Everyone relies on transit, and it’s only going to get worse

The Mayors’ Council has released its transportation investment plan for the region, which will be put to a referendum sometime, most likely, before April 2015. What’s in the plan? Light rail for Surrey, an extension of the Millenium SkyTrain Line, expansion of bus service by 25%, more SeaBus and HandyDART hours, more bikeways, and replacement for the Patullo Bridge (and more). The plan will put realistic public transit service (read: reliable and frequent) within arm’s reach of 70% of Metro Vancouverites. It’s a broad plan with something for most of the region.

However, there’s a popular notion out there that transit is only a marginal part of the transportation system and that only bus riders benefit from it. That’s not accurate.

Transit makes up a huge proportion of trips made in Metro Vancouver and is a big part of its DNA. For the region as a whole, there are about 3.4 million trips made by car drivers and 850,000 trips made by transit users each weekday (TransLink’s Regional Trip Diary, p.13). Transit makes up about one in four trips made in Metro Vancouver during the week, when people travel the most. That’s a lot of people and economic activity moving around: employers and employees getting to the workplace as well as tourists, shoppers, students, and people seeking leisure.

Whether or not you use transit, like everyone else in the increasingly interconnected region, you rely on it. Major streets, especially South of the Fraser, have to cope with congestion and traffic and would be in a sore spot without the road relief that transit provides. A standard TransLink non-articulated bus carries around 80 passengers and, even at 50% capacity, you could argue that the alternative for those transit riders is a few dozen more cars on the road.

Congestion costs drivers hundreds of hours of time and the economy millions of dollars per year. It generates air pollution, stops people from doing their jobs, and, in general, perpetuates unhappiness.

Given the region’s rapid population and economic growth, Metro Vancouver is going to need more more and better public transit.

In 20 years, while the City of Vancouver adds 100,000 new people, the City of Surrey will increase its population by 50% to 750,000 people. By 2041, Langley, Coquitlam, and Maple Ridge will have doubled in population and the region as a whole will have gained an additional million people.

Without additional investment into the transportation network, services will decline and transportation options will decrease. A growing population and increasing economic activity will only create more competition for scarce road space and burden some of the region’s already jam-packed transit routes. Take a look at TransLink’s Base Plan for 2014: over the next decade, transit service hours are forecast to remain at around 7,000,000 per year. That means that bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and other service will be the same in 2023 as they are in 2013; that’s the same level of transit service for more people.

Are you prepared to add additional time to your commute—whether by bus, car, or other means—or pay more for goods and services? Congestion isn’t just annoying and wasteful, it also acts like a hidden tax on the economy.

Transit options in the City of Vancouver are great, but demand at peak hours means that overfilled buses often pass by potential riders at places like Broadway, the busiest bus corridor in North America. In other parts of the region, transit options are average to poor: Surrey has half a million people and only four rapid transit stops.

In order to provide people with more transportation options, and a realistic alternative to taking their cars, transit service has to improve and grow. Especially for the suburbs, that are already building and planning for transit services yet-to-be.

Transit service has to at least keep pace with population growth or Metro Vancouver is going to face a major transportation gap and further congestion. Even better, a transformative leap ahead, with major capital projects like the Surrey LRT and Broadway Subway, might allow transit to get ahead of the curve and really start to alleviate pressure on the roads.

(Feature photo courtesy of viriyincy/flickr)