Report ranks local transit best for its size

Greater Victoria's regional transit system outperforms all of its counterparts in similar size cities across the country, according to a recent report on national transit ridership.

Data from the Canadian Urban Transit Association shows the capital region had 25.0 million conventional transit trips in 2011, a figure that's higher than any other community of similar size.

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Waterloo, for example, has a larger population and a lower ridership, with 19.7 million trips for the same year.

But while B.C. Transit officials celebrate the figures (which include conventional trips but not the HandyDART service for people with disabilities), one transportation expert says there may be little to brag about considering ridership is low in many Canadian cities.

The high ridership in Greater Victoria can largely be attributed to the pre-automobile design of the historic community, according to Larry Frank, professor in transportation at the University of B.C.

"Victoria is a place where you can easily get around without a car; it's more compact, there's good pedestrian networks linked up to transit," he said. "But everything is relative and the competition is not stiff."

Comparisons to Waterloo, Hamilton and London show transit services in those regions have higher populations within smaller service areas.

Greater Victoria's fleet operates in a service area spread over 614 square kilometres, compared to the next largest region of Waterloo with 318 square kilometres.

Given Waterloo has a service area population of nearly 423,971 - much larger than Greater Victoria's 356,200 - B.C. Transit interprets those figures as a testament to the service provided.

"I think any public transportation provider will tell you that the greater the coverage area, the more challenging it can be to properly service," said Meribeth Burton, spokeswoman for B.C. Transit.

"Obviously, greater coverage area will mean more fuel, more expenses and even still - with [our region being] more than three times the size of London - we're still outperforming our competitors."

London serves 362,200 people over an area of 166 square kilometres. B.C. Transit officials estimate that higher density should bring higher ridership.

Frank, however, indicates that places such as Waterloo, which he and fellow researchers recently surveyed, have high rates of pedestrian and cycling traffic, which could also

drive down transit ridership.

Both Frank and B.C. Transit agree that the best way to increase ridership is to invest in infrastructure. A recent survey from the Canadian Urban Transit Association indicates that the country's transit infrastructure needs $53 billion in investments over the next five years.

The association notes that the federal government has shown more support for transit, saying that funding has reached an average of $1 billion a year.

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