Public transit is the way forward to sustainable cities

Increasing access to public transit networks increases accessibility and livability

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SkyTrain as seen from below on a cloudy day.
PHOTO: Victoria Lo / The Peak

By: Dylan Tonekham, SFU Student

As climate change remains a massive threat to humanity, the Canadian government has pledged initiatives to fight it, such as the 2030 emissions reduction plan. Though a noble plan to combat emissions, there’s a better solution that isn’t being pushed forward nearly enough: we’re in dire need of better public transit.

Unlike commuting by car, public transit can be inherently efficient when employed correctly. Take a look at any grid-locked street: you can only fit so many people into the space occupied by a car. Ironically, an old Saturn car ad demonstrates this inefficiency by replacing cars on the road with people. The excessive distance between everyone showcases just how much physical space cars occupy. Those who use transit are cars not on the road, and emissions that aren’t produced.

You might ask, “If emissions are the problem, what about electric vehicles?” Current federal initiatives push for consumers to buy “zero-emission vehicles” (ZEVs) in an effort to reduce individual gas emissions. As Canada was found to be one of the worst carbon emitters, this incentive makes sense on the surface. Commuters driving electric vehicles don’t emit nearly as many greenhouse gases as those in gas cars do. However, fuel emissions from driving are only a slice of a bigger problem — other components of ZEVs aren’t much better. 

Consumers are sold the idea of reducing their own carbon footprint with ZEVs, but other pollutants are seldom talked about. Tires rolling against roads release toxic compounds and material into the air, water, and subsequently our bodies. ZEVs are typically heavier than their gas counterparts, which “wears out tires faster.” Mass mining of metals for ZEV batteries also pollutes water supplies in South America, such as the “lithium triangle” of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile — not to mention the ethical concerns of poor working conditions.

With TransLink servicing about 233 million trips in 2023, people are clearly moving through the network’s SkyTrain, buses, and other services. Yet, there’s plenty of room for service improvement. Frequent service should be plentiful wherever possible. Riders should be able to arrive at a bus stop and expect a bus rather than a long wait. “Don’t worry, it’ll come soon,” is an expectation only those boarding the SkyTrain or specific RapidBus lines can hold. 

Night service for when regular transit is inactive should also be available. Though TransLink runs their NightBus service, most lines are in Vancouver, such as the N19 bus from downtown to Surrey Central Station. Need to go anywhere south or east of that? Tough luck. Understandably, transit at night isn’t going to be as rapid or frequent as daytime service, but it must be better for those who need it.

This is more than an environmental issue. Cars harm us on a deeper social level, in a way access to public transit can rectify. Transit-oriented communities aim to increase density where there is rapid transit access. If housing is close to amenities such as grocery stores, community centres, education, entertainment, and more, residents can make use of them without the explicit need for a car. Those who cannot afford cars, who cannot drive, or who choose not to drive would have greater opportunities in their communities.

Canada has grown tremendously in recent years, with its population reaching over 40 million this January. With transit becoming increasingly overcrowded and adverse climate change effects looming on the horizon, it’s imperative that there is increased access to transit — our cities depend on it.

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