In light of Nanaimo’s aging population (somewhat higher than Canada’s and even B.C.’s) and that the future looks dim without a greater immigration and retention of younger adults (called “the Millenniums”) who are keen to have a planet worth living on, what does Nanaimo need to do to survive and thrive?
A Master’s thesis written by Lan Le Diem Tran, a Millennial who hails from Vietnam, answers this question. Her thesis focused on leisure mobility in Nanaimo for Millennials (born 1984 to 1996). After surveying them in 2016 she concludes that in order to thrive Nanaimo needs to attract and retain talented workers by greatly improving our sustainable transportation system. Young adults want to live in mid-sized cities such as Nanaimo, especially with the natural beauty and amenities offered here if such cities catch up on sustainable transportation, including far more transit and active options afforded by dedicated cycling and walking infrastructure.
They want an affordable, sustainable, city. They know that transportation is one of the two most expensive costs for individuals and families (it is often as expensive as is housing). In 2010, transportation alone accounted for 13.35% of the total average estimated household expenditures in Nanaimo – higher than the two largest cities in British Columbia, which are Vancouver (12.95%) and Victoria (12.29%). Why? Because 88% of the people living in Nanaimo travel by car for their daily needs, whereas only 8.5% choose to walk, 1.0% cycle, and 2.5% use public transit.
Not good news. But in 2014 the city of Nanaimo conducted a nearly $1 million study about how to move forward. The vision of Nanaimo’s Transportation Master Plan looks compelling:
Nanaimo’s multi-modal transportation system will connect the City’s residents and businesses to each other, the rest of Vancouver Island and beyond. It will provide inclusive transportation choices that are safe, comfortable, and accessible for people of all ages and abilities. A system of interconnected facilities and services will provide affordable mobility while supporting a shift towards a more sustainable mix of transportation alternatives. The transportation network will seek to create and support a vibrant, liveable, healthy and sustainable community for residents, businesses and visitors alike.
Sadly the actual action plan is weak. It aims to reduce the trip proportions made by private vehicles by only 8% within 27 years (2014-2041), leaving Nanaimo far behind in the global and regional competition for Millennial talents, keeping it as one of the most expensive cities in the province, contributing to its very high poverty rate.
Being a car-dependent city brings many draw-backs, and not only for Millennials.
What does our current transportation system truly cost? A lot!
The dependence on the automobile leads to:
- High incidents of injuries and death. In Canada people aged between 15 and 34 account for the most fatalities and injuries.
- Current urban designs lead to car dependencies and lead to a lack of sufficient physical exercise through walking and cycling which significantly contributes to health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
- Other health issues arise from noise pollution from traffic and air pollution (that kills several thousand Canadians every year).
- Transportation challenges restrict access to numerous services and facilities, namely jobs, education, leisure facilities, and health-care services, all of which are critical social determinants of health.
- A lack of adequate transportation is also correlated with higher crime rates and thus a reduced sense of security and life satisfaction.
- A lack of transportation options also reduce the economic performance of a city or region in part because money spent on cars leaves the region, and such prevents many of those in the lower socio-economic spectrum from getting work or gaining better paying employment.
In addition a city’s economy and vitality is constrained by inadequate transportation systems.
- Urban areas that encourage reliance on private motorised vehicles foster expenditures on cars and their related costs, such as gas, insurance, and parking. Money spent on cars and fuels is money that largely leaves the regional economy, draining it.
- Without people-friendly transportation systems consumers are less likely to be enticed to purchase local goods, resulting in weak economic resilience of the community.
- A lack of transportation options greatly increases foreclosures at times of economic recessions
- Businesses in the community may have difficulty hiring employees and suffer from lost customers
- Provincially, poor transportation options results in higher benefit payments and reduced tax contributions
What does it cost society for various ways of getting around? For every $1 spent on walking or cycling society pays less than 10 cents. Locally for every $1 spent on buses society pays $2. But for car travel for every $1 spent, society pays nearly $10! 
Relying heavily on the single-occupancy motor vehicle is not only costly for the user/owner and especially for society it also exacts a cost to our well-being, physically and socially. Car travel is often isolating. Healthy humans are well-connected to others. The quality, not only the quantity of travel, needs to be considered.
By changing this we can benefit in many ways. Greatly increasing affordable, accessible and sustainable transportation costs a lot less, improves our local economy, boosts our health outcomes, and brings many others benefits.
The Victoria Transportation Institute (www.vtpi.org) concludes that the most liveable cities are the ones that provide the most public transportation. Lan Le Diem Tran would wholeheartedly agree.