Transit travel time: not just how long it takes, but when you want to go

The recent Statscan analysis of average commute times in Canada, which shows the average car commute in Vancouver is under 30 minutes while transit trips average 42 minutes, has produced a pointed commentary by Murtaza Haider, who argues that cars will always be faster than transit.

That’s why public transit has to be sold on its environmental benefits, he argues, rather than travel time.

But what multi-billion investment, apart perhaps from sewage treatment, is justified on environmental grounds alone? (Never mind the fact that last year’s assessment by the Toronto Board of Trade concluded that average commutes were twice as long as the Statscan estimate.)

In fact, as transit analyst Jarrett Walker has shown, well-planned transit provides timely service around the clock, and supports other economic development needs. What’s more, we cannot, at least here in Vancouver, build more roads. So that growth must come on transit.

Whatever the average travel time, many drivers and riders are seeing an above average share of their lives eaten by commuting. That’s why I believe reducing travel time — to the shortest possible within reason — still has to be a primary consideration in transit investment.