A regional approach is needed to improve public transit in St. John’s — and the surrounding area — according to a study released by the city Tuesday.
“You only need to get in your car (and) drive to work to see that we have major congestion issues on our city streets and arterials,” said Coun. Tom Hann, who is also chairman of the St. John’s Transit Commission which oversees Metrobus.
“Too many of us are getting in our cars rather than choosing to use public transit to get from point A to point B.”
The study was ordered in 2010 after Metrobus discovered rider rates had reached a plateau, even after a major route redesign in 2007 to encourage more riders.
Richard Puccini of Dillon Consulting wrote the study.
He told reporters rider reaction to the changes were generally favourable, with 85 per cent saying they used the bus as much or more than they did before the route realignment and 80 per cent said the changes made the service as good or better than in the past.
The report also found, while the city has grown physically, its population has remained steady.
Overall, Puccini said the study tried to address three issues: why ridership hadn’t gone up, who’s riding the bus, and how to grow the ridership and expand the service.
The study found 43 per cent of riders use the bus to get to work and another 27 per cent were post secondary students.
More than 40 per cent of riders depend on the service six to seven days a week and most wanted extended hours to the current service — especially on weekends and into the evening — as well as more frequent buses.
The study also recommended improvements to transfer points at the Avalon and Village malls, as well as downtown.
“This study gives us a great framework to create a long-term ... strategic plan,” said Metrobus general manager Judy Powell.
She said the study shows Metrobus is moving in the right direction.
But she said for the service to grow, people from outside the city need to use the bus to get into St. John’s
Another study by the city on downtown parking showed 45 per cent of cars parked there come from areas not serviced by Metrobus,and were largely from outside the capital.
“The commission will be calling on the provincial government to be a leader on this issue,” said Hann.
He said the government needs to facilitate cooperation between the city and the other communities in the region.
“(St. John’s) can’t do this on our own,” said Hann.
He said resistance to regional cooperation on transit isn’t unique to this province, but the governments of Ontario and Prince Edward Island were able to get municipalities working together and there’s no reason the Newfoundland and Labrador government can’t do same.
Besides convincing the province to get onboard, the other major challenge is convincing people that it’s more economical and environmentally friendly to take the bus instead of driving a car.
But Puccini warned that won’t happen if the service isn’t dependable, buses come too infrequently, and the service doesn’t expand.
“Our advice is to start small and be successful and grow as opposed to trying to provide a solution that doesn’t fit people’s regular travel behavior,” he said.
“It’s hard for public transit to compete with the flexibility with a car,” admitted Powell. “But there are a lot of people who can use transit and will make that choice if it is available.”