Duncan Wilcock


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Saturday, April 04, 2020

Bail out Transit, Not Airlines

Transit - including buses & subways - is an essential service.

Translink (Vancouver), TTC (Toronto), and STM (Montreal) - are all getting nurses and grocery store clerks to work day in & day out.  They have always been doing this, but COVID-19 reminded us of just how important (foundational!) front line workers are to our lives.  That means boring old city-buses as well as subways and the like here in Canada.

Air Canada and Westjet are more top of mind to the white collar workers who make bail out decisions, but transit serves more people day in day out.

Transit is not just a business that takes fare revenue.  It also serves the public good - enabling transportation of people who don't drive (perhaps they are very young, very old, or otherwise don't have a car).  On some level we keep bus routes with not-so-full buses, because we want to ensure coverage to less busy areas of the urban and suburban landscape.

We are being shown they must serve the public good when governments ask transit agencies to have buses ride mostly empty - to both maintain coverage for essential workers, and so that physical distancing can be maintained.  It was never just about riders and fare collection - transit has always had a public-service role that was part of it's mandate.

I'm not fully opposed to bailouts for airlines.  Such precise decisions are mercifully above my pay-grade. I do think we don't see in-plain-sight the key role transit plays in our lives, and so want to help draw attention to that story.  I would also keep in mind that Airlines do pollute a lot, so let's make sure their fares are priced to capture all negative-externalities, like greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution.  The important thing is that we prioritize.   A more accurate headline for this post might be:  "Bail out Transit first, and then Maybe Airlines"

Let's make sure that thanks to COVID-19 that we prioritize any bail-out funding according to our values, to doing the greatest good - that helps the most people,  because it is now crystal clear how critical transit is as a public service, and as public infrastructure.


More resources if you want to dive deeper:

  1. Great interview with a leading transit practitioner
    Jarrett Walker - on youtube so watch, or just listen like a podcast.
  2. Bus drivers - frontline workers providing essential service - are dying around the world
    from COVID-19.  This article highlights two recent deaths in New York.
  3. Great, delightful article in Wired on Cities prioritizing Walking, Bikes, then Cars - in that order.