census data?


    April 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm

  4. Also meant to add that while a new bus probably won’t convince someone to stop driving, an old, rickety, graffitti-covered, smelly one definately will convince someone on the fence to keep driving.


    April 3, 2008 at 2:03 pm

  5. Lb : yes and that was what I pointed out yesterday. Actually I doubt there are any buses in Translink’s fleet that meet that description. The biggest problem with our system is overcrowding and I think hanging on to older buses might not be a bad short term solution to that, given the financial and logistical constraints if getting new ones. What deters car drivers from using transit is very poor services – they are slow, infrequent and unreliable – the last due to traffic congestion and lack of bus priority measures.

    Stephen Rees

    April 3, 2008 at 4:39 pm

  6. The original (much clearer) graphics can be found at Stats Can:


    April 4, 2008 at 1:53 pm

  7. Thanks for the link, Lorin. I have uploaded a better version of the graphic

    Stephen Rees

    April 4, 2008 at 2:50 pm

  8. Note that 4% ridership growth annually handsomely outpaces Vancouver’s approximately 1.5% annual population growth.

    Mumbo Joe

    April 4, 2008 at 6:54 pm

  9. Here’s a link to the Burnaby Newsleader regarding the increase in transit ridership and the construction of bike routes There’s a long way to go, but Brentwood is shaping up to be the most rapidly developing TOD of significance. Lougheed isn’t too far behind, and is sure to get a boost once the Evergreen Line is built … whenever that will that be. I’d like to see more office / retail at these town centres, but I believe that’s only a matter of time.


    April 8, 2008 at 2:07 pm

  10. “Contrarily, large suburban business parks are being built away from transit lines.” err if the place of work isn’t on your bus route, either make a new route or change the one in use. In the UK one of the biggest bus companys registers a route as soon as planning permission is given to build the business park. It starts off running one or two trips a day, then increases as and when needed.


    April 9, 2008 at 9:29 am

  11. Ah Markus, you have no idea how difficult it is to get a new bus route started here. There is only one bus service provider. And it does not respond to local needs or desires. It behaves as a completely oblivious, unresponsive bureaucracy more concerned with building roads and bridges would anywhere. I am not a great fan of privatisation in principle, but we have the worst regional bureaucracy in charge of public transport imaginable. And, of course, it is currently short of staff and buses, and is grossly overloaded. There is a lot of cash but it cannot be spent on new bus services where they are needed as it is needed for major road, rapid transit and bridge building projects.

    And actually there is no reason at all why the returning dead heads could not be put into service, with a diversion out to the freeway exit office parks – indeed I would expect them to be fast and popular. But then I have only 40 years of transportation planning experience, so they got rid of me.

    Stephen Rees

    April 9, 2008 at 10:48 am

  12. i’m not 100% happy with what we call deregulation but when it works it works very well, when the local council ran the services in gloucestershire it couldn’t understand why a service that went passed a main factory was always empty, afterwards the new people running the bus company changed the times so that it stopped at the factory 10 mins before work started instead of 20 mins afterwards, result they now have to use a double decker instead of a single


    April 10, 2008 at 2:13 pm

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