KEEP TRANSIT RUNNING
They’re going to work or school. They’re helping our economy reopen—going shopping, or attending a sporting or entertainment event. They’re seniors and people living with disabilities who depend on public transit for daily necessities.
They need the Prime Minister to work with premiers to keep transit running, by extending the financial support they provided last year. We all need them to. Because if transit is allowed to fail, cities will become more congested. Climate targets will be harder to meet. And life will be more unfair for low-income workers and students who live too far from work or school to walk or cycle, but who don’t earn enough to drive.
Before Covid, fares paid for more than half the cost of running public transit. As ridership fell as people worked or studied from home, transit systems lost revenue.
Last year, the Prime Minister and premiers worked together to provide $4.6 billion to keep transit running. These funds are running out.
Public transit ridership is currently about half pre-pandemic levels. Unless the gap between what transit systems used to earn in fares and what they now receive is filled, service cuts are likely inevitable.
Cities don’t have the revenue tools to fill the gap themselves, which is why big city mayors are asking the Prime Minister to work with premiers once more so we can keep transit running—and our cities moving.
Some people ask why the Prime Minister should work with the premiers to keep transit running if fewer people are using it. It’s a fair question.
Public transit is an essential service for the more than two million Canadians who rely on it every day. For many, it’s the only way they can afford to get to work or school. They shouldn’t have to wait for hours or walk for miles—or lose access to employment or education altogether. Public transit is also an essential part of daily life for many seniors and people living with disabilities.
When the pandemic began, most of us worked from home. But many people simply can’t. They’re more likely to be women or people of colour. And even at the depths of the lockdown in Covid’s early months, more than a million people took transit every day.
Who were they?
Of course, people of all income take public transit. But if service is reduced, higher-income riders have alternatives like the car they can afford. Lower-income ones cannot and allowing transit to fail will make our cities more unequal than they already are.
Canada is not on track to meet our emission targets. Public transit can help reduce emissions by almost 15 million tons a year. But if it’s allowed to fail, the potential of transit to help meet climate goals will be lost—as emissions increase.
The single-biggest factor in someone taking public transit is how convenient it is. If service is cut because cities can’t afford to keep transit running, those who can afford to drive probably will. And someone’s carbon footprint is 77% higher if they travel by car instead of transit.
In addition, the federal government and many provinces are helping transit systems electrify their fleets and use less diesel. It doesn’t make sense to help systems buy electric buses they can’t afford to run. To help transit help Canada take climate action, the Prime Minister needs to work with the premiers to keep it running.
Before the pandemic, public transit was helping decongest cities. In the decade prior to Covid, ridership grew by almost 20%. Imagine how much worse traffic would be if it hadn’t.
And imagine how much worse it will get if, as our economy and offices reopen, people who used to take transit drive instead. Our roads will get busier. Productivity will drop. There also aren’t enough parking spaces in many downtowns for that many cars.
When Covid began, ridership plummeted, largely because more people worked from home. But some people still travelled to work—and almost 75% who left public transit used a private car instead. If the Prime Ministers and premiers don’t keep public transit running, we can expect more people to do the same.
If they do, public transit risks entering a long-term downward spiral. As service gets less convenient, people who can afford to drive will. This will lead to even less service, even fewer riders, and lower revenue still. And we know once transit enters a downward spiral, it takes years to recover. When government cuts caused service reductions in Montreal and Toronto in the early 1990s, it took almost 20 years for ridership to recover.
Canadians want the Prime Minister to work with the premiers to keep public transit running. They know it keeps cities moving and they support it being there for people who can’t afford to travel by car. And they know public transit helps Canada take climate action.