What the Vancouver transit plebiscite means for millennials

by: Rhi Myfanwy Kirkland | Guest Blog | Apr 16, 2015

Vancouver Transit System Rhi Myfanwy Kirkland

Vancouver transit system. Photo credit: Rhi Myfanwy Kirkland

Many things have been said about millennials. Some of them are stereotypes disparaging kids these days as entitled or lazy. Others mark a distinct shift in the habits and desires of one generation from those that came before.

Millennials make up about a quarter of Canada’s population. This demographic will only grow in importance as more millennials enter the work force. According to Statscan those born after 1993 made up about 7.3 million people or 22 per cent of Canada’s population in the 2011 census. Many count those born in the early ’80s onwards to be a part of the millennial generation.

When it comes to transportation and getting around, millennials are considerably more likely to eschew cars for public transit and other modes of active transit. Fewer millennials are getting their drivers license compared to a generation ago.

The trend can be seen in statistics from all over North American. Miles driven by Americans aged 16 to 34 dropped by 23 per cent from 2001 to 2009. Metro Vancouver has seen similar decreases in the number of young people with driver’s licenses. Between 1999 and 2011 there was a 10 per cent drop in the percentage of people with a driver’s licence held by 16–19 year-olds and 20–29 year-olds. For the 16–19 age bracket it fell from 60 per cent in 1999 to 50 per cent in 2011. For 20–29 year-olds it dropped from 90 per cent to 80 per cent.

In place of driving young Vancouverites are more likely to take transit than older cohorts. According to data compiled by Bing Thom Architects, 60 per cent of workers commuting via transit in Metro Vancouver are under the age of 40. BTAworks’ Andy Yan came up with similar results. With data from Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey, he found that 10 percent of Baby Boomers (45–65) use transit to get to work. In contrast one in three millennials and one in five Generation Xers (30–45) rely on transit to get to work.

In a recent Globe and Mail article Paul Kershaw, the UBC researcher behind the non-partisan lobby group Generation Squeeze, argued that a no vote is a vote against young Canadians.

“It’s not the fault of younger Canadians that they inherit a country in which postsecondary education costs more, while jobs pay less; where housing prices have skyrocketed, while the cost of child care is a second mortgage; where they are saddled with larger government and environmental debts,” wrote Kershaw. “Younger Canadians are doing their best to adapt to these realities. Taking transit is a part of this adaptation. Voting against investing more in transit leaves younger Canadians to adapt alone.”

When it comes to the Vancouver plebiscite, one of the core questions should be what kind of city Vancouverites want to live in now and in the future. Since millennials will make up a large share of those future residents, their needs matter. The vote offers the opportunity to build the type of city that millennials want to live in.

A recent study released by University of Saskatchewan professor David McGrane for the Broadbent Institute found that young Canadians are more left wing than their parents. They are more favourable to government intervention in the economy and the idea that government services contribute to a higher quality of life and a liveable society.

The plebiscite is not about Translink’s track record or a particular funding mechanism. Instead it is about whether the government should have a stronger role in delivering services in Metro Vancouver. It is about funding for public transportation and whether that is a worthwhile investment. In their habits and values millennials are likely to say yes. They want transit and they’re willing to pay higher taxes to get it.

Works cited:

Rhi Myfanwy Kirkland is a freelance writer and photographer living in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She studied political science and religious studies at the University of Calgary. She has previously interned at Avenue magazine and The Washington Monthly.

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