Transforming Canada’s Public Transit for a Greener Future

toronto city in the daytime

(Credit: Pexels)

by | Mar 26, 2024

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In the face of rising emissions and climatic challenges, Canada is strategically leveraging public transit systems as vital weapons in battling the ongoing global climate crisis. As these systems wrestle with the dual task of enhancing urban connectivity and advancing environmental sustainability, the need for a comprehensive strategy is more important than ever.

Canada’s transportation sector has historically been a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This underscores the urgent requirement for a substantial shift towards revitalized public transit systems. While alternatives such as bicycles and electric vehicles have garnered attention, the scale of emissions necessitates a broader transition centered on public transit.

Critical factors influencing public transit ridership include rider experience, convenience, and affordability. High expenses, lengthy wait times, and inconvenient routes frequently dissuade potential riders, including those concerned about environmental effects.

Anticipated Impact of the Transit Fund

Global studies show that for every dollar invested in public transportation, about four dollars are returned, making it a highly lucrative sustainable investment.

The COVID-19 pandemic, despite causing fluctuations in ridership, has created a unique platform for innovation and adaptation in the public transit industry. The introduction of contactless payment systems, enhanced cleaning protocols, and diversified services are a testament to the industry’s resilience and agility.

An essential determinant of transit usage is affordability. With fares increasingly outpacing inflation and average wage growth, wealthier Canadians are drawn to private transportation options, further exacerbating congestion and pollution in urban areas. This highlights the urgency for equitable transit solutions. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Montreal, and Vancouver, congestion accounts for almost 80% of the total costs of urban congestion in Canada.

Navigating the Road Ahead

Policy recommendations in Canada include increased funding, housing development synchronization with transit expansion, equitable mobility access policies as well as a dedicated commitment to zero-emission vehicles. Collectively, these concrete policies aim to modernize Canada’s approach to public transit, fostering a more sustainable, inclusive urban environment.

According to the new reporting conducted by Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, commissioned by Environmental Defence and Équiterre, if implemented, the Permanent Public Transit Fund has the potential to bring about significant changes in Canada. “We cannot allow a ‘downward spiral’ to erode public transit in Canada, just when we need it the most as a clean and affordable climate solution. This report demonstrates that we have an alternative: we can choose to invest in public transit, grow ridership, and adapt to new mobility patterns by providing more reliable, convenient, and frequent service that works more equitably for everyone,” said Anne-Catherine Pilon, Mobility Analyst, Équiterre.

Brad West, Chair of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council and Mayor of Port Coquitlam, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority, shares, “This important, new report reinforces and builds on the new regional transit plan that Metro Vancouver leaders put in place in 2022 recognizing that record-setting population growth, the need to increase housing density and affordability and to meet critical GHG reduction targets will require massive increases in transit service over the next decade. The new Permanent Transit Fund is a giant step in the right direction, but its rollout and scope does not match the scale of the challenges we are facing. We need to get started now!”

Strategic investments are equally critical as they provide the necessary financial support to address infrastructure challenges, improve service quality, and expand transit networks. Allocating funds strategically allows for the development of modernized transit infrastructure, including the construction of dedicated bus lanes, the integration of cutting-edge vehicle fleets, and the establishment of user-friendly transit hubs.

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