The transformation of conventional transit is coming

Apr 22, 2019 Transportation
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Image courtesy of the City of Santa Monica

David Pickeral, a consultant, posted a LinkedIn message that caught my attention. Within his message was a link to American Public Transportation Association (APTA) statistics which showed a 2% decline from the previous year in United States transit system ridership. There was a 6% increase for Canadian systems, but should still ring some alarm bells on both sides of the border.

Why the difference? More people are using new mobility options in American cities because there are quite a few more options. Dan Sperling predicts that new mobility will have more ridership than conventional transit.

I suspect the Canadian market is too small for many of these new mobility providers to make an impact, yet, or there are more barriers to entry. Regardless, some North American cities are catching on.

Pilot projects are underway in Los Angeles and Belleville, as examples. Also, instead of funding a transit system from scratch, Innisfil partnered with Uber to deliver an on-demand microtransit service. Transit partnerships are occuring in several large American cities in solving the first and last mile problem. But many Canadian cities are resistant to change, primarily due to transit being protected by their political fiefdoms.

Meanwhile, at the Transforming Transportation Conference earlier this year, Nripesh Kumar from Ernst & Young provided a graph that indicated the potential of dwindling government revenues because of current and future technological advancements.

In the current age of shrinking public budgets, populism, and the eventuality that revenues will shrink because of the emergence of electric vehicles, cities will have to get creative. Manhattan will be moving forward with a cordon area congestion pricing plan and Los Angeles is reviewing options for a cordon plan as well.

As for Canadian federal and provincial governments, they have yet to catch on. Remember when Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed road toll on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway to fund transit and the Liberal government balked because of insecure suburban politicians? Well the majority of them were turfed anyway in last year’s Provincial elections.

Now with the Conservative government in power at Queen’s Park, one of their first orders of business in the budget from a few weeks ago was to announce they would withdraw their gas tax increase. In 2015, Vancouver residents voted down a referendum to fund transit projects through a sales tax increase.

Unless the Federal Liberals, if they get re-elected this fall, announce a National Transit Strategy with a significant amount of funding, or they get brave and significantly raise tax rates on the wealthy, chances are transit systems will be struggling to find resources.  While regional transportation agencies like Translink and Metrolinx realize the importance of a future shared mobility model, many Canadian municipalities have not caught on, especially when solving first and last mile trips.

Municipal governments here in Canada are at a juncture where they must become amenable to exploring public-private partnerships to cohesively deliver more transit, especially in the low-demand deserts of suburbia and industrial areas.  The time is now.

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