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Group calls on Trudeau to invest in low-emissions transit

Last Updated Sep 22, 2020 at 3:54 pm EDT

TORONTO — An organization working with some of Canada’s largest transit providers hopes Ottawa will highlight low-emissions transit as part of its pandemic-recovery plan when the throne speech is delivered Wednesday.

The Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium said it has been pushing the federal government to invest in green transit as part of the country’s economic bounce-back strategy.

“We cannot solve this pandemic without getting people back into shared mobility safely and securely,” said Josipa Petrunic, president and CEO of the consortium, adding that funding, researching and improving transit is imperative to an economic restart.

“We have to not only invest in transit so people have transit service, but we have to invest in transit technology innovation.”

Petrunic said manufacturing firms like Newflyer and Novabus already make vehicles, batteries and heavy-duty charging systems in Canada and export them to other countries.

She said the government needs to act now to ensure those companies stay in the country.

“We were already under pressure (before the pandemic) to invest in these technologies to create a client base and keep those job-creating companies localized here,” said Petrunic.

Ahead of the throne speech, Petrunic said her group engaged in a lengthy campaign with multiple federal ministries and MPs to promote investment and research in green transit.

The organization is partnered with transit providers in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Peel Region and other communities that have either expressed interest in hydrogen and electric buses, or are already using them.

Infrastructure Canada said the government has committed to ensuring federal investments in transit support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Ontario’s former environment commissioner said it’s important to invest in transit manufacturing as a way to make up for the dwindling auto manufacturing industry in Canada.

“It’s increasingly clear that the auto industry is a ‘sunsetting’ industry,” said Dianne Saxe, adding that what’s left of auto manufacturing is often in large SUV’s with a sizable carbon footprint.

“It’s reasonable to expect that there will be enormous demand for clean vehicles so we want to be part of that. We need to be making those vehicles here.”

She added that many of the metals needed for the production of electric vehicles are already mined in Canada.

Saxe, who now works in environment and climate law, said there are multiple benefits from the use of hydrogen and electric technology in transit systems. Electric buses cost more up front, but are cheaper to run and have less moving parts to replace, she said.

There are also social benefits from lower noise and long-term benefits from better air quality, which reduces health risks in large cities, Saxe said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2020.

Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press