Bringing an Agustin comment to the foreground:

The absolute number of cars registered in the City of Vancouver is indeed growing. In absolute numbers, “peak car” has not yet arrived in Vancouver.

There’s an interesting pattern to the vehicle registrations added each year, though:




So how does one explain the pattern above – and the data which indicate a drop in traffic coming into the city and, even more, to downtown?


  1. Taken from here?

    Shows an increase every year except 2004 and basically flat lining 2011. What happened in 2004?

    Interesting to look at MV though, steady increase across the region year over year.

    Burnaby with relatively slow and steady increases, especially compared to Vancouver. Richmond declining since 2010 (hmmmm what else happened in 2010?). Surrey rocketing up, over 100,000 fewer than Vancouver in 1999 to only 30,000 fewer in 2013, an increase of almost 130,000 over that time.

    White Rock nearly identical 14 years later.

    Would be interesting to break out the commercial vehicles.

  2. The statistics are for all vehicles insured and includes passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, motorcycles, trailers, motor-homes and commercial trailers.
    The number of vehicles insured does not represent all commuters into Vancouver.

    The Canada Line opened Sept 2009 and it brings in 100,000+ commuters per day as well as the increase use of Skytrain and transit in general.
    Also I believe parking rates were increased in Vancouver which reduced the number of vehicles into the City of Vancouver.
    The new 33 transit line was introduced and parking rates were increased on the UBC campus and now the Broadway 99 buses are running at capacity.

    I bike across the Burrard bridge everyday and in addition to the great increase in people biking, I see a similar increase in pedestrians.
    People are moving into newly constructed apartments in downtown Vancouver and a great number of the new residents will walk/bike to work even if they have a car.
    So people make their personal commuting choice on many different factors. The trick is to have reliable, economic and practical alternatives. That is why it is important that we as a society promote the alternates to personal cars.

  3. Hello Gordon here is a graph I made using the same Metro Van data and combining it with census population growth data. It shows that the rate of vehicle registration in Metro Vancouver is slowing down. The Metro Vancouver numbers are not the greatest since they include commercial vehicles which is hard to gauge the impact of the new Canada line on personal vehicle ownership.

  4. Having and using cars are two very different things. While sharing options are growing, they’re not always for everyone (can I bring my dog, my muddy bikes, etc…) and suffer from sticker shock relative to the marginal cost of the next trip in your own car (basically free, except for gas). As insurance and other parts of vehicle ownership move to more of a pay-as-you-go model, maybe we’ll see more shifting towards sharing or other options? That said, how would a majority-sharing system work if ‘everyone’ wants a shared vehicle Saturday AM to go to the mountains, run bulky errands, etc…? Likely there will always be some premium for having your own vehicle, available on-demand, and for which there is no penalty if you store all your mess/dog hair/car seat in there permanently. But storing and periodically using such a vehicle is a very different thing from using it for the commute and every errand on a daily basis.

    1. I expect that reverse commuting out of Vancouver also explains some of the rise as more jobs have been created in the burbs.

      The real oddity is 2004 data.

      1. The drop in 2004 makes perfect sense, given that the year before, there was a massive increase – it’s just a readjustment to the “norm”.

        Remember that the chart shows change from the year before.
        So a slight drop in 2004 is still a big increase from 2002.

  5. “Reverse” commuting has been a feature of life in Vancouver for many years. BC Transit was commenting on that back when it introduced the #98 B Line: more people lived in Vancouver and worked in Richmond than the other way around. And, back then, there was real census data to back that statement.

    Many people own “just in case” cars. They are not used on a daily basis. Households may have more cars than people. The vehicles include those used purely for recreation.

  6. The interesting thing about this is that it tends to kibosh the oft-used explanation that car use is declining because people can’t afford cars. This makes it look like they actually can afford cars but are choosing not to use them. Exactly the sort of thing you might expect if some decent alternatives (walking, cycling, transit) were available.

    1. I am sure that is a big part of it. There are also many New Canadians who have bought vehicles but aren’t commuting to jobs. There are plenty of households on the West Side headed up by a non-working mother and an astronaut father.

  7. I suppose this is “playing with numbers”, but we’re talking about trends…
    There are 2 negative results: 2004 and 2011. So what?
    Well, if you average the +11000 from 2003 with the -1300 from 2004, you get ~4800, which is pretty close to the 4600 in 2002
    if you average the +8600 from 2011 with the -400 from 2004, you get ~4200, which is pretty close to the 4600 in 2010

    The modified trend would be an upward growth for 3 years, flattish for 3 years, followed by a drop, up for 4, (slight drop to) flat for three years, followed by a drop and another rising trend. Does this pattern mean anything more than the above graph? I don’t know, But there are similar drops in overall registrations in Metro Vancouver in 2004 and 2011, so it’s not a localized phenomena. Did anyone ask why the massive spikes in the prior years?

    Canada introduced higher emission standards in 2004. Did that affect new vehicle sales, registrations, scrapping of older vehicles?

    A more meaningful measure than registered vehicles would be to ask that venerable and disappearing institution – AirCare, for the data they collected since 1992 to present on the annual travel mileage of the fleet registered per municipality. That would give a better indicator of how many cars are “on the road”. No one should care if the three vehicles I have parked in my garage are licensed or not – I’m only using one of them at a time.

  8. people who can afford a $1M condo usually can afford a car, even if they don’t use it daily, but on occasion for the weekly grocery haul, a trip to Whistler, a trip to Deep Cove, a trip to Steveston or Golden Ears park .. all destinations not easily reached by bike or public transit.

      1. What’s your point ? of course, people who can afford that kind of price tag usually have SEVERAL cars. I am surprised it is only 5, not 7, one per day of the week. Shucks, gotta use the same car on Saturday .. there goes the neighborhood ..

      2. Chances are, some are those spaces were purchased by the original buyer as private “visitor spaces” for his/her guests. There’s always an issue of guests visiting condos finding parking downtown.

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