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Don’t Be Mistaken: Vancouver Gets a Lot for Its Transit Dollar

11:09 AM EDT on March 30, 2015

Vancouver's transit system is subsidized at a relatively small rate of 20 cents per ride. Graph: Canadian Urban Transport Association via Human Transport
Vancouver's transit system is subsidized at a relatively small rate of 20 cents per ride. Graph: Canadian Urban Transport Association via Human Transport
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Vancouverites go to the polls in May to decide whether to raise sales taxes to fund a slate of transit improvements. But polls show the measure is headed for defeat.

Other arguments aside, Jarrett Walker at Human Transit says one supposed "con" -- that transit provider TransLink is incompetent and wasteful -- ought to be nipped in the bud. To the contrary, Walker says, Vancouver transit is a great deal.

The numbers confirm that Metro Vancouver is getting excellent value for its transit dollar. Todd Litman of Victoria Transport Policy Institute recently put these numbers together.

First, subsidy per passenger-kilometer (one passenger moving one km on transit). What do regional taxpayers pay to move the massive numbers of people they move every day? Less than 20 cents per ride, which is right on the Canadian average and far better than what's achieved in the US, Australia, or New Zealand.

One measure of this is passenger-kilometers per capita. How much personal transit does Vancouver provide?  How many people can travel, and how far, to access jobs and opportunities without contributing to traffic congestion?

Metro Vancouver's TransLink is a leader among similar sized regions, matched only by the older metro area of Montreal. (Toronto does better than TransLink if you look only at the city [TTC in this chart], but the fairer comparison is with the whole metro area [GTHA in this chart], as TransLink covers all of Metro Vancouver.)

Metro Vancouver has reached a level of transit reliance that is unprecedented for a young North American city. Only centuries-old northeastern cities come close. That reliance means that the region can add jobs and housing without adding traffic congestion. Todd's paper provides some other excellent analysis to put these benefits in perspective, and explains why the sales tax is vastly cheaper than not having a good transit system.

Walker says there are plenty of legitimate reasons a person could vote against the TransLink measure, “But if you're voting no because you think your transit agency is fundamentally wasteful, that's just not true.“

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Review STL discusses how bad planning practices might have contributed to the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri. The Transport Politic explains how Paris will have a universal transit pass good for an area the size of Connecticut. And PlanBike shares a video showing the new bike underpass planned near Facebook's Silicon Valley headquarters.

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