Transit use is highest among lower income households

The University of British Columbia and health authority partners recently published a snapshot of transportation habits in Metro Vancouver based on an online survey of more than 28,000 people.

Transit mode shareAmong respondents, 29 per cent said they commute by public transit, compared with 55 per cent who travel in personal vehicles. A high-level map suggests that transit use is above average in tower-dominated Skytrain nodes and in many urban villages, even remote spots like downtown Langley and  downtown Maple Ridge.

Demographically, transit users are likely to be lower income, or recent immigrants, or people from visible minorities, and often all three. There’s a sharp drop-off in transit use even in households that have risen above the $40,000 per year level.

Transit use

These findings resemble survey results from other North American jurisdictions. The American Public Transportation Association, for example, found that fewer than half the transit users it surveyed in the U.S. owned a private motor vehicle. The issue of transit use and income was considered in a February 25, 2014 post on

Step onto a bus in any American city and you’ll find riders who are poorer and more likely to be minorities than those traveling by car. It’s a socioeconomic gap that’s persisted across most of the nation’s cities for decades.

Some transit operators have responded in recent years by trying to broaden their base, shifting their marketing and service priorities to middle-class populations. The countervailing strategy — the businesslike strategy — is to keep service focused on  people who’ve shown they will use transit, and who choose to live in places that can be easily served.

Michael Terry, president and CEO of Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp., said attracting such riders will require extending service to revitalized neighborhoods, greater frequency of service and longer operating hours. “We’re not trying to be a social service safety net,” he said. “We’re trying to develop a system that supports economic development focusing on the areas of density.”…

UCLA’s [Professor Brian] Taylor points out it’s generally more cost-effective to improve existing bus service than establish new transit lines to potentially reach another cohort of commuters. “We need to focus more on how to get bang for the buck and not necessarily on the next ribbon cutting,” he said.

Public transit provides widespread benefits for workers and employers, and for students and trainees, and so helps to drive the labour market and the economy. It also brings seniors closer to services and activities, and delivers customers to merchants in transit-friendly commercial zones.

In Metro Vancouver, unfortunately, we can’t find a consensus on how to distribute these benefits, and we may be headed for the worst of scenarios. There is resistance in this region to any formula that would lead to increased transit funding, on the presumption that efficiency gains should allow the system to keep pace with demand; but there’s also an expectation, sometimes from the same people, that the system should serve every neighbourhood. To meet this second expectation, buses are sent to run empty through the most affluent, dispersed, and transit-indifferent communities. One likely outcome is that as financial resources are squeezed, we will have less and less service for the people who actually need it.

Lonsdale bus cropped


One response

  1. Pingback: The Daily Durning: High Transit Use and Low Income | Price Tags

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