Stephen Rees's blog

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

Metro Vancouver commuters ready, set, wait…

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Randy Shore in the Vancouver Sun

My last post was a blast at the media and I am afraid this one is going to be more of the same. A lot of people rely on the newspaper for their information. So when they read

“TransLink, recently saddled with Premier Gordon Campbell’s goal of increasing transit’s share of commuter trips from about 12 per cent to 17 per cent.”

they tend to believe it. But it is wrong. The share of commuter trips by transit is actually 16.5% (2006 census quoted by Metro Vancouver) so not far off the supposed “target”. But what I think Randy Shore meant to write was “share of all trips” which is actually “about 12%” and was supposed to have been 17% some time ago. (Interestingly a search for the term “Transport 2021” does not produce that document from Metro’s website. Going by my probably faulty memory I think we were supposed to have hit 17% by 2005.) So what ever number Campbell picked was not new, but then he may well have forgotten that was what he picked when he was Chair of the GVRD in 1995.

The reason why we do not have this mode share yet is that transit investment in this region has been inadequate and badly directed. Having made the choice of SkyTrain for Expo 86 we keep on repeating the same formula and spend too much on a rail system that feeds downtown Vancouver from the adjacent suburbs and thus fails to meet the needs of most of the region. Bus service is slow and infrequent but is all there is for many trips – so it is not an attractive choice. So most people continue to drive from the suburban homes to their workplaces in other suburbs. And many municipalities have jumped on the dispersal pattern of jobs and allowed or promoted office parks on the edges of town – usually sclose to a freeway exit – and failed to produce the compact urban region with complete communities – which was supposed to support a number of “regional town centres”, which are actually too expensive to attract workplaces as the condo developers have bid up the land prices too far.

I am not going to be sidetracked by the CUTA/FCM survey about the impact of gas prices. Yes people say they will use transit, but in this region many who try tommorrow will, once again, give up in disgust, as they wait for buses that have run early, or turn up late and packed to the doors. As one Translink marketing wiseguy pointed out to me early on in my career there “there is a lot of churn in this business”. Meaning the product we had to sell really did not appeal to those who have a choice. Though I do expect, as long as the weather stays nice, there will be more cyclists and walkers. Though again a couple of close shaves with a massive pick up truck or an SUV driven by a homicidal maniac or distracted Mom on a school run will deter many too.

The number of automobile commuters in the City of Vancouver went up 20 per cent between 1996 and 2006, according to census figures.

In hope he has got that figure right. Because we have been busy patting ourselves on the back for the decline in car use by citing the number of vehicles entering the downtown core in the peak period. And  both are right, and neither says anything about the region. And this story is apparently only part 1 of a series.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Posted in transit

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5 Responses

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  1. I am lead to believe that Global TV (BCTV?) and the Sun are going to spotlight transit this week. Watch out for all the good old cliché’s about Skytrain, RAV etc. As we are slowly edging up to a provincial election, Campbell & Co.’s spending on transit must be shown in a positive light.

    Malcolm J

    September 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm

  2. It is an obvious thing to do this week as the kids head back to school and everybody else tries to get to work. This week (Tuesday to Friday) is always a mess until the students get their schedules sorted out. And all those drivers who have been commuting over the summer have been lulled into thinking the drive was not so bad for the last two months. Heck, I even managed Richmond to Langley in 30 minutes!

    Stephen Rees

    September 1, 2008 at 3:31 pm

  3. Actually, by TransLink’s own reckoning they have only 12 per cent of weekday trips and have had for ten years. I don’t trust the Census on this as the info is collected by survey rather than by counting.
    And BTW, as a reporter for The Sun I feel no duty to show the government in any light good or bad, nor am I ever instructed to do so. I just try to get the facts out there and hopefully it is interesting enough to get on the front page.

    Randy Shore

    September 24, 2008 at 12:01 pm

  4. I have reread my piece carefully and I do not see any suggestion that you are doing anything but reporting what was said.

    The census journey to work data is about the best we have, as it is based on 10% of households. By contrast the regional Trip Diary Survey is of only 5,000 respondents – which in a region of 2m people is pitifully small.

    Counts tell us even less: we know how many vehicles cross a given line but know nothing about origin, destination or journey purpose. Vehicle counts also tell us nothing about vehicle occupancy.

    Stephen Rees

    September 24, 2008 at 12:14 pm

  5. The objectivity remark was directed at a comment that criticized The Sun as a Liberal organ.
    As for surveys such as the census, people tend to give “worthy” answers when asked whether they are doing the right thing, not necessarily the truth.
    We know how many people travel on transit each day, I would rather go with that rather than on what people say they do.
    The census is good for a lot of things, but it is a poor indicator of human behaviour.

    Randy Shore

    September 24, 2008 at 1:03 pm


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