Due to COVID-19 restrictions, public transit use has dropped significantly in many parts of Canada.
But it would be wrong to conclude we’ve turned our backs on buses, light rail and subways. We’re riding them less, but still value them highly and want politicians to fund them generously.
That’s the conclusion of a survey completed last month by EKOS Research, one of our most respected polling firms.
Overall, 83 per cent of Canadians believe government has a responsibility to ensure people can access safe, reliable and affordable transit. Strong support exists across all the demographics EKOS examined. Among respondents under 35 years of age, support is at 90 per cent; among folks 65 and older, it stands at 83 per cent.
This view isn’t just held by transit users. 81 per cent of people who rely on the car believe government must ensure access to good transit. The vast majority of us — however we get around — understand the critical role of subways and buses. Even those who don’t use them recognize their social importance.
A strong majority — 73 per cent — believe the feds should indeed offer transit this long-range commitment
EKOS asked Canadians whether they agree that Ottawa should provide funding to transit agencies and, more precisely, “long term” funding. That’s a challenging question during a pandemic, when many people are focused on near-term priorities like emergency benefits and vaccine production. Yet a strong majority — 73 per cent — believe the feds should indeed offer transit this long-range commitment.
As well, we want our transit to be environmentally friendly. EKOS asked Canadians if they support Ottawa’s pledge, included in the government’s mandate letters, to help municipalities purchase 5,000 zero-emission buses. Overall, 80 per cent of respondents say they do.
Again, backing is strong across all demographics. Among folks whose household income is less than $60,000 annually, support stands at 82 per cent. But even among those making over $100,000 — who are less likely to rely on a bus — support reaches 79 per cent. Regardless of income level, the overwhelming majority of Canadians like the feds’ plan to green the fleet.
In every region of the country, support for increased provincial funding is above 70 per cent.
EKOS’ last question asked respondents if their province should provide more transit funding. The results show a remarkable consensus. In every region of the country, support for increased provincial funding is above 70 per cent. Among Ontarians, it stands at 80 per cent, but even among Albertans, a population strongly attached to the car, support hits 73 per cent.
Whatever their background, Canadians are united in a belief that senior governments should offer transit additional assistance.
Perhaps this stems from the fact that, once the pandemic is tamed, the climate emergency will remain and the need for alternatives to the gas-burning automobile will only be greater.
The EKOS poll, commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation, was fielded October 22 to November 1, 2020. The margin of error associated with the 812-person sample is +/- 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
This op-ed was originally published in the Toronto Star