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

Archive for June 7th, 2008

Is this what’s next for drivers?

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Globe and Mail

Without the picture the headline is meaningless. And anyway there is nothing else in the piece about cycling.

The story is cobbled together to give it a national look, but the theme is that a tipping point has passed and the recent rapid rise in gas prices is having a noticeable effect on driver behaviour across Canada. The point is made quite well that the increase in pump prices has been much more than any government has contemplated for a carbon tax. It does show what is needed to get people to not just complain but actually start to change the way they behave. For a long time the response had been that people had no choice – which while that my seem to be the case in the short term is obviously not true.

What caught my eye were the paragraphs below from Translink

Some of the most dramatic evidence of Canadians changing their habits is statistics from TransLink, the transit authority in the Vancouver region.

Total ridership had climbed steadily and markedly – 30 per cent in 2007 compared with 2002 – as oil surged higher, echoed throughout Canada, with the Canadian Urban Transit Association reporting a 3.5-per-cent increase in ridership.

Note that the increase is over a five year period. And much of that can be attributed to the introduction of UPass. Indeed in recent months, the number of pass-ups being reported seem to me to be the most significant figure. People want to use the bus but cannot get on! I would be surprised too if that CUTA figure was five years – it looks more like one to me.

But, tellingly, ridership on the West Coast Express, a regional train service whose terminus is downtown Vancouver, experienced an “incredible surge” in April, shooting up 26 per cent compared with a year ago as British Columbians took 43,337 more trips, avoiding expensive commutes by car.

“It has to be gasoline,” said Ken Hardie, a TransLink spokesman. “It’s people converting.”

There ought to have been interviews conducted with passengers for the market research people that would add weight to that assertion. Month on month comparisons are not the same as the five year trend. It could also be something to do with work starting on the Pitt River bridge creating the expectation of worse congestion – correlation is not the same thing as causation – and asking people is the only way to find out.

But yes the shift in vehicle size and the increase in popularity of more fuel efficient vehicles is very clear. And I expect that if we had some decent statistics in this region we might also be seeing some reduction in VKT – which is being reported in the US.

But the big thing to note is that for most people in this region the transit system is simply inadequate. The journey is too slow, requires too many transfers, requires a detailed knowledge of schedules and ticketing systems and is frankly off putting. Transit is overcrowded and buses are unreliable and infrequent. And none of this is news, it has been like this for a long time, and there has been very little increase in market share. That five year growth in ridership looks like a large number – but the mode share has hardly changed at all. And the reason is that most of the improvements that have taken place have been concentrated on Vancouver, UBC and SFU. Money that is being spent is not being invested in the sort of transit that serves the region as a whole, and the both the provincial government and Translink are concentrating on roads. Even the really expensive transit items (Canada Line and the Broadway tube) are more about freeing up more road space for cars than increasing transit mode share across the region.

And the investments in bridges – Golden Ears, Port Mann – look like they are much less “necessary” if oil gets to $200 a barrel. Yes there will still be cars – and more efficient cars at that – but for a lot of people, changes in lifestyle will be in order if they cannot afford to fill up they way they once did. The priorities were always skewed. But it is not too late to shift the focus and abandon the road expansion plans and spend the same huge sums on simple things like buying more buses. What we need to be doing is making the sure that in the future people will still have mobility that does not require them to own a car.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 7, 2008 at 12:00 am