Declining car use drives demand for transit

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.

Comments (15) Add New Comment
Taking the bus sucks.
Rating: -2
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?
Rating: -7
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.
Rating: +20
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.
Rating: +3
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.
Rating: +11
Eric Doherty
Check out the 'peak car' graph here on Gordon Price's blog.

The age of blacktop politics seems to have peaked.
Rating: +25
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.
Rating: +17
Chas Dangles
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.
Rating: -21
Bruce Anderson
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.

Rating: +4
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.
Rating: +18
Steven Merchant
We're a rain-soaked, densifying city with extreme high property costs. Let's go all in and build a subway. All the other half-measures are a waste of time and money.
Rating: +13
Strange wording "environmentalists warn of peak oil." Anyone who actually cares about the environment doesn't consider peak oil to be a bad thing. Those that are "warning" about it are the group that is realistic in that they understand oil is unlimited, but still think oil-based energy is the greatest thing ever.

For those of use who give a shit about the environment, peak oil is the price of oil-based energy finally catching up with its costs including externalities. This is a positive development. Once that happens, economics will shift energy consumption to other alternatives, and we no longer even have to talk about environmental damage as a reason to do it.

Unfortunately, what we do have to do is ensure that the dominant alternative isn't coal, and that's a lot harder.
Rating: -2
J-L Brussac
Am I the only one that remember?
Translink is talking about Bus Rapid Transit as if it was something new and wonderful.

They built a Bus Rapid Transit system in Richmond years ago, the 98 B line. See
It was overcrowded most of the time, just like the current 99 B line, which is the reason why the Canada line was built to Richmond.
These articulated buses have a passenger load of around 120, versus 172 for a single unit LRT in Portland, and 200 in Seattle.
Both towns actually run 2 units with a single driver in the front unit, so there is 1 driver for 344 passengers (Portland) or 400 (Seattle).
According to Kinkisharyo, the company that made the Seattle LRT, it is possible to run up to 4 units with 1 driver...
If you have a chance to go to Seattle, go have a look at the Central Link LRT. Looks like SkyTrain near the airport.. To carry the same number of passengers one would need 3 buses, meaning 3 drivers.

I used Bus Rapid Transit in Bordeaux in the mid-90s.. they used bi-articulated Renault Megabuses, with 2 trailers, carrying about 212 passengers. The ride was atrocious as each trailer had only one axle...

They now have tramways in Bordeaux (since the end of 2003). They are Alstom 402, 44 metres long (about 145 ft), 300 passengers.
The experience of many towns is that big modern LRT are more attractive to passengers than buses..
I used a BRT in Eugene Oregon in June 2012.
It runs on totally separate lanes outside downtown. Their buses are very good looking, have doors on both sides, ramps for wheelchairs on all the doors (but not by the driver) that simply slide out, and bikes are stored inside. Stops are announced in 2 languages..
Each bus cost at the time nearly 1 million $
Eugene-Springfield and their suburbs have a population of 352 000, so buses are a logical choice..
Rating: +8
BC Stats reports licenced passenger vehicle sales through 2011 continue to grow, like they have done every year since report started in 1999.
Rating: +16
peak WTF
You're kidding right? Quit smoking whatever you smoke and take a look at the statistics if you took math, car use is outstripping transit use...
Rating: -25
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