People aren’t using public transit the way they once did thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Federal government isn’t planning for transit this year, but transit in the years to come. An announcement this morning with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna promised $14.9 billion in new transit funding for the next eight years, but we’re not going see most of that till 2026.
“When we invest in public transit infrastructure, we are supporting good middle class jobs, creating better commutes, fighting climate change, and helping make life easier and more affordable for Canadians,” Trudeau said in a statement. “We will continue to do what it takes to ensure our economic recovery from COVID-19 and build back a more resilient country for everyone.”
The Federal government plan claims an ambitious agenda to achieve four goals with this transit investment including climate action, promoting healthy lifestyles, creating more access in rural and remote areas, and creating new jobs by building major infrastructure projects. The plan calls for $5.9 billion for projects in 2021, and then $3 billion per year in permanent funding starting in the 2026-27 fiscal year.
This new funding announcement represents as much funding as the Federal government’s invested in public transit since the Trudeau government took office in 2015. Since that time, there has been $13 billion announced for over 1,300 transit projects in Canada, including projects in Guelph like the electrification of our transit fleet.
“The transit stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan (ICIP) has been empowering cities to move forward with vital system expansions,” said Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Garth Frizzell and FCM Big City Mayors’ Caucus chair Don Iveson in a joint statement. “Growing this into a permanent transit fund—beyond ICIP’s 2027 horizon—offers cities the long-term predictability we need to continue delivering transformational system growth.”
“This has the potential to make transit modernization a centrepiece of the job-creating, emissions-reducing, quality-of-life-enhancing recovery that Canadians deserve on the other side of COVID-19,” they added.
Closer to home, the Mayor of Guelph tweeted at the prime minister with his own bold proposal, Why not now?
“Thanks. But respectfully, cities need cash-flow now,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie. “Not between a hypothetical 2026 or 2034 timeframe that only happens if you’re still PM. We need NOW dealt with before we deal with a far-away TOMORROW.”
Guthrie’s concern is the budget shortfall from lost revenues on transit due to the pandemic. Last fall, the City of Guelph noted that they lost about $8 million in overall revenue due a loss of over 50 per cent of passenger boarding since the start of the pandemic, and that includes millions in lost revenue from the universal student bus pass which is usually collected every semester from University of Guelph students.
“We need to concentrate on operating shortfalls now. Not hypothetical capital projects purely dependent on an election in 2026 and beyond,” Guthrie added on Twitter.
The announcement on transit funding from the Federal government comes one day after Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney challenged the Federal government to come up with additional funding for the Hamilton LRT project, which the Provincial government cancelled in 2019 under dubious circumstances.
“We’re keeping our word and honouring our $1 billion capital commitment to transportation infrastructure investments in the City of Hamilton, and we urge the federal government to join us in building a viable LRT,” Mulroney said. “It’s going to take all levels of government to make a meaningful Hamilton LRT project a reality. Everyone is going to need to pitch in.”
The Ontario government has a list of five priority projects along with the Hamilton LRT, which is number five. The other projects are the Ontario Line Subway, Scarborough Subway Extension, Eglinton Crosstown West Extension and Yonge North Subway Extension projects.