Reducing Commuter Trips to Decrease BC’s GHG Emissions


Vancouver downtown street view of Cambie Street

A recent ELC submission prepared for Be the Change Earth Alliance shows that introducing a mandatory program to reduce commuting trips could eliminate an estimated 5% of BC’s GHG emissions. Commute Trip Reduction Initiatives: Implementing Efficiencies in Transportation for a Green Future shows how this may be a step to helping the Province of BC meet its 2030 GHG reduction goals. It may also improve health and save money.

BC’s Lieutenant Governor noted in the 2020 Throne Speech that the province will add one million people to its population over the next 10 years, which will increase pressure on transportation and trade corridors. The Province of BC has identified climate change planning as a priority and expressed a need for innovative solutions across sectors in order to identify additional reductions to meet its 2030 GHG reductions goals.

“The pandemic of 2020 has reduced commuting trips for many who are currently working from home; however, this reduction is temporary,” says Bruce Batchelor on behalf of Be the Change Earth Alliance. “Commuting trips and congestion are likely to rebound well above pre-pandemic levels as restrictions ease and employers require people to again work in offices, especially because ‘transit hesitancy’ could see many people avoiding transit, and the pandemic has disrupted carpooling and vanpooling.”

As the ELC report shows, one possible solution to reduce GHG emissions is to follow the example of other jurisdictions and shift our transportation patterns through commute trip reduction.

“Commute trip reduction is a way to reduce inefficiencies in commuting by requiring employers to consider employee commuting emissions and seek ways to reduce and green commutes,” says Bruce. “Studies have shown that by so doing, businesses will actually lower their HR costs and boost productivity. Shorter and more active commutes equals less GHG emissions and other pollution, healthier people and a more sustainable economy.”

Recent amendments to the Climate Change Accountability Act may provide an ideal opportunity to implement commute trip reduction on a provincial scale. The Climate Change Accountability Act mandates that all public sector organizations be carbon neutral. The Act imposes reporting requirements on public sector organizations and ties their carbon emissions to BC’s carbon registry. In other words, public sector organizations must account for their emissions and report to the government, as well as outline their strategies for meeting the carbon neutral criteria set out in the Act. While they are not yet required to report on employee commute GHG emissions, simple amendments to the Act could extend the requirement for carbon neutrality to public sector employers. Likewise, using a phased approach, large businesses with multiple location could also be brought into the commute trip reporting requirements.

The ELC report outlines the law reform potential for utilizing the Climate Change Accountability Act to implement commute trip reduction initiatives. It explores ways to effectively implement commute trip reduction strategies on a provincial scale while keeping issues of equity and social justice relating to employee privacy and freedom of mobility at the forefront.

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Richard Wagner (ELC Clinic Spring 2020)

In writing this report, I was surprised to learn about the potential benefits to personal wellness, and the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through creative policies that reduce inefficiencies in transportation patterns. 

I hope commute trip reduction initiatives are utilized as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, our commutes are impacted by a variety of factors, and commute trip reduction initiatives should be cognizant of the social and economic forces that influence where individuals live and work.