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Commuters use Calgary's C-Train on April 2, 2008.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Dozens of mobility, green, business and urbanist groups are pressing the federal government to bail out Canadian transit agencies, a request that comes as a new survey suggests support for emergency funding from a large majority across the country’s urban areas.

In an open letter set to be released on Tuesday, the groups add their voice to growing concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has slashed transit ridership so much that revenue losses are pushing the agencies toward an existential crisis.

“If we continue upon this road, public transit services will be in a dire state and incapable of maintaining an adequate level of service to be able to offer riders the basic right to move,” reads the letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several of his top ministers.

The 45 signatories include Transport Action Canada, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, TTCriders, the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the Better Transit Alliance of Greater Victoria and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).

Robin Edger, executive director of CAPE, said there is both an immediate and broader value to rescuing transit.

“There needs to be at least a level of investment that allows for workers to take transit in ways that are safe for them and then, likewise, safe for their families when they get home,” he said.

“We have to save our transit systems so that people continue to use them, so that they stay out of their cars, because that’s about the best thing you can do for your health.”

Also set to be released Tuesday is new research commissioned by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents workers across the country, showing public support for Ottawa coming to the table with money for transit.

“Why do big private corporations get bailed out while public transit is left to crumble?” ATU president John Di Nino said.

The survey, done the first week of May by Winnipeg’s Probe Research, found that 77 per cent of respondents viewed transit as a critical service and 79 per cent thought the federal government should provide emergency funding. The 1,501 survey respondents hailed from a dozen urban areas. They were recruited through an online panel provider, meaning that a margin of error cannot be ascribed.

The letter and survey reflect increasing concern among Canadian transit watchers that losses are becoming unsustainable. The most heavily used transit systems – in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – are each projecting hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls this year.

Several weeks ago, the Canadian Urban Transit Association asked Ottawa for a $1.2-billion emergency fund for transit, plus hundreds of millions in interim financing. The federal government has so far declined either to approve or reject such a bailout. Last week, Mr. Trudeau said that operation of transit “is more a municipal and provincial responsibility.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory acknowledged this Monday, while adding that he still sees a role for the federal government.

“I think the first move probably rests with the provinces,” he told a city briefing. “I’m very confident that we can bring the federal government to the table to be a partner, as has been done in a number of instances so far during this pandemic.”

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