Revival of Rail Transit in Canada Questioned by Latest Policy Report

WINNIPEG, [March 12 2024] Canada’s transit landscape is experiencing a profound transformation as eight major cities embark on the ambitious journey of developing rail transit systems. This marks a significant […]
Published on March 12, 2024

WINNIPEG, [March 12 2024] Canada’s transit landscape is experiencing a profound transformation as eight major cities embark on the ambitious journey of developing rail transit systems. This marks a significant departure from the conventional wisdom of the 1950s when rail transit was often viewed as a relic of the past. However, a new report from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, titled Rail Transit Is Obsolete, Expensive, and Socially Unjust, is challenging the status quo.

The resurgence of rail transit has ignited a spirited debate within the transit industry, focusing primarily on concerns related to cost-effectiveness and alignment with the rapidly evolving urban environment. The Frontier Centre for Public Policy report is garnering substantial attention, with experts and policymakers engaging in discussions about the future of transit in Canada.

In the report, the author, Randall O’Toole, delves into the historical context that shaped transit policies in the mid-20th century. “At that time,” he said, “there was a unanimous consensus among transit industry executives in favour of replacing most streetcar and rail lines with buses, with exceptions made for rapid transit lines that operated either above or below street level. This consensus was rooted in the challenges and perspectives of that era; it must be reevaluated in light of contemporary challenges and shifts.”

A closer examination of the rail initiatives in Canadian cities, according to O’Toole, reveals a reliance on an antiquated perspective of cities and transportation technologies. “Rail transit, he said, “which thrived when jobs were concentrated in downtown areas and car ownership rates were low, no longer aligns with the realities of modern urban dynamics.”

He pointed out that contemporary urban areas boast multiple economic centres, challenging the conventional notion that downtowns are the sole focus of transit systems. To meet the needs of today’s urban residents, transit systems must be adaptable and comprehensive, extending their reach beyond traditional urban cores. “The ever-changing nature of economic centres necessitates nimble and cost-effective transportation solutions.”

Rail transit, characterized by extended construction timelines and high costs, may no longer be equipped to meet the dynamic demands of modern cities, O’Toole writes in his report. Many are now calling for a greater reliance on buses, which offer the flexibility and cost-effectiveness needed to address the evolving transportation landscape.

While the resurgence of rail transit has been applauded as a progressive move by some, it simultaneously faces criticism for failing to align with the evolution of cities and the efficiency of newer transportation technologies like buses.

These key points, said O’Toole, illuminate the shifting transit landscape in Canada, the complexities surrounding rail transit projects, and the pressing call for adaptability and cost-effectiveness to meet the transportation needs of contemporary urban areas.

Click here to download the Report.

For more information:

Author
Randall O’Toole
Research fellow
rot@ti.org

David Leis
VP Development and Engagement
david.leis@fcpp.org
604-864-1275

About the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy is an independent, non-partisan think tank that conducts research and analysis on a wide range of public policy issues. Committed to promoting economic freedom, individual liberty, and responsible governance, the Centre aims to contribute to informed public debates and shape effective policies that benefit Canadians.

 

Featured News

MORE NEWS

Building a 21st Century Transit System for Calgary

Building a 21st Century Transit System for Calgary

Calgary Transit is mired in the past, building an obsolete transit system designed for an archaic view of a city. Before the pandemic, transit carried 45 percent of downtown Calgary employees to work, but less than 10 percent of workers in the rest of the Calgary...

Invest in Roads Not Transit

Invest in Roads Not Transit

The jury is still out in Winnipeg: should governments be spending money on roads or more public transit? Well, a new policy brief from the Frontier Centre show that the sooner governments abandon their bias against cars the better. A recent University of Toronto paper...