COVID-19 dramatically changed our travel habits. The sudden shift from driving to work every day to working from home has meant less vehicles on the road, and fewer transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Building back better in the wake of COVID-19 will mean continuing this trend of decreasing transportation-associated emissions and committing to more sustainable modes of travel as a community. 

This final installment in the Sustainable Working Blog Series shares guidance on sustainable transportation options and provides tips on how to lower our collective transportation related GHG emissions permanently. 

How has COVID-19 affected transportation? 

Working from home during the pandemic has become the new norm for a lot of employees and, while it poses challenges, it has also had positive impacts beyond just the environment. A recent study reported that organizations have seen both a reduction in fuel and energy consumption associated with day-to-day operations and positive impacts on organizational culture. Many are adopting telecommuting and remote working policies for the first time and some are even considering permanently reducing the number of employees that work onsite. 

A recent University of Waterloo study shows that as a region we have the capacity to maintain much of this, as almost 40% of the total workload in Waterloo region can be telework. For those that still need to commute, infrastructure will be a key part of the solution, and the region is working to make sustainable transportation more accessible. The Chair of Waterloo, Karen Redman announced new investments into public transportation, which includes funding for 10 public transit and active transportation projects in Waterloo region. Waterloo is also investing in improvements to bus stops, shelters, and safer pedestrian crossings and intersections. These projects include 1.7 km of new trail to provide better access to ION Light Rail Transit stops for those using active transportation, which means a completely car free option for mixed-use transportation commuters.

Do my driving habits really contribute to climate change?

Yes. Almost half of Waterloo region’s GHG emissions are from the transportation sector (full report in Our Progress, Our Path). 

All our trips to and from work, the grocery store, school, sports program and so on contribute to climate change every day. Making solo trips in a car fueled by gasoline is a contributor. Switching to a plug-in hybrid or fully electric car has the potential to lower the GHG emissions for these same trips. We can also reduce emissions if we carpool or use public transit. Biking or walking is also more sustainable, benefiting your health through exercise and by contributing to better air quality. There are local resources available about cycling and walking and also about winter cycling. Our choices for how we move around daily have an impact – every trip matters!

Is it safe to take public transportation during the pandemic?

Public health and safety has never been more of a priority, and we recommend reviewing the full guidance provided by the Region of Waterloo on the safety measures being implemented. 

Grand River Transit (GRT) has put in place extensive measures to ensure the public is safe, including increased cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and it is mandatory to wear a mask on all public transit buses and trains. The GRT has also applied a long-lasting antimicrobial solution to all vehicles to ensure each vessel is safe for its passengers. Physical distance requirements are managed inside all customer service locations and temporary driver barriers have been installed in all of the buses. The government also requires that a mandatory COVID-19 health screen for all GRT employees takes place before they start their shift. 

What can I do?

Everyone needs to get around. Whether you’re working from home, your office or both, we’re hopeful you can continue to make sustainable transportation choices, especially during the winter season. 

Consider how you can reduce the impact of your necessary travel, even short trips like school drop-offs can be replaced with active travel like walking or biking, with the added benefit of modelling a healthy lifestyle for you and your children. The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) is also supporting this with their Active and Safe Routes to School. They are also starting to convert their school buses to electric school buses and recently set a target with the Regional Sustainability Initiative to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2030. 

For more sustainable transportation options, for all your necessary travel check out the Project Neutral tool to find out your carbon footprint and what you can do about it. 

Are you a business looking to offer more sustainable transportation options for employees?

The way we get to work is being redefined and employees are increasingly interested in having more sustainable commuting options. Organizations that stay ahead of the curve and provide commuting programs and solutions benefit through:

  • Reduced parking demand and costs
  • Increased employee satisfaction and retention
  • Increased access to top employees
  • Positive corporate exposure and leadership

One of the resources available for employers and employees within Waterloo region is TravelWise. Organizations can become members of TravelWise and gain access to tools, employee services and engagement, and resources. Additionally, employees of TravelWise members have access to Grand River Transit’s (GRT) Corporate Transit Pass and reimbursement for emergency rides home

If you are also interested in tracking your organization’s associated emissions from business travel and commuting, you could also consider setting a voluntary public greenhouse gas emission reduction target through the Regional Sustainability Initiative. Contact us to learn more.