Good evening. My name is Bernard D'Amours and I am the Director of Public Affairs for the Canadian Urban Transit Association.
I would like to begin by thanking the committee for the opportunity to speak today. This is a very strong signal that all parties in the House recognize the pivotal role of public transit as an engine of long-term economic growth and environmental sustainability. In that context, I would like to address the recent federal budget and measures to support public transit. Our transit systems were impressed with the size and scope of federal commitments to infrastructure spending. We were also impressed with commitments from the minister and the Prime Minister that transit was identified as a pivotal sector for the new infrastructure funds. These are important commitments and will in many ways be a yardstick against which the success of this infrastructure package is judged.
In short, the government will be judged not just on how much infrastructure funding takes place but more importantly on how well this funding contributes to our long-term economic success.
Now let me be clear. While CUTA was impressed with the size and the scope of the infrastructure package, our transit systems remain concerned that there was not specific, long-term, dedicated transit funding.
We believe the Government of Canada needs to develop a stable, long-term investment strategy aimed at meeting public transit needs, in order to maximize the measures announced in last January 27th's Economic Action Plan. To that end, CUTA has identified 167 public transit projects across the country for which the green light could be given tomorrow.
These 167 fast-track public transit projects worth a total of $12 billion could create over 130,000 jobs in all regions of Canada. I have made copies of the inventory of these projects available through the committee clerk.
Canadians are choosing transit at unprecedented levels as more and more people understand the importance of their travel choices in reducing emissions in our cities and communities and in easing traffic congestion. Canadian transit ridership has been trending for an annual increase of 3% over the last five years. This growth rate is three times the general rate of population growth. While we're waiting for ridership numbers for 2008, early indications from our transit systems show that ridership growth will exceed 3%.
Canada is currently the only G-7 country without a national policy of long-term, predictable transit investment. This places the country at a significant competitive disadvantage. The lack of a long-term policy also prevents Canadian transit systems from achieving their full potential.
Allow me to highlight the bold leadership south of the border that might inspire our collective transit activities moving forward in Canada. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved by both houses in the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama, includes $8.4 billion in dedicated transit funding. All federal parties need to come together to support a strategic federal investment in public transit that is dedicated and long-term. This could be best accomplished by establishing a new public transit fund that is permanent and predictable in the same fashion as the gas tax fund. Overall, this measure would ensure that a larger share of transit infrastructure investment needs is met to improve accessibility and mobility for Canadians living in urban areas. The most recent report on Canadian transit infrastructure needs has estimated the total requirements over the five-year period from 2008 to 2012 at $40.1 billion, including both renewal and expansion requirements.
As we move forward to build a better Canada for the future, an imaginative, bold federal approach to infrastructure resources for transit will be critical.