Is The Car Winning The Commuter War?

Another news story which tends to confirm Zweis observation that; “despite a now over $11 billion investment in rapid transit, congestion is getting worse.”

The article doesn’t touch on the real problem, which is the user-unfriendly SkyTrain light-metro system. It also continues the myth that the Canada line is successful, despite the fact its station platform’s are a mere 40 metre long, half the length of the Expo and Millennium/Evergreen line’s station platforms and can only operate two car, 41 metre long trains. The Canada Line has effectively half the capacity of the rest of the light-metro system.

Of course the Canada line trains are crowded, all Richmond and South Delta/Surrey buses are forced to transfer their customers onto the Canada line at Brighouse Station and transfers are deemed user-unfriendly.

Also no mention of the huge debt servicing; operation and maintenance costs of the light-metro lines which today is over $300 million annually!

The Canada Line is a classic transit white elephant.

But he feels like he doesnai??i??t have a choice. First, TransLink eliminated the B-line bus along Granville when the Canada Line opened and transformed his 10-minute commute to Richmond into a 40-minute, two-transfer one.

TransLink doesn’t have a income problem, rather it has a spending problem, spending huge sums of money on very expensive vanity projects.

Mobility pricing, the great philosopher’s stone for regional transit is also showcased, but for mobility pricing to work, the region must have a viable user friendly transit service. The metro Vancouver region doesn’t and mobility pricing will be the political demise of any politician advocating for it.

The key for better transit in Metro Vancouver is modern LRT and until regional planners and politicians show some maturity and begin to plan for a customer based transit system, spending money on transit will be a fool’s errand.

The only thing that will defeat the car as a commuting tool is a user friendly public transit system, which includes a large light rail network, servicing the needs of the commuting public.

I just do not see it happening.

Why the car is winning the commuter warai??i??and what can be done to stop it

Billions have been spent on new transit lines, better bike lanes and more walkable communitiesai??i??and yet we refuse to give up our wheels. And nowhere is that more true than in the suburbs of the Lower Mainland

Clayton Chmelik and his wife were poster children for the car-shunning millennial generation for most of their 20s. They lived in south Vancouverai??i??s Marpole neighbourhood and both took buses almost everywhereai??i??first to university, then to their practicums and jobs. They didnai??i??t own a car and didnai??i??t feel deprived.

Now 33, Chmelik, a health manager at a Richmond company, has two cars in his family. He commutes 40 minutes a day each way in his Mazda 3 from his townhouse in Surrey, while his wife has her own car, a Mazda 5, that sheai??i??ll be using to commute to her counselling job when her maternity leave for their second child ends later this year. He estimates it costs them at least $700 a month to run both vehicles, not counting the $10,000 apiece the cars cost to buy. He knows itai??i??s a lot. ai???If I had a choice, I wouldnai??i??t do

But he feels like he doesnai??i??t have a choice. First, TransLink eliminated the B-line bus along Granville when the Canada Line opened and transformed his 10-minute commute to Richmond into a 40-minute, two-transfer one. Then, when he and his wife decided to buy a home, a modest townhouse in South Surrey was all they could afford. That new location made transit even more unrealistic.

Chmelik is not an outlier. As the people born between 1980 and 2000 move intoAi??their household-forming, baby-having years, those who study how cities work are floating the idea that North America may have reached ai???peak American demographer Dowell Myers has generated a little dust storm of media coverage the last few months with that very idea, warning that the members of this groupai??i??renowned for their love of urban living, craft breweries and alternative modes of transportai??i??may undergo a significant shift in behaviour as they get older.

For the rest of the story, please click here


5 Responses to “Is The Car Winning The Commuter War?”
  1. Dondi says:

    Yes, cars continue to ‘win’ – the increases in riding transit, biking and walking are pathetic.

    But Zwei, your conclusion that “The article doesn’t touch on the real problem, which is the user-unfriendly SkyTrain light-metro system” is more than half wrong.

    Your logic is that the transit technology choice (and its cost) is the “real problem”, No, more than anything it is probably the size of the metro area that ‘determines’ transit commuter rates. In the 2011 census, Toronto and Montreal led, and the commuter rate of most other metros is similar to their population rank (Ottawa is an outlier because of its geography and employment base).

    By your logic Calgary and Edmonton have less user-friendly systems than Vancouver, since Calgary’s transit commuter rate was 15.9% and Edmonton’s 11.3% were well below Vancouver’s 19.75%,


    Vancouver municipality is more reliant on Skytrain than any other in the region except perhaps Burnaby, and while Vancouver’s population has grown considerably, the number of cars driving in and out of the city has actually declined – see Gordon Price’s data for the city available at

    A little more Rail For The Valley and less obsession with Skytrain, please!

    And enough of your half-wrong argument that the Canada Line is DOOMED by short stations! They can and probably in the near future will 1) increase the train frequency, when more cars are put into use, 2) add a third car, accessible from the train doors that fit within the current platforms, and eventually 3) extend the platforms – expensive to do but not an unreasonable strategy, just like buying a starter home.

    If the hopefully soon-to-be-released 2016 census data on commuter modal split shows that the transit share in Metro Vancouver has risen will you, in line with your logic, admit that Skytrain – however costly a mistake it may have been to commit to that direction 30 years ago, and certainly a inadequate challenge to the car – has not been the total disaster you rail against with such boringly predictable, recycled arguments?

    My own guess is that given the faster growth outside the City of Vancouver, any modal change for the metro area in favour of transit will be very modest, which has to count as an abject failure. But unlike you I will not blame this on Skytrain vs. LRT vs. monorail or any other amateur transit blog hobby horse. It is the billions that has been spent to build roads and bridges and subsidize cars at a rate far greater than transit. It is the trillions that would be lost to the fossil fuel corporations and their hangers-on that block the necessary re-organization of cities so that we can travel less and in more healthy fashion.

    Zwei replies: It is now completely apparent that you have not read much about transit, nor have talked to REAL experts about public transport.

    What they have all conveyed to me via conversation, emails and documents is: “Your transit problems start with SkyTrain…………”.

    And only 7 of these systems built in 40 years, certainly justifies the comment as the market place has rejected SkyTrain!

    Transit ridership is a con job because, TransLink like BC transit before have become adept in fudging ridership numbers and they can do so with impunity because there is no independent audit done on ridership as done in most countries in the world. TransLink can claim what they want to claim because no one is going to check.

    Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s BC Transit came out with their rosy, “ridership is up” media release and Zwei went back and calculated ridership, using BCT’s numbers. Using a rare admission of actual ridership from news story (I think it was 90,000 a day), I added the percentage of increased claimed by BCT and by compounding the ridership numbers over the 5 or 6 years, I came to an outrageous number for ridership. Please remember this was the day of 2 and 4 car trains! I gave the numbers to a citizens group who independently vetted the numbers and demanded answers from BCT. They never responded.

    I still see the same sort of crap at TransLink, with the Canada Line.

    Transit that is built for political reasons, must look good for political reasons.

    It has been found, to create modal shift, you must take away roadspace and at the same time build a user friendly transit system that moves people to where they want to go without transfer. LRT takes away roadspace and being much cheaper to build than its more expensive proprietary cousins like ALRT/ART, it can servcie those most important destinations and penetrate further into the suburbs.

    This is called the “push pull” theory of transit, where motorists are pushed onto the system, but the ambience and user friendliness of the system also pull ridership onto the transit system.

    Push pull is the transit theory that France is using for their cities, while TransLink still tries to fob off the redundant and obsolete “carrot and stick” transit theory, because it just doesn’t work.

    Elevated and underground transit systems do not do this and why they are poor in attracting ridership as roaspace remains the same.

  2. eric chris says:

    TransLink’s big scam to create “ridership” is to spend lots of money on express “b-line” routes (bus) and “air-line” routes (train) to recycle “existing users” (not new users) from regular routes (bus). Recycled users (forced transferees) are reported as added “ridership”. It’s the same as taking a $10 bill out of your left pocket and putting it in your right pocket, then declaring that you have $20.

    Have the “planners” at TransLink reported the modal shares (percentage of trips by drivers, public transit users and others) in Metro Vancouver since 2011? What is the modal share for drivers (percentage of trips by drivers) in 2016?

    Unless the modal share for drivers is dropping, TransLink is just wasting money to put on a show and spend big on b-lines and air-lines. Modal share for drivers is believed to be at an all-time astronomical high in Metro Vancouver showing a negligible drop in Vancouver and sharp increase in the rest of Metro Vancouver where families are fleeing to drive.

    Spin from the “planners” at TransLink about increases in ridership reflecting more transit use is as genuine as “Impact Wrestling”. Metro Vancouver is the stage where “Rosemary” TransLink advertises heavily in newspapers provided that the newspapers pass along advertorials presenting TransLink’s distorted reality of public transit use. It’s been all “Rosemary” TransLink here for too long. Wait, here comes “Sienna” LRT. Give Rosemary TransLink heck, Sienna LRT:

    “Rosemary jumps off the ropes with the missile drop kick. Sienna fights back and hammers Rosemary with the silencer. One, two … whoa, Rosemary kicks out of the silencer. Nobody kicks out the silencer but Rosemary just did. It’s Rosemary on top, no it’s Sienna on top, no Rosemary on top, no Sienna on top.” Eek, the suspense is almost too much to bear.

    Modal share for public transit users is rumoured to have fallen to a record low in 2016 after TransLink expanded express service worsening regular service. While other transit agencies in Canada keep track of the number of transit users (number of revenue paying passengers) to compare and measure performance (growth or decline in revenue passengers) from year to year, TransLink has decided that knowing the number of transit users or revenue passengers isn’t worth knowing:

    “Journeys for Scheduled Transit Service have replaced revenue passengers as the new ridership methodology; therefore, comparative planned figures are not available [for 2016].”

    Wow. In other words, according to the grapevine, actual transit use (corresponding to the number of revenue passengers) fell in 2016 and coupled with the large population growth and added drivers in 2016, the modal share for public transit users crashed in 2016. Hence, planners at TransLink stopped the reporting of revenue passengers related to the modal share for public transit users. Instead, they reported “ridership” which they can manipulate to inflate through more express service recycling “existing users” from regular service. To which we quote Monty Python from the search for the Holy Grail: “So you [planners at TransLink] think you can out clever us … you tiny brained wipers of @#$%$ … depart at this time and don’t be approaching any more … remain gone.”

  3. Dondi says:

    Zwei and Chris:

    The transit commuter rates quoted above are from the 2011 census carried out by Statistics Canada, using highly reputable survey methods in which individuals report how they commute to work in census returns.

    They are TOTALLY independent of Translink ridership data. So spare us that same, boring line of argument.

    Will you agree to accept the trend in modal split for 2016 when that census data is released, or will you dismiss any numbers inconvenient to your position?

    Zwei, I agree with you that to really change modal shift it is necessary to take away roadspace for cars and trucks but, of course, ensuring there is a convenient, low cost transit alternative for travel in place.

    That is why the vast sums spent in recent decades to INCREASE road space in the interests of the auto and fossil fuel and real estate industry in the Lower Mainland are the “real problem”, not Skytrain in particular.

    I am all for mostly-surface LRT (and BRT) now, and it should have been built out decades ago. And yes, we need more ‘European’ style transit planning rather than ‘American’ transit planning whose ambitions are more totally subordinated to the car makers and dealers, the gasoline companies and the real estate developers.

    But the additional cost to build Skytrain relative to the LRT-BRT alternatives pales in comparison to the overspending on roadspace relative to public transit. The facts show that in terms of transit ridership Skytrain/Canada Line is NOT the total DISASTER you proclaim, relative to metros who instead opted for LRT and BRT. And “facts are stubborn things.”

  4. Dondi says:

    The 2016 census data is now out (

    The main point is that a large majority of people continue to commute to work by car. The growth for transit, walking and biking is totally inadequate.

    But the secondary point of interest – for this blog – is that the Vancouver’ share of transit commuters increased far more than all other large metros in Canada between1996 and 2016. For the Vancouver CMA the increase was 42.6% compared to, for example Calgary’s 14.3% and Toronto’s 10.5%.

    Public transit commuting among the eight largest census metropolitan areas, 1996 and 2016, %
    2016 1996 % change
    Toronto 24.3 22 10.45
    Montréal 22.3 19.8 12.63
    Vancouver 20.4 14.3 42.66
    Ottawa–Gatineau 18.3 17 7.65
    Calgary 14.4 12.6 14.29
    Winnipeg 13.6 14.3 -4.90
    Edmonton 11.3 9 25.56
    Québec 11.1 9.2 20.65

    These numbers do not prove anything about Skytrain vs. other rail systems.

    But they are inconvenient to the “Skytrain is THE PROBLEM” argument. Will we hear cries of “FAKE NEWS”?

    Zwei replies: That is, are the statistics verifiable? The problem of census numbers is that they are less reliable as large ethnic minorities tend not to answer accurately.

  5. Dondi says:

    Mr Zwei,

    The commute to work data is from the census ‘long form’ that samples 25% of the population. That sample size is much larger than any other poll, making this data is the ‘gold standard’ for what is available on this particular topic. It is not “less reliable” than anything else that you can cite.

    If you want to read about the survey methodology, go to

    I also think you have ZERO evidence that “large ethnic minorities tend not to answer accurately”.

    What motive would they have to either over-report or under-report whether they mainly use transit to get to work?

    Would each of the “large ethnic minorities” misreport in the same direction? Would the direction of misreporting by “large ethnic minorities” be the same everywhere?

    Although there is no evidence for it or logical reason to believe it is the case, imagine that ethnic minorities in Vancouver over-state their transit use while ethnic minorities in Toronto under-state their transit use. Could that possibly account for such a large difference in the measured transit commuter growth rates for Vancouver and Toronto? I think it is obvious the difference between Vancouver and Toronto is real.

    Zwei, even if it is not exactly 42.6%, do you accept there has been significant growth in transit commuting to work in Vancouver over the past 10 years, or not?

    Please say yes so we can focus on how to dramatically increase that rate, including by getting the Rail for the Valley’s proposals up on the rails of public discussion.

    My own sense is that the Leewood study made a good case on the ‘supply’ side (technology and cost) but what is needed to gain more public traction is evidence on the demand side (how many people would use it and what they would pay). How can this evidence be generated?

    Zwei replies: Actually, there is no demand for SkyTrain as over 80% of its ridership is recycled bus riders. What was going to be a light rail network, connecting Surrey and Richmond to Vancouver, was built as a Vancouver to New Westminster mini-metro. Ever thus, bus riders have been faced to transfer to the mini-metro.

    This has grossly increased costs and deterred ridership and to masquerade that TransLink has issued 130,000 cheap fare (dollar a day) U-Pass to post secondary students. Added to this, there is a massive foreign student population in metro Vancouver who also take transit, which give the impression that it is successful.

    Our transit system is not. Congestion is endemic in the region and getting worse.

    I have been told that to see how effective public transit is, look at weekend service. If buses tend to operate empty (except for select routes) and the time table drastically curtailed, then the transit system is not successful.

    I like to again to remind you, only seven SkyTrain systems built in 40 years and no one has copied Vancouver.

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