Public transit systems are on the brink.
Thanks to our advocacy work with other allies in the Keep Transit Moving coalition, the federal government made a much-needed investment in public transit last year through the Safe Restart Agreement — to help municipalities maintain their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But that agreement expires on Wednesday, March 31. And if it isn’t renewed, the very future of public transit would be in jeopardy.
Across the country, transit agencies continue to incur financial losses because of the pandemic. Cities like Ottawa are already proposing transit service cuts as early as this week.
The end of the Safe Restart Agreement means an end to stable, emergency funding during this difficult time. It would risk transit jobs and the jobs of frontline workers. And it blunts the possibility of moving towards a robust, just, and green economic recovery.
We need operational funding to keep transit moving
Millions of workers rely on public transit — everyone from doctors, nurses, and long-term care workers to food retail staff, workers from the manufacturing sector, students, seniors, low-income populations, people with disabilities, and newcomers. They need access to reliable and affordable transit to get to work and access services.
If public transit does not receive the financial support it needs, we will all be affected by interruptions in frontline services, increases in traffic congestion, and traffic-related air pollution.
And while service reductions would have an impact on us all, they will especially affect the most vulnerable members of our society. For seniors and people with disabilities, the paratransit service is critical to their health and quality of life.
South of the border, President Joe Biden has passed an agreement that puts an extra $30 billion US into the coffers of hard-hit public transit agencies for their daily operations. His plan recognizes that any robust and equitable COVID-19 recovery effort must include safe, dependable, and affordable public transit.
The Canadian government needs to act too.
A recent poll found that 78 per cent of Canadians enthusiastically support the call for ongoing funding for transit operations to recover financial losses incurred during the pandemic.
The federal government has pledged to spend $14.9 billion over the next eight years on public transit projects — including $3 billion of permanent funding per year beginning in 2026. But capital spending on transit infrastructure isn’t enough on its own.
To ensure safe, affordable, and reliable public transit systems in a post-pandemic world, we need the government to also provide funding for day-to-day operations, which rely on fares from riders and have plummeted significantly during the pandemic.
New transit projects will not matter if these systems cannot function due to lack of operational funding.
A Green New Deal for public transit
We must urge the government to reach out to provinces and municipalities once again and renew and extend the Safe Restart Agreement in the upcoming 2021 Federal Budget.
Municipalities are on the frontlines of a safe restart of the economy, and this increased funding would help them create jobs, promote public health, and meet their climate targets.
But we can’t stop there.
Public transit systems need a new Safe Restart Agreement to survive — but increased operational funding can also be a concrete step towards transformative climate action in our communities.
Through our work with the Keep Transit Moving coalition, we hope to build a just recovery and a Green New Deal for Public Transit.
Together, we can turn the crises our transit systems are facing into solutions for the interlocking crises of climate, pandemic, inequality, and social injustice.