Declining car use drives demand for transit

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For more than a decade, some environmentalists have been warning about “peak oil”. This refers to the point at which global oil production reaches a crescendo before going into inexorable decline. In recent years, there’s also been talk of “peak food”.

Former Vancouver councillor Gordon Price uses a new term—peak car—to describe the growing number of people who are seeking alternatives to the motor vehicle. In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, the director of SFU’s City Program cited a number of factors, including a slow economy, improved transit, technological change, and generational change.

“The numbers coming out of the States indicate that we reached peak car around 2004,” Price said.

Between 1994 and 2011, there was a 10-percentage-point decline—from 79 percent to 69 percent—in B.C. residents between the ages of 18 and 24 holding driver’s licences, according to ICBC.

Meanwhile, the Seattle-based Sightline Institute’s programs director, Clark Williams-Derry, has tracked the decline of automobile use in a series of articles entitled “Dude, Where Are My Cars?” In October, shortly before the opening of the new Port Mann Bridge, he noted that traffic on the old bridge had been falling steadily since 2005.

“Of course, the province is betting big on long-term traffic growth—they need the cars to show up, since they’re hoping to use toll revenue to pay for their highway-building binge,” Williams-Derry wrote. “But if traffic grows more slowly than they hope, then it’ll take an awful long time for the province to pay for that bridge.”

A recent KPMG report for the City of Vancouver and UBC revealed that the share of trips to the Point Grey campus by motor vehicle fell from 77 percent to 43 percent over a 14-year period, whereas the percentage of trips by transit tripled. And due to the opening of the Canada Line in 2009, transit ridership in the region rose 20 percent in 2010. There was another six-percent hike in 2011, according to TransLink.

This is the backdrop to TransLink’s recently released analyses for rapid-transit alternatives following completion of the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam. Four options have been shortlisted for Surrey.

The first is termed “bus rapid transit”, with one section going east from Surrey City Centre to Guildford along 104 Avenue, and more bus rapid transit travelling south to White Rock along King George Boulevard. A third bus rapid-transit service would leave King George Station and go southeast to Langley along the Fraser Highway. These improvements would cost $900 million and be expected to generate 13,500 more daily transit trips. That’s a relatively small share of the two million daily transit trips in the region projected by 2041.

TransLink defines bus rapid transit this way: "Low-floor articulated buses (running on diesel or electricity) running in their own right-of-way and separated from other traffic by a curb, and with stations located within the street." 

The second option would keep bus rapid transit along King George and 104 Avenue but upgrade to surface-level light rail between King George Station and Langley Centre. That would add 12,500 daily transit trips and cost $1.68 billion, according to TransLink.

A third choice, costing $2.18 billion, would add second and third surface-level light rail lines east along 104 Avenue to Guildford and south along King George Boulevard to Newton, resulting in an additional 12,000 daily trips. This is favoured by Surrey city council.

The fourth option, clocking in at $2.22 billion, would keep bus rapid transit on King George Boulevard and 104 Avenue but upgrade to rail rapid transit—likely SkyTrain—from King George Station to Langley Centre. It would add 24,500 daily transit trips, according to TransLink.

There are also four options on TransLink’s shortlist for UBC. A $1.1-billion surface-level light-rail line from Commercial Drive would add 11,000 weekday transit trips and take 28 minutes to reach the Point Grey campus.

Next on the list is a partially tunnelled light-rail line, which would cost $1.38 billion to $1.84 billion, add 13,500 weekday trips, and arrive at the Point Grey campus in 26 to 27 minutes.

The third option features a subway from VCC–Clark Station to Arbutus complemented by a second light-rail branch from the Main Street–Science World Station. They would connect at Arbutus, with light rail going all the way to UBC, costing $2.67 billion, adding 44,000 weekday trips, and reaching the campus in 29 minutes.

The quickest and most expensive option is a $3-billion mainly tunnelled SkyTrain from VCC–Clark Station to UBC, going under Central Broadway. It would add 54,000 weekday transit trips and get to the campus in 19 minutes. Mayor Gregor Robertson and UBC president Stephen Toope have stated publicly that they favour an underground rail project from Commercial-Broadway to the Point Grey campus.

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gerry

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:19am

Taking the bus sucks.

Greg

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:45am

For 3 billion dollars why not decentralize the UBC campus. Buy some land in other parts of the city (nearer to exiosting infrastructure) and reduce the need to go to UBC where it is now?

CBinVan

Mar 21, 2013 at 12:12pm

Disappearing traffic is why the bicycle lanes have not caused the problems predicted.

We need to get the province and federal government to invest less in highways and more for transit.

ACMESalesRep

Mar 21, 2013 at 12:25pm

Greg: How would you decentralize teaching staff, libraries, research labs, and the rest of the university infrastructure? Short of duplicating everything, such a solution would vastly _increase_ the need for transit by forcing staff and students to shuttle between multiple locations on a daily basis.

trixie

Mar 21, 2013 at 2:34pm

Moving UBC would have little impact on the need for a Broadway line. As with all transit, people will use it to travel from any station to any other. There will still be huge demand to travel to and from Broadway-based businesses, and to and from other transit lines like the Canada Line.

HM

Mar 21, 2013 at 5:31pm

I know my car use has been in serious decline the last couple years. I moved here from edmonton in 2004 and used it all the time, even relatively short distances. but 2006 or so I started riding my bike in the summer, and when I started at SFU in 2010, got my first u-pass, which began my first regular use of mass transit.

Living in the suburbs in edmonton, or anywhere in edmonton is not very conducive to transit ridership. It's a car town and once you get locked into that mentality, or that habit, it's very difficult to break from. So now my car is used for road trips, or when I need to carry more than my arms can carry. Sometimes it's nice to get out for a drive, but for day to day use, my feet, my bike, or the bus are far more convenient.

Chas Dangles

Mar 21, 2013 at 6:42pm

More demand for transit does not equate to less drivers on the road. As the population continues to increase the demand for space on the roads including those who drive increases. What happens in 20 years when the GVRD has 4 million people and the majority of vehicles are emission free(?). The demand and FREEDOM to drive (or hover) in your own vehicle will be greater than ever. The infrastructure needs to evolve and keep up with growth and the technology that will sustain it.I wish the short sighted so called Environmentalists would add that into their equation.

Bruce Anderson

Mar 21, 2013 at 9:06pm

Full disclosure - We use public transit a lot.

All these costs appear to be capital. Where are the operating costs? Made the F35 decision look different.

Gromit

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:21am

I hate driving, i can't understand how driving a car on congested roads came to symbolize freedom. Just watching today's car commercials harken back to the era of beer commercials, portraying a totally unrealistic wet dream fantasy world that exists no where in reailty.

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