Public Transit, Post-COVID

Earlier today, delegates heard perspectives on how transit can recover and rebuild from the ridership and financial impacts of COVID-19. Representatives from transit agencies and local government addressed how the recently announced Safe Restart funding will help them recover, and identified key policy considerations to support continued growth of transit going forward.

Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, set the context by highlighting strong growth in transit ridership in the year prior to the pandemic, citing a “perfect combination” of population growth, a strong economy and investments in service expansion. While noting that the Safe Restart Funding would ensure that TransLink is able to maintain service levels and a stable budget in the near-term, Desmond also pointed towards the long-term need to address a forecasted budget deficit, through collaboration with federal and provincial partners. On the issue of ridership, Desmond stressed the importance of a focus on safety to ensure that ridership returns, while expressing cautious optimism due to fundamentals driving ridership growth that remain relevant today.

Erinn Pinkerton, President and CEO of BC Transit echoed Kevin Desmond, emphasizing that “our priority right now is to ensure that when our customers come back to transit, they feel safe” and reiterating the importance of the Safe Restart funding in creating a stable and secure footing for a transit recovery. Pinkerton indicated that a key next step would be for BC Transit to work individually with local governments to finalize their annual operating agreements. She concluded by expressing optimism about the future of transit as modern, green, and reliable.

In addition to acknowledging Federal and Provincial Governments, New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté thanked UBCM for their role in making the case that transit was hit particularly hard due to COVID-19. Mayor Coté pointed towards three key issues for transit in the coming years: the current funding model relying on farebox revenues that makes transit systems vulnerable and non-resilient, the importance of transit as an essential service, and the value of transit in addressing sustainability and climate change.

The session concluded with an inspiring presentation by Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton, who pointed towards the historical precedent of the 1918 flu pandemic.  In this context, Mayor Crompton emphasized that “we will get to the other side” of the pandemic, and when we do, we “need to build the TransLink and BC Transit of the future”: one that is more resilient, better funded, and with a clear focus on climate change.

UBCM Executive has put forward resolution SR4 calling for a Provincial Transit Recovery Strategy and a Provincial Rebuilding Strategy for BC’s Transit and Transportation Sector.  This resolution seeks further action to support TransLink and BC Transit in the face of COVID-19 financial impacts and to expand transit revenue tools to reduce reliance on transit fares. Members will have the opportunity to consider this resolution as part of the Wednesday morning resolutions session.

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