Skip to main content

An eastbound Skytrain departs from Main Street-Science World Station in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday January 8, 2013. Renters, even when they have the same household income as condo owners, are more likely to take transit, according to new data from Metro Vancouver.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The region can tackle two big, expensive problems at once by making sure that low-income renters get some of the space when development happens around transit stations, says a report from Metro Vancouver.

That's because renters, even when they have the same household income as condo owners, are more likely to take transit, according to new data analysis that looked for the first time at the differences between owners and renters.

The report concludes there's a triple benefit: Having renters close to transit lines ensures that those lines get high ridership. Giving them easy access to transit gives those residents a boost when it comes to being able to get to jobs and schools.

"Finally, these transit customers may benefit from a resultant reduced overall housing and transportation cost burden relative to their income levels," said the report. That reduces the need for other provincial programs to help them out.

The difference is especially true for low-income renters, who are twice as likely to take transit as low-income homeowners.

The report, to be discussed by regional politicians at Metro Vancouver's planning committee Friday, comes just as the provincial and federal governments are about to invest massive amounts of new money in both transit and housing in British Columbia.

The analysis is encouraging local politicians to hope that all levels of government will be spurred to create policies that will prevent a counterproductive situation where only homeowner-targeted condos and townhouses are developed near expensive transit lines.

"You do need a mix of ridership if you're going to boost ridership. If you just redevelop as condos, you're missing out on the population that uses transit," New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said.

Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer said the new data make the case that "we have a transportation crisis, we have an affordability crisis, but we can solve those problems together.

"We have to give rental a fighting chance near transit," she said.

Both Vancouver and New Westminster already have aggressive policies in place to promote rental construction, which had almost died off in the region in the past three decades, and a lot of that is happening near their cities' transit lines.

The report underlines the point that the provincial and federal money about to be poured into housing and transit – a result of the federal Liberal government's campaign promises last year to invest in those social services – should be maximized by thinking strategically about the way housing and transit work together.

Data collected by TransLink have shown for years that transit ridership is always higher when there is dense development around lines.

People who live in high-density areas are up to three times as likely to take transit as those in low-density areas, according to the agency's past trip-diary statistics.

But TransLink has never looked at the difference between renters and owners.

Metro Vancouver's new data show there is a significant difference between renters and owners, even when they are in similar locations, have similar incomes and live in similar density neighbourhoods.

About 27 per cent of renters who make between $50,000 and $75,000 take transit, compared with only about 16 per cent of owners.

The differences are even more dramatic for low-income people. Almost a third of renters who make less than $30,000 a year use transit, while only 16 per cent of owners making less than $30,000 do.

Even when renters make incomes more than $75,000, they're still more likely to use transit than owners.

All of that means that if a new transit line had 10,000 homes developed along it, there would be a 10-per-cent to 12-per-cent increase in transit use if 40 per cent of those homes were rental compared with a situation in which none of them were rental.

Mr. Coté said Metro Vancouver doesn't have the power to force any level of government to require a certain percentage of rental units near transit, but he thinks the information in the report will spur some change.

"This will turn some light bulbs on."