Ask most people what's the most dangerous thing they do every day and they'll likely tell you it's driving or riding in a car. Canada ranks fourth among OECD countries for fatalities per kilometre driven, behind France, the United States and Denmark. But if driving is so dangerous, why do we continue to take the risk?
The truth is, many people in Canada rely on personal vehicles for their livelihoods. We drive to work, school and doctor's appointments. People who live in communities that lack frequent and reliable public transportation, pedestrian walkways and safe bicycle routes may have no alternative to driving a car. What many of us don't realize is that access to these alternatives saves lives. Transit-oriented communities have about one-quarter the per capita traffic fatality rate.
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Public transit riders are also more likely than drivers to escape the other pitfall of modern life: inactivity. While the majority of people in North America fall short of their recommended 22 minutes of daily exercise, research shows that people who commute by public transit often meet this target simply by walking to bus stops and train stations. Hitting these activity goals can reduce individual medical costs by nearly 25 per cent every year. That's likely why Vancouver's chief medical health officer, Patricia Daly, is firmly in the "Yes" camp and talking about public transportation dividends in the form of healthier communities.
"We know from studies that we've done that people who use public transit get about 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity that people who don't use public transit don't get. This will help improve their overall health," Daly recent told the CBC's Rick Cluff. Her views echo those of over 90 organizations supporting the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, including the David Suzuki Foundation.
Public transportation also plays a role in fighting air pollution in cities, a much greater health risk than many of us imagine. According to Environment Canada, more than 5,000 people die across the country every year directly because of air pollution. A single city bus can eliminate the need for 40 personal vehicles and keep 168 tonnes of pollutants out of the air each year.
Governments are increasingly being called on to address air pollution. Last March, after suffering through several days of extreme smog, authorities in Paris, France, urged citizens to leave their cars at home. Residents were given free access to all public transit, bike shares and electric car programs in the French Capital Region to combat the significant risks to residents' health.
Metro Vancouver area residents are no strangers to smog. Beginning in 1973 when the Greater Vancouver Regional District was given the authority to manage its own air quality, local governments have been fighting to cut air pollution. The next leap forward could come through a "YES" vote in the region's upcoming transit referendum. Local governments want to fund massive infrastructure improvements to the region's roads, rails, walkways and bike routes via a 0.5 per cent sales tax increase across Metro Vancouver. The annual cost to voters is estimated at between $50 and $125 (14 to 34 cents per day) leading to reduced air pollution and better health by adding rapid bus and train service in cities like Surrey, Langely, Richmond, Delta and Port Coquitlam while expanding service in Vancouver, North Vancouver and the region's other cities. The plan is expected to cut road congestion by 20 per cent.
Ballots will be mailed to residents beginning March 16 and must be submitted by May 29. To make sure you are registered to vote, visit Elections B.C.