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Darren Davis is the Principal Public Transport Planner at Auckland Transport (@darrendavis10) – self-described as “proudly car-free, transit nerd, big city fan, travel addict.”  All of which he proved by spending his vacation travelling to ten cities in North America this last month, exploring their transit systems, gathering statistics and sharing knowledge.

So when he got to Vancouver, of course we had to hold a reception for him:


Darren is at the front on the left. 


Here is the kind of thing Darren loves to do: comparative statistics that, in this case, compare various modes of transit (bus, rail, ferry) by ridership and percent for world cities of various sizes *:


Click to enlarge.


I asked him what he thought was worth noticing:

  • Out of the 14 cities I looked at, in 10 of those cities bus ridership exceeded rail ridership. The exceptions were New York City, Paris, Sydney and Seoul.
  • Rail trips are generally longer than bus trips, with in Auckland’s case rail trips being an average of 14 km versus 6.5 km by bus, so the difference in passenger kilometres isn’t as great as the difference in ridership.
  • That said, one of the biases we face in transport planning is to favour longer trips in the peak because of their greater “congestion relief” benefits over shorter trips, but in reality all trips are equally important as they get someone from somewhere to somewhere else, which is really what accessibility is all about. And of course, the best trip is a trip avoided or shortened by through what Brent Toderian describes as “the power of nearness.”
  • What was really obvious in my recent 10 city US and Canada trip is a clear disparity in customer amenity between, for example, a typical Canadian or US bus exchange used intensely 18 hours a day every day of the week and a typical Canadian or US commuter rail station, used intermittently for a couple of hours on weekday mornings and evenings. This fits with what I see as a general undervaluing of bus customers, especially in urban core areas.
  • Of note in statistics is that even cities with well developed rapid transit systems such as London, Portland and Vancouver still have significantly more bus riders than rail riders. Those cities where rail beats bus all have extensive rail networks with frequent all-day “turn up and go” service. While rail may do the heavy lifting for longer-distance trips, bus is still often the heavy lifter for a larger number of shorter, but equally important, journeys.

Highlight for me: Two-thirds of transit trips in Vancouver are by bus, one-third by rail – just the inverse (at least) of the time we spend talking about each.  As Darren says, it’s reflective of “a general undervaluing of bus customers.”

There is no city of similar size (2-3 million) that even comes close to our transit ridership.  We end up comparing ourselves to the Sydney’s and San Francisco’s (which we surpass) – metro areas two or three times our size.

And while we’re at it, I notice that opposition is already building to the idea of any subway along Broadway because it’s ‘just a developers’ ploy’ to get rezonings of Metrotown-style densities along the corridor.

Folks, in terms of ridership, we’re already there:


Extraordinary Facts: Five Metrotowns on Broadway


Coincidentally, thanks to Direct Transfer, a blog post from Urban kchoze asks, what is the right place for buses in a properly designed city?  It began when the author was looking at the bus share in Japanese cities:

One thing I noticed quickly when I found a document grouping together trip surveys for many Japanese cities was how low bus mode share was, everywhere, almost never more than 10%, even in big cities often only 3 or 4% of trips were made on buses. That led me to wonder why it was so low.  …

Thinking about it more, I think I have come to a conclusion that some people may not like very much: buses simply do not have a large role to play in a properly designed city. …

… a very high mode share for local buses is probably not a good sign in terms of urban planning and sustainable urbanism and likely a symptom of poor zoning and of an automobile-centered urban design that forces people to use motorized vehicles to get around even for short local trips.

The argument (with graphs!) is here.
* Notes for chart below fold.

Belfast figure includes all Northern Ireland rail, as this figure is not separated out for inside and outside of Belfast, hence an overcount for rail.

Los Angeles figure only includes services operated by LA Metro and hence is an undercount for bus as it excludes municipal bus operators in Los Angeles County.

New York figure includes services run by the MTA, including MTA subway and bus, Staten Island Railway, Metro North and Long Island Railroad and services run by New York City Department of Transportation. Hence includes Connecticut commuter rail service to New York City but not services to, from and within New Jersey.

San Francisco figure is for the City and County of San Francisco only for MUNI-operated services, hence excludes BART journeys within San Francisco meaning an undercount for rail.