Stephen Rees's blog

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

“Metro Vancouver air quality suffers as driving increases”

with 2 comments

The headline comes from a disturbing story in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun (paywalled)

I think many of us had been under the impression that driving was probably declining, since that was widely reported from US sources. It now seems that in this region we are not only driving more but in larger vehicles.

The proportion of small cars in Metro Vancouver has declined, to roughly 32 per cent of all vehicles in 2013 from 38 per cent in 2007. In contrast, the proportion of SUVs has risen to 22 per cent from 15 per cent over the same period and the share of large cars has increased to 20 per cent from 18 per cent.

At the same time, the study found the average number of kilometres driven by passenger vehicles fell by almost five per cent from 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, but that number has risen just over two per cent between 2012 and 2014.

Some of that might be attributable to the shifting around of transit service, which saw low ridership routes lose out to overcrowded routes – which also hit the outer, more car dependent suburbs harder than the region’s core.

The report can be found at which belongs to Pacific Analytics Inc.

The report is twenty three pages and is available as a pdf to download. There are some very notable omissions. No authors are credited. While there are plenty of graphs there are no tables, and no sources of data are cited other than Pacific Analytics model. For example, there is a very detailed analysis of vehicle types and some interesting, and quite remarkable data on vehicle kilometres travelled. But no source is cited for either. By implication the vehicle analysis would seem to come from ICBC, but I have no idea who has the data on vehicle kilometres travelled in the region by quarter, for every year.

So I called Jim Johnson, who is the sole proprietor of Pacific Analytics. He has given me permission to host the report here (link at bottom of article). The source of the vehicle data is a combination of data from AirCare (which of course will no longer be available) and the autorepair industry. A full description of the dataset is available at

Sinoski’s article tries to paint a relationship to the way Translink has been adjusting service. It does seem likely that in areas where transit was not a very good option (with the exception of the #555 bus along Highway #1 which enables people to avoid the Port Mann toll, and West Coast Express) and service has been cut, that driving would increase. The drop in gas prices would also have both reduced that disincentive to drive and the deterrent to buying a bigger vehicle. But while the auto manufacturing industry may have been turning its mind to more fuel efficient models, consumers seem to be buying the cars/trucks they want rather than the those that might burn less fossil fuel.

MetroVan GHG Emissions Report Feb 2015_0

Written by Stephen Rees

March 4, 2015 at 10:48 am

2 Responses

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  1. In the February 26, 2015 edition of the Seattle Times there is an article titled “downtown workers steer away from cars”
    The percentage of solo drivers went from 50% in 2000 to 35,2% in 2010 and 31,1% in 2014.

    Of the 228 000 people who work in or near downtown, in 2014 45,3% used transit, 9% shared rides,6,9% walk, 3.1% biked and 4,6% did “other” (did they come by private boat, or fly like superman?)

    Red frog

    March 5, 2015 at 11:03 am

  2. It is a bit disheartening to me to read this post considering the difficulty we had in making a decision to buy a new car last fall. The poor condition of our old car and its sudden decline into an unsafe condition requiring spending mre on repairs than it was worth moved the decision up very quickly. We bought one of the smallest and most efficient cars out there (almost 10 km / litre) but are hemmed in by our neighbours where multiple car households are in the majority. There are 10 houses on our block and 19 cars. The three-member family next door has one car each, which is to me a serious waste of resources, not to mention the excessive occupation of public land: the front road . Only two houses have parking on their property; the Edwardian streetcar neighbourhood predates the zoning bylaw by 42 years.

    Our decision was based on the poor transit service to work 15 km away and our frequent trips to the Island where we have an elder with health and mobility issues and who lives alone in a neighbourhood with a poor transit and inadequate local shopping amenities. I take solace that we purposely opposed an opportunity to move to the suburbs where transport would have meant another car and the carving up of our family budget, our time budget and our sanity.

    Despite these disappointing stats I don’t believe the laws of physics will reverse themselves any time soon and fossil fuels will continue their inexorable decline in supply and incline in price, even considering oil’s recent price decrease — which is still over 400% higher than it was in the mid-nineties. In fact, price spikes in the next five years could put transit back on the front burner and cause vehicle sales and km driven to go down in leaps and bounds.


    March 6, 2015 at 11:21 pm

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