In my previous post I looked at why Auckland should be focusing on Vancouver in Canada as a city to emulate, particularly when it comes to public transport. In this post I will look in a bit more detail at Vancouver’s PT patronage success before in future posts moving onto looking at how Vancouver has been so successful at encouraging people onto buses, trains and ferries.

We can recall from the previous post that, setting aside a 2001 drop that was due to a protracted transit worker strike, Vancouver’s PT patronage has grown very steady over the past 20 or so years whereas Auckland’s has bounced around quite a bit before a more recent prolonged upswing: There’s always a bit of statistical debate over whether we should be talking about percentages or actual numbers as being more important here. If we go off percentages then you can see that Vancouver still outperforms Auckland: A key distinction highlighted here is that it took until around 2002 for Auckland’s patronage to return to 1989 levels, thanks to the big dip in the early and mid 1990s. Since 2002 Vancouver has still outperformed Auckland though, with its patronage increasing by 57% compared to 33% in Auckland.

The other key matter to factor in is that Vancouver is a significantly bigger city than Auckland, so it’s important to look at ‘per capita’ patronage levels. Thankfully it seems as though censuses are taken in Canada in the same year as they’re taken in New Zealand, so we can make some comparisons. Note that for this information I’ve deliberately taken 2002 rather than 2001 data for Vancouver – because of the one-off impact of the transit strike in 2001 distracts from the broader trends: If we graph this, you can see that it took until recent years for Auckland to catch up to where it was in the early 1990s on a per capita basis, whereas Vancouver’s totals have increased steadily over the last 20 years: It seems to me that Vancouver’s key to performing well over the past 20 years, when compared to Auckland, is how Vancouver managed to perform pretty well during the 1990s whereas Auckland largely went backwards. Plus in more recent years when patronage has increased it has gone up hugely – very impressive when you’re already coming off a very high base.

The key question, obviously, is to look at how Vancouver has managed this. And also, perhaps most importantly, how Vancouver has benefited from this huge boost in PT patronage over the past 20 years because – after all – higher use of public transport is really a means to an ends, rather than an endpoint in and of itself. Answers to those questions will be the subject of future posts, although for those people who have commented on previous posts pointing out that they lived in Vancouver, I’m really keen for your take on how Vancouver has managed these pretty remarkable statistics.

Share this


  1. There were five things that stood out to me while in Vancouver:
    1. Simple integrated ticketing, free transfers (3 zones, monthly paper ticket, or transferable 2 hour paper ticket), simplicity (no difference between bus, trolley, ferry, skytrain – they’re all under the same fare system including transfers). They managed that integrated ticketing without fancy smartcard systems etc… kind of what our Northern Pass is, but covering the whole region.
    2. Skytrain (hard to explain to an Aucklander, but to a Vancouverite, it’s hard to imagine the system without it)
    3. B-Lines (frequent express bus lines stopping only in major locations, opening all doors for embarkation and disembarkation)… our “B-Line” concept is a shame compared to theirs
    4. Tax-deductible monthly public transport passes further encourage usage
    5. For busy services, including Skytrain and B-lines there was no “timetable”, there was almost guaranteed “frequency”

  2. Having lived in Vancouver 90 – 93, I make the following observations;

    a) two hour tickets anywhere on the system was a bonus. I could do my grocery shop, or catch up with a friend, or go to a park or whatever, get there and back in two hours. The two hours was from the time you stepped on the bus/skytrain/ferry, to when you stepped back on.
    b) integrated ticketing across all modes of PT. I could go from New Windsor to the top of Grouse Mountain using PT – which meant Skytrain, ferry then bus, all on the one two hour (paper) ticket.
    c) Skytrain was brilliant, except when the electricity cut out, which wasn’t often. Quick and fast otherwise.
    d) bus system was comprehensive, and what worked really well was the grid street system. Buses ran up main streets i.e. Cambie / Main / Broadway and intersected with other buses.

    (Skytrain is basically an elevated ‘railway’ line, with driverless carriages – usually two carriages, but three or four at peak times)

  3. I wonder if a Skytrain type elevated rail would work for a city to Westgate Link. Would give a 20 – 25 minute trip.
    This would be very long term project, maybe 20 to 30 years away. However the Waterview Interchange is likely to wreck any chances for a decent busway so maybe an elevated railway could be an option here. Could terminate adjacent to K Road station to save on more tunnelling.
    Could work along Te Irirangi Drive to Botany and Highland Park too.
    Generally not fan of elevated railways but along motorway alignments they won’t cause any further unsightliness.

  4. Thanks for the new plots! I think the first one with absoulte values is good for a reality check, but to really analyse these things, you need to look at the relative changes. Hopefully the improvements due to come online in the next couple of years will help it close the gap a little…

  5. I have recently returned to Auckland after living on-and-off in Vancouver for the past 8 months. I

    actually started reading this blog while over there as I kept thinking to myself that this is how public

    transport could and should be in Auckland. Being car-less in Vancouver is normal and easy. Being car-less

    in Auckland feels disabling by comparison.

    The cities are pretty similar in vibe, standard of living etc, but a couple of things stood out for me –

    culture (outdoorsy) and amazing natural locations. However with regards to culture, I get the feeling

    that the strong hippy influence in Vancouver during the 60’s has remained somewhat intact and continues

    to influence local politics. It was during this time that citizens decided to oppose a large proposed

    motorway system in the downtown area, and this has shaped subsequent transport planning.

    Anyway, the things that stood out for me largely mirror those of the first commenter:

    – Skytrain – The centrepiece of the system. Quick simple transport that seemed to go everywhere I wanted

    to go with minimal routes. This seems to be more because communities have been built around the Skytrain

    than a piece of master planning upfront. If it were in Auckland, places like Mt Wellington, Avondale etc

    would be 10 minutes from the CBD. And it seems to have been slotted into existing infrastructure with

    such ease. Sure, in the CBD extensive tunnelling was required, but in the suburbs all it took was a 3m x

    1m pylon every 30m beside a main thoroughfare.

    – Integrated ticketing – I would buy a pack of ten tickets, and that would do me for all my transport

    needs for a week or so. About half of my trips would involve free transfers. If I needed to travel out

    of zone, (e.g. to the airport on the Skytrain or to the North Shore on the Seabus) I would just add an

    Addfare to my ticket.

    – Ticket policing – In many cases you don’t need to show or scan your ticket (Skytrain, Seabus, when

    using the rear doors of the B-Line). This makes things run really smoothly. Transport police can and do

    inspect tickets, and there is a fine if you don’t have a valid one.

    – Service Frequency – on the Skytrain especially there is no concept of a timetable. The service only

    has start and end times. Because the system is driver-less, frequency can be very high and can change

    fluidly throughout the day to match demand. At peak times it was uncanny how often I would arrive at a

    station just as a train would be arriving.

    – B-Line – Like a Skytrain on the road. In fact, close your eyes and it is no different. You can simply

    embark at the rear doors, ride for a few stops and hop off. Your ticket stays in your pocket the whole

    time. Simple.

    And slightly off topic, but Vancouver also makes cycling easy. For example, minor roads one or two

    streets back and running parallel to the major thoroughfares are designated cycle routes. These feature

    tight roundabouts so that cars have to slow right down to negotiate them, and cyclists do not have to

    slow down much (if at all) to stop or give way for many kilometres on end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *