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.