Can this really be true?

StatCan is reporting that residents British Columbia slashed their driving last year—and by quite a lot. Total passenger miles in the province fell rom 56 billion passenger miles in 2004, to 51 billion in 2005. Meanwhile, driving in Canada overall edged upwards.

Translink, the lower mainland’s transit authority, attributed the fall to rising gas prices and rising transit usage. According to a spokesperson:

“If they do the same survey a year from now, there will be less driving because the price of gas has gone up so much…We have seen a significant shift to transit ridership this year, and we have to attribute that to a rise in the price of gas.”

Hm. Color (or, rather, colour) me skeptical about this.

  • I’m usually willing to believe that BC is capable of things that are out of the question in the US northwest.

    But adjusted for population growth, StatCan’s figures suggests that personal travel declined by about 10 percent in a single year. A 10 percent decline in road miles is huge. Huge. And in a single year, it’s pretty much unheard of—especially in the middle of a surging economy (as BC’s seems to be).

    So if I were a betting man (and I’m not) I’d wager that the data are mistaken.

    StatCan’s figures are based on random samples, and there’s always a margin of error in those kinds of studies. That’s not StatCan’s fault; blame the laws of mathematics for that. So the fall in passenger miles in cars and trucks could just be a statistical outlier.

    Plus, this appears to be the result of two separate trends: average car occupancy fell from from 1.7 to 1.6 (roughly 6%) and total vehicle miles fell from 33 billion to 31.5 (roughly 4%).
    I can believe (barely) a 4 percent decline in vehicle travel; it’s still a big drop, but it’s possible. But I’d bet that a simultaneous fall in vehicle mileage and vehicle occupancy is spurious. It’s exactly the opposite of what one would expect from a fall in car travel—you’d expect to see more carpooling, not less.

    At any rate, I’m going to hold off on celebrating on this one, until I see some numbers that confirm the trend.