Vancouver parents with young kids want less driving, more transit, cycling and walking: study

April 2, 2015

(Vancouver) As the Metro Vancouver transportation and transit plebiscite continues to dominate public discussion, a new study offers insights into how parents of young children travel from place to place within Vancouver, and how they’d like to see their experience improve.

“Parents with young kids have lots of reasons to prefer cars over public transit,” says study author Arlene McLaren, a sociologist specializing in families’ use of transportation. “What surprised us with this research is how many parents are nevertheless trying to reduce their car use in spite of how difficult it is.” McLaren cites tired children, bulky strollers, bad weather and safety concerns as just some of the barriers confronting parents who want to get their families out of the car.

McLaren’s team interviewed 52 parents of young children in four diverse areas of Vancouver — Downtown, Grandview-Woodland, Dunbar-Southlands and Sunset. The study, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, includes these findings:

  • Most parents use a combination of different modes of transportation, including car, public transit, walking and/or cycling.
  • Parents are generally well aware that over-reliance on cars contributes to problems like traffic congestion and climate change, and that children’s health would benefit from cycling or walking instead.
  • A few parents choose to live without a car, but many parents can’t afford to own a car at all.
  • Low-income families tend to live in areas with more dangerous traffic for walking and cycling with children. These areas generally have greater public transit availability, but the service is often not adequate, child-friendly or affordable.
  • Higher income parents live in areas with traffic that’s less dangerous but have less available transit.

McLaren points out that decreasing car use will benefit the environment as well as families’ health, but adds that significant changes are needed before that can happen. Her recommendations include three strategies:

  • Develop more “complete communities” across the city: dense, mixed use environments with commercial, school, employment and transit services in close proximity to residential areas.
  • Reduce car use and encourage other modes of transportation:
    • Create child-friendly transportation options throughout the city, prioritizing walking and cycling.
    • Expand the availability of car-sharing programs to provide more flexibility and choice for parents’ mobility options.
  • Improve public transit
    • Address key problems like unreliable service, crowded buses, poorly designed routes and scheduling, and inadequate accommodation of large items like strollers.
    • Introduce more affordable ways for families to use public transit (e.g. subsidized transit passes, free transit).

“Many parents told us that they want to reduce their car use,” says McLaren. “Better public transit will help them do that, and it will also help those who do not own a car. A yes vote in the current plebiscite is one way of getting more accessible and reliable transit – and we also need to continue to work for more affordability.”

For more information and interviews, contact Sarah Leavitt at 604-801-5121, ext 233, or sarah at policyalternatives dot ca.