Hope for bet­ter tran­sit for the North­east Avalon

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - LETTERS -

This month could see the start of big im­prove­ments to tran­sit in St. John’s and the sur­round­ing ar­eas, but only if those of us who see the im­por­tance of a bet­ter ser­vice work to­gether to sup­port them. Three key fac­tors are com­ing to­gether – a more sup­port­ive city coun­cil, fed­eral and pro­vin­cial sup­port which will pay for most nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture and a stu­dent bus pass plan that could bring in many new rid­ers and more fund­ing.

Last year’s elec­tions saw many new faces at St. John’s city coun­cil and a ma­jor­ity of coun­cil­lors pledged their sup­port for the Es­sen­tial Tran­sit As­so­ci­a­tion’s man­i­festo call­ing for more fre­quent buses, more shel­ters and a fo­cus on ex­tend­ing the sys­tem to the com­mu­ni­ties sur­round­ing it.

Metrobus is now start­ing pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions via the En­gage St John’s web­site https://www.en­gagestjohns.ca/tran­sit for a re­view of tran­sit ser­vices due in Fe­bru­ary.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment signed an agree­ment with the prov­ince in Septem­ber that would pro­vide up to $11.5 mil­lion of fed­eral fund­ing over the next five years for tran­sit in­fra­struc­ture in St. John’s, and as a con­di­tion for re­ceiv­ing it the prov­ince has now agreed for the first time to pay 1/3 of the cost of such new build­ing, so the city will now pay only about a quar­ter of the cost to buy new buses, im­prove ter­mi­nals or build wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble shel­ters. This boost is cru­cial – but it must be seized soon, since if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment changes next year, that money could van­ish or be scaled back.

The fi­nal piece of the puz­zle is that Me­mo­rial Univer­sity is start­ing con­sul­ta­tions https://www.mun.ca/u-pass/ over a universal bus pass for stu­dents, (and po­ten­tially staff and fac­ulty) that if adopted would en­able Metrobus to sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove ser­vices and ex­tend its cov­er­age out­side of St. John’s to C.B.S., Por­tu­gal Cove-st. Philip’s and Tor­bay.

But it won’t be plain sail­ing. St. John’s will need to raise prop­erty and com­mer­cial taxes this year and its sub­sidy to Metrobus, which pays around 2/3 of the cost of each ride has been painted by some as waste­ful be­cause buses, es­pe­cially off-peak, can be run­ning at a frac­tion of ca­pac­ity.

This is not a sign buses don’t work — it’s a symp­tom of decades of un­der­in­vest­ment. Metrobus has not had the fund­ing it needs to pro­vide a ser­vice that would be at­trac­tive to a wide range of users, but there is plenty of ev­i­dence that boost­ing ser­vice can bring many more peo­ple onto the buses.

Kingston, Ont., for ex­am­ple man­aged to dou­ble its bus users in four years by im­prov­ing ser­vice and giv­ing high school­ers free bus passes https://tvo. org/ar­ti­cle/cur­rent-af­fairs/ why-cana­dian-cities-are-ask­ing-kingston-for-pub­lic-tran­si­tad­vice.

Sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in the Metrobus net­work would not just bring ben­e­fits to ex­ist­ing users — by mak­ing the sys­tem at­trac­tive to many oth­ers it would re­duce the cost per pas­sen­ger to the city, since most tran­sit costs don’t rise with the num­ber of users. New users with cars would also be sav­ing sig­nif­i­cant money and time by not hav­ing to run a sec­ond ve­hi­cle, for ex­am­ple. Teenagers, the el­derly and those with dis­abil­i­ties who now find it hard to get around could get out more of­ten, shop and be more ac­tive in the com­mu­nity.

Even those who don’t use the ser­vice would ben­e­fit. Bus users stay health­ier longer re­duc­ing health­care costs, car­bon emis­sions would drop, and the cost of other ex­pen­sive pro­grammes like school buses, med­i­cal trans­port and Gobus that “fill in the gaps” where tran­sit is not avail­able or con­ve­nient could be re­duced. The three mil­lion trips a year made by Metrobus pas­sen­gers are es­ti­mated to be the equiv­a­lent of tak­ing 7,000 cars off the road – this speeds ev­ery­one else to work, re­duces de­mand for costly road im­prove­ments to deal with ris­ing com­mut­ing times and low­ers the need for park­ing.

Sup­port for im­prove­ments by St. John’s coun­cil is im­por­tant but only a start. Longer term, the prov­ince needs to take the lead and by pro­vid­ing fund­ing and lead­er­ship to en­able Metrobus to be­come a re­gional ser­vice. At present, tran­sit out­side of St. John’s is ne­go­ti­ated city by city and most of these don’t have the staff or re­sources to plan or pro­vide con­nec­tion to a re­gional net­work.

If you can see the ben­e­fits of a net­work of fre­quent buses span­ning the penin­sula, there will never be a bet­ter time to act. Par­tic­i­pate in the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions on tran­sit and lobby your coun­cil­lors for ac­tion. And in the run-up to the pro­vin­cial elec­tions next year, make sure your MHAS know you be­lieve that bet­ter pub­lic tran­sit in the North­east Avalon is im­por­tant for the whole prov­ince.

David Brake

Chair, Es­sen­tial Tran­sit As­so­ci­a­tion St. John’s

FILE PHOTO

Metrobus is start­ing pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions as part of a re­view of tran­sit ser­vices in the North­east Avalon. The re­view is due to be com­plete in Fe­bru­ary.

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