British Columbia

Why Metro Vancouver transit job action could hit commuters harder than the last strike

One in five commuters use transit to get to work. Urban planner Andy Yan talks about how a transit strike action could affect the city — by the numbers.

The last time Metro Vancouver had a transit strike, only 1 in 10 people used transit; now 1 in 5 do

Urban planner Andy Yan says transit use has grown so substantially since the last strike in 2001 that escalating job action will have a much greater impact. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Urban planner Andy Yan says the continued growth of transit within the Metro Vancouver region could mean escalating transit job action in the region will have a much larger impact across a broader swath of the population. 

The last time Metro Vancouver had a transit strike in 2001, only one in 10 people used public transit to get to work. Today, according to data from 2016, that number is closer to one in five. 

Yan, who is the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, says that change is reflective of 15 years of success and investment in a transit region that inspired many Metro Vancouverites to get out of their cars and start using transit to get to work. 

He says one of the most interesting demographic details about transit use is that everyone uses it — it's not limited to a single sector of the economy or a tiny group of industries.

Among those using transit are:

  • One in three hospitality workers.
  • One in four tech workers.
  • One in five health-care workers.

At the time of the 2001 strike, TransLink had about 230 million trips each year. In 2018, there were 436 million trips taken on bus, SeaBus, SkyTrain and the West Coast Express.

"You can kind of see that's a pretty diverse swath across the economy and in terms of the kind of daily life we have in the region," Yan said.

Yan said if the job action is as protracted as 2001's — which lasted 123 days — it could slow momentum down for Metro Vancouver's ambitious transit plans. 

TransLink's 10-year-plan includes an extension of the Millennium SkyTrain line, a Surrey-Newtown-Guilford LRT line and a Surrey-Langley LRT line. 

"One legacy of [the 2001] strike was that it really slowed down that transition of people not seeing transit as a dependable mode of getting to work," Yan said. 

Yan says the job action is a good opportunity to make sure future planning adequately addresses not just planning and building aspects but also maintenance and operations. 

He says it's a serious consideration for local governments concerned about sustainable regional growth.

With files from BC Today, Chad Pawson

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