Survey: More downtown commuters ditch cars

Program that urges them to find alternatives makes some progress

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

A program that encourages downtown Vancouver commuters to ride transit, bike, walk, or carpool instead of driving alone is showing positive early results, based on surveys of program participants.

Destination Downtown, a city-run program funded by a federal transportation grant and city funds, found in its draft 2012 Program Report that participants reduced their drive-alone commuting by 8 percent from when they signed up for the program. Respondents to the survey said they increased their walking by 1.7 percent, transit use by 3.9 percent, and carpooling by 4.2 percent. However, bicycling dropped by 1.8 percent, possibly due to fall weather conditions when the follow-up survey was taken.

The program, which offers gifts and other incentives as inducements to reduce single-driver auto commuting, launched its outreach program last April. It covers an area bounded by Interstate 5 to the east, the Columbia River to the south, 15th Street to the north, and a jagged western border that generally follows Harney Street. The effort is funded with $230,000, with the city paying about $31,000 and the rest coming from a federal congestion management program.

About 400 people participated in the fall survey of their commuting habits, which compared their responses to a baseline when they joined the program. In the follow-up survey, almost 49 percent of commuter travel by program participants in the fall was drive-alone commuting. Sixteen percent of trips were by bicycle. The rest were walking, carpooling, or riding transit, with each garnering between 10 and 12 percent.

Respondents listed several major factors that would have helped them further reduce their commute driving. Thirty percent said "safer bike routes" would make a difference. Twenty-three percent cited the need for better transit service, while 19 percent said they would carpool if they could find a partner. But 29 percent cited an inducement to leaving the car behind that's beyond anyone's control: better weather.

A full 85 percent said they believed the program should be continued, and 84 percent said the giveaways to businesses and other incentives encouraged them to visit downtown locations other than their workplace. The program offers new participants a packet of information about and coupons for downtown businesses, C-Tran transit, and local activities.

Project manager Jennifer Campos, an employee in the city's long-range planning department, said those results contributed to the city's decision to continue and possibly expand its outreach program this year. The city is looking at including Clark College and Uptown Village in the program, adding more downtown business and program partners, and reaching out at more community events.