Quick Note: Vancouver’s Transit Revival

I’ve been looking for Canadian mode share numbers that are more recent than 2006; although there was a census in 2011, it apparently did not include such numbers. However, a separate survey regarding commuting was published a year ago, using data from 2010. Mode shares are only included in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, and those are listed separately for the city and the suburbs rather than for the whole metro area, but we can take a weighted average of population; it’s not perfect because the employment rate in the suburbs may be different from in the city, but it’s very close.

The result: Toronto’s transit mode share in 2010 was 22%, Montreal’s was 24%, and Vancouver’s was 21%. The Toronto number is the same as the numbers in 1996, 2001, and 2006. The Montreal number is a bit higher than past-decade numbers. And the Vancouver number compares with 14.3% in 1996 and 16.5% in 2006 (it was 11.5% in 2001, but there was a bus strike when the census was conducted).

Put another way, Vancouver gained 4.5 percentage points of transit mode share between 2006 and 2010. Judging by the opening of the Canada Line and its relatively high ridership, this is indeed plausible and doesn’t have to be a statistical artifact, though I’ll still want to see numbers a few years from now to confirm the new trend. If the trend holds, it’s over 11 percentage points per decade, enough to make Vancouver the metro area with the largest transit mode share by about 2019. It’s a similar rate of increase to what I included in my April Fool’s post for the US at large, intended to be at or beyond the outer limit of what is plausible if everything is done perfectly. Previously, I’d thought 3-5 points per decade were the best possible in Canada and Australia.

This means Translink has made major success with revival, as opposed to merely retaining old mode share by getting people who previously couldn’t afford a car to stick with transit even as they enter the middle class. If instead it is just an artifact of the Canada Line’s opening, then it suggests Vancouver will continue to do well in the next ten years, as the Evergreen Line and hopefully the UBC extension open. The Millennium Line opened in 2002 and so figures into the 1996-2006 increase, but its ridership is 80,000 a day, versus 110,000 on the Canada Line and an estimated 146,000 on the UBC extension and 70,000 on the Evergreen Line.


  1. Zmapper

    What is especially intriguing about Canada is that they have high transit mode shares yet very minimal federal funding for transportation.

    • Alon Levy

      Canada just has a weaker federal government. Transportation is almost entirely a provincial matter; even the road numbering systems don’t match, let alone transportation funding. This actually helped – when Calgary decided to build light rail in lieu of freeways it wasn’t forgoing federal funding, and if it was, chances are it would have built a much smaller system.

      • Alan Robinson

        It’s not a weaker federal government, just one with a different division of powers than in the US. In Canada, intra-provincial transportation is one of the few sole responsibilities of the provinces and there is little will within the federal government to pay for someone else’s problem.
        Translink deserves a lot of praise for how well they manage transportation in Metro Vancouver. We also shouldn’t forget many other policies and players outside of Translink that have boosted ridership: the U-Pass, municipal investment in bus shelters and street space, growth planning by the cities and the regional district, etc…

      • Tom West

        Compared with the USA I would say Canada gas a stronger federal government (all criminal law, powers over everything not explicitly devolved to the provinces), but it is more willing to let provinces do things. The US federal government gets far more involved in intra-state projects of all kinds than the Canadian feds.

    • Nathanael

      The provincial governments are very large and powerful compared to US state governments. For instance, no stupid balanced-budget amendments in THEIR constitutions.

      • Andre Lot

        No, they are not. Just check the percentage of tax revenue they are directly responsible for.

        Balanced budget amendments has nothing to do with how powerful a sub-national government necessarily is. It pertains to another discussion of government fiscal policy. In any country with reasonable relevance on global markets, there is always some sort of implicit guarantee the national government (the one who can print money and issue sovereign debt, regardless of how it is called) will somehow bail-out sub-national government debts if they are facing severe default, for the mere reason the more powerful these sub-national entities are, the more likely serious social and political consequences would follow in case that didn’t happen.

  2. Nathanael

    I expect Toronto’s mode-share might have increased if, you know, it had built ANY of the downtown rail improvements which have been proposed for the past THIRTY YEARS. But it didn’t.

    Much credit to Translink for functioning well.

  3. rico

    Just a quick note on Evergreen ridership. The 70,000 is polititians playing with the numbers. When it is completed it will run partially on the current Millenium line and the 70,000 includes ridership from these existing stations (the Millenium line will still exist, they will just be interlined). I think ridership on the new portion is suppost to be about 28,000.

    • Alon Levy

      Is that 28,000 boardings at the new stations, or 28,000 boardings plus alightings? Because someone boarding at Commercial and alighting at Port Moody should still count as an Evergreen Line trip.

      It would be weird if they included non-interlined trips. The same people are projecting 146,000 UBC extension riders, which is a reasonable estimate for new-station trips (total bus ridership on Broadway and 4th is 100,000, give or take depending on what you count, and the train would be faster). Or are the politicians angling for suburban extensions and sandbagging urban extensions?

  4. rico

    I understand the 28,000 to be boardings between Coquitlam and Lougheed. The 70,000 would include boardings on Evergreen line trains all the way to VCC….but note with the introduction of the Evergreen line frequency on the Millenium line will decrease (not a big deal because for everything but Columbia to Lougheed combined frequency will be greater) so a lot of those 70,000 boardings are from the Millenium line.
    I don’t want to slag the Evergreen line because I want it to get built but a Broadway line will have a much better business case.

  5. Pingback: Enterprising Transport: TransLink in Vancouver | The Transportationist.org

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