Better Transit

PROBLEM: Decades of neglect and underfunding below inflation stretched by massive growth in suburban sprawl and significant population growth have left us with an unacceptable public transit system that fails riders. Drivers lack feasible choices and traffic jams won’t be solved with more roads.

SOLUTION: Edmonton will always have cars, but we can dramatically reduce the number of two car families. Urgent investments to improve frequency, reliability, safety and rider comfort must be prioritized such as Bus Rapid Transit, improved local connector service, and safety improvements

Thanks to @LeadingMobility for Sharing this fantastic slide.

 

Edmonton, and Alberta are not alone in struggling to improve public transit. Here's a few highlights from the Keep Transit Moving Coalition in Ontario: 

Permanent Operational Funding to Expand Transit Service & Provide Universally Affordable Fares

Since the beginning of the pandemic, public transit agencies have been severely impacted by reduction in ridership and loss of revenue. 

Throughout this pandemic, it has become clear that transit systems should not continue to rely on transit fares for stable funding. Without help from all governments, public transit agencies are heading towards severe cuts.

Permanent operational support for transit systems to expand frequent service and offer universally affordable fares will allow public transit systems to avoid the transit death spiral in which agencies, lacking revenue, cut their budget, resulting in less service and higher fares, which further reduces ridership and revenue — prompting more cuts. 

We need to expand the service that’s provided to ensure more frequent, more reliable public transit service within and between communities across the province, and ensure enough staff to operate and maintain the increased number of vehicles needed to provide this service.

To avoid this catastrophic scenario of severe cuts and continue to have robust transit in a post-COVID recovery, the government should:

  1. Provide sufficient ongoing operations funding so transit agencies can boost service levels and offer universally affordable transit while also recovering from financial losses incurred during the pandemic, including service expansion for paratransit.

  2. Establish a provincial framework for transit operating funding that is stable, reliable and permanent. 

  3. Redirect funds currently allocated for new highways, highway expansions, and fossil fuel projects toward an genuinely climate friendly system of well funded, reliable, and accessible public transit.

 

Leadership and Accountability on Social Justice, Public Health, and Climate Crisis Impacts

We need more public transit and fewer highways.

Public transit is a vital tool to promote our shared goals for social inclusion, public health, the climate emergency, and economic opportunity. Well-designed, affordable public transit can help build healthy, equitable, more sustainable, and accessible communities. Transit should be frequent, reliable and fast — bus lanes, bus rapid transit, and transit signal priority can radically  increase the efficiency and usefulness of transit.

The Medical Officers of Health in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) estimated, for example, that investments in public transit alone could produce $2.1 billion per year in health-related benefits in the GTHA by reducing air pollution and increasing physical activity. 

Public transit also produces fewer climate emissions per passenger-mile, particularly if transit uses zero emission vehicles. In addition, public transit reduces health inequities among under-served  populations by increasing access to jobs, schools, essential services and recreational opportunities.

Ontario’s transportation system should be designed and operated to provide everyone — regardless of age, income, race, or level of mobility — with safe and viable choices, whether or not they own a car. It should ensure that people in low-income neighborhoods and racialized and Indigenous communities have opportunities to fully participate in local and regional economies. 

Transportation spending must be:

  1. Assessed through an equity lens to ensure that it is providing exclusively sustainable mobility options to everyone in Ontario. Shift spending away from highway expansion to public transit, particularly bus lanes and bus rapid transit.

  2. Coordinated through a coherent provincial vision for public health benefits, climate impacts, sustainability, mobility and social inclusion. For example, funding could include strict conditions for requiring the provision of affordable housing close to public transit services and ensuring that low-income neighbourhoods receive greater levels of service commensurate with their needs.

  3. Prioritized to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis by making low or zero carbon public transit (that is integrated with active modes of transportation) the primary means of transportation and shifting away from urban highway and airport expansion.

 

Intercity and Highway Bus Service Plan

In May 2021, Greyhound Canada announced that it would be canceling its services permanently, leaving people across Ontario without intercity bus services and more than 300 transit workers across Canada without jobs.

Rural and Indigenous communities have been and are chronically underserviced by public transit, creating transit deserts in which individuals are unable to travel safely to neighbouring communities for work, medical appointments, or leisure. This decision forces people across Ontario who are going from one city to another to commute by car, hitchhike or use unregulated ridesharing. 

The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) highlights the need for adequate intercity bus transit as a key step to reconciliation. An Intercity and Highway Bus Service, with ongoing funding and operational support, provides an Ontario-wide opportunity to address the dangerous issue of isolation among Indigenous and remote communities moving us further along the road towards a more just and inclusive Ontario, and maintaining connections between Ontario communities and the rest of Canada. 

Now, more than ever, we need to invest in low-carbon public transit that will create jobs and connect people across this province to their families, communities and vital services. 

This means:

  1. Working with the federal government on the creation of a public, pan-Canadian intercity bus service as part of a robust climate and post-COVID recovery plan. 

  2. Contributing to the development of a National Intercity and Highway Bus Service Strategy developed in partnership with federal and municipal governments, Indigenous groups, transit providers, VIA Rail Canada, and related advocacy organizations.

  3. Creating dedicated highway bus lanes that can be used by inter-community and urban transit buses.

 

Reliable Capital Funding

The federal government’s new permanent capital transit fund — which supports major capital projects like new transit lines — helped move public transit in the right direction.

The province has made significant capital investments in public transit. Despite this, many projects end up being politicized and delayed, changed, canceled, and renewed. When projects do end up moving forward with final approvals, delays still remain and costs rise considerably due to the province’s long standing policy of using public-private partnerships (P3s).

This ongoing problematic way of approaching transit infrastructure funding has manifested in multiple ways that have disrupted municipalities and left transit riders waiting for reliable service such as with the cancellation and then reapproval of the Hamilton LRT (Light Rail Transit), the Scarborough LRT saga, and the ongoing problems with the Ottawa LRT both with its operation and the transparency around who is actually responsible for fixing it.

The province must ensure that reliable capital funding is made available for transit infrastructure, and that these investments go towards projects that will achieve the maximum benefit for their communities.

This means:

  1. A permanent, provincial transit strategy that gives transit agencies the stable, reliable funding required to build sustainable infrastructures in communities. 

  2. A focus on prioritizing public procurement and funding and moving away from a model of privatization of transit systems and public-private partnerships.

  3. The criteria for allocating sums must be multiple and varied so that public transport projects can be financed in medium-sized communities.

  4. Support should be available for municipalities that decide to remove or convert road space into dedicated bus lanes. 

  5. Maintaining the investments already announced.

  6. Establishing Community Benefits Agreements and ensuring they are honoured. 

 

Improving Accessible Transit

The lack of accessible transit throughout our country creates barriers for people with disabilities and limited mobility who rely on transit to get where they need to go, especially as they grow older. 

This has been especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, where people with disabilities have faced even more barriers. For example, in Hamilton, people with mobility devices were forced to take transit with a companion as drivers were not permitted to deploy ramps themselves, essentially taking away those riders’ autonomy. 

Removing barriers means providing more accessible vehicles, stations and transit facilities and transit information that can be easily accessed by all. Acting on these types of measures can create truly universal transit and paratransit systems across the province.

Some provinces have introduced legislation, mandating public and private organizations be accessible. Transit systems however aren’t addressed adequately and they lack the resources to implement full accessibility. 

Ensuring that transit interchanges, intercity bus stops and railway stations have sheltered, safe waiting areas with accessible washroom facilities is crucial. 

All parties need to take a holistic approach when it comes to tackling mobility justice and look at all aspects of a transit system if they are going to make public transit a space where all can move around freely.

This means:

  1. Recognizing mobility as a human right and ensuring that right is upheld.

  2. An accessibility audit of all bus, train and streetcar stations across the province with the assistance of the federal and municipal governments, transit agencies and community stakeholders to see what needs to be done to render them as accessible as possible to those with limited mobility.

  3. Implement accessibility planning in municipalities throughout the province that focuses on all aspects of transit systems including routes and transfers and making transit information easily available to all.

  4. Consistent and reliable funding to local transit agencies to improve and expand paratransit services and ensure that these services stay public with funding to increase in tandem with projected need based on demographic shifts in the province.

  5. More funding and focus to include people with disabilities and those with limited mobility in all planning around transit.

  6. Ensuring equitable access to public transit that is affordable, reliable, and at the same level of service as the main system.

 

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