Today's Budget Needs a Promise for Emergency Transit Operational Funding, Our Cities are Depending on it

With a huge dip in ridership over the past year since the pandemic began and now a string of outbreaks in transit agencies, it is no surprise to anyone that our transit system is in crisis. Despite this though, many are still relying on public transit as their primary source of transportation most notably frontline workers and those in marginalized communities. Further, we know it to be true that an investment in a strong public transit system is an investment in strong climate policy as well as social policy. 

We have been encouraged to see government announcements in support of transit -- notably the $14.9 billion pledged towards capital projects over eight years. This proves that the federal government recognizes the role that transit plays in the daily lives of working and middle-class Canadians. The government has the chance today to continue their historic spending on public transit.

However, as today's budget approaches, we want to emphasize that capital spending alone will not ensure the future of safe, affordable and reliable public transit in a post-pandemic world. New transit projects so funded will be much less effective or functional and may not realize fully the intended economic impact on recovery and employment if they lack operational funding. 

Millions of workers including doctors, nurses, LTC workers, food production, transport and retail staff, seniors, low-income populations, people with disabilities, and newcomers need access to reliable and affordable transit to get to work and access services. If transit does not receive adequate operational funding,  essential services, including paratransit for seniors and people with disabilities, will be interrupted. This will harm the health and quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens, as well as the functioning of the health care system itself.

Our North American partner to the south has recognized this, and newly elected President Biden has enacted legislation putting some $30 billion extra into the coffers of hard hit public transit agencies for their daily operations, recognizing that any robust and equitable COVID recovery effort must include operating funding for safe, dependable and affordable public transit. 

The end of the Safe Restart Agreement, that gave emergency transit operational funding of over two billion dollars to provinces across the country, meant an end to stable funding during possibly one of the most difficult times in the history of public transit in this country. Without provision for operations funding, not only would the jobs of transit workers be at risk, but the jobs of millions of essential workers who rely on transit. This is the very antithesis of what a strong and robust recovery program should be.

A budget that is focused on an equitable post-pandemic recovery must focus on providing emergency funding for public transit. To this end, we are hoping to see a budget that pledges to reach out to provinces and municipalities once again and renew a new Safe Restart Agreement. This Agreement must include a substantial element of operations funding and give municipalities more control over the design, implementation and operation of their transit systems. Municipalities are on the front lines of the safe restart of the economy, and this increased funding will be crucial in creating jobs, promoting public health and meeting government climate targets.

A budget that leaves out emergency transit funding is leaving our cities, our communities and our frontline workers behind. We hope the government does the right thing and will be watching closely. 

John Di Nino, President

ATU Canada