Introduction

An effective public transportation system plays an important role in meeting economic, social and environmental goals. Good public transit shapes the liveability of communities, connecting people to key amenities such as employment, health care, education and recreation.

In British Columbia, the provincial government has articulated a vision for a significant transformation in the way its citizens travel locally. This vision is intended to reduce automobile usage and increase the use of other forms of transportation, such as public transit, cycling and walking. A key reason for this shift is the provincial government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When the government developed its Climate Action Plan in 2008, it was estimated that transportation accounted for approximately 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in B.C.-  making it the largest contributor to the province’s total emissions. The most recent figures available show a similar trend (37 percent).

Figure 1 - Greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia (click image to enlarge)

The transformative vision is expressed in the Provincial Transit Plan of 2008. The ultimate goals are to:

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as part of the Climate Action Plan;
  • support the economy through more efficient transportation and reduced congestion; and
  • improve transportation options for those with mobility challenges.

To achieve these goals, the government set targets to double transit usage (“ridership”) in British Columbia by 2020  and make a substantial increase in the share of trips British Columbians make by public transit (“mode share”).

Figure 2 - BC Transit ridership baseline 2006/07 and target for 2020 (click to enlarge)

Figure 3 - BC Transit mode share baseline and targets for increase by 2020 (click image to enlarge)

The plan includes targets for public transportation in both the Lower Mainland (TransLink’s area of operation) and in the rest of B.C. (BC Transit’s area of operation). 

Figure 4 -  Communities with BC Transit systems (click image to enlarge and view statistics)

 

This report focuses on BC Transit. TransLink does not fall within the Auditor General’s oversight role, given it is outside of the government reporting entity.

Large-scale shifts of this nature occur over a significant period of time, and generally require changes in at least three main areas, which are the focus of our report:

  • policy and governance;
  • funding; and
  • design of transit services.  

Why we produced this report

During the planning and conducting of our separate Audit of BC Transit's Ridership Growth Since the Launch of the 2008 Transit Plan (released in 2012), the Office of the Auditor General gathered information that was not included in the performance audit report. This valuable information, garnered from a variety of sources and compiled here, can assist legislators, stakeholders and British Columbians to understand the challenges and opportunities involved in achieving sustainable public transit.

This report aims to help the public understand:
  • what the government is trying to achieve with public transit and why
  • what the current responsibilities are for public transit planning and funding
  • what some of the challenges are in achieving the goals of sustainable transit
  • what opportunities could arise from moving public transit in B.C. to a higher level of sustainability
Our report complements several other recent publications on BC Transit, two of which were published by our Office. It also expands the information available to government as it considers how best to address the recommendations made in these other publications.
 
Recent publications include:

 

Overview

This report provides an overview of the three areas that are key in shaping the future of transit: policy and governance, funding and design of transit services. It also includes observations regarding the context in which BC Transit is pursuing this significant growth strategy.

In addition, it contains questions for provincial ministries, BC Transit, and local governments to consider as they work to increase ridership and develop a sustainable transportation system.

The inclusion of the questions to consider DOES NOT imply that the stakeholders are not aware of these issues or that we have judged there to be problems in these areas. The questions are offered to help maintain focus on important issues, many of which are already being addressed by the respective parties.

In this early phase of the transformative plan, the questions we offer are broad and focused on policy-level decisions. As these questions are addressed, the focus can shift to operational-level decisions. Typically, there would be a comprehensive strategic plan at this phase of such a substantial project.