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Developer subsidizing residents' transit use at Vancouver rental building

A person holds up a Compass Card in front of PCI Developments' Yarrow East Village building on East Hastings Street. (TranLink) A person holds up a Compass Card in front of PCI Developments' Yarrow East Village building on East Hastings Street. (TranLink)
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A Metro Vancouver developer is once again teaming up with TransLink to give users of one of its new buildings free access to transit and study the impact of the subsidy.

PCI Developments is providing 94 Compass Cards, each pre-loaded with $150, to residents of its Yarrow East Village rental building.

TransLink and the developer will track participants' transit use and ask them to fill out surveys and provide feedback on the program's effectiveness.

“This new project will allow us to learn more about how developer-led transit subsidies can help promote transit-oriented developments in the region,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn, in a news release announcing the study Tuesday.

Previous study in Surrey

It's the second time TransLink and PCI have worked together on a project like this.

In 2022, the developer gave pre-loaded $150 Compass Cards to 300 people who lived or worked at its King George Hub complex in Surrey. 

Results of that study were published last summer, with TransLink reporting that 282 of the cards were used for a combined total of 12,242 journeys over a three-month period. 

That works out to slightly more than 43 transit trips per card, or about 14.5 per month.

Some 90 per cent of the cards were used at King George Hub, which – as the name suggests – is located steps away from King George SkyTrain Station.

TransLink estimates that five per cent of the cards were likely given away, as they were not used in Surrey. The remaining five per cent were used in Surrey, but not at King George Hub.

The regional transit provider concluded that the free Compass Cards increased people's use of the transit system, though it based this conclusion on study participants' self-reported frequency of use in surveys taken at the beginning and end of the project.

While 210 people filled out the "intake" survey, only 80 completed the "exit" survey. In the intake survey, 82 per cent of respondents said they took transit at least twice per week. In the exit survey, after the pre-loaded cards had been in use for three months, 92 per cent of respondents said the same.

TransLink characterized the findings of the Surrey study as showing that developer-funded transit subsidies encourage ridership among those living and working in transit-oriented developments.

New study next to bus hub

The Yarrow East Village project has some notable differences from the Surrey one. PCI Developments is providing fewer Compass Cards this time around, and only to building residents, rather than a mix of residents and workers.

There's also no SkyTrain line near Yarrow East Village, which is located at the intersection of East Hastings and Kootenay streets.

The development is next to the Kootenay Loop, which serves nine bus routes, including the R5 RapidBus and routes that travel as far away as Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver and the Tri-Cities.

During the Surrey study, 55 per cent of trips recorded on the pre-loaded Compass Cards were on SkyTrain, with 44 per cent on bus and one per cent on SeaBus.

In the release Tuesday, Quinn said the neighbourhood around Kootenay Loop as "has been an important part of the bus network for over 70 years."

“PCI is pleased to once again have the opportunity to work with TransLink to support sustainable transportation options for Yarrow residents in Vancouver’s East Village, an area well-served by public transit,” said PCI Developments president Tim Grant, in the release.

"Building on the successful initial pilot at King George Hub, we are hopeful this initiative will help to encourage more transit use by our residents, and further inform best practices around transit-oriented development."

Notably, PCI is also the company TransLink partnered with to launch the transit provider's first foray into the real estate business. The companies have proposed a 30-storey, mixed-use tower near the future Arbutus SkyTrain Station on West Broadway in Vancouver.  

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