Contributed by Robert Lyman 2019. Lyman’s bio can be read here.
Federal, provincial and municipal governments in Canada are spending several billion dollars a year to expand public transit, increasingly focused on light rail systems. The public rationale for this frequently cites the need to promote modal shift from cars to transit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ‘save the planet’.
In fact, while transit use is rising modestly and mainly in very large cities, almost four out of five Canadians continue to commute by personal vehicle.
The costs of light rail transit systems are rising considerably. An increasing number cost over $200 million per kilometre to build, and operating subsidies for all transit systems are rising.
The Canadian Urban Transit Association Vision 2040 calls for transit ridership to increase by 86% from 2012 to 2040. Yet, even doubling transit ridership would only reduce GHG emissions by 2.5 megatonnes per year, reducing transportation-related emissions by 1.5% and total emissions by 0.4%.
Transit subsidies are the most expensive possible way to reduce emissions; the cost likely to exceed several hundred dollars per tonne, much higher than all other options available.
Spending on transit as a climate policy will not “save the planet”. Instead, it is a sad case of squandered money.