Returning to work after Covid-19 – by transit or by cycling?

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Canada reported on May 12 that a Probe Research poll found that 78% of Canadian respondents support $5 billion in emergency government funding for public transit services, and 91% agree that governments have a responsibility to ensure access to safe, reliable, and affordable public transit.  Yet when asked whether they would use public transport after Covid-19, city-dwellers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K. and the Brussels metropolitan area, expressed “lukewarm enthusiasm for public transport, due to a fear of the risk of infection”. The European survey also was conducted in mid-May,  by YouGov poll, and according to an article in Politico Europe,  preference was for “active transportation” such as walking and cycling, with a majority supporting new zero-emissions zones, banning cars from urban areas,  and maintaining the gains in  road space dedicated to bikes and pedestrians that were implemented during the Covid-19 crisis.

In Canada, the cycling issue is explored in “Bike lanes installed on urgent basis across Canada during COVID-19 pandemic”  by CBC (June 7), highlighting a movement to establish permanent, protected cycling lanes – which is one of the demands of the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities, a statement championed by Jennifer Keesmaat, former City of Toronto Chief Planner. (a list of over 100 signatories is here ). Other proposals from the Declaration include a moratorium on the construction and reconstruction of urban expressways; congestion pricing policies, with 100% of the revenues dedicated to public transportation expansion, and electrification of the public transit fleet.

Catching the Bus : How Smart Policy Can Accelerate Electric Buses Across Canada   is a policy report released by Clean Energy Canada on June 11,  but unfortunately researched before the transformational impacts of Covid-19.  In an updated introduction, Clean Energy Canada argues that emergency financial relief for transit agencies should be the government’s top priority, but points out that transit procurement cycles run approximately 12 to 18 years, so that “investment decisions today will last for decades.” According to a blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union , the pandemic has resulted in a 75-85% decrease in ridership, with over 3,000 layoffs announced by mid-May and more expected.  The ATU has called on the federal government to provide a $5 billion stimulus investment just to stave off the bankruptcy of transit agencies  – the ATU position on electrification is stated in a February blog here .

Clearing the Air: How electric vehicles and cleaner trucks can reduce pollution, improve health and save lives in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area was released on June 3, a joint project by Environmental Defence ,  the Ontario Public Health Association,  and the University of Toronto’s Transportation and Air Quality Research Group. The report considers the impact of electrification of passenger cars, urban buses, and freight trucks, with the main purpose of demonstrating the considerable health effects of lower pollution.  Policy prescriptions for buses are scanty, though the report estimates that  electrifying all public transit buses in Canada would provide social benefits of up to $1.1 billion per year.  The report and a series of interactive maps of the region are here .

Of these recent reports, only the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities addresses the issue of transit equity, so evident in the pandemic world as low-wage and essential workers may not have the luxury of replacing their transit commute with a passenger car. Work and Climate Change Report summarized Canadian initiatives pre-Covid in “Transit Equity and Free Transit: addressing social justice, climate justice and workplace justice (Feb.10) . Also pre-Covid in November 2019, an interview with University of Toronto professor Steven Farber discusses how transit policy is a social justice issue.  Farber also spoke at the ATU  Transit Equity Summit in December 2019  .

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