Opinion: Public transit funding must be the foundation of our economic recovery

Apr 21 2020, 5:28 pm

Written by Dylan Kruger, a city councillor with the City of Delta.


The COVID-19 health pandemic has crippled the Canadian economy, putting millions of people out of work and local store owners out of business. The financial implications are far-reaching and will take years to recover from.

As the national conversation moves towards the topic of economic recovery, all orders of government must work together to keep essential services in place to aid in the transition. We can’t build a new normal if we don’t push hard now to strengthen our foundation.

In particular, I am concerned about the need for emergency funding to keep our public transit system in working order. Revenue losses and social distancing means our public transit agency is bleeding over $75 million a month. As a result, this week we learned TransLink will lay off 1,500 workers, suspend dozens of routes across the region, and reduce service levels across the board.

Even now, tens of thousands of essential workers – including nurses, cleaners, and grocery store workers – depend on our public transit system to get to work each and every day. TransLink is doing what they can to keep the busiest routes open, especially prioritizing routes that provide access to the region’s hospitals. Despite these efforts, more bus cancellations and reductions in service are expected in the months ahead.

TransLink has appealed directly to the premier and prime minister for emergency assistance. I don’t envy the tough decisions our provincial and federal governments have to make right now. In my own municipality of Delta, I had to make the most difficult decision of my career when I voted along with the rest of our Council to temporarily lay off over 500 part-time and auxiliary employees.

Our provincial and federal decision makers, for their part, have the vital and unenviable task of working with health officials to keep measures in place to flatten the curve and protect our most vulnerable citizens. They are also working to ensure that those who have lost income have access to emergency funding for food and shelter, while simultaneously developing a plan to bring our economy back to life.

We cannot rebuild our economic house without first making sure our foundation is looked after – a functioning transit system is key to that. In the absence of emergency support, the TransLink Mayor’s Council will have to further discuss options to reduce transit services on bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express. We can’t afford to let that happen.

A local, grassroots organization called Abundant Transit has started a petition imploring our provincial and federal governments to fund transit as an essential service. Nearly 5,000 signed in less than one week. Please consider adding your name.

A strong local transit system is crucial for our economic recovery from COVID-19. Maybe not this week or this month, but soon, hundreds of thousands of workers and students will once again rely on TransLink to get to where they need to be across the region. A fully operational transit system must be there waiting for them.