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We need a just recovery for public transit

The fight to defend and expand public transit is about more than funding.

It’s about priorities.

It’s about building a bigger vision.

A vision for the future of public transit

The fight for public transit can and must be a key part of our collective fight for climate justice.

Increased transit funding is needed because transit systems from coast to coast are on the brink of collapse due to the pandemic.

Emergency and permanent sustainable transit funding is needed so people who require public transit to get to work can properly socially distance on their commute. Instead, riders are being told social distancing may not always be possible on transit. Not everyone is able to work from home and low-income and racialized people are being most deeply impacted by this. We can’t fully flatten the curve if the only option for people who can’t work remotely is to commute on a bus where they are packed in like sardines.

The transportation sector accounts for 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Because public transit vehicles transport people more efficiently, shifting our transportation use from private gas-powered cars and trucks to public transit reduces emissions. The impact is even more dramatic if we shift to fully electric-powered public transit systems. This means properly funding public transit will simultaneously address the interconnected pandemic, economic and climate crises.

We can’t afford to start losing public transit systems to the pandemic, but that is just what will happen if our governments keep refusing to provide enough funding. Following public pressure from the Keep Transit Moving coalition, the federal government did move to provide some transit funding – but it was not nearly enough. The government is also trying to ramp up transit privatization through the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

We can build power with an intersectional approach to public transit

Building a movement to defend and expand public transit is about recognizing intersections and building power in our communities.

It’s about building a just transition to shift from manufacturing gas powered cars to electric transit vehicles.

It’s about taking that manufacturing into public ownership so people and communities and the governments that represent them don’t have to depend on goodwill from corporations that never arrives to get us out of these crises.

It’s about ensuring people can distance on transit during this pandemic.

It’s about affordable, green, public housing near transit stations, instead of doing what the City of Ottawa is doing — evicting people from affordable housing to make way for a transit station.

It’s about accessibility and dramatically improving and expanding public transit service for people with disabilities. Paratransit services have already been underfunded for decades, resulting in people with disabilities waiting hours for transit vehicles to arrive, and are even more stretched now because of the pandemic.

It’s about racism – including how racialized communities face the most barriers to safe, affordable, accessible, public transit.

It’s about colonialism and genocide. And how allowing inter-city bus service to remain in private hands led to service cuts on the Highway of Tears in B.C., despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action for more accessible transit along that route to prevent more missing and murdered Indigenous women.

It’s about creating decent work, with thousands more low carbon jobs.

It’s about building public transit that serves urban, suburban, and rural communities, including bringing back inter-city bus service. Under public ownership.

It’s about keeping transit public by resisting the privatization of transit service and infrastructure. Because privatization costs more, undermines workers’ rights, democracy and accountability, and is worse for the climate.

Toward a Just Recovery and a Green New Deal for public transit

Public transit needs to be a pillar of a just recovery and a Green New Deal that includes all of those areas and more to bring about the transformative change we need.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we can’t go back to normal because normal was the problem.

In addition to the emergency funding our public transit systems need now to get through the pandemic, we also need to shift to a public transportation system of electrified vehicles as part of a Green New Deal to address the climate crisis.

Now we need to get organized to build a political force that can’t be ignored.

Visit keeptransitmoving.ca, take action, and join a grassroots transit group in your community. If there isn’t one, start one. And you can also get involved in the Council of Canadians’ Green New Deal Communities Project, which is supporting grassroots public transit organizing from coast to coast.

This is adapted from a talk Dylan gave at the recent Digital Rally for Public Transit – you can watch the entire rally here.