EDMONTON - While Don Iveson, the mayor of Edmonton, has retracted a statement that suggested that public transit might not operate in the city throughout the summer, two advocacy organizations are still ringing the alarm about the chronic underfunding and cuts to public services that have resulted in this dire situation.
“Cutting or suspending public transit is disastrous for our city and should not have even been considered an option. Public transit is an essential service, and not having access to safe and reliable transportation would leave people behind at a time when we’re relying on our governments to protect working and vulnerable people the most,” said Danika McConnell, an organizer with Free Transit Edmonton, a campaign which advocates for expanded and fare-free public transit.
McConnell explained that while other sectors and industries have received significant federal and provincial bailouts and investments during the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic crisis, no additional funding or bailout packages have been allocated to public transit systems across the country.
“It’s hard to see the extensive bailout packages given to airlines and the oil and gas industry, and not wonder why public transit isn’t receiving the same attention and concern,” said McConnell. “People rely on transit to get where they need to go. We need significant investment in our transit system to keep people moving, not only in Edmonton, but all over the country.”
Joel French, the executive director of Public Interest Alberta, echoed McConnell’s concerns and expanded on her comments in a provincial scope.
“The provincial government has slashed funding to all public services and to our municipalities,” French said. “During this pandemic, the role of our public services in keeping our communities safe and healthy have never been more clear. Public transit is no different. We need for the provincial government to be investing to expand our public services, not making draconian cuts which put even more strain on Albertans during this already difficult time.”
French challenged Mayor Iveson’s suggestion that the city lacked the revenue to continue operating transit in Edmonton.
“Properly funding valuable services like public transit is a matter of political will,” said French. “The City of Edmonton can certainly fund it if getting people to work and other necessary appointments is a priority. That said, Mayor Iveson is right to call on the federal and provincial governments to significantly increase their support of important municipal services; they have been missing in action on this file.”
“While Mayor Iveson has distanced himself from earlier statements, to even entertain a transit shut down as a potential course of action is unconscionable,” added McConnell. “Our community in Edmonton and all over the country deserve to be able to get where they need to go.”