The business case for transit in Metro Vancouver

[avatar user=”Keane Gruending” size=”medium” align=”left” /]In a port city like Metro Vancouver, transportation is a crucial part of the region’s DNA. However, while it may not be obvious, all businesses in Metro Vancouver, large and, rely on a well-functioning transportation system to support their activities and generate profit. A good transportation system is efficient, from the perspectives of both time and cost, and moves people and goods in a way that reduces labour, energy, and other expenses.

When we first picture large cities like Metro Vancouver we may think of various pieces of the transportation system – packed subways, lineups of taxis, and commercial trucks rumbling about – working independently and serving other people. However, a well-functioning transportation system is more than just the sum of individual pieces; it’s an efficient and integrated network where each transport mode can work to its strength, together. For example, while some modes excel at shipping goods economically, other modes are well suited for moving people over short distances. The system is also interdependent, for without investments into our road network, buses would not move, nor would bridges and roads be passable without the congestion relief that bikes and buses provide.


While autos using the road network will always play a major role in Metro Vancouver’s economy and transportation network, the additional one million people in the region by 2041 will require a major modal shift for our transportation network to function. At the heart of this transportation shift is an adequately funded public transportation system that will serve the entire region and foster a great environment for business.

But how can public transportation create a friendly economic climate for business? When many people think of transit they probably conjure up images of buses, SeaBuses, or SkyTrains, modes of transit that “other people” use. They probably think of the one in seven of their friends or colleagues who rely on transit to move around (public transportation makes up makes up 14% of Metro Vancouver’s mode share). Businesses rely heavily on transit a number of reasons, not the least of which is illustrated by asking the following question: on a daily basis in Metro Vancouver there are 3.3 million trips made by single-occupant autos and 900,000 trips made by transit, can you imagine what would happen to the already congested roads if every one of those transit trips were made by car? Businesses require an efficient transportation system, backed by great transit, for a number of good profit-maximizing reasons.

First of all, other than a few organizations whose staff can work from home, people need to get from their homes to the office (or plant or studio) on a daily basis. Furthermore, people are increasingly making decisions about where they want to live and work based on proximity to transit. For example, Coast Capital Savings is moving 700 employees and its headquarters to a new 180,000 square foot facility in Surrey due, in part, to its closeness to King George SkyTrain. New research has shown that it isn’t low tax rates that attract the best and brightest entrepreneurs, it’s cities with high livability and access to good transportation. All businesses are people-powered.

Secondly, whether its services or goods, businesses rely on the transportation network to supply inputs and move products to markets and customers. Think of a brewery bringing in supplies, a cabinet maker driving across the Pattullo Bridge to make a stop in New Westminster, or a cement plant shipping concrete to Washington. An efficient transportation system is critical in each of these cases. Conversely, transportation, and public transit in particular, is necessary to bring customers to market. Nearly half of Metrotown and Oakridge Mall customers use buses and SkyTrains to get to these shopping centres. Given that cars take up over 10 times as much road space per passenger-kilometre as public transportation, the space saving design of these transit-orientated developments can translate into big benefits: more customer visits per retail space.

Lastly, an affluent customer base with high disposable income is great for sales and the bottom line. Research has shown that households with access to multiple modes of transportation spend approximately 64% less on transportation than car-dependent households. Furthermore, Metro Vancouver is one of the most congested cities in North America and the costs associated with gridlock, up to $1.5 billion per year, are destined to show up on the grocery and other bills. A well-functioning transportation system is efficient and integrated: it allows households to switch away from single-occupant car trips, comparable to a big raise or a tax cut, and reduces congestion, making us all better off. Can you imagine what richer customers would do for your sales?

Whether it’s bringing in the best staff, shipping in those widgets, or pushing products to that (hot) new market, a well-functioning transportation system is crucial for making a great business climate.

(Feature photo courtesy of dennissylvesterhurd/Flickr)