Kim Perrotta: Public transit benefits everyone — even those who don’t use it
By investing in public transit, we can reduce chronic diseases, prevent hundreds of premature deaths each year, and produce significant health-care savings.
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Everyone in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) agrees that traffic congestion is a huge problem. We complain about traffic in the GTHA in the same way that Canadians complain about the weather.
Many people agree that we need more trains and buses to get cars off the roads. There is, however, less agreement about who should pay for those trains and buses. While most Canadians never question why taxpayers should pay for roads, many feel that they should not have to pay for public transit unless they use it.
As health professionals, we see things differently. We see public transit as an essential service that benefits everyone — transit users and drivers alike. That is because public transit provides so many public health benefits.
Transit improves air quality. Traffic-related air pollution in the GTHA gives rise to about 1,000 early deaths and 3,000 to 4,000 hospital admissions each year for strokes, heart attacks, lung infections, and asthma.
With the population growth anticipated in the GTHA over the next decade, traffic-related air pollution is expected to substantially increase. By investing in public transit across the region, we can reduce air pollution, save lives, and reduce health-care spending.
Transit reduces chronic diseases. Each year, approximately 7,000 residents in the GTHA will develop heart disease and another 60,000 will develop diabetes.
These and other diseases, such as colon cancer, can be prevented by increasing levels of physical activity. Studies have found that people who take public transit have higher levels of physical activity because they walk or cycle at one or both ends of their transit trip.
Transit reduces travel time for drivers. Drivers in the GTHA lose, on average, an extra 50 hours a year to commuting because of traffic jams. That is 50 hours that could be spent with family, friends, or at the gym.
With the population growth expected over the coming years, that lost time is expected to grow substantially. By investing in public transit, we can reduce traffic congestion and save time and stress for drivers across the region.
Transit slows climate change. As health professionals, we agree with the World Health Organization (WHO) that climate change is the greatest public health threat of the 21st century. In Ontario, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
As a rule, travel by transit generates far fewer greenhouse gases than travel by car. By investing in transit, we can create a more certain future for our children while meeting our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.
There are many costs associated with a transportation system that relies heavily on cars. We pay with our time, our health, our health-care system and our climate. By investing in public transit, we all save in the long run.
Kim Perrotta has a master’s degree in health science and is currently the executive director for CAPE — the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.