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Life on Transit: Young people choosing public transit over a driver’s license


For March/April 2013, we’re spotlighting Life on Transit—observing and illuminating the quirks and habits of daily transit rides around our region!

What choices have you made when it comes to transit?

What choices have you made when it comes to transit?

Data from our most recent Trip Diary Survey was included in a recent Vancouver Sun article. In short, the article is about how many young people in the region are choosing transit over a driver’s license.

The article includes some of our findings about travel mode preferences in the region, as well as some interesting insights from a young woman from Surrey who says, “It’s just easier and faster for me to take transit.” As Maria Su, senior manager of research analytics with TransLink, points out,

“It used to be when people got out of school, the first thing they did was get a used car because it was a sign of freedom… Now you can meet up with a friend without a car.”

We’ve known for a while that transit ridership numbers are up. The most recent figures show that, transit ridership in Metro Vancouver has increased by 57 per cent over the past decade. While the Vancouver Sun article points towards shifts in the preferred modes of transport for younger populations in Metro Vancouver, others are looking at wider shift across all ages.

The Price Tag blog has also been weighing in on a shift towards increased use of public transit. This post by Gordon Price points to the change in vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. starting in 1987 to today and into the near future.

Personally, I know people of different ages who only use transit, others who only use private vehicles and those who use both in varying degrees and for various reasons.

Have you made the choice for transit like the woman quoted in the Vancouver Sun article, or is your experience and those you know different? We’d love to know!


  • By Samantha, March 22, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

    I can either pay a $91 per month flat rate to get pretty much anywhere I need to go, or spend a fortune on insurance, gas, and parking (I work in gastown so that would be a killer). For me the choice is a no-brainer.
    My boyfriend chooses to mix car and transit. His apartment includes a parking spot, and he works 3 zones away. (Just barely. If the zone line was moved two stops over, he’d be 100% transit) For him the cost of transit vs car is similar, and he saves time on transfers so its worth it to drive.
    Going out in the evening or weekends, though, he mostly takes transit, and we take full advantage of me being allowed to bring another adult along on my pass on Sundays.
    Mostly it comes down to cost and time effectiveness. :)

  • By Ed, March 22, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

    My love for transit came the moment I set my hands on my first UPass. Obviously, once I graduate, I won’t have the luxury of having the UPass anymore, but I have really come to appreciate public transit.

    A lot of people tell me that getting a driver’s license is essential, especially “in a place like Vancouver.” I can’t wait to prove them wrong.

  • By Clara, March 23, 2013 @ 9:12 am

    I am a cellist living in metro Vancouver, which means that I often have a human-sized instrument to lug around. I chose to take transit to commute from Surrey to UBC to complete my degree because it basically saved me somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 over 5 years. That’s almost as much as my tuition.

    Now that I’ve graduated I still take transit everywhere, spending several hours a day on busses reading, catching up on my emails, and having some time to my thoughts. As long as the system is running smoothly it is far less stressful than driving, and for that matter, a bad day on transit (you miss your bus, the bus/skytrain is late or delayed, etc.) its still better than a bad day driving (car accident, run out of gas, flat tire, etc).

    If I can haul a cello on the bus all day (and I’m 5 feet tall), I’d like to think that just about anyone can!!

    Lets encourage all of our levels of government to invest more in transit infrastructure so there are more trains and busses to go around!!

  • By Chris M., March 23, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

    By the fact that we’re writing on this blog, all of us probably use transit quite regularly, even if we complain about it. I made the switch partly because out of habit from using the U-Pass. It’s not really a rational choice from where I live. I live in a car friendly suburb beside a non-congested road and with disconnected streets and poor transit frequencies. Even then, silly me still rides the bus and my bicycle because …I want this to change.

  • By Tone1point1, March 23, 2013 @ 11:18 pm

    This absolutely astounds me. Not the using pubic transit part, I’m all for that, and at least in the metro, it’s my preferred travel choice too. It’s the headline about young people choosing transit over a drivers license that has me a bit gobsmacked.

    I must be out of touch because getting that drivers license used to be *the* rite of passage for a teen. Thirty years ago many of us went for our drivers road test on our sixteenth birthday, it was that big deal. I even started working at a VHS video store (remember those?) when I was fifteen to start saving for that first car.

    Perhaps it’s one of those things that just isn’t a big deal to Millennials. The easiest way to get around the Metro for sure is using FareSaver tickets but as a middle-aged Generation X’er I think a part of my identity must be wired to having that set of car keys at the ready because I just cannot imagine not having them. My license and my own car represent a freedom that just cannot be fulfilled any other way.

    But still, long live the bus!

  • By Eugene Wong, March 24, 2013 @ 3:06 am

    To all the people, who continue to use transit after college and university and high school: thank you very much! I appreciate the fact that you support our system. I appreciate it a lot.

  • By Reva, March 24, 2013 @ 3:51 am

    I think it’s great that more young people are deciding that cars aren’t a necessary part of life in Greater Vancouver. In most cases, it’s possible, and often really enjoyable, to get by without one.

    I tried learning to drive when I was a teen because it was expected of me, but I hated it so much! Since I’d been taking the bus everywhere practically since birth, the effort to complete the course just didn’t seem worth it. I tried a few more times over the years, but to this day, I do not have a car or a license and I couldn’t be happier.

    I’ve always carefully chosen where I live and work so that it’s ridiculously convenient to get around on transit and/or on foot. By an amazing coincidence, my husband never learned to drive either, so we take the bus everywhere together! When we think of how much money other people pour into their cars and how frustrated driving makes them day after day, we are even happier with our chosen lifestyle. For those times when only a car will do, we hit up friends/family, or take a taxi, or have heavy purchases delivered. It isn’t difficult to find ways to fill the gap.

    Having a great transit system at one’s disposal is a fantastic reason not to bother with a car. Cars aren’t cheap to own, so with the cost of living around here, you really can’t blame young people just starting out to choose transit. And once you factor in the huge time commitment necessary to complete the graduated licensing program, abandoning the idea of ever having a car altogether doesn’t seem crazy at all!

    Life on transit requires a little more planning than using a car, but if you do it right, the convenience and money you save will more than make up for it.

  • By Eugene Wong, March 24, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    @ Reva

    I’m amazed that anybody has avoided finishing a drivers course, and isn’t disappointed. I think that that is cool.

    What you said about delivery is important. I think that delivery companies [especially Canada Post] can play a role here. I’m sure that if society puts an effort into it, we can come up with a way to make deliveries even more convenient and cheap.

  • By ???, March 25, 2013 @ 8:57 am

    Now if we only do something about all those parents chauffering kids to and from school.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, March 25, 2013 @ 11:39 am

    These are fascinating stories! Good on everyone for choosing to take transit :) And I hadn’t realized the process of licensing itself was something that felt so onerous for people—chatter on Facebook indicates the same issue. Btw Clara, I LOVE that you ride transit as a working cellist! We are going to reach out to you to talk more about that, if you’re interested :)

  • By Sheba, March 25, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    I know where you’re coming from Tone1point1. When I was younger it was a given that teenagers would get their learners license and then graduate up to being a car driver and leave transit behind for the most part. I’m similar to Reva in that I had a learners but I found it so strange to drive and never did get my license. I also have based where I’m living on the availability of transit. I really don’t understand why half of my neighbours have cars as we’re so close to a Skytrain station.

  • By Victor, March 25, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

    Jhenifer, is there data available showing the gender breakdown for this statistic?

  • By Robert Willis - Buzzer Editor, March 26, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    Hi Victor: That’s a good question. I’ll look into for ya!

  • By Regan-Heng Zhang, March 26, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    I sold my car because living in a complete community and taking transit is so much better! I never want to waste time finding parking space again. And considering a third of all GHG emissions in BC comes from transportation, ditching the car is the way for a cleaner future.

  • By MrsJ, March 27, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    I was born in the late 1950s so perhaps that makes me part of Generation M ;o). I enjoyed driving most of my young adult life, and usually lived where transit service wasn’t convenient, and then with a young child it was often cumbersome to take a stroller and baby on the bus. When my son got his Novice drivers license we still maintained a car, and when he started college we took turns using the car while the other took transit. But then we realized we could live more conveniently by a Skytrain station, so we moved from Delta, first to Lougheed Station, then to the area by Patterson, and now near Gateway, close to where I work. I no longer have a car, and am glad not to have the expense of keeping one. (Although I do appreciate the rides my friends, colleagues and family offer!) When my son moves out to share a house or flat with friends, he plans to live by a station, too, although he wants to buy a used car which he needs while working. For me, taking transit just makes more sense.

  • By Stephanie, March 28, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    In the last 5 years I’ve transitioned from driving everywhere to taking transit most places. Growing up in Surrey I had the mentality that I needed a car to survive (in Surrey this is still extremely true!!) but once I finished university I moved near Metrotown and starting taking the Skytrain to work.

    My husband and I now live in New West and we both take transit to work. We do own one vehicle for visiting family in Surrey and camping but it is definitely expensive. Just got my renewal notice and even with my 40% discount it’s still 1700 for the year.

  • By Cody, March 29, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

    I took transit from the time my family moved across town when I was 15 (to and from school every day), through university, to and from work after university, and only just had to purchase a vehicle (at age 26) due to my new workplace being completely out of the way of civilization. I can still get there by transit, but to me, saving 2 hours per day by driving is too much to throw away. At this point, I miss transit! It is inexpensive, a form of social interaction (even if you don’t talk to others), turns transport time into productive time, gives you exercise, and shows you places you wouldn’t normally see!

  • By ???, March 29, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

    Yes it may save you 2hrs of sleep or family time. However, how much money do you get paid in 2hrs?

    Does it cover gas, fuel, parking, insurance ($20 a work day), depreciation, tire wear, repairs, and possible interest expenses? If so, congratulations.

    If not, that 2 hour savings means you need to work 2 or more hours harder a day for your vehicle.

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