New Research all points to importance of investing in Public Transit now

The C.D. Howe Institute has released a detailed report examining some of the economic benefits of public transit, and conversely some of the things we’re missing out on as people continue to work from home and ridership remains low. It makes for an interesting read, and to my mind a powerful argument for why we shouldn’t forget the importance of public transit systems, even while we’re temporarily forced to use them less.  


I especially found it interesting as we had conducted our own survey of nearly 800 Canadians last month – amidst the ongoing public health restrictions and stay-at-home orders in place – and asked them about their experience of public transit. The top three reasons they cited for using the network – for convenience, to save money and to avoid traffic – are a clear reminder that when we have successfully navigated the pandemic, many of us will return to relying on trains, subways, and buses to move around the province quickly and easily.    


The C.D. Howe Institute report digs a little deeper. Their analysis emphasizes the importance of public transit both for businesses and for their employees; the positive impact it has on job opportunities, living standards and quality of life. In one example, the authors have estimated that lower ridership across the TTC has caused an economic loss of $1.7 billion for the Toronto region alone. That is an alarmingly high number.


As the vaccine rollout ramps up and a return to a more normal life edges a little closer, we acknowledge that public transit operators do face a challenge to increase ridership to pre-pandemic levels. Confidence among passengers is understandably low as we saw in our survey responses. Only 15% felt confident using trains at the moment, while the figure is slightly lower for subways (13%).


I am, however, convinced that figure will rise as case numbers fall and more people receive a Covid-19 vaccination.  All of us working in the transportation sector have a responsibility to communicate with passengers about the public health measures in place and put passenger confidence at the top of our priority list as the province gradually reopens.    


However, in our survey findings, there was one statistic which gave me real cause for optimism:  While a significant majority of Canadians are using public transit much less right now, 74% of respondents still supported investing in new local and regional rail infrastructure. People recognise that low ridership is temporary, and that means we can’t stop investing for the future. 


We couldn’t agree more with the C.D. Howe Institute’s report’s conclusion, cautioning against underinvesting in “economically critical transportation infrastructure.” It is an argument I wholeheartedly endorse. Critical infrastructure takes several years to build, and if we are going to win the battle against congestion in our cities and the dangers of climate change, we can’t waste any time. Even when public transport networks aren’t part of our everyday lives, they need to be a central part of our vision for a more prosperous Canada. It’s clear from our survey that people in Canada agree. 


Written by:
Yves Desjardins Siciliano, CEO
Siemens Mobility Limited