This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Last week Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry highlighted the fact that Vancouver tops Seattle and Portland in transit use. The Vancouver-area papers have run with the story:
Vancouver is more constrained by geography, so like it or not, there’s less space to sprawl and more likelihood residents will be close to transit.
By year-end, 36 per cent of [Greater Vancouver] residents will live within 450 metres of a “frequent transit” line—what TransLink defines as minimum 15 minute service 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
Williams-Derry also concedes higher gas taxes north of the border may have helped give transit an edge over private car use over the long term.
But ultimately, he argues, Vancouver’s success stems from better land-use decisions rather than the design of its transit system.
That second point about “frequent transit” is key. People need confidence that they can “throw away their schedules,” which was one of Ron Sims’ key selling points for Transit Now. People like certainty, which is one reason why rail appeals to us: you see the tracks here, it’s pretty clear that there’s a train going to come sooner or later. Bus stops don’t inspire the same confidence. Hopefully Metro’s RapidRide will incorporate some rail-station-like features that give us the sense that there’s a BRT bus on the way.
For example, I was spending a weekend in Northwest Portland about a year ago, and I wanted to spend the day downtown. I headed right for the streetcar stop. There was a digital readout saying that, since it was a weekend, the next car was coming in, say 20 minutes. I watched a few buses pass me, and thought I probably could have gotten on any one of them and gotten downtown. But there was an uncertainty that I, unfamiliar with Portland, wouldn’t get where I wanted to go. So I waited for the streetcar. And sure enough, it came just when the sign said it would. That’s how transit should work: we can deal with the waiting, just not the uncertainty.