Transit study shows how subsidies increase sustainable commuting to downtown Vancouver

September 22, 2020

The City of Vancouver and researchers from SFU Urban Studies have just released a report showing how hotel workers in downtown Vancouver were persuaded to take transit when given monthly transit subsidies of between 15-50 per cent.

Recently released by the City of Vancouver, Professors Peter Hall and Anthony Perl of Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies program led the Employer Transit Subsidy Study.

The SFU study investigated how transit subsidies affected the commuting choices of workers at downtown Vancouver hotels. Its findings show that providing these workers with subsidies worth 15 to 50 per cent on their monthly transit passes persuaded a significant percentage of workers to leave their cars at home and instead take the bus or SkyTrain to work. The increase in transit-only commuting came with no reduction in walking or cycling.

Transit-only commuting increased by between three and four per cent at the hotels where the experimental transit subsidies were available and increased by less, or even declined, at the hotels where they weren’t. While these seem like small relative increases, researchers say they are significant given the high baseline level of transit commuting among the study population (over half of whom were already transit-only commuters when the study began in 2018).

The increases are also significant in view of the challenges to transit commuting facing many of these workers. Many needed to work on weekends, commute at off-peak hours or had no regular start and end times for their shifts. Less than half of the study population lived in the City of Vancouver, resulting in longer commutes to their downtown workplaces.

“Workers in other industries face similar commuting challenges to these, and we hope this study will support a focus on equity—making transit affordable and accessible to those who most depend on it,” says Peter Hall.

Researchers collected all the study data in 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic. Seven participating hotels, along with Unite Here Local 40, allowed the SFU research teams into the hotels at three different times to survey workers about their commuting choices. At the four hotels that are members of the Greater Vancouver Hotel Employers Association, the workers already had an employer-paid 15 percent subsidy on their transit passes, which was ratified during collective bargaining in 2015.

Surveys took place three times: the first before any changes to existing subsidy levels in order to understand the workers’ commuting patterns (March 2018), a second time (September 2018) to understand the effects after six months of varied increases in subsidy levels offered to workers at selected hotels, and a final time (March 2019) to understand the effects of further increases in the subsidy level over the course of a full year. Researchers then used statistical analysis, combined with other data sources, to produce 12 findings.

“We have found few, if any, other studies that focus on the how workers in a specific industry respond to transit subsidies, and none that focus on hospitality or tourism workers, who are so vital to Metro Vancouver’s economy,” says Hall. “The partnership between SFU, the City of Vancouver, TransLink, Unite Here Local 40, and the participating hotels is what made this study possible and is quite unusual. I thank all our partners for their cooperation, and especially the hotel workers who participated in our surveys.”

Read the executive summary

Read the full report


Media contacts

Professor Peter Hall, Urban Studies, Simon Fraser University,

Professor Anthony Perl, Urban Studies, Simon Fraser University: 778-371-9568,

City of Vancouver: 604-871-6336,

UNITE HERE Local 40: Michelle Travis, 604-291-8211,

Pinnacle Harbourfront: Jonas Melin,

Hyatt Regency: Lin Schatz,

Holiday Inn & Suites Vancouver Downtown: Kris Szylowski, 604.623.6819,


The anonymized survey data is available on SFU's RADAR depository.

It includes 3 SPSS-format data files, 3 Excel-format variable keys and 3 pdf-format questionnaires.