Vancouver transit advocate keeps up the fight for improved bus service

Carlito Pablo
Activist Nathan Davidowicz points out that Vancouverites make up 50 percent of regional transit users, but says they're sadly lacking in their fair share of bus service. CARLITO PABLO

November 24th, 2021 

Nathan Davidowicz says residents should be within a five-minute walk to a bus stop.

Nathan Davidowicz estimates that Vancouver needs about 50 kilometres of additional bus service.

The longtime transit advocate explained that this would put every resident in the city within five minutes by foot to a bus stop.

“That’s what accessibility is,” Davidowicz told the Straight in a phone interview.

Davidowicz noted that Vancouver riders make up 50 percent of regional transit users served by TransLink, so he believes that the city should have the best bus service in the region. It’s because buses are the most efficient way to move people around the city.

This means filling gaps in the grid so bus stops are within a five-minute walk, or a distance of 400 metres. In addition, buses should be arriving every 10 minutes or better, and hours of service should be improved as well.

“We used to have 18 late-night buses, but now only 10. In 2016, there were 12,” Davidowicz said.

With reference to the five-minute walk, the transit advocate didn’t pluck that standard out of thin air. The widely accepted measure was used by Vancouver when it worked for a decade on its Greenest City Action Plan. One of the city’s targets was to have every resident living within a five-minute walk of a park, greenway, or other green space by 2020. In a 2021 final progress report, staff noted that the city achieved modest improvement in this area.

Instead of getting better bus service, Davidowicz said, Vancouver has seen bus routes cancelled over the years.

He mentioned East 1st Avenue, Grandview Highway, and 16th Avenue east of Cambie Street among the examples of where buses have disappeared. The advocate also pointed to cancellations of bus stops in many parts of the city.

“Many of these bus stops with shelters and benches existed in the same location since the 1950s,” he noted.

Davidowicz turns 70 in December, and his transit activism goes back a long way. It started when he was a math and statistics student at UBC some 50 years ago.

He said there were only three bus routes to the university during his time in the early 1970s. (Now there are 13.)

“I started asking questions, why there is no more bus service and so forth, and that’s how I got involved,” Davidowicz said.

One of the campaigns he was part of was the push for a UBC bus on 49th Avenue.

“We had a successful 30,000-name petition in 1973 and 1974, and then the bus started in March of 1975,” Davidowicz said about the old route that started in the east at Kingsway and Nelson Avenue in Burnaby. Today, the 49 bus connects Metrotown Station to UBC.

Nathan Davidowicz has been advocating for transit users for 50 years.
Nathan Davidowicz has been advocating for transit users for 50 years.

Raising concerns about Arbutus connections

He also served on many citizen planning committees in Vancouver. During the 1980s, he chaired a transit advisory committee formed by city hall.

Vancouver has the fortune of having Davidowicz as a tireless advocate for transit because of its mild weather.

He was 15 years old when he and his family moved to Canada from Israel, where he was born. They settled first in Montreal. However, his parents didn’t like the weather in the east. “It’s too cold. It snows, so we came here after four years,” Davidowicz recalled.

He recently participated in a virtual open house by the City of Vancouver regarding plans for Broadway.

Davidowicz asked if a bus service will be provided on Arbutus Street north of West Broadway, where a new subway station will be located. He told the Straight that he was disappointed when city staff informed him that TransLink doesn’t intend to operate buses there.

“How do you expect all the people in Kitsilano north of Broadway to get to that station unless there is a bus on Arbutus?” Davidowicz asked. “Not everybody can walk or cycle. There are many seniors in Kitsilano and many disabled people I see all the time.”

[Top photo: Activist Nathan Davidowicz points out that Vancouverites make up 50 percent of regional transit users, but says they're sadly lacking in their fair share of bus service.CARLITO PABLO]