Ride-matching behemoth Uber is being held up as one example of dynamic new services that Metro Vancouver mayors have ignored in their push for a sales tax hike to expand public transit.

Transport ‘revolution’ could make transit obsolete: think tank

Fraser Institute says Uber-like choices overlooked by Metro Vancouver transit plan, critic says math doesn't work

A conservative think tank says Metro Vancouver’s transit expansion plan fails to consider rapidly evolving personal transportation technologies that may open up nimbler ways to get around than a rigid network of fixed routes and stations.

The Fraser Institute’s Kenneth Green argues the region’s mayors underestimate the likely future influence of ride-matching services like Uber, car-share offerings like Car2Go and everything from private intercity buses to potential autonomous “robocars.”

He said Uber and Lyft are prime examples of new smartphone services that link willing drivers with passengers to create “highly dynamic” networks that can spontaneously adapt to changing demand through variable prices.

“Market signals rather than transit planners determine the number of vehicles available to transport passengers,” Green wrote in a new Fraser Institute paper.

Neither service is yet in Metro Vancouver, but Uber has been preparing to enter the market.

He foresees much more individualized options on the road ahead.

A Lyft user could book a Camry for the regular commute and a Jaguar for the late night date, he suggested.

Dynamic, personalized transport may meet many goals of transit expansion supporters, he said, but potentially with less cost and less public subsidy.

“We’re in the midst of a transportation revolution, yet the Metro Vancouver transit expansion plan barely acknowledges these new dynamic services that may eventually make mass transit systems obsolete,” Green said.

He suggests fewer people in the future will own their own cars, more will use car- and ride-sharing options, and many of them may well use those options in concert with the public transit system.

SFU City Program director Gordon Price agrees on that point – people who give up their own cars because of shared car alternatives will likely also use more transit.

But Price said no one should think any new service using cars can replace the role of mass transit by buses and trains.

“The arithmetic simply does not work with that number of cars in that amount of road space,” Price said. “You cannot do it. There are laws of physics in the way.”

It would be impossible to ever host another major stadium concert or sports event without transit to carry most participants, he said.

Green’s paper notes criticism that new elite services may skim off the affluent, young and tech-savvy and leave transit with “a poorer, older, less diverse ridership.”

Price said that outcome would dovetail neatly with the transit privatization agenda of conservatives like Green.

“You take aim at the most profitable routes and then you leave the rest for an increasingly demoralized and impoverished public transit system, which makes it so much easier to cut because it’s viewed as a social service.”