Tag Archives: public transit

Transit Referendum – Vote YES

Chennai metro under construction
I might be half way around the world, but I’m still following the transit referendum in Vancouver. Being in India, I have a unique perspective of how important good public transit is. Many of the big Indian cities we’ve been to are choking with air pollution and traffic congestion.

Over the past few decades, Indian cities have seen spikes in population and car ownership without any new public transit projects. Now, they trying to play catch up and are investing heavily in rapid transit. It seems that every major city we’ve been to has a metro system under construction – Chennai, Kochi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Jaipur, Agra, and Varanasi. In fact the Indian government is funding metro construction in any city of more than 2 million people.

Sadly, our current Canadian government ignores urban issues and the BC is no fan of transit. Neither recognize the importance to the economy. The BC Liberals have no problem spending billions on highway expansions and new bridges but won’t finance new transit projects. The best they’ve agreed to is a referendum on a new 0.5% sales tax in Metro Vancouver with the money raised going to fund transit and other congestion reducing projects (including bike lanes and a new Pautullo Bridge). It’s ridiculous that public transit has to beg for money via a referendum, but it is the best chance Vancouver has to get new infrastructure in the next decade.

So, I’m encouraging all my friends in Vancouver to vote YES. I’m happy that the mail-in ballots aren’t due until the end of May so I’ll have time to vote when I get back.
image

Details on the referendum.

Data Nerd – Mapping Cycling Mode Share in Vancouver

VancouverCyclingLevelsWithBikeRoutes
It’s raining outside. Must be Bike to Work Week. Thousands of riders are commuting by bike this week and logging their trips online, but just how popular is cycling in Vancouver?

I’ve heard some people claim that only 1.7% of people in Vancouver bike, while criticizing the investments in new bike lanes the city has made. That’s bullshit.

The number comes from Statistics Canada, but is often misunderstood and misused. The 2011 long form census (now optional and called the National Household Survey) has the following question:
How did this person usually get to work? (Their emphasis, not mine)

  • Car, truck or van – as a driver
  • Car, truck or van – as a passenger
  • Public transit
  • Walked to work
  • Bicycle
  • Other method

Across all of Metro Vancouver (including the burbs), 1.7% usually commute by bike. In the City of Vancouver it’s 4.3%. The neighbourhoods around downtown have cycling mode shares of 15%, but in southeast Vancouver there are many areas where no one bikes, or so the stats seem to indicate (full searchable results). It’s important to consider what the statistics represent.

The question asks what the usual means of commuting is. Think of all the recreational riders, weekend warriors, and fair-weather cyclists (cycling volumes often double in the summer vs the winter). It’s unlikely casual cyclists would identify the bicycle as their usual means of commuting to work. Unfortunately, the NHS doesn’t ask people what means of transportation they sometimes use, and there aren’t any other comprehensive data sets available. The NHS survey results might under-represent cycling but it does indicate a minimum level that cycling has reached (it’s safe to say at least 4.3% of Vancouverites commute by bike) and it offers a good opportunity to create maps and see trends over time.

Here’s are the Vancouver maps of commuting patterns in 2011 for cycling, walking, and public transit. The Vancouver Sun created similar maps a few years ago with 2006 census data. In 2006, the highest mode share for cycling was 12% in South Cambie. In 2011, Grandview-Woodland had 15% bike commuters, Strathcona had 14%, Mount Pleasant had 13%, and Kitsilano, South Cambie, and Riley Park had 12%. For the walking and public transit, the darkest areas represent mode shares of close to 50% (for walking in the West End and transit in Marpole and Renfrew-Collingwood).
VancouverCyclingLevels VancouverWalkingevels VancouverTransitLevels

If you want to play with interactive maps, you can open these files in Google Earth:
biking.kml
walking.kml
transit.kml
I generated these maps using KML files from techearth.net as a base. I would be easy to generate heat maps for all of Metro Vancouver, but I couldn’t find a kml file with census tract boundaries for more than the Vancouver proper.

Data Nerd: Transportation Expenses Updated

My 2012 post analyzing my transportation expenses is making the rounds on twitter again, so I thought I’d update the charts.
Transportation Expenses by Year Chart

Although the cost of driving in Canada has steadily risen, my transportation costs are flat. I spend $1200 a year split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie

The NDP and Affordability


I like Tom Mulcair. I think he’d make an excellent Prime Minister. He’s got the smarts and experience to undo the damage that Harper has caused over the past 10 years. And if the alternative is Justin Trudeau, there’s no question who I’d rather have in power.

But I just can’t get behind the recent push to make life more affordable for Canadians. I’m sure everyone wants more spending money, but making gas cheaper and giving wider access to low-interest credit cards are horrible ideas. The NDP has been one of the strongest voices in Ottawa advocating for better public transit. Why isn’t that part of an affordability solution? The easiest way to save money on gas is not to drive.

I love the NDP’s focus on sustainable development, generational inequality, and abolishing the Senate. But the ideas for making life more affordable stink.

End of Blacktop Politics – Peak Car Use in Vancouver


For the past 40 years, the car has been king and BC politicians have been promising shiny, new (and expensive) highways, bridges, and expressways to get elected. It’s been known as ‘blacktop politics‘, and although it never delivered on its promise of congestion-free commuting, it has never been a losing strategy for politicians.

But that’s beginning to change. There are two transportation visions being floated for the Lower Mainland. Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberal government think expanded highways are the future. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and city council think expanded public transit, encouraging people to walk and cycle, and discouraging car use is a better plan.

It’s a big shift, but there are reasons to think the era of the car is coming to an end. Car use has peaked in many western countries, driven by high gas prices and young people who would rather spend their commute on a bus with their cellphone then behind the wheel of a car in traffic. In Downtown Vancouver, current traffic volumes are the same as they were in 1965!

The Sightline Institute has been documenting peak car use in the Pacific Northwest with a series of posts entitled Dude, Where Are My Cars? The most recent post shows that traffic on the Port Mann Bridge peaked in 2005, and yet the Liberals spent $3.3 billion building the widest bridge in the world (10 lanes, 65 meters) to replace it. Now, Premier Christy Clark is promising to expand the Massey Tunnel, which saw volumes peak in 2004. (Data from Ministry of Transportation – missing two years from 2000-2001).

Vancouver (and the region) has a growing population, and people are still commuting and traveling, they’re just using public transit and cycling instead of a car. Transit use is at an all-time high, and there’s a huge latent demand for new rapid transit projects. The Canada Line is years ahead of its ridership projections, averaging 110,000 passengers a day. Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver, and 4.1% of all trips are now done on a bike (1.9% in Greater Vancouver).

Politicians need to realize that our transportation future is not in wider bridges or bigger tunnels, but in more trains and bike lanes. There is a world-wide shift occurring away from the car. In Italy, last year more bikes were sold than cars for the first time since World War 2. In Australia, vehicle use is at the same level as 1992 and people are questioning the governments spending on highways. It’s time we start building for the future.

Living Car-Free Saves Me $7000 per Year

Modo Car with a Bike Rack
When I moved to Vancouver six years ago, I made two crucial decisions that have saved me thousands of dollars – I bought a bike and joined the car co-op.

Being a data nerd, I’ve kept detailed records of all my spending for the past decade (first in a spreadsheet, then in Quicken, and now in mint.com). I went back through my records to see how much I’ve spent on transportation since moving to Vancouver. In six years, I’ve spent nearly nearly $8000 getting around by bike, public transit, taxi, car sharing, and car rentals. That’s less than what most people spend on their car in 1 year.

Note: Updated charts with 2013 data are available here

According to CAA, the annual cost of owning a car (driven for 12,000 km per year) ranges from $7,723.72 for a Civic to $10,465.12 for an Equinox. When you don’t drive much, 80% of the cost of car ownership is fixed costs (insurance, license and registration, loan payments, and depreciation). Only 20% is proportional to the distance driven (gas and maintenance). CAA doesn’t include the cost of parking, which can be quite expensive in Vancouver. In my building, it costs $100/month for a parking spot.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie
My expenses have averaged $1257 per year since I moved to Vancouver, almost equally split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit (including taxis).

Transportation Expenses by Year Chart
Cycling is my main form of transportation, and most years it costs less than $200 to service my bike (new parts and maintenance). I purchased a bike in 2006 and 2009, spending an extra $500 (my commuter bike isn’t that expensive).

Bike LineupNormally, I don’t use the bus that often (it’s faster to bike), but in 2008 and 2009 I was working in West Vancouver and commuted a lot by bus (2 zones), which explains the higher public transit costs those years. Otherwise, I spend less than $200 per year on bus tickets and cab rides.

Living in Vancouver, the times I need a vehicle are rare. When I’m buying furniture or playing in the North Shore mountains, I often use a car sharing vehicle from Modo. In the past year, I’ve started using car2go for short trips when public transit and biking are inconvenient. For traveling around BC, I often rent a vehicle from Enterprise. car2go VancouverThe cost of each car trip is high (a car rental for a long weekend is between $100-$200, plus gas), but I only rent a car once or twice a year. My car sharing trips with Modo average $30 (including gas). Even though I only drive a few times a year, the cost of renting a vehicles and using car sharing accounts for more than 50% of my “car-free” transportation budget. But I appreciate the flexibility I have to get a car when I need one, and it is still way cheaper than owning a dedicated vehicle.

Now, it can be argued that living close to downtown Vancouver, where a car-free lifestyle is easy, is costing me more for rent. Which is true, but it’s an easy tradeoff to make for a healthy lifestyle. I’m willing to spend my transportation savings on more expensive rent so that I can replace hours stuck in my car with minutes on a bike and pleasant walks to the grocery store any day.

Hong Kong – A Traveller’s Gateway to Asia

View from the Peak
Hong Kong was the perfect place to start are first trip to Asia. It gave us an introduction to the crowds, smells, and food we would encounter in Vietnam, but in a controlled, overly sanitized, and easily navigated environment. Hong Kong is a great mix of traditional and modern – shiny new bank buildings are nestled next to open-air fish markets and ancient Buddhist temples.

Hong Kong at Night Pedestrian Crowds
The biggest culture shock visiting Hong Kong was getting used to the crazy amounts of people jammed into such small spaces. There are highrises everywhere, with tiny apartments in them (we actually stayed in a someone’s spare bedroom, booked on airbnb.com). The markets and shops were almost claustrophobic. And yet, even with 7 million people in such a small area, there were some remarkably tranquil parks and hardly any car traffic.

Airport Express Station Star Ferry View from the Cable Car Hong Kong Streetcars
The transportation system in Hong Kong is amazing. Simply amazing! It’s super cheap, the Octopus smart cards take care of everything, and there’s a plethora of multimodal options – subways, buses, light rail, taxis, ferries, trams, cable cars, and even the a travellator.

I was really impressed with the subway system. At the transfer points, the train you wanted to transfer to was always directly across the platform. Normally, that would be the same train heading in the opposite direction, but they had designed the system so you only had to walk 10 meters to transfer lines. And at the downtown Hong Kong, they have an airport check-in in the subway station, where you can leave your bags in the morning, spend the day exploring the city, and then board a train in the evening that drops you right off in the airport terminal and your bags are already loaded on the plane.

Veggie Hotpot Aztec SaladShanghai Noodles Bun Bakery
The food was excellent. They have lots of vegetarian restaurants (some Western style and several Buddhist ones). Our favourite meals were the Shanghai noodles at Kung Tak Lam, veggie hot-pot at Pure Veggie House, and burgers and salad at Life Cafe.
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