British Columbia

Decade of data shows cars still dominate roads in Metro Vancouver

TransLink says people are taking more trips than ever by transit, but data of modal share overall reveals cars are still king of the roads.

'We don't have a choice other than to be bold,' says transportation expert on getting people out of cars

Cars are still the primary way that most people in Metro Vancouver get around, despite repeated messaging about the high numbers of people using transit. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)

People in Metro Vancouver are taking more trips than ever by public transit, but data from the past decade shows that cars are still king of the road throughout the region.

In 2017, the last full year of data available from regional transportation authority TransLink, a total of 71.9 per cent of trips throughout Metro Vancouver were taken by car drivers or passengers, compared to 74 per cent in 2008.

Meghan Winters, associate professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, is one of many transportation experts who say fewer trips should be taken by car to accommodate the region's growth in population.

"We don't have a choice other than to be bold," Winters said.

"We need to see these grandiose shifts toward walking, biking and transit because we simply don't have space to put more cars on the road."

Winters and other experts say less car transportation is also needed to help mitigate a climate crisis and achieve health benefits that come with active modes of transportation. 

The data

The data on modes of transportation comes from TransLink's trip diary data released in September. 

But first, a few caveats. TransLink says there are two main differences in the data between 2008 and 2017: the earlier surveys didn't include "other" as a category. Also, the rounding calculations were different.

Still, it's clear from the data that cars still dominate transportation throughout Metro Vancouver. 

TransLink emphasizes that more people than ever are using public transit. In the past 10 years, there has been a 44.6 per cent increase in system-wide boardings across the region. 

Making transit more convenient

Despite the lack of significant shift in transportation modes in the past decade, Winters and others say there's still plenty of reason to stay optimistic. 

Lawrence Frank, a transportation and health professor at the University of British Columbia, says major transit projects stalled mid-decade after a new Metro Vancouver transit tax was put to a referendum and voted down.

A referendum on a proposed transit tax halted large-scale transit projects mid-way through the decade, but experts say projects that were completed had a big impact. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But data from smaller geographical areas shows that investments that were made in transit and bike infrastructure did result in fewer cars on the road. 

"You make transit more competitive to driving as you invest in it," Frank said. "Where we've made it more convenient and easier and safer for people to use transit to walk and to bike, they do." 

Pockets of change

But Frank says looking at mode share, or the percentage breakdown between different types of transportation, is also revealing. 

He agrees that it's fair to celebrate successes overall ridership. But he says there's not enough discussion, or data, about the factors that negate those achievements — like ever-expanding sprawl. 

Transportation experts say there is a lot of latent demand for transit throughout Metro Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Surrey, for example, has made efforts to develop denser housing in transit-dependent areas, Frank says. But it has also increased housing in areas that are more car-dependent. 

Frank says the problem with averaging transportation data across a broad region like Metro Vancouver masks the places where investments in transit and cycling infrastructure have made a difference. 

For instance, let's compare the City of Vancouver to the Township of Langley:

Frank says it's better to drill down into even more specific areas to measure impact. A study he conducted measured the impact of the Comox Greenway in downtown Vancouver.

It found that after the greenway was built there was a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and people who lived around it were more likely to exercise for at least 20 minutes a day.

Both Frank and Winters agree on another potential source of optimism: throughout Metro Vancouver, there is strong latent demand for more transit. 

"Where there's hunger and appetite ... we need to be investing in ways that people can get around our community that don't depend on cars," Winters said.





Maryse Zeidler


Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at