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Metro Vancouver transit ridership accelerating but below pre-pandemic level

Trend is in sync with national data
Passengers depart a Canada Line train | Dan Toulgoet

Metro Vancouver's transit ridership continues to lag pre-pandemic levels but is increasing fast and is outpacing the ridership rebound seen Canada-wide, according to data from Statistics Canada and TransLink. 

TransLink sent BIV data showing that there were 21.04 million journeys on buses, rapid-transit lines, SeaBus, West Coast Express and HandyDart services in September. That is up more than 13.7 per cent from the 18.5 million journeys in the same month in 2022.

In September 2019, 23.9 million journeys were made on those transit modes, meaning that transit ridership in Metro Vancouver in September was down about 12 per cent from pre-pandemic levels.

In contrast, transit ridership Canada-wide in September was down by about 17.9 per cent, compared with September 2019, to 134.7 million passengers, according to Statistics Canada data released this week.

TransLink ridership rebounded much faster than did ridership in other Canadian urban transit systems as the pandemic started to wane. That was in part because office workers returned to offices faster in Vancouver than in many North American cities. 

“For big cities, Vancouver’s office-vacancy rate is among the lowest in North America,” GWL Realty Advisors’ vice-president of research and strategy, Wendy Waters told BIV in March.

Transit systems Canada-wide enjoyed faster year-over-year growth in September than those in Metro Vancouver: 15.1 per cent, compared with 13.7 per cent.

"As school resumes and workers return from summer vacations, transit ridership typically increases in the month of September," Statistics Canada said. "Nationally, September 2023 saw an increase of 14.3 per cent (up 16.9 million trips) from August, slightly above the average increase of 11.5 per cent, recorded over the same August-to-September period in the two years (2018 and 2019) prior to the pandemic."

In September 2023, larger monthly increases were observed in Alberta and Eastern Canada. Edmonton's transit ridership was up 29.2 per cent, for example, while Halifax's was up 26.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

Its data showed BC Transit ridership up 22.6 per cent month-over-month, while Toronto transit's month-over-month ridership increased by 6.1 per cent, and Montreal's rose by 11.5 per cent. 

Research by Urban Institute senior research associate Yonah Freemark found in July that Metro Vancouver's rapid-transit ridership had rebounded to be more than 80 per cent of what it was pre-pandemic. That rebound topped a list of all North American cities with rapid-transit systems, according to Freemark's research. He only included in his research ridership on rapid-transit systems, and not buses or other modes of transportation. 

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