As public health physicians, our job is to prevent disease and promote health for everyone in our regions. Today, we are advocating for improved public transit because it is a proven road to better health for all.
The federal government has recently announced that it will invest $372M in public transit for Metro Vancouver. This funding brings us a step closer to much-needed improvements to our transportation system, but it still needs to be matched by BC and local governments.
Is transit really a public health issue or should we just stick to germs and vaccines? The reality is that our biggest health challenges in the 21st century are injuries and chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Together, these conditions are responsible for three quarters of the burden of disease and health care costs in BC. We know the “vaccines” that are effective against these problems: physical activity, good nutrition, not smoking, sufficient sleep, stress reduction, a healthy and safe environment, social connectedness – and sufficient income to achieve all of these things.
Increased availability and use of public transit has been indisputably shown to affect many of these parameters:
- Less air pollution
- Fewer deaths and injuries from vehicle crashes
- More physical activity – every bus/train/subway ride starts and ends with a walk
- Less commuting stress –someone else does the driving for users, fewer vehicles on the road for drivers
- Cheaper – several thousands of after-tax dollars a year
- More equitable – better access to jobs, services, friends, and family, especially for those with low income, disabilities, and seniors
That’s why today we are calling attention to public transit. Evidence shows that investment in public transit translates into tangible health benefits.
In Metro Vancouver, we are one step ahead of the game. We have a regional transportation plan which sets us on a path to a world-class, modern transportation system. Investing in a comprehensive plan gives the best value because it considers the diverse needs of the whole region, and builds up a complete system rather than unconnected fragments here and there.
This plan has strong potential to put us on a path to a healthier region. If realized, 70% of residents — that’s more than 1.75million people — will live within walking distance of frequent transit. The plan commits to 300 km of new protected bike paths; 30% more HandyDart service; 80% increase in Night Bus service; 50% more SeaBus service; a new light rail line in Surrey and Langley; a Broadway subway; 200 additional Skytrain cars; and 400 new buses, among many other highlights.
The federal government understands the value of transit investments. In the budget, it offered to increase its contribution to as much as 50% of the total cost of capital projects. This will make it possible to reduce the local and provincial share to a more affordable amount.
We are writing today to celebrate the news that there are additional federal dollars available for transit in Metro Vancouver, and to warn that we lose them if we don’t find matching dollars.
We urge the local and provincial governments to agree on how to fund critical transportation infrastructure and to build a modern, health-promoting transportation network. The result will be significantly fewer of our citizens burdened with avoidable illnesses and injuries and healthier, more livable communities for all.
Written by Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health and Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health Authority.