Nova Scotia municipalities and transit users are welcoming a federal $14.9-billion commitment to public transit projects, and some say, their wish lists are ready to go.
The eight-year spending commitment comes after a strained financial year for local governments grappling with the crippling economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think it’s transformative in terms of public transit in Canada,” said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage in a morning interview with Global News.
“We already have a plan for electrification of our fleet as well as moving to bus and ferry rapid transit. These are expensive things.”
Mayor Mike Savage previews his State of the Municipality Address
Savage, who also made his annual State of the Municipality address on Thursday, said the move to electrification could cost $600 million or more, and is “not the kind of thing we could do on our own.”
In addition, he said the city is committed to finding different ways of moving people more effectively.
“We’re going to spend more money on bike paths like every other progressive city in the world… I’m certainly of the belief that when we build a bike path, we’re not thinking about who’s on it today; we’re thinking about who could be on it five years,” Savage said.
“That’s literally good for people’s health, it’s good for our roads and it’s good for the environment.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the funding on Wednesday as he prepared for a virtual meeting with mayors from Canada’s largest cities. It includes $3 billion in permanent funding for communities annually, beginning in 2026-2027.
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While it’s unclear how much individual municipalities will receive over the life of the spending commitment, Halifax accessibility advocate Brian George said he has no trouble thinking of ways the HRM could use its piece of the pie.
He told Global News, he’d like city planners to conduct more extensive community consultation prior to approving transit projects, invest in more accessible bus stops throughout the municipality, and invest in better training for drivers.
“Too many times I’ve been on public transit and the drivers either don’t know how to hook up my chair, or sometimes — I hate to say it — but they just don’t care. At least, that’s what it seems like sometimes.”
He added, the municipality needs to do a better job of prioritizing snow and ice removal on sidewalks and at bus stops, so those with mobility challenges can access them reliably when they’re needed, without delay.
Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said she’d like to add a new bus to her town’s compliment, and purchase its very first bus shelters.
“We’ve tried to put some of the bus stops at the grocery stores and the hospital, some downtown locations where people get a little bit of shelter because of where that stop is,” she explained. “(Shelters are) on our wish list — very important.”
Emily Lutz, deputy mayor for the Municipality of the County of Kings, said electric buses are a priority in her region. She also said the new federal spending is a much-appreciated opportunity that will allow Nova Scotia decision-makers to think beyond municipal borders.
“Across the province we don’t have a great network of transportation, from Yarmouth all the way to Cape Breton, so I think this will cause municipalities who have transit systems currently need to rethink how they’re offering a service,” she explained, “and if it’s accessing the right people — those who are most vulnerable, those who need public transit the most.”
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As the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, she added, she’ll be watching for “details” on how the federal government allocates the money to communities, including those who may not have public transit systems at all.
“Does this offer them an opportunity to set something up for their residents and improve their quality of life, and their ability to access movement around their communities?” she asked. “We know that enhances quality of life, business development, access to jobs. All this stuff is really important.”
Savage’s made his ninth annual address to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on Thursday afternoon.
On Global News Morning, he said the HRM has much work to do in the COVID-19 recovery.
“We’re in a bit of a more somber time and we have to be mindful of the fact that people and businesses have been hurt by COVID. But the incredible growth of Halifax over the last half-decade or so continued even during COVID,” Savage told Global News.
“So there’s some good news, but we also have to be mindful of the fact that people have been hurt, that we have people who can’t find housing and many people who still need a bit of a hand.”
He says the city will continue expanding the patio season in the summer and work on traffic-calming measures in both Halifax and Dartmouth.
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