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Press release  •  4 min

New report : expanding public transit service can double ridership and cut emissions by 65 million tonnes

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Montréal, February 27th 2024 – A new report from Environmental Defence and Équiterre, supported by modelling conducted by Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors and Leading Mobility finds that Canada can double public transit ridership by 2035 if federal and provincial governments step up investments in expanding transit service hours and frequency, implement bus lanes and improve urban planning to encourage more housing density near transit.

Combined with electrification of bus fleets, the report finds that with these measures, Canada can reduce carbon emissions by sixty-five million tonnes by 2035, if investments begin now. Sixty-five million tonnes over the period 2024-2035 is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions produced by 20 million cars.

The policy interventions proposed in the report can be achieved by careful design of the planned federal Permanent Public Transit Fund and negotiated infrastructure funding agreements with provinces, territories, and cities, where the federal government would assume its traditional 40 per cent cost-share.

The report highlights that public transit systems across Canada are currently not allowed to use federal public transit funding to add service hours or increase service frequency, despite these measures being the most important drivers of ridership growth and emissions reductions. Federal funding is also not allowed to be used towards making fares more affordable, despite Canada’s cost-of-living crisis.

Based on public transit fleet data obtained from the Canadian Urban Transit Association, the report finds that while municipalities have expanded their bus fleets with federal capital funding, they do not have the operating funding they need to actually put those bigger fleets into service. There are an estimated 1,700 buses gathering dust in garages across the country that could be in service if municipalities had the money to hire drivers and run them.

The modelling by Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors and Leading Mobility found that increasing subsidies for public transit operations allows transit systems to increase service levels, and this is a particularly important way of reducing carbon emissions by incentivizing people to choose public transit over cars. The study found that the largest greenhouse gas reductions from public transit came from Land Use Effects. This refers to the ability of increased transit service to enable improved urban planning and land use, such as less city space needing to be devoted to parking. This allows people to make shorter, car-free trips to reach their destinations and live closer to jobs and amenities. The study highlighted the importance of pairing public transit investments with zoning policy changes that enable cities to build more housing near frequent transit service, because restrictive zoning policies can limit these benefits.

Public transit systems in Canada are at a turning point, with many still struggling financially because of reduced ridership due to the pandemic. This has led many to cut services and hike fares. Yet, these cuts drive an even greater reduction in ridership, which inevitably lead to even more service cuts and fare increases – a vicious cycle known as the ‘downward spiral’.

The report highlights that while Canada’s climate plan has targets to increase zero-emission vehicle adoption, it has no targets to increase public and active transportation use or to reduce the total number of kilometres traveled by car. The report authors recommend that beyond setting new goals, federal and provincial governments should also create long term, reliable operating funding streams for public transit systems. This would allow ridership to recover and grow while enabling Canada to meet its climate ambitions with abundant public transit.


  • “Canada’s current public transit strategy is like a bus without wheels. Funding capital projects but not operations is not working to actually improve day-to-day service for millions of Canadians who rely on public transit. This policy choice is not working to shift people who are currently driving onto public transit. If the federal government intends on actually achieving meaningful emissions reductions with public transit, it must begin funding transit operations and encourage provinces to get on board too,” said Nate Wallace, Clean Transportation Program Manager at Environmental Defence.

  • “We cannot allow a ‘downward spiral’ to erode public transit in Canada, just when we need it the most as a clean and affordable climate solution. This report demonstrates that we have an alternative: we can choose to invest in public transit, grow ridership and adapt to new mobility patterns by providing more reliable, convenient and frequent service that works more equitably for everyone,” said Anne-Catherine Pilon, Mobility Analyst, Équiterre.

  • “This important, new report reinforces and builds on the new regional transit plan that Metro Vancouver leaders put in place in 2022 recognizing that record-setting population growth, the need to increase housing density and affordability and to meet critical GHG reduction targets will require massive increases in transit service over the next decade. Our Access for Everyone Plan calls for a 114 per cent increase in Metro Vancouver’s transit over the next decade, mainly through an improved and expanded bus network. However, this plan is not achievable without a much faster and more substantive response from the federal government. The new Permanent Transit Fund is a giant step in the right direction, but its roll out and scope does not match the scale of the challenges we are facing. We need to get started now!” said Brad West, Chair of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council and Mayor of Port Coquitlam, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority.

  • "Investing in public transit is a win-win for affordability and climate. The federal government has an opportunity to reduce household costs and greenhouse gas emissions by accelerating the Permanent Public Transit Fund and making it available for transit operating budgets. More frequent and affordable service will make public transit a viable choice for more people." said Shelagh Pizey-Allen, Executive Director of TTC Riders, a Toronto-based public transit advocacy group.

Équiterre's offices are located on Indigenous lands that have not been ceded by treaty, which we now call Montreal and Quebec City. We recognize that Indigenous peoples have protected their territories since immemorial times and have used their traditional knowledge to guard the lands and waters. We are grateful to live on these lands and are committed to continuing our efforts to protect them. Read more

For more information

English: Karishma Porwal, Environmental Defence,, 226-988-2123


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