The federal government has announced new federal funding for transit, following months of organizing by public transit advocates from coast to coast including the Keep Transit Moving coalition, which the Council is a part of.
The fight for public transit is a key part of our movement’s collective fight for climate justice, a just recovery and a Green New Deal. The transportation sector accounts for 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and its underfunding has a disproportionate effect on low-income and racialized communities.
Properly funding public transit will simultaneously address the interconnected pandemic, economic and climate crises. This is why the Council is supporting movement building and community organizing for a Green New Deal for public transit.
The good news is that the government announcing new capital funding for transit shows that our movement’s organizing is working. The bad news is this announcement doesn’t address what transit systems in Canada need most urgently right now: operational funding.
Now, we need to ramp up our efforts to make sure the government directs funding where it’s needed most.
Transit Crisis Requires Sustained Operational Funding
“Although almost $15 billion was announced for public transit funding over the next eight years, none of it is dedicated operational funding,” points out ATU Canada (the Amalgamated Transit Union), in its response to the announcement. What’s needed now, ATU continues, is “$400 million per month into emergency operational funding to cover losses at the farebox.”
Transit systems from coast to coast are in crisis because of the pandemic and their funding models make them far too reliant on fares. We need a recovery for public transit rooted in justice and we need it now.
“While we are encouraged by the recent announcement for stable capital funding, the case remains clear - we need dedicated operational funding for the continued survival of a safe, reliable, affordable and accessible public transit system and we need it now,” notes John Di Nino, National President of ATU Canada.
Transit infrastructure spending is important and necessary, but the urgent need is for sustained operating funding.
Trojan Horse for Transit Privatization
Withholding urgently needed operational funding during this crisis is not functionally different from austerity cuts. Austerity measures are often used by governments to drive public services into crisis to more easily make the case for privatization. The same is happening here.
Instead of supporting transit justice, the federal government’s plans for transit systems seem to instead be aimed at supporting corporate profits through infrastructure privatization.
The recent announcement made clear that the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) will have a key role in the announced capital funding for transit.
However, the CIB should have no part in transit infrastructure (or in a just recovery in general), unless it is re-tasked to supporting public projects instead of public-private partnerships (P3s).
Trudeau Needs To Move Fast to Keep Transit Moving
The federal government’s transit announcement also responds to the urgent crisis in our transit systems at a snail’s pace.
The announced funding is $14.9 billion over the next eight years, with $3 billion per year starting in 2026/27. That means $5.9 billion spread over 2021-2025 (less than $1.2 billion per year over the next five years).
There could be one or two federal elections between now and 2026, so we need to ask the federal government even more loudly than before: what is it going to do to support public transit now, so that we have better service by 2026 instead of worse?
What we can do
The federal government’s focus on infrastructure at the expense of operational funding is a classic case of trying to appease social movements without making the needed changes. It also means our organizing is working.
The government noted in its announcement that “Consultations on the design of the new permanent transit funding will begin in the near future.”
Our movement has an opportunity right now to call on the federal government to start providing the necessary sustained operational funding immediately and to reject transit privatization. A just recovery for public transit is an essential step toward building a Green New Deal for transportation that leaves no one behind.