Public transit challenges take centre stage at Transit Policy Forum in Ottawa
OTTAWA (September 21, 2023) – The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) held a Transit Policy Forum on Tuesday, September 19 in Ottawa. Speakers from across the country discussed urgent policy concerns, including the need for federal transit infrastructure funding to service Canada’s growing population, and support for public transit safety and security.
The event featured an appearance by the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities. “Transit systems don’t operate in isolation of the communities they serve,” said Minister Fraser. “They are essential to connecting people to those communities, housing, social services, and economic opportunities.”
Top of mind was the gap in federal infrastructure funding for public transit, with applications to the previous federal infrastructure fund having closed in March 2023 and the $3B annual Permanent Public Transit Fund coming online in 2026. Many transit systems are unable to begin expansion projects to address future demand without funding commitments. Canada’s largest transit systems also face significant repair costs to ensure existing infrastructure, like subway cars, transit stations and rail lines remain in a state of good repair.
“Canada’s communities are growing at a record pace, and we need to ensure that public transit infrastructure keeps pace with that growth,” said Marco D’Angelo, CUTA’s President and CEO. “The gap in federal infrastructure funding will only stall progress on housing, since the two areas are considered linked by municipalities, developers, and residents.”
Taylor Bachrach, MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, joined the chorus of voices at the forum calling for accelerated federal infrastructure funding. “The Permanent Public Transit Fund is critical, but we need to move the start date to 2024,” noted MP Taylor Bachrach.
Guests also heard about the increase of incidents of violence and social disorder on transit that peaked in spring and are expected to increase again this winter. CUTA released a series of recommendations for transit agencies, provinces, and the federal government to enhance safety and security. Constrained municipal budgets make it difficult for transit agencies to fund security personnel and station enhancements needed to address rising safety and security concerns.
“The federal government needs to be at the table when it comes to keeping Canada’s commuters safe,” said D’Angelo. “We are calling on the federal government to provide funding to transit agencies for specific safety and security needs, including staffing, training, station enhancements, and public awareness.”
CUTA consulted with Canada’s transit agencies to determine their safety and security needs. Federal assistance should come in the form of an application-based fund of $75M per year for two years to make transit safer for Canada’s commuters. CUTA is also calling on the government to strengthen penalties for assaults on transit workers by amending the criminal code, expanding beyond its current definition of transit operators to include all transit workers.
The Transit Policy Forum also featured a keynote address by Renée Amilcar, UITP President and General Manager of Transit Services for OC Transpo, where she provided insights into the current state of public transit and outlined her strategic vision for the future. With the housing crisis top of mind for policy makers, presenters and panelists also explored the policy intersections between housing and transit.
Director, Communications and Public Affairs
Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA)