Change can be good, but it can be challenging as well.
In British Columbia, an incredibly beautiful and diverse place, change is happening rapidly. People from all over the world are choosing to make this region their home, bringing their unique talents and energies, and making our communities even more vibrant. Immigration patterns anticipate that as many as 50,000 people will settle in BC yearly for the next few years. This unprecedented growth in population requires a reliable, dependable, and sustainable public transit network.
“Immigration patterns anticipate that as many as 50,000 people will settle in BC yearly for the next few years. This unprecedented growth in population requires a reliable, dependable, and sustainable public transit network.”
Three-quarters of Canada’s population lives in cities with populations greater than 100,000 residents, with nearly one-third of people living in one of Canada’s “big five” cities, including Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Whether it is Canada’s global resource trade dependent on a network of ports, cargo planes, and trucks, or the everyday commuter going about their daily business, transportation is key to keep the economy moving.
Growing Public Transit Networks in Canada
Across the country, cities are investing in extensive networks of buses, trains, and light rail systems to meet the increasing demand for public transit. Many transit agencies have implemented smart technologies, such as contactless payment systems, to improve the overall passenger experience. Additionally, there has been a significant focus on promoting sustainability by introducing electric buses, integrating cycling infrastructure with transit networks, and exploring renewable energy sources for transit operations.
To keep up with the pace of change, public transit agencies are in a race to plan for future expansion while ensuring that current service levels are fully maintained.
As the CEO of TransLink, I am privileged to lead an organization that plays a crucial role in shaping the transportation infrastructure of Metro Vancouver and Canada. The TransLink system is spread over 1,800 kilometres and includes modes of transportation such as the Skytrain, buses, a commuter train called West Coast Express, the SeaBus, and our accessible paratransit service, HandyDart. It’s a complex network of 63 SkyTrain stations, 4 SeaBus ferries, nearly 2,000 buses, and 245 bus routes. We also have our own police force comprising 184 sworn officers whose job is to ensure that our system is safe. We move close to 400,000 people every single day.
But the last few years have been tough. TransLink suffered major financial losses during the pandemic, from which we are still recovering. Despite limited resources, dwindling revenues, and tight operational funding, we have averted major service cuts. This has been possible in part because of strong advocacy from the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation and financial contributions from the Provincial Government in BC and the Canadian Federal government to keep operations running.
“Some parts of Metro Vancouver are already experiencing ridership recovery of over 120% when compared to pre-pandemic levels.”
TransLink is leading North America in post-pandemic ridership recovery, which is a testament to the service we provided throughout the pandemic with government support, innovative marketing campaigns to bring back riders, and quick response to changing travel patterns. Some parts of Metro Vancouver are already experiencing ridership recovery of over 120% when compared to pre-pandemic levels. However, this is creating overcrowding conditions and making it challenging to re-allocate services to address needs.
Improving Canadian Public Transit
In order to tackle these issues head-on, we need a comprehensive approach that embraces collaboration. We need all levels of Government to recognize that major investments in expanding our system are required now so that we can adequately plan for a region which is growing by leaps and bounds. We need to take bold steps to reimagine how we fund transit to deliver continued and steady operational funding.
The Federal government is planning to launch a $3 billion per year capital funding program called the Permanent Transit Fund starting in 2026, but this needs to be fast-tracked. It is essential that operational and capital funding go hand in hand to keep our transit system robust and healthy to serve existing customers while expanding to accommodate more.
“The Federal government is planning to launch a $3 billion per year capital funding program called the Permanent Transit Fund starting in 2026, but this needs to be fast-tracked.”
I am happy to note that this call to action is also emphasized by the Mayor’s Council for Regional Transportation. The Access for Everyone plan is urging Governments to fast-track funding. Earlier this year in a pre-budget submission to the Federal Minister of Finance, the Mayors’ Council specifically called for emergency relief funding of $250 million to help offset the ongoing financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate the delivery of the federal Permanent Transit Fund from 2026/27 to 2024/25 to help keep TransLink’s new 10-year expansion plan on track.
While we continue to advocate for steady funding, we are also investing in new and innovative ways to generate revenue. This year we announced the first of our transit-oriented development projects from our Real Estate Development Program, which will naturally encourage people to take transit over cars.
“We can build a future where transit is not merely a means of transportation, but a catalyst for enabling economic growth, decreasing carbon emissions, and creating better communities.”
The future of public transit in Canada holds the potential to revolutionize the way we live, work, and move within our communities. However, this cannot be achieved without a holistic approach that encompasses collaboration, innovation, and sustainability. Together, we can build a future where transit is not merely a means of transportation, but a catalyst for enabling economic growth, decreasing carbon emissions, and creating better communities. Let us seize this opportunity to shape a brighter tomorrow for our region and Canada.