Canada's largest provinces issue joint request for federal funding for public transit

Jun 4 2020, 4:22 pm

The transportation ministers of Canada’s four largest provinces have made a joint public plea for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to provide interim operating funding for public transit systems.

Public transit services have of course been severely hit by COVID-19 as a result of the drop in fare revenue and other transportation demand-driven revenue streams.

Provincial governments oversee the operation of public transit systems in their jurisdictions, but given the unprecedented fiscal challenges, they are now also seeking support from the federal level.

“We acknowledge our role in tackling this issue, but no individual level of government can solve this critical challenge alone,” reads the joint statement by British Columbia’s Claire Trevana, Alberta’s Ric McIver, Ontario’s Caroline Mulroney, and Quebec’s Francois Bonnardel.

“As public transportation has been declared an essential service by both federal and provincial governments, we have to work together in order to guarantee the financial survival of transit agencies through the COVID-19 crisis.”

These provincial ministers are calling on the federal government to urgently commit to sharing in the operating subsidies of the services through bilateral programs, “as provinces are in the best position to redistribute funds quickly and appropriately.”

They state this federal funding is necessary to help support the restart of economies, with many Canadians relying on public transit to get to school and work.

However, early last month, Trudeau stated it is not the federal government’s responsibility to support the operation of public transit. Instead, it provides funding for capital projects.

The federal government has indicated it is considering a substantial infusion in economic stimulus infrastructure funding later this year. Shovel-ready public transit infrastructure projects are expected to be a key benefactor.

Public transit agencies across the country have been resisting further cuts to service levels to ensure passengers can practice some degree of physical distancing, but this also requires sustained operating subsidies with this higher operating cost and the collapse in revenues.

Within Metro Vancouver, ridership on the TransLink system is now 80% of normal levels, but this represents a 30% increase over the ridership low experienced weeks earlier in the pandemic.

TransLink anticipates it will see a revenue shortfall of between $570 million and $680 million in 2020, and between $120 million and $885 million in 2021. The full fiscal impact over up to four years could range between $710 million and $3.25 billion.

On Calgary Transit, ridership is down by 92% on the C-Train and 80% on the bus. The projected revenue gap for 2020 is between $145 million and $235 million.

Edmonton Transit has seen its ridership fall by about 80%, resulting in a monthly revenue hole of approximately $10 million.

Ridership on the Toronto Transit Commission is down by nearly 90%, with the public transit authority reporting losses of nearly $100 million per month. Ridership on GO Transit and UP Express are down by similar levels.

Montreal Transit Corporation’s ridership is down by over 80% as well.

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