How the election failed public transit

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All Canadian political parties make the same two mistakes regarding public transit; no challenging car culture, no operating funding says James Wilt, a freelance journalist and graduate student based in Winnipeg, writing for Canadian Dimension.

Year after year, politicians continuously make unrealistic promises about public transportation during election campaigns.

In the recently concluded Canadian election, the Conservatives promised to restore Stephen Harper’s Public Transit Tax Credit to “provide much-needed relief for transit users.” However, Wilt writes that the transit tax credit—which was removed from the 2017 federal budget—is a particularly costly and unproductive way to provide transit ridership, it costs between $229 and $308 million annually.

Wilt also believes that the Conservatives’ promise to fund new subway lines in the Greater Toronto Area is likewise questionable, with TTC riders criticizing the Ontario Line proposal for poor planning and consultation, lack of integration with the TTC, and further privatization of infrastructure.

Wilt argues that even though new rail infrastructure is sorely needed in the country, the kind of infrastructure that advances right-wing politics through a loss of public and democratic control over decision-making is most definitely not what any city needs.

The Liberals seem to have also failed the country on this front. Despite allocating $28.7 billion over 11 years for public transit, Wilt believes the infrastructure funding is often “a gameable metric.”

The article quotes the Canadian Urban Transit Association, who expressed concern about the uncertain future of federal transit funding beyond 2020-21: “the pace of spending under the Investing in Canada Plan has been slower than originally anticipated, for reasons that include delays between construction activity and receipt by the Government of claims for payment, and by some jurisdictions being slower to prioritize projects than expected.”

The Greens on the other hand, though full of plans for transit,fail to mention urban transit, let alone commit specific funding to it. The party has pledged to institutionalize and double federal transfers to municipalities in the form of a Municipal Fund, and replace the Gas Tax Fund, yet there is no specific mention of money for transit. Yet the party recently tweeted: “Greens high-speed, electric trains.”

Finally, just like other parties, NDP made a spirited promise to “build a path towards fare-free transit” for “provinces and municipalities that identify it as a priority.” The party made it totally unclear how much money they are willing to put towards such a big dream as fare-free transit, especially since the party has only pledged $1.45 billion a year in total for “clean transit and transportation.”

Wilt concludes by stating that the major reason why public transit has lagged behind in Canada is that good transit and good automobile access cannot co-exist. “Every automobile on the road adds traffic congestion, danger to pedestrians and cyclists, and demand for more investment in roads and highways. It’s why the strategy presented by most parties that fund both personal electric vehicles and public transit is a dead end.”

To attain a system of highly reliable, frequent, and comfortable transportation systems in urban, rural, and intercity contexts, the government must be willing to take away space from private vehicles and no political party has been brave enough to even suggest this yet.