Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Victoria leads Canada in green transport

with 4 comments

Vancouver Sun

Victoria has once again beat out cities many times its size and been ranked the greenest city to get around in Canada.

The B.C. city of 330,000 is followed by Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Montreal and Toronto on the second annual national ranking of environmentally friendly transportation.

I have been sitting here puzzling about this result. So I tracked down the Appleton foundation,  its press release and the document itself. It is not, of course, linked in the story. (Unlike many other media web pages, the Sun does not have a sidebar with links to external sites.)

No city earned an A, although Victoria improved on its B grade from the first report by landing a B+ this year. Many of the city’s municipal and transit vehicles use alternative fuels,

Well yes, but the only reference to alternative fuels on the Victoria Transit web page is about biodiesel

Beginning July 23, 2007, Victoria Regional Transit conventional buses, community buses and handyDART vehicles will use a 20% biodiesel fuel blend

The report itself says “Victoria Regional Transit, along with Kelowna Regional Transit, launched the first hybrid-electric buses in Canada in 2005.” Well yes, but how many are actually in service in Victoria? And if you want to give credit for innovation Vancouver had a Ballard bus or two for a while – not that they actually did very much. Hybrid electrics are also not as clean as trolleybuses, which have no internal combustion engine at all.

Meanwhile, Vancouver has a fleet of electric trolleybuses and a network of electric trains. And since most of our power comes from existing hydro it is about as near to zero emissions for both greenhouse gases and local air pollution as you can get. Yes we do get a bit of off peak power from the grid, but that is much less than 20%. So for Victoria to get credit for biodiesel, which Victoria says is from “canola and soybean oil” i.e. diverted from the food supply and grown, of course, with lots of fossil fuel inputs, and also lots of nitrogen oxide production from the fertiliser (which is made from natural gas – another fossil fuel) is a bit of a puzzler.Is one Victoria Transit bus on b20 equivalent to a ZEV trolley?

Vancouver also has a fleet of CNG buses and had a long trial period of other technologies.

Municipal vehicles in this region use biodiesel too – and have been for many years: the municipalities here set up a buying co-op to source it. I might be willing to concede that if biodiesel is sourced from waste products, like used cooking oil, then it is an environmental bonus, but I have never been too sure of that, since I understand that otherwise waste oil is collected and “refined” for export.

So turning to the data and indicators the foundation used for Vancouver (which is actually the CMA i.e. the whole of the urban region, not just the City)

Transportation Policy Value          Target
Housing stock % row and apartment (2001)                                                                    53%              84%

Annual public transit regular revenue KMs travelled per capita, 000s (2005)                  53                 71%
labour force walking, bicycling or taking public transit to work (2001)                       18%               36.5%
Free transit in the core? (June 2007)                                                                                  N                 Y            Population-weighted monthly adult transit pass cost (2007)
* 12 / Median household income (2005)                                                                    1.41%                0.67%
% of labour force holding employer-issued transit passes (December 2006)             1.18%               4.16%

Technology Adoption

% transit fleet using AFV (March 2007)                                                                      23%                 39.48%
No. hybrid or AFV taxis / Total No. of Taxis. (2007)                                          10.41%                   100%
% municipal road fleet using AFV (12/31/2006)                                                      8%                  48.3%

Now we cannot tell from these indicators if the SkyTrain got counted or not – or indeed how. After all “% of transit fleet” seems to be a bit vague.

I also have real issues with the transit indicators

“Annual public transit regular revenue KMs travelled per capita” – how on earth is that calculated? Why not something simple like “% mode share for for transit” which I admit does not capture trip length – but then in a region that is big sprawling and multi centric like ours, it is unsurprising that we do not do as well as Victoria which both comparatively compact and has fewer employment centres. Actually I have always said that we should be doing much better than 11% mode share, so maybe we do deserve to get marked down.

But why would “free transit in the centre” get any credit at all? All that free transit in the centre does is discourage walking and cycling for short trips. It does not get any commuters out of their cars. Similarly the cost of the transit pass is a highly skewed way to rate transit use – since it assumes that price determines mode choice, which is also not the case. Poor quality of transit service is what deters use here – overcrowding and unreliability are the big issues and yes of course Victoria would do much better in that regard. I wonder though if that indicator includes the (very high percentage of passengers) on U-Pass?

But the one indicator I really do like is “The Vancouver CMA has one of the lowest numbers of vehicles per capita” which it seems to me should have catapulted us to the top of the league. Especially since casual observation of most suburban residential areas shows that we have a lot more cars than we actually use.

Anyway I am going to send the link to this piece to the Foundation and hope they will comment and set me straight if I have misrepresented anything

Written by Stephen Rees

November 13, 2008 at 9:42 am

4 Responses

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  1. Given that the rating includes “the percentage of people who walk, bike or ride transit to work”, Victoria (which I assume means the entire Capitol Regional District) has a huge advantage over Vancouver, or any other Canadian. The climate is drier, plus the streets are more bike and pedestrian friendly. Vancouver has nothing to match the Galloping Goose and Lochside trails, both of which give bike commuters almost car-free access from the rural reaches of the district to the downtown core. I’m told that biking from Sooke to Victoria along the Goose is as quick, and some days quicker, than driving. Add to this that there are, probably for historical reasons, more retail hubs embedded in residential areas and you get more people walking, biking or even choosing a transit pass over a car.

    Liz Bennett

    November 13, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  2. You are missing the main point about cycling. It is not about long distance travel – that is recreational cycling. Most commutes are quite short – and they should be the easiest to convert to cycling. But the big barrier is the general perception of lack of respect for cyclists – which makes cycling dangerous. Oddly enough, helmets may actually reduce the amount of space on the street that drivers allow cyclists. Bike theft and lack of bike parking at workplaces are the other two related issues. Long distance trails do get lots of attention – but not many people use them for commuting. Cities that have see a lot of growth in cycling in recent years have achieved that through an adjustment to the allocation of street space to favour cycling. That means less space on street for cars and for parking. Sure trails are nice, but they do very little to change commuting patterns – or use of cycles for transport as opposed to recreation.

    Stephen Rees

    November 14, 2008 at 7:50 am

  3. The Galloping Goose and Lochside trails are busy commuter cycling routes. Its true most don’t go all the way from Sooke to Victoria. That trip would be easier on the E&N if the Island Corridor Foundation ever get the money they need to do any more than a trial for LRT or commuter rail (that would push Victoria to an A). Most of the cycling is between Saanich and Victoria or Esquimalt and Victoria. Anything past View Royal doesn’t make much sense for anyone other than the diehard cyclist. But the emphasis is on mixed use. Commuter cyclists sharing space with pedestrians and recreational users.


    November 14, 2008 at 10:47 am

  4. Stephen,
    Statistics Canada has some wonderful highlight tables that help show how this data was arrived at – seems that Victoria (the city) ties Montreal, and Victoria the CMA is just below Toronto.

    CSD (City)

    The list of topic areas:




    March 5, 2010 at 6:03 pm

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