Jarred Cohen: Public transit, the driver of economic recovery

Jarred Cohen is the Policy Advisor at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

As the national conversation moves towards the topic of post-pandemic recovery, all orders of government must work together to keep essential services in place to aid in the transition. As our economies reopen, millions of Canadians will once again rely on public transit to get to work.

Public transit systems are currently experiencing a financial crisis. Ridership is down by as much as 90 per cent; revenue is drying up across the country; and significant layoffs are taking place. As a result, transit systems have had to cut service and cancel routes.

To adhere to physical distancing and disinfecting requirements, systems are also significantly limiting vehicle occupancy. Fifty-foot buses are only taking on ten passengers at a time. Vehicles are also being taken out of service to undergo strict cleaning protocols. This results in longer wait times for Canadians and vastly reduced service levels.

Provincial and federal decision-makers are working hard to ensure that those who have lost income have access to emergency funding for basic needs, while simultaneously developing a plan to bring our economy back to life. However, we cannot rebuild our economy without recognizing transit as being crucial to economic recovery.

Public transit contributes to Canada’s economic competitiveness across different scales—from the macroeconomic impacts of infrastructure investments to the community benefits of improved mobility. Public transit systems generate employment in all areas of the economy. Canada’s business community is also a major producer and exporter of transit equipment, so a high proportion of transit investment remains in Canada and creates spin-off employment in manufacturing and related industries.

Strong transit networks are critical to our economic recovery from COVID-19. Maybe not in the immediate future, but soon, millions of workers and students will once again rely on public transit to get to where they need to go. Fully operational transit systems must be waiting for them.

– Jarred Cohen