Ensuring public transit’s survival means more than ribbon-cutting

John Di Nino
Ensuring public transit’s survival means more than ribbon-cutting

Aug. 11, 2021

In recent weeks and months, the Liberal government has made one large transit announcement after another. It is clear that election time is on the horizon.

A lot of these announcements around new projects are welcome too for if we are going to expand our transit system, we need to have reliable capital dollars to do it. One thing has been made abundantly clear throughout this pandemic: money for projects alone is not enough. Transit systems need funding for operations too.

COVID-19 has put into reality the stark focus that transit systems cannot solely rely on transit fares for funding. This is evident through looking at the deficit for three of Canada’s largest transit systems in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver totalling a whopping combined deficit of close to $2 billion. If governments and parties continue to ignore this, transit agencies will have to make deep cuts that will be felt by the most marginalized residents throughout our country for decades to come.


In other words, we need a government that is equally as interested in cutting ribbons for shiny new projects as they are in ensuring transit can actually keep running for the foreseeable future.

The end of the Safe Restart Agreement that gave emergency transit operational funding of over $2 billion to provinces across the country meant an end to stable funding during possibly one of the most difficult times in the history of public transit in this country.

Without provisions for operations funding, not only would the jobs of transit workers be at risk, but so would the jobs of millions of essential workers who rely on transit. This is the very antithesis of what a strong and robust COVID recovery program should be.

Millions of workers, including doctors, nurses, LTC workers, food production, transport and retail staff, seniors, low-income populations, people with disabilities and newcomers need access to reliable and affordable transit to get to work and access services. A continued lack of operational funding will harm the health and quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens, as well as the functioning of the health care system itself.


The United States has recognized this and President Joe Biden enacted legislation earlier this year putting some $30 billion extra into the coffers of hard-hit public transit agencies for their daily operations, recognizing that any robust and equitable COVID recovery effort must include operating funding for safe, dependable, and affordable public transit.

If we wish to truly tackle two of the most integral issues to our collective well-being — a just COVID recovery and tackling climate change, we need permanent and continued massive investments in not only capital dollars but in day-to-day public transit funding like municipalities were receiving through the Safe Restart Agreement. Any plan that ignores that this election is ignoring the health and well-being of millions of Canadians.

John Di Nino is the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union — Canada, Canada’s largest transit union.