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Links: transportation

Our Links series explores how some of the major systemic issues facing people in Canada are connected to both climate change and income security and identifies potential policy solutions. This week’s post is on transportation.

Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, accounting for 23 per cent of total emissions. As such, it’s a clear area of focus when it comes to exploring lower-carbon climate solutions. 

Low-emission or electric vehicles are becoming more readily available and affordable, and there is lots of ongoing research into alternative fuel sources like hydrogen fuel cells. It’s becoming more common for buses, trains and other modes of public transit run on electricity. And car production factories across Canada are slowly shifting to producing electric vehicles, as they have in Ingersoll, Ontario.

Taking public transportation instead of driving is often touted as a simple and effective climate solution. Increasing use of public transit has the potential to take many cars off the road, reducing fossil fuel emissions and improving air quality, traffic congestion and noise pollution. As public transportation continues to shift toward electrification, it’s becoming a much lower-carbon alternative to travelling by car.

Taking public transit can also be more affordable than owning or renting a vehicle, especially since as the cost of gas in Canada is hits record highs. Combined with the cost of insurance and maintenance, it’s becoming more expensive to own a vehicle every year.

Increasing public transit use certainly has the potential to save money and reduce transportation-related carbon emissions. However, access to public transit varies greatly across Canada. While it may be easy to rely on bus or subway systems in certain parts of major cities, many rural and remote parts of Canada lack access to reliable and affordable public transit, boosting reliance on driving and leaving fewer options for low-carbon transportation.

Many people in Canada have long relied on private bus services (such as Greyhound and Megabus) to travel major distances across or between provinces, especially in Western Canada. Earlier this year, however, Greyhound Canada permanently ceased all Canadian bus routes, citing declining ridership and the COVID pandemic shutdown. (This was after they had already pulled out of Western Canada in 2018). The shutdown has had—and will continue to have—major implications for many rural and remote parts of the country, making it much more difficult to travel between smaller communities affordably and conveniently.

Around the world, public transit ridership has seen a sharp drop since the start of the COVID pandemic as people are generally leaving their homes less and choosing less populated modes of travel. The resultant revenue losses make it difficult for transit agencies to continue to provide reliable service, much less expand services to increase accessibility and better meet the needs of those currently lacking regular access. Other agencies, like Greyhound, have disappeared completely, resulting in a patchy and insufficient public transit network that leaves many no choice but to use more costly and higher-carbon modes of transportation.

Public transit has a clear role to play in Canada’s climate response and the creation of more resilient, affordable communities supported by anti-poverty measures that make sure everyone has what they need to navigate a changing economy. However, in order to be truly accessible it must be affordable, reliable and easy to incorporate into our daily lives. It’s crucial that as Canada shifts to a lower-carbon economy, we work with climate solutions that aren’t only easy to incorporate into our daily lives, but also that make life better and more affordable.

Robust and accessible public transit could be totally transformative for many communities across Canada. It could make life more affordable, make it easier to connect with surrounding communities, and provide convenient alternatives to the burden of car ownership or renting. It could build resilience by helping communities find the time, energy and resources they need to take their own further action on all aspects of the climate crisis.

As Canada moves toward a low-carbon transition, investing in public transit and supporting innovative solutions to existing public transit gaps is key. In addition to providing transit to millions of people, it has the potential to create new decent jobs, make communities safer and more liveable, and spark excitement about what else we could achieve with robust income support policies that put power in the hands of community members.