Why this Indicator is Important
Efficient, effective, affordable public transit cuts pollution, automobile congestion, commuter times, and greenhouse gas emissions.1 Approximately 20% to 40% of people do not drive due to income, ability, age, or choice.2 Providing safe, frequent, and accessible public transportation improves opportunities for all income levels. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian households can save annually $10,000 by taking public transportation.3 Municipal public transit is funded by all levels of government, as well as through fares. It is owned and operated by municipalities, and is one of the important public services cities provide. Larger cities tend to have more extensive public transit systems due to their size and density, as evidenced in the data visualization—but there are other models available to smaller communities. While even diesel buses already produce fewer emissions compared to using individual vehicles, to further reduce the emissions from transportation, many cities are transitioning their bus fleets to hybrid or electric.4 Another innovative policy to support transit ridership is free-fare transit, which cities like Victoria have introduced for children 12 and under.5
Data Availability and Accessibility: 2/3
Transit ridership data is typically easy to find in annual municipal transportation reports or city data portals, or directly from city staff. Cities may track different transit metrics (boardings versus trips, for example), so we ensure to focus on transit trips specifically. Another challenge is that while the NCL is intended to focus on municipalities, most larger cities’ transit systems (including this year’s winner, TransLink) cover the entire metropolitan region rather than the municipality alone. When we divide the total number of yearly trips by population, we therefore ensure to use the metro population rather than any individual municipality’s population.
Note(s): Data are from 2021. Sources include city data portals, transit reports, and city staff.
While always a strong contender, Vancouver, British Columbia, has emerged for the first time in the NCL as the leader in this indicator. TransLink (the public transit authority) provides transportation coverage for the entire Greater Vancouver Metropolitan area. High ridership rates can partially be attributed to its Frequent Transportation Network (FTN), a network corridor of transit service which runs buses no less than 15 minutes apart seven days a week. TransLink is governed by the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Act. The governance structure includes a board of directors and the Mayors’ Council on Transportation, which oversee Vancouver’s public transit system.6 TransLink has its own Climate Action Plan, as well as a Zero-Emissions Fleet Transition Plan, which has the goal of adding over 460 battery-electric buses to the fleet by 2030.7 TransLink was also recently ranked the fourth best public transit system in North America in the Urban Mobility Readiness Index, led by the consulting firm Oliver Wyman Forum in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley.8
Introducing road pricing may seem out of the question for many individuals, but it has been shown that this policy idea works wonders for reducing GHG emissions and traffic, while increasing public transit use. Stockholm, Sweden, has introduced a congestion charge during peak hours and has seen its traffic decline by 20%. This reduction in traffic has led to vehicle emissions in the inner city to decrease by 10-15%. Although the policy is now supported by 70% of residents, it was not always the case. When the policy was first proposed it was only supported by 33% of residents. Throughout the years, popularity for the policy grew as residents got used to being charged and saw the benefits appear. To encourage more support for the policy, it was agreed that the revenue from the congestion charge would be redirected to national investment planning processes.9