ATU Canada and Environmental Defence Call on Premiers, Minister Freeland to Save Public Transit in Upcoming Budgets

For Immediate Release

March 21, 2023 

ATU Canada and Environmental Defence Call on Premiers, Minister Freeland to Save Public Transit in Upcoming Budgets

ATU Canada is the latest in a series of groups sounding the alarm bell on the public transit death spiral

Ottawa | Traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People – Today, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Canada joined forces with Environmental Defence to call on federal and provincial governments to work together and save public transit systems from a financial crisis caused by pandemic-related lower ridership and over-dependence on farebox revenues. They also called on federal and provincial governments to work together on long-term solutions to permanently increase operating funding for public transit. 

“Over the next two weeks, the Federal Government as well as the Government of Ontario will be unveiling their budgets. We need to see crucial operating funding for public transit to prevent drastic service cuts and fare increases that will push people into their cars, further reducing revenue, and lead to a transit death spiral. The federal government has worked with provinces to save public transit before, and they can do it again,” said John Di Nino, President of ATU Canada. “We’re calling on all Premiers and Minister Freeland to make funding for public transit operations a priority in their budgets.”

“As this week’s IPCC report highlighted, we have a limited window to prevent the catastrophic impacts of a heating climate and it requires deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, now. Canada is currently off track from meeting its 2030 transportation sector emissions reduction target by eight million tonnes. Allowing a public transit death spiral to occur is an unacceptable policy choice. Instead, we need the federal government and provincial governments to invest in improving public transit service, to bring back riders and tackle the climate emergency,” said Nate Wallace, Clean Transportation Program Manager at Environmental Defence. 

  • The City of Toronto has budgeted $366 million in its 2023 budget in expected transit assistance from federal and provincial governments, and the TTC expects a further $350-$420 million sized hole in its budget in 2024. The City of Ottawa has a $39 million dollar hole in its transit operating budget this year. A January 2023 internal survey by the Ontario Public Transit Association has estimated an operational deficit of at least $510 million for Ontario’s entire public transit sector.

  • In February, more than 100 academics in the Toronto region signed an open letter to the municipal, provincial and federal governments calling on them to intervene and prevent a death spiral caused by Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) service cuts.

  • The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) estimates that for every 10 per cent loss in transit ridership below pre-pandemic levels, transit systems across Canada collectively lose $470 million per year. Ridership is currently at approximately 70 per cent Canada-wide. Last week, CUTA called on federal and provincial governments to come to the aid of public transit systems.

  • Last week, a coalition of 15 Environmental Groups, including Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Greenpeace Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation and Climate Action Network Canada, signed an open letter calling on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to intervene and stop the public transit death spiral.

Issue Backgrounder

Additional Resources 

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

ABOUT ATU CANADA ( Amalgamated Transit Union Canada (ATU Canada) is a strong voice representing over 34,000 transit professionals across Canada.  We lobby all levels of government for policy changes that protect and improve the rights of transit workers and riders, as we continue to service our communities.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Allen Braude, Environmental Defence, [email protected] 
Rose Carusone, ATU Canada, [email protected]