Sightline has been making much news about how much better people in Vancouver are at using public transit than their neighbors to the south. The average Vancouver residents rides transit 126 times per year, compared to 62 times per year for Portland, and 42 for Seattle-Tacoma-Everett.

Sightline goes on to say that it’s all about density. That has an impact on how long trips take, because denser communities need fewer cars, and need to go less far to make trips. When comparing Vancouver to Portland (which, relative to Seattle, is well served by rail, street cars and buses), Vancouver still is more favorable in terms of average length of commute. This may be because density is so much less in Portland, it maybe because Skytrain is always grade-separated from cars.

But there’s a whole other story to this that is being missed: Gas in Vancouver is way more expensive than in Seattle. An imperial gallon is 25% more than an American gallon (160 oz vs. 128 oz), but that’s still well over $4.25 US for a gallon of gas. Also, Vancouver has no freeway through the center of the city. These two facts conspire against driving a car into or even around town.

Finally, something is simply different about Canada than America. According to this wikipedia article about the upcoming Canada line, the original idea was brought up in 1995, the final approval was given in 2004, and it will be ready for operation in 2009. The entire line is grade-separated which means it will never compete in traffic with cars, and is about 20 km long. The whole line was built for about $700 million (CAD) in private funds and about $1.515 billion (CAD) in private funds for a total of $2.215 billion (CAD). That’s a little more than $2 billion US. By contrast, the Link rail from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle is 25.3 km long, only 5.3 km longer, has major portions at-grade (most of the part through South Seattle), and will have cost $5.3 billion USD by the its completion.

Things are just different in Canada.

4 Replies to “Why Public Transportation is better in Vancouver”

  1. I think some of the private funds in your last paragraph were meant to be public funds, but it’s hard to tell which ones.

  2. Vancouver has good transportation but it has it’s problems as well. Having collegues in that area complain all the time about the system as well. The grass may look greener, but I am not so sure. Yeah they have light rail, Seattle will in 09. They have commuter rail, we have the Sounder. They have a bus system, we have a bus system. I think that Seattle has one thing really going against itself and that is our geography is hilly. This is a big issue Vanc. BC, and Portland for that matter don’t have to really deal with so much. Portland too, after having read through their blogs has it’s problems as well. The peoples’ comments I read said that TriMet is heavily focused on light rail. I found something really odd about Portland, they don’t have express buses or have gotten rid of some in place of MAX. That isn’t the answer. Multimodal is very important! We have commuter rail that is going to be expanding its service soon that will be interesting to see as well. I just don’t think that Seattle is as bad as everyone thinks, certainly there is a lot to improve, but that will happen.

  3. As someone who lives in Vancouver I think your article is very accurate. The private funds include aprox. $300 million from the airport authority to build the line to Vancouver International Airport. There is a surcharge on the fare from the airport station to pay that off. The fare will be $6.75 CDN from the airport to downtown.

    As far a freeways go, they were fought in the late 60’s and early 70’s so there is no freeway link to downtown. Having experienced rush hour in Seattle LA and other cities, I prefer having a grid of city streets to take at rush hour rather than sitting in a parking lot.

    Taxation and gas is more expensive in Canada but I think we get more services for that.

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