Public transportation is indeed a lifeline in Guelph. Nationally, millions of Canadians do not drive because they are elderly, too young, afflicted with a disability or simply cannot afford a car. These individuals rely solely on public transportation to stay connected to their jobs, schools, libraries, families or get to their doctor, the grocery store, the museum or the park.
Right here in Guelph, Guelph Transit serves over 25,000 people every day. According to the City of Guelph, the affordable bus pass program provides essential transportation for over 12,000 low-income residents, people with disabilities and senior citizens who have no other reliable or affordable means of mobility.
Public transportation helps make Guelph more “livable” by providing freedom and mobility to our residents. And when people are given good transportation choices and frequent buses, they are more likely to forge new social and business relationships that improve the quality of life, gain a stronger sense of community and strengthen economic development. The frequency of the 99 Mainline weekdays, for example, has brought freedom to more people who can access major nodes in the north and south ends of the city than the previous system could. More frequency has also led to more ridership. The 99 currently makes up 25% of the entire systems ridership.
The combination of a challenging economy and growing demands on taxpayer dollars is forcing policymakers like you to make tough choices between worthy causes. You should take heart: One cause merits investment not just because it is worthy in itself, but because it generates revenue for taxpayers rather than draining it away.
That investment is public transportation. Public transit creates jobs, protects the environment, enhances our quality of life and makes it easier for employees to get to work and consumers to get to local businesses. For those reasons, it should be a linchpin of Guelph’s economic development strategy — and both levels of government should also help with new funds each and every year.
Of course, economic development ultimately comes down to consumers having money in their pocket to spend. Public transportation helps ensure they have more of it. A typical family living in an area with several public transportation options could save up to $250 a month on car-related expenses.
And, perhaps most important, public transportation contributes to a critical determinant of economic success: quality of life. Communities that are great places to live attract the best businesses and the most skilled people.
Public transportation improves quality of life in several ways. It cuts down on the time drivers lose to stopped traffic, which can reach as much as 40 hours a year – think Gordon Street South at rush hour. Meanwhile, while all those cars are idling in traffic, they’re also pumping pollutants into the atmosphere. The average car will spill:
• 34.4 Kg of hydrocarbons a year
• 4029.3 Kg of carbon dioxide (C02)
• 29.6 Kg of nitrogen oxides (NOx)
Multiply the emissions by each of the over 13 million cars in Canada, and you begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem. Six of the seven major air pollutants come from cars and light trucks.
Public transportation, on the other hand, prevents the emission of millions of pounds of hydrocarbons, which cause smog, and nitrogen oxides, which can cause respiratory illness.
Car drivers are only paying the direct costs of operating their vehicles, but we’re all paying the rest of the price: congestion, pollution, and road maintenance. One busload of passengers is responsible for 40 fewer vehicles on the road during rush hours, saves 70,000 litres of fuel, and avoids 175 tonnes of emissions a year. A single bus can replace up to 50 single-occupancy vehicles. Taking the bus instead of your car reduces GHG by almost two-thirds.
That makes for a more livable community. So do green, open spaces — which public transportation helps to protect from being paved over for more roads.
All those benefits also helps explain why the investment in and the use of public transportation is on the rise across Canada.
But this increased investment and use also makes for increased costs. Here in Guelph, we need to invest more in public transportation, both to meet those costs and to expand transit to serve more people, more frequently and accommodate future growth.
So why does public transportation matter at all? Think about where we would be without it — poorer, more isolated, less social and less healthy — the antithesis of what a true community is or what each of us strives to be.
To be sure, public transportation systems aren’t cheap to build or run, and Council have more demands than they have dollars. But public transportation pays for itself several times over. And if a stronger economy, cleaner environment and a healthier community is the destination we seek, public transit is the fastest way to get there.