Ehren Cory: Public transit came under pressure during COVID but seems to be recovering. Why is it important for Canada to expand transit options now and where can the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) help to drive change?

Josipa Petrunic: The swift urbanization of cities necessitates a transformation in our infrastructure to ensure sustainability and adaptability for the long term.

Forecasts suggest by 2050, 70% of the world's population will reside in cities, which would double the number of vehicles on the road every seven years. Given this trend, it is not just a hope but an expectation among industry stakeholders that transit agencies will not only recover but exceed previous levels of demand. However, a surge in ridership could potentially strain our current capacity and transit vehicle availability.

This is where the CIB can play a pivotal role. By driving change and fostering investment in expanding and updating transit systems now, we can prepare for this anticipated demand. The CIB can help to ensure our transit systems are ready to accommodate this surge in ridership and adopt low-carbon technology while maintaining efficient and reliable service for all users.

EC: Canadian cities large and small are taking steps to address climate change by replacing diesel buses with zero-emission alternatives while also expanding the use of electric trains. How important are funding programs like the one offered by the CIB to develop sustainable transit options?

JP: Creating a successful and sustainable public transit system requires a multifaceted approach. We need to integrate non-traditional, zero-emission transit options with existing transportation systems. Adequate financial backing is crucial for testing and implementing new technologies, which can be achieved with funding financial support from the federal government.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from personal vehicles, both cities and provinces must take proactive measures to attract more riders and increase overall ridership.

To create a truly connected transportation ecosystem, we need to combine several critical elements. This includes modifying infrastructure, adopting innovative land-use practices like mixed-use development, and seamlessly connecting rapid transit systems like trains and bus rapid transit (BRT) with non-traditional systems such as micro-mobility and on-demand services.

Building shared stations for ferries or aerial transit is also important, tailored to specific geographical needs. However, achieving these objectives requires careful planning and investment. Which is what makes financing programs like the one offered by the CIB to develop sustainable transit options all the more important.

EC: What are you hearing from the market in terms of the role hydrogen and alternative fuels will play in the decarbonization of transportation in Canada?

JP: The latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) highlights the slow progress of low-emission hydrogen, which currently represents less than 1% of overall production.

However, in Canada, the province of Alberta is leading the way with funding for hydrogen initiatives, specifically supporting the testing and commercialization of hydrogen-powered buses and trucks. This opportunity for scalability is particularly important considering the high cost of hydrogen fuel, exacerbated by inflation and supply chain disruptions.

The path to accelerated progress lies in comprehensive pilots and long-term trials for hydrogen buses, encompassing not only the technology itself but the entire hydrogen supply chain from production to refuelling and operations. Unlike electric buses, hydrogen buses require thorough testing and learning to ensure their viability. Ultimately, increasing the number of buses on the road will drive the advancement of this game-changing technology.