Friday, August 14, 2009

How to get choice users to ride transit

When I say choice users, I mean people that have the option of driving a car or taking transit. I’ve been taking the West Coast Express back from work and I’ve overheard some interesting conversations about transit in the region, and why people choice to take it (or not.)

When people make a decision about driving a car, they factor in speed and cost. In urban centres transit can beat out driving because the road network is fully utilized. Also in the South Fraser, where there is no rapid transit, express bus service, and limited regular service, driving will almost always be faster than transit.

Taking transit is almost always cheaper than driving a vehicle, but that’s not how people perceiving it. People do not factor in insurance, maintenance, and many of the other hidden costs of a vehicle; only gas, tolls, and parking costs are factored. In the South Fraser, the cost of travel therefore becomes a tossup between auto and transit. Give the fast that transit is slower and perceived as having no cost benefit, it’s no surprise that transit usage is rock bottom in the sub-region.

How can we fix this imbalance? I have to give credit to our local municipal politicians for seeing the light (so to speak) on transit in our region. I think this article from the North Shore News sums it up pretty nice:
All three North Shore mayors agree that TransLink will eventually have to start tolling the region's transportation routes, including the North Shore's major bridges.

"Part of our challenge is (dealing with things like) the Evergreen Line. The SkyTrain is a very expensive way to move people; it's very capital-intensive. The interest rates we pay on previous capital projects like the Canada Line are part of how we got here."
On the local level, people seems to agree that transit service needs to be improved and it seem like road pricing is on the table as a funding source. With improved transit service and a perceived increase in the cost of driving a vehicle, I believe that we can improve people and goods movement in the region. It is the province that will determine if we have a balanced transportation system, or if we will travel back to transportation planning in the 1960’s.

1 comment:

bregalad said...

It's no surprise that insurance, maintenance and the like aren't factored into commuting. Outside a few select neighbourhoods near the urban core, everyone needs a car just to get their regular errands done. I live near the geographic centre of the City of Vancouver and even I have to go more than 3km to get groceries. Regardless of the shop chosen it's a diagonal trip necessitating the use of at least two different buses. Driving makes infinitely more sense, especially when you're buying for a family. I can't imagine hauling a half dozen bags and 8L of milk on multiple buses.

Once you consider car ownership a necessity, then the actual cost of using that vehicle to commute is merely the marginal cost of a higher insurance rate class, higher maintenance and more fuel. I expect most commuters forget the added maintenance and some even forget the added insurance. Even at more than $1/L the cost of fuel can be as low as your West Coast Express fare making it look like commuting by car is the less expensive and more comfortable option.

Those who work downtown often have an additional deterrent to driving: cost of parking. I have parking available close to my office at just $9/day, but even that's double the price of my commute by bus and SkyTrain.