Thanks to Jeff Nagel for picking up on this item at the very end of a Metro Vancouver Transportation Committee agenda – page 126 here. Because what it shows is revelatory.
The above chart shows what has happened to the percent of people with driver’s licences (Classes 5 and 7) between 2004 and 2013, by age group. It confirms that among 16- to 34-year-olds, there has been a steady drop up until the last few years in the percent getting their licences. Notice, in particular, that the steepest drop has been among young adults, 20-24 – the group one might expect to get their licences as the need for a car becomes more necessary.
As interesting, the drop can be seen across the region:
The steepest drops have been in Richmond, Burnaby-New West and Vancouver – explained, likely, by the presence of rapid transit. That’s where SkyTrain and the Canada Line go. But the drop is seen even on the affluent North Shore with more limited transit:
Indeed, among 25-29-year-olds on the North Shore, there is not even an upturn in those getting licenses in the last few years.
So why? The report suggests the decline coincided with “the enhancement of B.C.’s Graduated Licensing Program and the introduction of the U-Pass program in 2003, the general expansion of transit and the increase in gasoline prices.” All likely factors. And let’s add the adoption of smart-phone technology, which has made some kinds of trips less necessary.
The report notes that it is not certain whether the trend will continue, given the already-evident upturn in some places. And yes, there also looks to be an increase in the percent of seniors getting licences – but just at the age in life when the amount of vehicle-kilometres-travelled starts to decline, and when their need for transportation options becomes greater.
It seems to me there should be a lot more work to find out why the decline happened, and whether these trends will continue, flatten out or reverse over the next several decades since so many other decisions will be affected – especially given decision-makers propensity, particularly at the provincial and federal levels, to keep approving ever larger roads and bridges.
If ‘peak car’ is a reality, and behavior can be shifted by pricing (as Port Mann tolls have so eloquently revealed), then why continue, literally, down the ol’ Motordom road when the resources can be spent on other transportation investments of higher priority. (“Transit, transit, transit,” as Bob Rennie put it.)
Billions of dollars and the direction of this region are at stake. Perhaps these charts, and the questions that go with them, should be moved to the front of the agenda.
UPDATE: Something significant that I initially missed. Look at the bar for 20-24-year-olds in Vancouver:
After 2008, a young adult in the City of Vancouver/UBC with a driver’s licence was in the minority. A decade or so ago, could anyone have predicted that – anyone – and been taken seriously?
UPDATE: Here’s Jeff Nagel’s story in the Surrey Leader
New statistics show a strong trend of young people opting not to drive, particularly in parts of Metro Vancouver best served by transit.
Just over 55 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds in Metro Vancouver now have a driver’s licence, down from 70 per cent a decade ago, according to ICBC data compiled by planners at the regional district.
The proportion of licensed drivers among those age 25-29 fell from more than 75 per cent in 2004 to about two-thirds. There were also significant declines in other age groups from the late teens to the early 30s.
Transit expansion over the last decade, the U-Pass that gave unlimited transit use to post-secondary students and ICBC’s graduated licensing program are all potential explanations for the young residents shifting away from driving, according to Raymond Kan, the senior Metro planner who created a series of charts using ICBC and local demographic data.
“It’s hard to speculate what the silver bullet factor is,” he said.
SFU City Program director Gordon Price called it a profound change.
“People would have said ‘What are you smoking?’ if you’d predicted this 10 years ago,” Price said. “Getting a driver’s licence once was a rite of passage.”
He agreed the U-Pass has trained a new generation to use transit and noted the cost of buying, insuring and driving a car is considerable for youth.
Price also highlighted technology.
The stratospheric rise in both smart phone use and social media over the last decade has reduced the need for some vehicle trips among youth.
“The reason you get in a car when you’re 18 is so you can meet with other 18-year-olds,” Price said. “Social media is an effective substitute, at least in part.”
Price said the trend has major implications for decision-makers, adding he hopes provincial transportation planners take the data into account in projecting whether billions of dollars should be spent on more transit or on more road and bridge projects.
The decline in the younger age groups was measured in all parts of the Metro region, but it was most dramatic – with licensing declines of close to 20 per cent over 10 years among residents in their early 20s – in Richmond, where the Canada Line opened in 2009, as well as Burnaby and the North Shore.
Vancouverites in their early 20s who have driver’s licences are now actually in the minority at about 45 per cent, down from more than 60 per cent a decade ago, and those who have licences and those who don’t are evenly split in Burnaby/New Westminster.
Elsewhere the licensing rate in that group ranges from about 57 per cent on the North Shore to about 73 per cent in Langley.
Kan noted the rates actually ticked up in many parts of the region in 2013, so planners will be watching in the years ahead to see if the trend has ended or reversed.
Price said the question is whether all the younger non-drivers will continue to shun licences as they get older.
The data used by Metro counted drivers with class 5 licences as well as novice (N) drivers in the graduated licensing program, but not ones with learner’s (L).
Kan said the most surprising part of the data is that older women in their 60s, 70s and into their 80s are now much more likely to have a driver’s licence than a decade ago.
About two-thirds of Metro women in their early 70s now are licensed, compared to about 55 per cent in 2004.
It’s not clear whether that reflects older women who are no longer as dependent on men as in the past, general trends of women living longer and healthier lives or other factors.
In contrast, licensing rates among older men remained stable.
“It’s conjecture,” Kan said. “But folks may be more independent, maybe healthier and perhaps these are factors contributing to this pattern.