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Very nice charts. Wish the American cities were labeled.

The majority of Americans (and Sydney-siders, too, I suppose, though I have no personal knowledge), see an inverse relationship between quality of life and public transit ridership. My guess is this stems from two generations of riding smelly, late buses. Over those two generations we built infrastructure to accommodate our tastes. Living in the burbs and commuting 15mins to a suburban office park is a very nice routine.

Nevertheless, hope is not lost in America. Public transportation is experiencing a bit of a renaissance here not only in the expected cities like NY, SF, Seattle, and Portland, but also places like SLC, Denver, St. Louis, and Charlotte.


I'm not surprised to see Calgary a little above the average trend and Edmonton so far below. They are similar cities, though Calgary's LRT covers more of the city. Edmonton has a lot more blue-collar jobs which are spread around the city in industrial parks which Calgary is similar to Sydney with jobs concentrated in the CBD and very expensive parking.


I think you should make clear that your talking about Metro areas versus municipalities.

For example, mode share for public transit in the District of Columbia is something closer to 37% while the region which includes Baltimore (a city 40 miles away) is closer to 10%. The DC region excluding Baltimore is close to 14%.

Here's a link to my source from American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau:



I wonder if there is some difference in methodology which could explain some of the difference. I can't quite make out the relative positions of the San Francisco and Edmonton dots, but it seems strange to me to believe that the most-transit-using US cities (except for New York, which is mysteriously left off of the chart) would use less transit than the least-transit-using Canadian cities. In particular, I don't know if the definition of "metropolitan area" is synchronized across the three nations' censuses.

The footnotes on the">http://mams.rmit.edu.au/fwgm5rdaow29.pdf">the original source are not enlightening: in particular, they appear to claim that the population and mode-share figures in at least some of the cases do not cover the same area! Furthermore, the note about being unable to obtain finer-grained data seems specious; the US census FactFinder allows to download modeshare data on a fine-grained basis for areas of at least 20,000 people.

Sean G.

The sprawling, low density business park or highway corridor may be more prevalent in the US but Canada is certainly building a whole lot of employment areas that will be tough to adquately serve with transit. With some better regional planning we could stop this problem. Of the big Canadian cities Toronto (with the Places to Grow Act and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe) seems to be in the best position to produce transit supportive development at the metropolitan scale, assuming the political will exists to implement the necessary plans and projects over the long term.

It seems metropolitan Montreal would be an excellent case study for a number of issues that Jarrett continually blogs about: a very strong grid, a low average density but high transit ridership thanks to concentrated employment and a dense inner city, an ongoing debate about the approriate role of buses vs. trolleys. For me Montreal is Canada's transit metropolis - it's got a solid system and great urban bones to build on. Vancouver seems to be catching up quick though, but Toronto appears to have woefully outgrown its commuter rail and subway systems - we'll see if Toronto can make the necessary investments, but with Ontario's fiscal problems it doesn't look promising.

A final point regarding the comparison between American and Canadian transit - Canadian cities seem to value transit much more. At a time when cities like NY, that's dependent on transit, are slashing transit budgets we appear to be investing in transit in cities of all sizes 0not half as much as we should mind you, but there appears to be progress.


It would be great to see one of those charts with an x-axis showing CBD office space or CBD office space as a % of total. Why is it easy to find just about any city statistic except for employment?

David Arthur

How is 'Toronto' defined for the purposes of this chart? Is it the 'City of Toronto' (which includes some of the inner suburbs), the Greater Toronto Area, or the GTA+Hamilton which is the full extent of Metrolinx?

Does the figure reflect only the TTC, or does it include the suburban bus operators, and GO Transit's regional services? The last is socially significant - there are people who ride the GO train to work every day, but who wouldn't be seen dead on the TTC.

Calgary's city centre, much vaunted by almost every commenter, is something you can see quite easily just by visiting the city. Even from the airport terminal, you can see a huge cluster of towers which are obviously the centre of commerce for the city. Calgary has made many mistakes in its day, but in keeping employment focused in a dense area easy to serve by public transport, it has succeeded magnificently.

Ottawa's high ridership is not hard to explain either. Although people often mistakenly attribute it to the underwhelming Transitway, the real cause is much simpler: with tight streets, frequent blockages, and limited parking, the city centre is incredibly hostile to cars.

J.D. Hammond

One thing that I've noticed again and again even when looking at photographs of Canadian cities is how large their CBDs are compared to the size of the cities as a whole. I believe Calgary has less than a million people in its metropolitan area, but the massing of its downtown area is comparable to that of Dallas or Minneapolis.

Saying that Canada has less suburban jobs would seem to be a rather terrific understatement.

J.D. Hammond

Very nice charts. Wish the American cities were labeled.

I'm not sure how feasible that is, given the number of cities of comparable size; the United States is simply ten times more populous than either of those countries. Notice also that the length of the chart would have to be doubled or at least tripled to include the metro populations of Los Angeles or New York, respectively.


It strikes me as odd that Calgary would have pretty decent transit ridership when the city's urban form just outside of the inner city is dominated by the car. Its most prominent feature is its major aterials with km after km of concrete sound attenuation walls and strip retail. Unless you live close to the C-Train or a major bus route, you will always need a car to get around.

In this way I do not see public transit use as a planning or urban design success. This is because transit and land use had a fairly perverse relationship early on. Calgary's light rail C-Train was intially used to justify rezoning thousands of hectares of agricultural land into large lot, single-family subdivisions at the southern periphery. Huge park & ride garages dominate the stations.

In other ways the implementation of the C-Train was an afterthought, and suffers greatly from its cheapness. The northwest leg dumps passengers into the median of a freeway, and the experience for thousands of university students every day while crawling across the open, windswept pedestrian bridges and walking several hundred metres to the campus during our infamous Canadian winters can be brutal. The trains should have gone to where the people are outside of downtown, not to where it was most convenient from a budgetary viewpoint.

Vancouver fairs little better than Calgary according to the stats, but I classify Vancouver as a much more successful city. Its downtown may have decent transit ridership, but the fact 100,000+ people live there and a great number of them walk everywhere matters more, in my opinion. And now the current city council is actually considering dismantling the few remnants of a proposed freeway system that actually got built before the protests killed the project in the late 60s. That matters too.

At this juncture having 15-20 percent transit ridership means a lot in western North America. But I believe we are approaching a time when 20% will be considered totally inadequate, and round about then those car-choked six-lane arterials will start accumulating weeds when the economy naturally reacts to triple digit petroleum prices. People will then ask, what have we done?

The tab to redesign our cities for greater efficacy and resiliency will only get higher. Land use must be tied intimately and carefully to transit. That's why we need to plan now.


Victoria, while well below the trend line, is, in my opinion, one of the most successful cities in terms of human scale development. Victoria is significantly smaller than other cities on the graph, indeed only one third the size of edmonton; only 75 000 in the city with a metro of 330 000. Thus one would assume the low transit ridership is to be expected, as the population is hardly at the critical mass that other larger centers have. However this is not the case, and Victoria's all bus transit system serves the city generally quite well. This is linked to the urban village style of development common in Victoria.

Not included in this graph is the fact that Victoria has the highest cycling mode share of any city in Canada (and probably North America), exceeding 15% of all trips in 2006 (according to stats Canada). This makes other cities, even Vancouver and Portland, pale in comparison. Further, the core is quite compact, the downtown packed with pedestrians, and the city working on improving active transportation networks where previously there were few. Victoria flies in the face of many established myths in terms of encouraging cycling and walking. Their sidewalk and bike lane infrastructure frankly pales in comparison to Vancouver, Portland, or Montreal, (the city only recently has adopted bike lanes and there are no physically separated cycling routes other than two regional rails-to-trails routes) but the cycling mode share is so much higher because of the established urban form.

So, while transit trips may be lower than the trend line suggests they should be, the overall non-auto trips are quite respectable. Victoria has many beautiful examples of human scale development, such as the Cook Street Village, Quadra Village, James Bay, Fernwood, Fairfield, the LEED certified Dockside Green development, and even the suburban University Heights that reduce the need for transit and auto trips within and between neighbourhoods.


Just a guess, but maybe office parks came from the same deprecation tax rules that brought us the shopping mall? Malcolm Gladwell’s feature “The Terrazzo Jungle” is an absolutely fascinating account (very long but section 4 is about the financing):


“Victor Gruen’s grand plan for Southdale was never realized. There were no parks or schools or apartment buildings—just that big box in a sea of parking.”

Alon Levy

The chart makes Ottawa look too small and too transit-oriented; I think it only considers its metro area's Ontario part. But otherwise, the chart's numbers are in perfect accordance with Statscan's.

The Australian numbers are still too low. They seem to be the share of public transit of motorized work trips, rather than of all work trips.

David M

I'd like to comment on Victoria. Victoria Transit System is regional and provides service to 16 municipalities plus one unincorporated area. Service extends west to Sooke (45km) and north to Swartz Bay (32km). The service is a mix of urban, suburban and low frequency rural routes serving mainly farming areas. The lower ridership and longer distances of the suburban and rural routes will bring the numbers down.

Vancouver suffers from the same issue. Several years ago when I did some research, it was interesting to note that the City of Vancouver alone accounted for just over 50% of the regions transit ridership and the electric trolley buses carried over 30% of the regions passengers. If Vancouver was separated out, I think you'd find ridership per capita probably higher than Toronto.

The urban core routes are well used, very dense network with frequent services. And like Vancouver, or better, it is largely a compact city, easy to walk around or bike around.


For the purpose of comparison some data from Munich, Germany:

Trips to work:
41% by public transit
36% by car
13% by bike
10% by feet

Maybe a bit unfair to post that here...

Alon Levy

Are those numbers for Munich, or Greater Munich? If they're for Greater Munich then they're amazing.


@Alon Levy:
41% are for Munich (1.3 million inhabitants).

For Greater Munich (2.6 million people) I do not have a comparison that is valid for work trips only. In Germany the main focus is on the share on all trips, and not so much on work trips only. Must be a cultural difference, cause Germans don't live to work but work to live... seriously.

But the overall value for all trips and all purposes in Greater Munich (inclunding some quite rural areas) is about 19% - or around 240 public transit trips per year and person (trips including transfering between rail and bus etc. counted only as one trip).


@all. Just to clarify, Mees's numbers are for contiguous metro areas -- the entire patch of lights that you see from the airplane at night -- though I would be believe that Ottawa's numbers don't include Gatineau, Quebec.


I am sure that the metro areas were so precisely defined and reflect the true relevant population. Like Boston with almost 6 million people.

David Welch,  Christchurch New Zealand

The debate here for me brings to the fore the underlying problem in transit matters worldwide of knowing whether one is comparing apples with apples or with pears. It would be good if somebody or rather, some body (organisation) such as UITP set out to create a standard base of multiple evaluative criteria to arrive at safely valid comparisons. Then it might be easier to see what works or works best in specific situations. This would also include many other factors such as passengers per kilometre; or investment costs. These might include capital costs measured across 25 years often left out of the bus vs rail equation by rail enthusiasts.

Two other comments - if trips are unlinked (boardings) doesn't this significantly tilt stats? In many if not all situations I would imagine a much higher percentage of rail/bus transfers are made than bus/bus transfers. This means as soon as any system operates rail the likelihood is that many commuters are being counted twice...which would seem to make the Ottawa figures even more astounding. Secondly I suspect the not-so-green oil sands wealth of Alberta effects things quite a bit - my understanding was that province and city between them are pumping $2 billion (i.e. averaged $250 million a year)into Calgary Transit, mainly LRT. I don't think many other medium sized cities could afford this sort of ongoing investment, or not without substantial loans costs. How the return on investment is measured, situation in one city to that in another city, is anyone's guess but there is an obvious rise in ridership typical where larger investment is made in infrastructure and that's a matter of city wealth as well as will.

Alon Levy

David, the numbers in this post are mode share, not unlinked trips. For Canada, the numbers are perfectly correct other than for Ottawa, and come from Statscan's journey to work table. It does not double-count people.

Also, I don't know where you've heard that Calgary Transit gets $250 million per year, but it's almost certainly wrong. Back in 2006 Calgary Transit made a presentation about how uniquely low-cost it is: its LRT operating cost is 23 cents per boarding, and the capital cost of the first three lines was about half a billion dollars. Even its future expenditure, which is much higher, is estimated at a billion over ten years, including maintenance. This is good enough by North American standards, but to put things in perspective for you, Tokyo Metro costs 67 cents/passenger to operate. And Tokyo Metro could never be accused of incompetence, subsidy hogging, or lack of concern for cost control. If you want to accuse LRT of being too expensive, you'll have to pick an example city other than Calgary.

Robert in Calgary

Oh please David Welch.

Get informed! Stop listening to propaganda.

The Alberta oil sands represent -- .1% -- of global CO2 emissions. Most rational folks would say that's pretty darn low.

As for what's going on in New Zealand.....


David in Ottawa

MB | 10/09/2010 at 03:24 wrote:

In other ways the implementation of the C-Train was an afterthought, and suffers greatly from its cheapness. The northwest leg dumps passengers into the median of a freeway, and the experience for thousands of university students every day while crawling across the open, windswept pedestrian bridges and walking several hundred metres to the campus during our infamous Canadian winters can be brutal. The trains should have gone to where the people are outside of downtown, not to where it was most convenient from a budgetary viewpoint.

With respect to the University of Calgary, the fault for the implementation lies entirely with the university itself. The City of Calgary wanted to run the line right through the campus to bring it next to the Olympic Oval for the 1988 Olympics, but the university refused and since the City had no expropriation powers over the university, they had no choice but to miss the campus. Secondary consequences of this were that an alignment that would have brought the line much closer to Foothills Hospital was no longer possible and that Market Mall, a shopping centre just to the northwest of the university, was also missed along with some of the higher density housing around it.

The lack of covered pedestrian overpasses however is pretty close to inexcusable.


I'm glad everyone found the chart interesting. For those that would like to see other cities or different data sets plotted, I've uploaded the XLS data file to http://drop.io/eryxkrf

For those with further questions about the basis of the data or urban area definitions, I'd encourage you to read the accompanying paper at http://mams.rmit.edu.au/j4oa4rdaow29.pdf


One thing that really baffles me is this: why is Calgary above Vancouver when you count annual transit trips by population, but below Vancouver when you count transit mode share for commuting trips? What's that saying?

Is it saying that a higher proportion of Vancouver transit trips are to work, whereas more of Calgary's trips are for other purposes?


@Tessa, since we're dealing with unlinked trips, it could mean that Calgary has more trips requiring a connection, which causes those trips to be double-counted. Good question, though.

Alon Levy

@Tessa: Calgary has nearly two unlinked trips per linked trip. Everyone there transfers from the bus to the C-Train, apparently. Calgary Transit reports 500,000 weekday boardings in total; however, the mode share, Calgary Transit's headline annual statistics, and the C-Train's ridership all point to a linked number closer to 300,000.

In contrast, in Vancouver it's more likely people will take the bus or Skytrain for the entire trip.

@Matt: the Australian numbers do represent something accurate - it's just not the mode share. It's the mode share out of all motorized forms of transportation. For the full mode share, the ABS has better numbers, which I linked to in a previous comment in this thread. Your numbers are about right for Perth and Canberra, but the other cities have their transit mode shares understated by 3-5 points. Together with moving Ottawa southeast to account for its Quebec part, it would eliminate the difference between the Canadian and Australian trend lines.


The Greater Toronto Area has an awful lot of car-oriented suburban business parks in the "905" region (particularly Mississauga and Markham), not sure we are really very different from the US in this regard. This sort of development was all the rage in the 1990s; more recently there has been a shift towards more urban-styled development in the 905 such as Mississauga Centre, and 905 public transit has improved but remains highly inadequate. Office development in the "416" City of Toronto has lagged due to high commercial taxes in Toronto, so the region has become increasingly decentralized.

David Welch,  Christchurch New Zealand

Alon Levy wrote; "David, the numbers in this post are mode share, not unlinked trips".

Thanks Alon, I looked at both of Jarrett's postings at the same time and realise now I was responding to the other one (annual passenger trips) - point raised still relevant for that posting.

You also commented " If you want to accuse LRT of being too expensive, you'll have to pick an example city other than Calgary." I made no accusation of being too expensive - rather I was pointing out that if you have big bucks you can do more and usually get a better profit/more cost effective result from your investment. My reading is that Calgary got $3.3 billion given to them by Alberta, as their pro-rata share, under the name of the "Municipal Sustainability Iniative" in 2007 and soon after the City Council announced it intended putting $1 billion into doubling the size of the city's light rail. More recently Alberta gave the Council $800 million under the auspices of the Province's Green Transit programme (amongst other things allowing purchasing of 38 new LRT vehicles). How many other cities of around a million people get these sorts of (repeat) huge lump sum cntributions from state or national Government? With other "minor" add-ons this equates to (averaged) $250 million per year betwen 2004 and 2012.

I think it is absurd to be talking operating costs, whilst not including capital cost spread. Somebody has to pay somewhere, that is the real cost. As it appears there is no huge loan to pay back, nor any calculation of spread cost to taxpayers in the Calgary figures the "operating costs" may be "artificialy" low by world standards. Good luck to them but is it a realistic model for less wealthy economies?

Robert in Calgary

Calgary property taxes have two parts. One goes to the city. The other, the "school tax", goes to the province. The school tax adds up to $602 million for the 2010 tax year.

Calgary's current and outgoing Mayor has been fighting to get the province to leave the School tax portion to the city.

(civic election is Oct. 18th)

Under this theory, Calgary doesn't have to go cap in hand to the province as often.

The province, of course, says it funds the school system with the school tax portion.

Calgary has had huge population growth. We're way behind on infrastructure of all sorts.

If anyone has $15 or 20 Billion to spare.....

David Arthur

MB: Calgary's suburban form is indeed a lot less impressive than its city centre.

One of the several weaknesses of the C-Train is that many of the stations are in the middle of nowhere. It's therefore very dependent on people who either drive to the station, or arrive by suburban bus routes that wouldn't qualify for inclusion in a Frequent Network. Though its form is that of a (highly separated) tramway, the C-Train's function is in many ways more like Toronto and Vancouver's suburban commuter railways than their local transport.

This doesn't detract from the successes of the city centre, but it is part of why I wouldn't recommend the C-Train as a model for other cities to follow despite its high ridership.


Is anyone familiar with the situation in Winnipeg? Having been there once, my impression is of a typical, smaller midwestern city where everyone drives because there is a lot of space and rush hour traffic isn't that bad. And yet they have a 13% JTW modeshare on their bus system (I don't believe there is any rail). Why is that? Dense CBD? Parking costs? What can other small midwestern US cities learn from Winnipeg?

Robert in Calgary

David Arthur says - "One of the several weaknesses of the C-Train is that many of the stations are in the middle of nowhere."

What a truly silly and false assessment!


"The y-axis here is "Journey to Work" (JTW) mode share, the percentage of commutes to work that go by transit."

Can I be a bit of a thorn and take up TransitPlannerMunich's comment about 24 hour mode share?

While peak hour services are great and so it the journey to work, aren't the real gains to be made from all day transit use- off peak and weekends when services are underpatronised?

Alon Levy

@David Welch: I'm already including capital costs. As the Calgary Transit presentation I linked to shows, the total capital cost of LRT through 2000 was about half a billion. In recent years costs have risen; the West LRT is much more expensive than the first three lines. But they're still a fraction of what any other city spends to get the same ridership.

The operating costs are just that - operating costs. It's standard for transit systems worldwide to report those costs, excluding depreciation and interest. It's equally standard for those costs to be measured in dollars, not cents. In North America, the busier urban rail systems have operating costs per linked boarding in the $2-3 range. Tokyo Metro manages to get this down to 67 cents, and that is by itself very efficient. The C-Train's 23 cents/ride figure really is that good.

Robert in Calgary

As a follow-up to David Arthur,

I have used every single C-Train station in Calgary.

Every station has easy walking access to one or more of the following:
1 - Shopping and businesses
2 - Residential
3 - Educational
4 - Cultural and/or sports

Easily confirmed by Google maps.

Transit officials are on record as saying a big part of the success is the bus system feeding into the stations.

I make no claims of our perfection, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Calgary as one of the top models for any city that wants LRT as rapid transit.

Paul C, Vancouver


You bring up an interesting point and something I've thought of as well.

Also when they talk about journey to work mode. Does that include students going to school. I'm sure some students answer how they go to school in the work category. But what if some don't.

Also what about people who go shopping or out for entertainment.

Just because you have good transit service and ridership during your peak hours. Doesn't mean that the service or ridership is good either. This might be another reason that Canadian cities have a higher per capita ridership. They are capturing a higher percentage of the non peak ridership.


I had a bit more of a look at Paul Mees' data, and there are half a dozen charts on my blog:


David Arthur

Robert: Most of the C-Train runs either in the central reservation of a motorway, or along low-density commercial roads. At the outer ends, it gets closer to where people live, but stations still tend to be surrounded by parking. There's no question that the C-Train has served Calgary well, and it's been planned with a lot more intelligence than anything that's happened in Toronto for the past few decades. But its low cost has been achieved in part by bypassing the areas where Calgary does have reasonably dense residential neighbourhoods.

Most cities in North America that are planning rail transport now see stimulating redevelopment as at least an important part of the goal: Waterloo's current project is expressly intended to focus the region's future growth on its central corridor instead of allowing further suburban spral. The C-Train is great at getting people from the suburbs to the city centre, and provides the capacity that the university and sporting facilities need, but the way it's been built has limited the amount of significant redevelopment that it can bring. It's because of these differing goals that I don't see it as a model to imitate.

Robert in Calgary

David: You should write up a guest submission for Jarrett about what you see as the flaws/mistakes/oversights that Calgary has made.

I think I'm safe in saying, that with the existing system, most Calgarians would give you a very odd look to hearing "many stations are in the middle of nowhere".

In the almost 30 years of Calgary LRT, I've heard "the stations are too close to homes" complaint.

The only time I've heard the "middle of nowhere" complaint is when I've made it against the approved route of North Central LRT which is currently slated for the Nose Creek Valley, where no-one lives.

Planners have told me in face to face conversations that they are scared of "community outrage" over the more common sense route up or near Centre Street. This is a battle I'm still fighting. It's become a small issue in the current civic election campaign. I've even spent the money to produce my own report giving the city better options for a North Central route.


The secret of Calgary vs. Boston etc. is:

The ridership of Calgary happens within 12 miles around downtown Calgary.

The U.S. data is for Metro areas that have not much to do anymore with the true urban area from my perspective.

Boston - according to the data with almost 6 million people (around 10 times the population of the city itself), includes then most of Massachusetts and even Providence, Rhode Island. An area 40 miles away from downtown Boston.

As someone who had the pleasure to know both cities it is not logic to melt the Procidence data, and that of the rural area on the way to Boston, with the urban data of the municipality of Boston itself.

If you would do the same in Germany you would soon come to a point where the average share of transit commuters equals the national average in total, so that the numbers would have no meaning at all.


On the question of linked/unlinked trips, I'm not sure how germane it is with regard to total Canadian journey to work data, but it likely has a bearing particularly on the PM commute in Vancouver (to a lesser extent in Victoria) due to the generous transfer system in place. In Vancouver, when you get on a bus you can ask for a transfer which is good for at least two hours, and which allows one to get on and off as many times as one wants along a route, either to connect to other routes or modes, or simply to use the bus as a shuttle for an attenuated shopping trip with multiple stops on the way home. Living in Victoria now, I find I can take the bus, make one or two stops and then return to my starting point all on one transfer depending on the kind of errands. A single fare basically buys one either a single ride or a block of time, which greatly enhances its value to the transit user. Although I know the focus of this blog is transit, it would be interesting to include all of the "sustainable" modes in the figures (cycling, walking and transit). In the case of Victoria, this combined figure adds up to 26% of all journey to work trips for the metropolitan area, and 46% of all journey to work trips for the city itself. In the city to city comparisons, this puts Victoria second only to the City of Montreal in Canada. The compact size of Victoria also makes walking and cycling more competitive than transit in the city. Where 13% of journey to work trips are by transit, 23% are on foot, and 10% are by bicyle (Canada Census, 2006). These figures have been increasing by about 1% every five years.

Alon Levy

@TransitPlannerMunich: I believe the US and Canada have similar definitions for what a metro area is. The Canadian numbers are comparable to the American MSA, not the larger CSA, so to compare Boston with Canadian cities you'd exclude Providence and some of the farther-out suburbs in New Hampshire.

The EU's Larger Urban Zone is very similar in definition to the MSA as well; the more expansive metro area definition in Germany would be a CSA. If metro areas have a smaller radius in Europe than in the US, it's purely a consequence of the greater amount of sprawl in the US.


@Alon Levy,
I see your point. But obviously the data for Boston includes R.I. and N.H. etc. (otherwise the pop. would not be above 5 million, alomst 6 million) while Calgary's area (1 million) is clearly basically the municipality itself.

Still from my expirience the ridership of the urban dweller is in Boston certainly much higher than in Calgary (where I spent a cold winter of my life riding the C-train and the buses).

Also I have problems to say that there is a lower transit ridership in San Francisco than in Winnipeg. It only shows that the area definition for San Francisco is too large.

Otherwise it would be more fair to be consequent and compare ridership per person and state or province.

Alon Levy

The Calgary data is for the metro area, which consists of a little bit more than the municipality, at least in population (its area is much larger). But this is because the municipality's borders are drawn very loosely. The population density of the city proper is 1,400 people per km^2. The city proper has just under a million people, the metro area just over.

The Boston numbers seem to be intermediate between the MSA, which has 4.4 million people, and the CSA, which has 7.4 million. The MSA has a slightly higher transit share, 12.3%; if you follow the link and change geography, you'll see the CSA has an 8.2% share. Obviously the share is much higher in Boston itself, at 33.3%, and much lower in its suburbs, but metro area to metro area, Calgary has more transit use than Boston.

The SF MSA has a transit share of 15.2%, slightly ahead of Winnipeg and behind Calgary. But the SF MSA's borders are very tight, and exclude Silicon Valley and a lot of exurbs. Again, there are large differences within the Bay Area: SF itself has a 34.3% transit share, while suburban Marin County has just an 8.8% share.

Ben Smith

I think Robert from Calgary makes a good point about where stations are located, and how people perceive their location. To some they may be perceived being in the middle of nowhere, while to others they are within an adequate distance of suburban homes and businesses since the people here may be more willing to walk longer distances.

For example, in northwest Toronto there are plans to put a LRT along an arterial avenue. A few hundred meters north is a hydro right of way, which some feel would be better to build it along. However, many urbanists feel it would be too far away from the main street, ignoring that to many suburbanites that walking such a distance is part of everyday life.


When is a city a city?
And when are apples really apples?

In Calgary the metro area is basically identical with the city. The difference is 10% - 100,000 people of 1 million. That means 90% live in an area with a density of 1,400 people/km². Greater Boston has a population of 4.5 million people and a density of 227/km². I the displayed chart the population is even 6 million, meaning probably an even lower density and much bigger area.

The SF Bay area has a density of something like 320/km², Washington D.C. Metro area of 371/km².

Vancouver has 735/km², Toronto 866/km².
No surprise - the Washington Metro area is supposed to be 3 times larger than the Toronto Metro area.

So is it really comparable?
Do people in the US commute longer distances than in Canada? And why do I never see anyone when I am actually in Washington D.C. and even in department stores almost alone?

Or are the Canadian Metro areas more realistically defined? Somehow?

Just as a comparison:
Germany's most populos state "Nordrhein-Westfalen" has a population density of 524/km² and a population of 18 million on 34,000 km². Just double the area of Washington D.C. metro and more than 3 times the population of Metro D.C. - but it is so diverse, with large agrarian areas, different dialects and cities like Cologne, Düsseldorf, Essen, Dortmund and Bonn. No one would ever see it even as one region. But more a dozen regions. With huge empty areas between it. And small towns and huge numbers of villages. And dark forests, mountains etc.

The "almost 6 million people"-metro-area in of Boston from the chart has about the same population and area as the German state of Hessen. But no one would ever see Hessen as the Metro area of Frankfurt. It is even seen by many as a mostly agrarian area. And even the capital is not Frankfurt but Wiesbaden.

This is why I think the chart is nice but nonsense. Information nirwana. If you open the perspective too much you capture only the statistical void. The areas looked at are so large that, in my eyes, you could not get any really relevant information from it. From a planners perspective. Even if it is my own narrow perspective.


One thing to keep in mind about the Metro Vancouver figures is that, not unlike the situation described in Germany, huge parts of the metropolitan area are either farmland or forested mountains, collectively described as the green zone. The actual urbanized area is only about 30% of the total CMA, so the practical density of the transit service area will be much higher than 735/km2. However, perhaps unlike Germany, the entire metro area and even points much further afield such as Whistler are within the psychic space of "Vancouver" for people who live there.

Alon Levy

If you look at the Boston metro area, it has a core that's much denser than anything in Calgary. This leads to a perceived density of about 3,000/km^2 in the urban area. Calgary obviously has a higher perceived density than 1,400, but even its downtown is at about 4,000, which makes it unlikely it's as high as 3,000.

Just comparing area won't do you much good, because American metro areas really do sprawl more. You can compute metro area sizes precisely by looking at commuter flows, and it bears this observation out. For example, if you harmonize definitions, then New York turns out to have about four times the area of Tokyo, with less than two thirds the population. And the way MSAs are defined in terms of commuter flows is almost perfectly equivalent to the French Aire urbaine, which then forms the basis of the European Larger Urban Zone.


@Mark & Alon Levy:
Yes, but what does it all say about transit?
And especially what does it say about urban transit?

The chart does then say that U.S. Metro areas tend to be larger but less dense than Canadian Metro areas.

And that people in the U.S. would commute longer distances, so that 25% of the people working in Providence, R.I. would commute to Boston (what I do not believe, but I cannot prove that the official definition is wrong).

And maybe it says that beyond a certain distance people are more likely to commute by car than by public transit.

But it does not say that pubilc transit in Canada is more accepted or better than that in the U.S. - what is disappointing for Jarrett, cause of Ottawa with its bus system ranking in the chart far above Washington, Boston or SF with their rail system.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

@TPMunich.  Never have I claimed that ridership and modal share differences are always impacts of service quality (and certainly not mode!).  The larger impact, as you and other commenters note, is urban form.  Transit decisions are about how to respond to a particular urban form, so the comparisons in the table can't be read as direct comparisons of their transit systems, or even of their modes.  Rather, they are comparisons of the cities as a whole, in this particular dimension. 


When an area, like in the U.S. metro areas, is so huge (40 miles and more away from downtown) then the percentage of trips by public transit reflect more the share of public transit inter-urban commuters. A functioning public transit system in the core city is then obviously quite irrelevant.

The Canadian Metro areas are obviously smaller, at least for 80% to 90% of its population. And so it is more likely that "normal" public transit trips of a few miles by bus or subway will play a greater role in the statistics.

When Boston is statistically bigger than Toronto or Montreal than it is in my eyes not plausible.

An urban sprawl with a low density of 200 people/km² is not urban anymore and I doubt it can be seen as a Metro area or as something called "Boston". According to that you could label all of the Netherlands as "Amsterdam". Only that the whole of the Netherlands has with around 400 persons per km² double the density of that what is called in that chart "Boston". Despite the fact that this "Amsterdam" is Europe's prime exporter for agrarian products. Not bad for a place with double the density of "Boston".

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

TPMunich.  We agree completely.  American urban areas are like small states named, for convenience, after their primate city.  Sometimes urban areas do start to separate in the public mind, as San Francisco and San Jose do even though the 60km between them is continuously urban.

To me the Dutch capital is the entire Randstad, encompassing the diamond whose corners are Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Den Haag/Leiden.  Central government functions are distributed among these cities, and their entire area, including its "green heart," is smaller than many US metroplexes. 


@ David from Ottawa -- thanks for the info on the University of Calgary LRT routing. The U made a terrible mistake that will affect transit service and land use planning in the entire northwest quadrant of the city as the result.

The second big mistake was allowing the U to get away with it. I can't imagine their planning and design faculty or any student who takes transit would have agreed.

@ Alon Levy, @ Robert in Calgary -- there is such a thing as light rail that is too cheap. Calgary's first C-Train leg follows a RR right-of-way through several industrial districts paralleling McLeaod Trail, one of the more hideous highway retail corridors in Canada. A generation of direct adjacency to LRT has done nothing to slow the growth of said car-dominated retail and suburban malls situated in hundreds of hectares of asphalt.

Chinook Centre is the largest concentration of economic activity in Calgary's south, yet the closest rapid transit station is three blocks away with a very inconvenient shuttle bus. It was yet one more huge missed opportunity to add to the roster of transit - land use mismatches Calgary is famous for in the urban design community. Chinook by all rights should be a 21st Century transit-oriented town centre, not a mall that expanded on its 1950s discredited planning roots.

Moreover, from a personal perspective I find the system has serious safety issues. I have the benefit of unique perspective: one of my cousins was killed by C-Train in the 90s (one of two dozen people killed that decade in otherwise perfectly preventable accidents at level crossings), and another who drives them. It is no accident they are building the western leg completely grade-separated outside of downtown.

Alon Levy

@MB, the C-Train is usually grade-separated already outside of downtown. Both of its arterial road legs follow largely grade-separated roads, with few grade crossings.

@TPM, you're still confusing average with perceived density. American metro areas sprawl a lot and have a very low average density, but their perceived density may not be so low. A large fraction of Boston's urban area consists of Boston itself as well as surrounding dense cities such as Cambridge; those drive up the perceived density. To the average resident of Greater Boston's inner areas, it doesn't matter how far away the sprawl is.

The transportation between Boston's exurbs and Boston may be on interurban scale, and may have been originally constructed as interurban, but its current function is metropolitan, or commuter. That is, it's primarily used for work trips, has a very strong morning peak, and is dominated by travel from residential areas to job centers.

@Jarrett: can you please pretend that my criticism of Mees' data only includes a link to the ABS's higher numbers, without the explanation about motorized trips? I honestly don't know what is worse: thinking that Zurich is the capital of Switzerland, or saying that "the share of public transit of motorized work trips" is lower than that of "all work trips."

That said, the numbers I link to as "motorized trips" still seem too low - they say something about "commute" instead of "usual trip to work or study." (The inclusion of "study" is parallel to the Canadian numbers, if not to the American ones.) I think my criticism stands - just please disregard one sub-moronic comment that went with it.


@ Alon Levy: "the C-Train is usually grade-separated already outside of downtown. Both of its arterial road legs follow largely grade-separated roads, with few grade crossings."

No they don't.

The SW leg has one short tunnel under Cemetery Hill. The NW leg crosses one short bridge and enters a slightly longer tunnel between 16th Ave and the University Station. The NE leg crosses one bridge and enters a short tunnel off 36th St, and crosses an overpass at 16th Ave.

Otherwise the vast majority of these lines are at-grade.

Perhaps you are confusing separated/isolated transit medians with grade separation. Still, the huge inconvenenience of the cheaper-is-better school of architecture prevails in winter when thousands of passengers are forced to use open and narrow pedestrian bridges over the roaring arterials, and walk hundreds of metres more than necessary had they placed stations where the people are in the first place.

Cheapness has also resulted in the ongoing tragedy at level crossings (perhaps now exceeding three dozen otherwise preventable deaths at a limited number of at-grade crossings).

C-Train is supposed to be a regional rapid transit system and has the ridership to prove it. But only after a generation of use have they finally learned that that equates to higher speeds, fewer stops and no barriers, something that's highly limited by level crossings, and are now building the SW leg completely grade-separated and at far higher cost.

My other beef is that, except for its wonderful inner city neighbuorhoods, Calgary is built for the car, not for human beings. That despite 25 years of C-Train.


@ David from Ottawa: The walk from the LRT station to the centre of the university campus really isn't that bad; it certainly could be improved (better tree planting for wind buffering, some more interesting ground floors on the first few buildings one encounters, etc...) but it really isn't a huge deterrent.

That said, it would've been quite interesting if the LRT had been able to continue NW via Market Mall; there's a fair amount of high density housing there, and of course, the mall (which, like every mall, could be so much more!).

Can you provide a link or share any kind of documentation (old reports, maps, images) of the 'heart of campus versus Crowchild median' debate? Very very interesting...


Alon Levy

MB, if Calgary had done the expensive option and spent twice as much money per km of rail, it would have had half the system length it has today. There are advantages to doing things on the cheap.

Robert in Calgary

Clearly there are things that could improve Calgary's LRT system.

I've been fighting for some of them. I'll be making proposals to the new mayor and council after Monday's elections.

I've suggested rerouting the NW route to add the two Hospitals, a door front McMahon Stadium Stn. and a more central U of C. station.

Development around the stations has been lacking. Very much so. They would like to change things around Chinook.

Calgary has a lot of residential on the west side and a lot of jobs on the east side.

I would like a crosstown LRT route from Mount Royal University with a stop at Chinook Centre, eventually heading out to 52nd Street SE in the Foothills Industrial area.

I think there is better understanding that the fewer level crossings, the better.

West LRT has 6 level crossings, LRT gets automatic priority at five of them. 11th Street downtown will be standard traffic light operation.


@ Alon, if Calgary had developed more compact transit-oriented neighbourhoods when LRT was first introduced instead of big lot subdivisions to the horizon, they could've lopped off a good chunk of the distant rail line extensions and put the savings into grade separation, better station architecture, and an efficient community focus plan for its major malls that includes direct (i.e. to the door) rapid transit service.

@ Robert, good luck to you. Perhaps Calgary is ripe for second generation transit, which would entail slower streetcars and/or BRT, taking road space incrementally away from cars for increasing transit service, and bike + pedestrian routes.

Calgary can learn much from its original inner city streetcar "suburbs", like Kensington which remains a delightful neighbourhood.


Update: Last week Calgary elected a new mayor who is pro-transit and pro-sustainable development. He is also a Muslim from a visible minority. On both counts this is revolutionary for Alberta.

He listed 12 "Better Ideas" along with his guest columns to the local daily on his Web site, often insightful critiques of Calgary's ingrained growth habits. He went into the election as the underdog, but as it progressed it became apparent real ideas were more important than sound bites, and a groundswell swept Naheed Nenshi into the mayor's chair with anewar record voter turn out.

Though I think he's got a tough gig ahead of him, and his ideas may well falter in the inevitable fight with the intransigence of the old guard (mostly developers of subdivisions and the wards they can buy on council), I am encouraged about the future of my old home town.


On the other hand, a few days ago Toronto elected a blustering, angry man from the suburbs, kind of Rush Limbaugh North. I'm not sure what his stance on transit is, but his overall outlook doesn't bode well for good urbanism.

It seems conservative Calgary progressed while progressive Toronto regressed.

Alon Levy

@MB: Toronto's new mayor is anti-transit - he supports tearing down the streetcars, dismantling bike lanes, and canceling the light rail expansion plan. He pretends to support a (low-ridership) suburban subway instead, but it's not intended as a serious proposal.


There is a reason Canadian cities are higher up on the transit usage chart, and it has nothing to do with just CBD employment.

It has to do with the fact that Canadian cities for the most part, provide full service transit seven days a week within walking distance of well over 90% of metropolitan area residents.

US cities and Australian cities fail to do this.
It is a well known fact for example that well over half of Melbourne has no bus service after 7 pm even on weekdays.

When service is poor, you will get poor ridership.
In Canadian cities, residents know they will have transit at most times seven days a week, and they use it.

People are often shocked to see metro regions like SF or Boston have low transit usage. But it is not shocking at all, considering once you leave the city limits and go into the suburbs, you will be hardpressed to find a bus within walking distance of most homes in suburban Boston, SF, and most American cities.
In fact over half of American's in metropolitan areas have no access to public transit within walking distance of their homes.

David in Ottawa

@D 10/15/2010 at 05:41

My knowledge of the particulars of the LRT routing decision concerning the UoCalgary is as a result of having been a student at the Faculty of Environmental Design (EVDS) and from hearing a guest lecture from a former planner of the system in one of the courses I took.

MB wondered about whether the planning faculty (EVDS) agreed and they did not - they opposed the university's decision in this regard. Apparently the university now regrets its decision but the City has no willingness now to realign the route.

Leaving aside the university's poor decision, it's not easy to hit all the things one would want to hit in the northwest because they were placed before rapid transit was conceived, and are therefore scattered too much. Trying to find a single route that hits all of SAIT, Lion's Park, Foothills Hospital, McMahon Stadium, University of Calgary, the Children's hospital (not built back then but still planned, I believe), Market Mall, Brentwood and Northland Mall is pretty much impossible. Going through the UoC campus would allow Market Mall to be hit, but Foothills would still be some distance from the nearest point on the line.

My main beef about the pedestrian connection to the campus is the exposed open bridge into the median of Crowchild Trail. In winter it's just plain nasty. In Ottawa, it would have been covered.


@ David in Ottawa. Good comments.

I think Calgary needs more than just the hub and spoke rail transit planning approach. A "circle line" could join the Northwest transit destinations together, then cross the river near 29th Street to Westbrook, then swing around to Chinook (where it should join with the south LRT in a re-aligned rail guideway swung right into the centre, creating a major hub station), then eventually to Marlborough in the NE and perhaps the airport. This could be C-Train-based rapid transit in dedicated corridors or grade-separated.

The new mayor talks about a new route up Centre Street north. This may warrant more of a surface streetcar approach, with signal priority and lane dedication where possible. Perhaps the streetcar approach would be apropos on other arterials narrower than the collectors and freeways C-Train uses.

In all cases, the urban design and architectural quality of stations and the transit-oriented development must go up, and the pedestrian experience should be pleasant, not an insufferable chore.

Matt Fisher


Yeah, in Toronto, Mayor-elect Ford's subway scheme isn't as serious as the Transit City light rail plan he's against. The outlook of Ford's mayoralty doesn't look so good.


Regarding the C-Train routing, there are some things that aren't as optimal, even if it draws THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of riders every day. Too bad the C-Train doesn't come next to most of the university and the Chinook Centre.


Matt, thousands and thousands of the passengers begin their commute by driving and parking at the outter stations before boarding. Auto supremacy reigns in Calgary's urban design beyond the inner city despite a generation raised on C-Train.

It would be far better to bring rail into the heart of the community and design the neighbourhoods around them. Imagine disembarking into quality public space, like town squares instead of into 6,000-car parkades or the middle of a major arterial with roaring traffic.

Matt Fisher


That's what I was trying to say. We both agree that rail transit should be brought "into the heart of the community". I still agree about the auto supremacy argument, since most suburbs in Calgary depend on cars for what I would say are other non-downtown uses.

Chris Harris

Paul Mees's books A VERY PUBLIC SOLUTION (2000) and TRANSPORT FOR SUBURBIA (2010) both explicitly contrast Canadian and Australasian (Australia/NZ) service philosophies. Mees regards the secret of Canada's success as grids, frequency and interconnection, as well as a relative absence of silo bureaucracy and a greater focus on "placed based governance" as the Canadians call it. For instance it's widely believed that the reason Brisbane built a busway was because the Brisbane City Council ran the buses whereas the State of Queensland ran the trains. Mees talks about this in TFS and quotes a 1997 inquiry thus:

"The committee saw no evidence that Queensland Transport, Brisbane City Council, Queensland Rail and private bus and ferry operators ever spoke to one another other than to plan more major infrastructure projects. The classic example is the lack of an integrated ticketing system. Why Brisbane does not have one, the committee does not know...."

Brisbane's got an integrated ticketing scheme now but Auckland still hasn't. Mees is a huge critic of Auckland as I am too; basically the one city where the most florid Roger Rabbit theories really are true and not just imagination; albeit largely for teabagger style political reasons whereby rail was identified with socialism. Wellington escaped this fate and does far better even though it has only 450,000 people.

Chris Harris

I should clarify the integrated ticket situation in Auckland. It's not quite true that there is no integrated ticketing, but what has always been missing is affordable and widely used integrated ticketing. The Hop Card currently operates on buses belonging to one company (NZ Bus) but is expected to operate as a fully integrated ticket in mid-2012, http://www.myhop.co.nz/About-HOP/Pages/HOP-Timeline.aspx. We are keeping our fingers crossed about this, it hasn't strictly happened yet and the wheels tend to fall off this kind of thing in Auckland. There are other fully integrated ticket products that have existed for some years, but they have always been very expensive, presumably on the theory that they might be used for really long rail trips and should be priced accordingly. Uptake has been a secret thought to be incredibly low (ticket agents are often unfamiliar with them or do not stock them, which says a lot). For instance the monthly Discovery pass is currently NZ $ 240, http://www.metrolinkbus.co.nz/tickets-and-timetables/tickets-and-fares.php . A fully integrated pass called the A-Pass has been rushed in just for the Rugby World Cup, at NZ $15 a day, same price as the Discovery daypass which it resembles, and about twice as expensive in local purchasing power terms as the equivalent daypass in Portland, Vancouver or Calgary: http://www.myhop.co.nz/News/Pages/Tourists-get-an-A-PASS-to-Auckland.aspx .

John Woodhouse

Some Canadian cities have low walkability. Edmonton is particularly bad, despite it having sidewalks everywhere. Steets are wide (wind tunnels in winter). Blocks are long. Things are spread out. Most trips are not interesting to walk or are too long. The river valley is massive (wide and deep) in context to the size of the city and the size of the actual river. But transit is good for young people, especially students. Edmonton Transit runs dedicated school specials and high school students are given subsidized bus passes that they can use anytime. So most high school and post-secondary students take the bus twice a day and often to their jobs -- the University is for the most part a commuting school. Retired people used to get free passes as well (and probably still do because they are pretty good at hanging on to their entitlements). I think this goes a long way to explain why the graphs of trips per population and trips for work are so different.

Nicolas Derome

Yeah, I think there are multiple reasons for Canadian cities' higher ridership.

One is a solid grid of bus routes with all day all week service with very high frequency in the inner ring suburbs (suburban style areas within Toronto city limits), and high frequency in the suburbs outside Toronto city limits. A lot of these feed into the subway and commuter rail. Bus terminals are usually in logical locations too, in places that are major destinations like regional malls, universities/colleges and commuter rail/subway stations. Even though the overall amount of rapid transit and commuter rail is comparable to Chicago, Boston, Philly and DC, the transit network as a whole is well set up.

Two is that Canadian cities/urban areas are denser in general:
Part of the reason why Greater Toronto and other cities are able to run a good bus network is that the outer, suburban areas are quite dense. In fact, at the edges of the urban area, there are a large number of census tracts in the 10-20,000 ppsm range. Many arterials with high frequency bus routes are lined with high rises, and although they aren't as dense as they could be (tower in the park), it's still better than many American arterials.

Three, yeah, there's more centralization of employment. Toronto might seem like it has a lot of office parks, but I think it's easy to overestimate how many jobs there are in them. I think among American cities, only NYC and maybe Chicago have a higher percent of office space in the core. And... I wouldn't be surprised if several other Canadian cities are even better than Toronto in this respect.

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