Did you miss this story?

Mike Howell in the Courier seems to be the only one* who extensively covered the data dump from the City’s 2018 Panel Survey: an annual look at transport share and distance by Vancouver residents.  This is the sixth one, and it helps track progress towards our 2040 goals.

How we doing?

Amazingly well, actually. As Mike details:

Vancouver has seen the biggest increase in people choosing to walk, cycle or use transit to get around the city than it has in five previous years of tracking such data. …

The data from the survey showed a four per cent decrease in auto trips (three per cent for a driver, one per cent for a passenger) compared to results of the 2017 survey.

In addition, participants indicated they drove fewer kilometres—2.9 per cent—than the previous year. LaClaire noted the decrease translates to savings in fuel, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and obvious health benefits.

There are lots of supporting data, many charts, colourful maps – click and go crazy.  You’ll be one of the few.

But if you want to go find Mike’s column, good luck.  I had no luck scanning the Courier‘s website. There’s a reprint in Business in Vancouver – but check out the comments at the bottom.   There aren’t any.

Now why is this? Here’s a story with inherent controversy – at least if they had put ‘bike lanes’ in the headline.  When measured against trends in other cities, Vancouver is doing so well that it confounds the experts.  Results seem to defy some common beliefs – certainly the premise that you can’t get people out of their cars, that money on active transport is disproportionate if not wasteful, that ‘social engineering’ is futile and the City is operating more on wishful thinking than practical engineering, with little to show for it except more congestion.

If you disagree with my observations, go to town, join in on the conversations and debates that are occurring all over social and mainstream media.

Oh wait, there aren’t any.  This story, and all the supporting data, seems to have sunk without a trace, if it even made any ripples to begin with.

My theory: too much consistent good news, with too many facts.  A lot of us don’t like, or trust, too much success.  So we ignore it.  Don’t include it in the narrative.  Leave it unspoken.  And then go on with our own narratives that match up with our own perceptions, without having to reevaluate our prejudices too much.

I’m including myself.  Because I don’t want ‘success’ to make us complacent, to detract from the omissions, to take the pressure off the unconvinced. And I really don’t like clicking on nonsupporting data.

I wasn’t going to run this story initially, presuming that Price Tags’ readers already knew about these results, took them for granted, or wanted to focus on the contentious.

Mistake.  We can’t figure out what’s going on unless we look at the figures too.


*UPDATE: I wrote that before listening to the latest Cambie Report, during which Patrick Meehan reports and comments on TransLink’s annual bus performance review (starts at 32:40).  Similar kind of story: way too much incomprehensible good news.  The three-year overall transit increase, region-wide, is 18.5 percent – “which,” as Patrick says, “is mind-boggling.”  The trio then moves on to the downsides and worst-performing routes. That’s the way it works, even among the transit advocates.  ‘Success’ cannot be put in the same sentence without being accompanied by ‘but.’



  1. From BIV:

    “..Participants are encouraged to be part of the survey each year so travel behaviour can be tracked from year to year. A total of 1,590 people from the 2017 panel returned for last fall’s survey. Only 25 per cent remain from the initial survey in 2013.

    The increase in walking, cycling and transit trips comes despite the region’s population continuing to grow by 30,000 to 40,000 residents every year.”..”

    I’d feel more comfortable about data if they followed the same cohort of people, rather than a substantial turnover each year. Also the second comment is specious. Who cares if 40,000 people moved into The Region, if they’re only surveying Vancouver residents? Also it is a given that if the City of Vancouver is densifying close to the downtown core, new residents would be less likely to need to drive to work.

    Further, if one self-selects for the survey, I’d suspect participants to be those who have more of an interest in transportation planning and issues than the general populace and that makes them more likely to be inclined to use transit or bike than the Average Joe.

  2. Related to this I am wondering what happened to the last Translink trip diary? Data was collected in 2017. Does anyone know why it has not been released?

  3. Media has close to zero interest in solutions stories. They only want scandal and drama, in a brutal competition for clicks and eyeballs. If something is working, and working well, it’s not news.

  4. I was involved (as a consultant) in the Translink travel diary in 2008-2009. This is when some of these trends of reduced automobile trip rates had their start, and there was an incredible amount of concern that somehow the numbers were wrong. To Translink’s credit, they were very rigorous about the process. I recall preparing and presenting an extensive memo on potential reasons why auto travel might have been declining (more alternatives, better land use, online, saturation, etc). Subsequent studies appear to have confirmed this trend and now it seems to be accelerating.

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