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Generation transit shifts away from driving

Technology and transit are two of the potential factors behind a decade-long decline in young Metro Vancouver residents choosing to get their driver
Technology and transit are two of the potential factors behind a decade-long decline in young Metro Vancouver residents choosing to get their driver's licences.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

New statistics show a strong trend of young people opting not to drive, particularly in parts of Metro Vancouver best served by transit.

Just over 55 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds in Metro Vancouver now have a driver's licence, down from 70 per cent a decade ago, according to ICBC data compiled by planners at the regional district.

The proportion of licensed drivers among those age 25-29 fell from more than 75 per cent in 2004 to about two-thirds. There were also significant declines in other age groups from the late teens to the early 30s.

Transit expansion over the last decade, the U-Pass that gave unlimited transit use to post-secondary students and ICBC's graduated licensing program are all potential explanations for the young residents shifting away from driving, according to Raymond Kan, the senior Metro planner who created a series of charts using ICBC and local demographic data.

(See charts below story)

"It's hard to speculate what the silver bullet factor is," he said.

SFU City Program director Gordon Price called it a profound change.

"People would have said 'What are you smoking?' if you'd predicted this 10 years ago," Price said. "Getting a driver's licence once was a rite of passage."

He agreed the U-Pass has trained a new generation to use transit and noted the cost of buying, insuring and driving a car is considerable for youth.

Price also highlighted technology.

The stratospheric rise in both smart phone use and social media over the last decade has reduced the need for some vehicle trips among youth.

"The reason you get in a car when you're 18 is so you can meet with other 18-year-olds," Price said. "Social media is an effective substitute, at least in part."

Price said the trend has major implications for decision-makers, adding he hopes provincial transportation planners take the data into account in projecting whether billions of dollars should be spent on more transit or on more road and bridge projects.

The decline in the younger age groups was measured in all parts of the Metro region, but it was most dramatic – with licensing declines of close to 20 per cent over 10 years among residents in their early 20s – in Richmond, where the Canada Line opened in 2009, as well as Burnaby and the North Shore.

Vancouverites in their early 20s who have driver's licences are now actually in the minority at about 45 per cent, down from more than 60 per cent a decade ago, and those who have licences and those who don't are evenly split in Burnaby/New Westminster.

Elsewhere the licensing rate in that group ranges from about 57 per cent on the North Shore to about 73 per cent in Langley.

Kan noted the rates actually ticked up in many parts of the region in 2013, so planners will be watching in the years ahead to see if the trend has ended or reversed.

Price said the question is whether all the younger non-drivers will continue to shun licences as they get older.

The data used by Metro counted drivers with class 5 licences as well as novice (N) drivers in the graduated licensing program, but not ones with learner's (L).

Kan said the most surprising part of the data is that older women in their 60s, 70s and into their 80s are now much more likely to have a driver's licence than a decade ago.

About two-thirds of Metro women in their early 70s now are licensed, compared to about 55 per cent in 2004.

It's not clear whether that reflects older women who are no longer as dependent on men as in the past, general trends of women living longer and healthier lives or other factors.

In contrast, licensing rates among older men remained stable.

"It's conjecture," Kan said. "But folks may be more independent, maybe healthier and perhaps these are factors contributing to this pattern."

Driver's licensing rate charts by Metro Vancouver


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