2009 Canadian Vehicle Survey Summary Report

CHAPTER 2

Geographic analysis

This chapter highlights regional and provincial variations in the characteristics of the vehicle fleet across Canada.

2.1 Composition of the on-road vehicle fleet in Canada’s provinces and territories

Figure 9 illustrates the number of vehicles in Canada for 2000 and 2009 by region. Vehicle distribution is highly correlated with population: together, Ontario and Quebec accounted for 58.7 percent of the Canadian fleet in 2009, with 7.4 million vehicles in Ontario and 4.7 million in Quebec. The Prairies have risen to 4.3 million vehicles, British Columbia now stands at 2.7 million, and the Atlantic provinces made up 1.4 million of the Canadian fleet in 2009. These numbers mean that in 2009, the Prairies represented 20.9 percent of the on-road vehicle fleet; British Columbia, 13.1 percent; and the Atlantic region, 7.0 percent.

Figure 9 — Number of vehicles in Canada by region, 2000 and 2009.

This figure excludes the territories because their vehicle fleets are small, accounting for 58 351 vehicles in 2009.

Growth in vehicles for this period was highest in Alberta, which had a compound annual growth rate of 3.5 percent, followed by Ontario with 2.2 percent and Newfoundland and Labrador with 2.1 percent. Growth in the remaining provinces was between 1.5 percent and 1.9 percent per year except for most of the Atlantic region, where growth was approximately 1 percent per year.

Figure 10 displays the average number of light vehicles per household for each jurisdiction in Canada. Vehicle ownership remains highest in Alberta and Saskatchewan, with an average of 1.87 and 1.79 vehicles per household, respectively. Quebec had the lowest vehicle ownership rate of 1.35 vehicles per household.

Figure 10 — Number of light vehicles per household by jurisdiction, 2009.

The Canadian average in 2009 was 1.47 vehicles per household, which is significantly higher than the 2000 average of 1.43. Between 2000 and 2009, vehicle ownership rates remained stable in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia but increased in the other provinces and the territories.

2.2 Variation in the distance travelled among regions

Figure 11 illustrates the average annual distance travelled by light vehicles in each jurisdiction for 2000 and 2009. In 2009, light vehicles were driven an average of 15 366 kilometres km) in Canada. Light vehicles were driven the furthest in Nova Scotia (17 427 km) and the shortest distance in British Columbia (12 892 km).

Figure 11 — Average distance travelled by light vehicles by jurisdiction, 2000 and 2009.

The most notable change in distance travelled by light vehicles from 2000 to 2009 is in Newfoundland and Labrador. Whereas in 2000 the province had the highest average distance travelled by light vehicles (19 965 km), in 2009 the distance was 15 056 km, which is below the Canadian average of 15 366 km.

Factors that may contribute to these regional differences include

  • household types and demographics
  • alternative transportation options
  • vehicle ownership rates
  • fuel prices
  • climate

From 2000 to 2009, Nova Scotia was the only jurisdiction that increased its average annual distance travelled by light vehicles. One explanation for this difference is that Nova Scotia had the smallest growth in light vehicles since 2000, at 7.2 percent. The Canadian average growth rate was 18.7 percent for light vehicles from 2000 to 2009. The data indicate that Nova Scotia will rely more heavily on its primary vehicle, while other jurisdictions will more evenly distribute their amount of distance travelled between their primary and secondary vehicles.

Furthermore, Nova Scotia is distinct in its geographical composition. According to Statistics Canada’s 2006 Census, the 15 largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs) in the country are in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. The only two exceptions to this list are Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is ranked 8th; and Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has the 13th-largest population.

Halifax is the only city in the Atlantic region among the largest 15 CMAs in Canada. Halifax has a large land area of 5496 square kilometres (km²) — which ranks fourth after Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa — and has a low population density of 67.8 people/km² (2006 data). In contrast, Toronto has a similar land area of 5904 km² and has a much larger population density of 866.1 people/km² (2006 data). In other words, Halifax is big in size but sparse in population.

This unique dispersion of Halifax, combined with the fact that Halifax comprises more than 40 percent of Nova Scotia’s population, creates favourable conditions for higher annual VKM for this province.

The next two largest Atlantic cities in 2006 were St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, with a land area of 805 km² and a population density of 225.1 people/km²; and Moncton, New Brunswick, with a land area of 2406 km² and a population density of 52.5 people/km² (as of 2006). These two Atlantic cities are ranked 20th and 29th, respectively, based on their population.

Figure 12 illustrates that the occupancy rate of light vehicles (people per vehicle) varies across jurisdictions. For example, the Prairies, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador have higher occupancy rates than the Canadian average.

Figure 12 — Occupancy rate of light vehicles by jurisdiction, 2009.

Figure 13 shows the distribution of cars and light trucks by jurisdiction. As will be discussed later in Chapter 3, the occupancy rate of light trucks is higher than the occupancy rate of cars (see Figure 24). Therefore, it is not surprising that the jurisdictions that have higher occupancy rates have more light trucks in their light-duty vehicle fleet.

Figure 13 — Share of body type of light vehicles by jurisdiction, 2009.

The average annual distance travelled by medium trucks in Canada was 18 938 km in 2009 (see Figure 14). Medium trucks are generally used locally for short distances and within the city, while heavy trucks are usually used to travel long distances between the metropolitan areas.

Figure 14 — Average distance travelled by medium trucks by jurisdiction, 2009.

It is not surprising to see that Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are above the Canadian average in distance travelled by medium trucks because the biggest metropolitan areas in Canada, according to size and population, are in these four provinces. Therefore, they are a hub for higher concentrations of market activity and, as a result, will use medium trucks more intensively than the other jurisdictions.

The exception is Nova Scotia, which had the highest distance travelled by medium trucks for 2009 at 22 779 km. This distance travelled can be explained by the factors listed at the beginning of Section 2.2.

Nova Scotia not only has the biggest CMA of the Atlantic provinces in Halifax, in terms of population, but also has a land area comparable with Toronto and the third-largest port, based on operating revenue in 2007 (after Vancouver and Montréal).13 Halifax benefits from all these factors, which provide an environment for creating an industrial hub of activity.

The CVS data showed that heavy trucks were generally driven much further (an average of more than 67 500 km in 2009) than other vehicle types (see Figure 15). Average annual distances exceeded 90 000 km in Quebec, 80 000 km in Manitoba and 70 000 km in Ontario. On the other hand, heavy trucks travelled much less distance in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Figure 15 — Average distance travelled by heavy trucks by jurisdiction, 2009.

Numerous factors probably contribute to the variation in distance travelled among regions for medium and heavy trucks, including

  • structure of the economy
  • geographic size
  • geographic range of trucking operations, which could include out-of-province trucking kilometres

2.3 Provincial fuel consumption rates

Substantial regional variations exist in the fuel consumption rates (FCRs) of light vehicles (see Figure 16). In 2009, the average FCR of gasoline-powered light vehicles in Canada was 10.7 litres per 100 kilometres (L/100 km).14,15 Fuel consumption was below the Canadian average in all of eastern Canada but was above average for the remainder of the provinces, west of Ontario.

Figure 16 — Fuel consumption rate of gasoline-powered light vehicles by jurisdiction, 2009.

Numerous factors may influence these variations, including

  • composition and age of the vehicle fleet
  • fuel prices
  • patterns of vehicle use

In the Prairies, the vehicle fleet contained a greater proportion of vans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks (see Figure 13) than in the rest of Canada. The vehicle fleet in these jurisdictions also had a higher proportion of older vehicles, which tend to be less fuel-efficient than newer vehicles.

Figures 17 and 18 show the diesel FCRs of medium and heavy trucks, respectively. The fuel consumption of medium trucks ranged from 21.4 to 30.1 L/100 km, and the Canadian average was 24.4 L/100 km. The diesel FCR of heavy trucks ranged from 32.4 to 39.1 L/100 km, and the Canadian average was 33.4 L/100 km.

Figure 17 — Diesel consumption rate of medium trucks by jurisdiction, 2009.

Figure 18 — Diesel consumption rate of heavy trucks by jurisdiction, 2009.

Several of the Atlantic provinces had higher diesel FCRs for medium trucks. Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island all had consumption rates well above the 2009 Canadian average of 24.4 L/100 km. Prince Edward Island had the highest at 30.1 L/100 km.

Heavy truck fleets in Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and British Columbia had the highest FCRs in 2009. As shown in Figure 15, heavy trucks also travelled shorter distances on average in these provinces than in the rest of the country.

Therefore, their higher FCRs could be explained partly by

  • a lower ratio of highway driving relative to city driving
  • the share of heavy trucks that are more than 10 years old is higher in these provinces, and these older trucks tend to be less fuel-efficient
  • the region’s topography (e.g. mountainous roads in British Columbia and a high proportion of winding roads in Prince Edward Island)

Most of the other provinces had FCRs of 32 to 33 L/100 km, with the exception of Nova Scotia (35.6 L/100 km).


  1. Transport Canada, Transportation in Canada 2009, Annual Report — May 2010, Table M9: Canada Port Authorities (CPA) Financial Comparison, 2007 and 2008, www.tc.gc.ca/eng/policy/report-aca-anre2009-2500.htm.
  2. The FCR for diesel-powered light vehicles is not shown because the data are of too poor quality to publish.
  3. Fuel consumption data are not available for the territories.