If Canada is ever to meet its commitments under the Kyoto protocol on climate change – and Canada has perhaps the most onerous challenge in the world due to its climate – then it is going to have to rapidly develop public transit systems across the country that offer a viablke and attractive alternative to the private automobile.
In essence, public transit systems in every urban area of the country are going to have to become fast, frequent and free. They are also going to have to become comprehensive and around-the-clock.
This is what Canada’s 21st Century intra-urban public transit systems must quickly come to look like:
First, the actual ride on each bus must become faster. There must be far less dead time in routing schedules and provinces must enact traffic laws that give buses the unrestricted right-of-way.
Second, buses, streetcars and subway or light-rail trains must operate more frequently – at all hours of the day and the night. During daytime hours, no route should be serless frequently than every fifteen minutes and heavily-used routes should have service every 12, 10 or even 7.5 minutes. In the evening, the minimum frequency of buses on every route should be no more than 20 minutes and it should be no more than every 30 minutes between midnight and six A.M.
Third, all intra-urban (within a single urban area) must be free for riders.
Fourth, all intra-urban transit systems must become comprehensive in the sense of serving every corner of the urban area. Some form of public transit evhicle must pass with 400 metres (approximately 1,300 feet) of every household and every business in the urban community.
Fifth, the public transit system in every urban centre in Canada must operate 24 hours a day. Round-the-clock access to public transit is not only essential in terms of the service being comprehensive but could also serve to greatly reduce instances of impaired driving by leaving drinkers with no possible excuse for driving.
Sixth, there should be a shelter to protect riders from the elements at almost every public transit stop and every stop at a transfer site must be heated in the winter and illuminated at night.
Seventh, a consortium of federal, provincial and municipal governments should also take over responsibility for all inter-city buses and trains in Canada. Frequency of service must be increased on all routes, both bus and train, and fares should be greatly reduced.
Eighth, all transit systems must be equipped with high-tech communications, scheduling and ridership information systems so that riders can plan their public transit use efficiently and effectively.
Such a project would be an expensive undertaking and could probably not be done simultaneously in every urban area in the country. But, over time the economic and environmental advantages would far outweigh the disadvantages. And it would probably reduce our national unemployment rate by a couple of notches.
Who knows? Some three-car households might find they’d be fine with just two cars. Some two-car household might be able to downsize to a single car and a few single-car households might conclude they don’t even need a car.
The perfect place to test the concept is my hometown of London, ON, which has for decades been Canada’s primary industrial test market. It is a microcosm of Canada with a metropolitcan population of close to half a million. And it already has made some of the high-tech innovations necessary to operate a 21st-Century public transit system.
Funding should come from all three levels of government but primarily from the federal and provincial governments, perhaps supported by a national gas transit tax.