From BC Business, by Frances Bula:
That could have a direct impact on commuting—a complex part of contemporary city life that affects everything from the economy to the environment to our emotional well-being. The economic factor is critical in Vancouver, which has to contend with an exceptionally challenging housing market. “If Vancouver wants to grow economically despite ballooning house prices, higher-density living will require more public transit—more capacity in Vancouver, more expansion geographically into suburban areas,” says Werner Antweiler, a UBC business professor whose research focuses on the connections between transit and the economy. “With denser public transit systems, workers gain time, which in turn can be used to produce more output at work and provide more services at home.” …
In a survey done exclusively for BCBusiness by Insights West, it’s clear that people would like a different commuting life than the one they have now. More than three-quarters of those surveyed say living close to where they work is important and they’d work from home if they could to reduce their commutes. They also dream about other types of commuting: twice as many people in Metro Vancouver say they’d prefer to commute by bike as actually do.
The thing they’re not willing to do is pay the price to get there. The survey showed only a minority would accept less money for a job closer to home or would gladly pay tolls to produce a shorter commute. That was evident in the spectacular failure of the Lower Mainland plebiscite last year, where regional mayors proposed a $10-billion plan to improve transit (and even some roads and a bridge) if residents would agree to a half per cent sales tax. They said no by a two-to-one margin.
Except for residents of the principality of Vancouver—a little piece of Amsterdam dropped into our local equivalent of Los Angeles—the majority of people in the region are wedded to their wheels. Two-thirds of working adults in Metro Vancouver, outside the city proper, drive to work compared to less than a quarter in the city itself. According to TransLink, the percentage of Metro residents who commute in cars for all of their trips—work, school, shopping, entertainment—is 57 per cent, exactly where it was in 1994.
The car remains king, and nothing—not non-driving millennials, not transit additions (including the popular Canada Line), not bike lanes—has made a noticeable difference. The proportion of transit commuters has increased over the years, from a low of nine per cent in 2004 to the current 14 per cent. However, that appears to be at the expense of carpooling, which has declined as work schedules and commuting patterns have become more complicated.
The greatest achievement that transit nerds can point to is that the proportion of transit commuters has kept pace with the region’s growing population. But so have the numbers of cars and drivers. People in B.C. bought 77,000 cars in each of the last two years—that’s 13,000 more per year than the level in 2011. Total vehicle registrations in the province are now around 3.5 million, almost 800,000 more than in 2000—and nearly half, 1.5 million, are registered in the Lower Mainland. …
… changing patterns are especially relevant in the Lower Mainland, where the emphasis on developing a regional plan with multiple town centres has produced a metropolitan region that’s distinct from Calgary or Seattle. In those cities, all the blood is sucked into the beating heart of downtown during the day and released at night. The Lower Mainland, by contrast, is increasingly polycentric—with transit patterns that look more like a bunch of chopsticks that fell on the floor than a simple conveyor belt. “Every municipality is trying to have a one-to-one ratio for jobs, but it creates a challenge when people are living in one suburb and working in another,” says Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore, who led the charge on the mayors’ transit plan. Even in the city of Vancouver, fully 39 per cent of residents commute out of the city to their jobs—including 30 per cent from that bastion of urban living, the West End. …
According to Geoff Cross, TransLink’s director of strategic planning and policy, the average mileage in the region is currently 6,500 kilometres per person a year; the rejected transit plan aimed to bring that number down by a third, to about 4,400 kilometres—a difference of 2,100 kilometres per person per year.
Making the big improvements to transit that were outlined in the plebiscite was only going to reduce the mileage by about 500. The next 1,600-kilometre reduction would only come from making it more expensive to drive—specifically through mobility pricing. Sophisticated mobility pricing, like the kind Singapore has, charges people based on how much they drive per year, how many bridges they cross and whether they make their trip during high-congestion periods. And neither will work alone. Both have to be in place to get the full reduction. …
Throughout all these deliberations, smart planners don’t have any delusion that they’ll get everyone out of their cars—even though some politicians, like the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, have thundered righteously about the war on the car. “I worked in Copenhagen for a while,” says Geoff Cross, “and the idea there was just to keep the young people on transit for two or three years more. It’s the equivalent of a mode shift, even if they eventually go to a car.” Instead, they’re focused on those incremental changes that will nudge different categories of nudge-ready groups to make more efficient choices, be it moving closer to work, shopping or good transit.