Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Voluntary census could hurt transit policy-making

The debate surrounding the federal government's decision to revoke the mandatory participation in the country's long-form census is all over the news, and seems to be growing. Although this website isn't the place to get into detail about the debate (read this article for a run-through), but it's worth noting that some critics think making the process voluntary will negatively impact the development of certain programs, including transit and transportation.

Tim Weis, the director of renewable energy and efficiency policies at the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental research group, said public transit agencies that want to plan new services, routes or incentives for commuters, also benefit from answers to questions on the long-form census that ask people how they get to work.

"When you're looking at programs for energy efficiency or programs for public transportation, some of the things you need to know are the sizes of houses, how they're living in them and how they're getting to work," said Weis.
It is fairly straightforward to see how this would happen, at least if we assume that people won't fill out a voluntary census as eagerly as they would a mandatory census. The city of Ottawa, for instance, is targeting a 30% modal share in public transit users, a statistic readily available in the federal census. Establishing benchmarks for transit policies as well as measuring the city's progress against those benchmarks will, in all likelihood, suffer is the mandatory census is made voluntary.

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