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Canadian Public Health Association

Invest in public transit to create healthy, green and just communities

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The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on public transit systems that rely heavily on the fare box for their funding. With collective fare box losses as high as $400 million per month, transit agencies across Canada have been forced to eliminate service routes and jobs during the pandemic. Twice in 2020, the Canadian government provided emergency funding that has been used, in part, to keep transit systems afloat and operating. It is time to recognize public transit as an essential service and to fund it accordingly.

In a regular year, nearly 2 million people across Canada use public transit to get to work each day. In August 2020, that number dropped to half a million as 42% of transit users worked from home, 26% switched to their cars, and 7% switched to active modes of travel such as cycling. It is important to reflect on the fact that, during a pandemic, half a million people in Canada were still using public transit each day.

About 20-40% of people in our communities are unable to drive to school, work or to run errands because of their age, income or ability, or choose not to drive. For many people, public transit is an essential service that provides them with independent and less costly access to jobs, schools, essential services and recreational opportunities. Many of these people provide services deemed essential during the pandemic – personal care workers in long-term care centres, grocery store workers, cleaners in health care institutions, and workers in food processing plants. For many people, public transit is the only affordable way to get to work.

Public transit provides many other benefits to society as a whole.

  • It decreases traffic-related air pollution, its many adverse health impacts, and the related health care costs.
  • It reduces greenhouse gas emissions that fuel the global warming that, in turn, threatens the liveability of our planet.
  • It reduces vehicle-related injuries and deaths. 
  • It increases physical activity that reduces chronic diseases and health care costs.
  • It is an affordable travel option that is open to all people in urban centres.

As governments seek to kick-start economies in communities across the country, investments in public transit infrastructure and the electrification of transit vehicles is a great way to create jobs, reduce social inequities and cultivate new green technologies, while reducing air pollution, health care costs, and greenhouse gas emissions. By providing permanent and sustainable funding for transit services, our provincial and federal governments can increase ridership, while fostering all of the health, social and environmental benefits associated with public transit.

Use your voice to call for greater investments in public transit to create healthy, green and just communities.

The Canadian Health Association for Sustainability and Equity (CHASE), the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) and the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) have collaborated on a series of factsheets and backgrounders on investments that have the potential to improve public health, decrease health inequities and promote climate action. This is the first in that series.

Additional information on the health, social and environmental benefits of public transit is available in a Backgrounder (complete with references) and in a Fact Sheet that provides a high-level summary of those benefits.

Please share these materials through your networks and feel free to provide links to them on your websites.

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