If service improves, people will ride

Dave Bartlett
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City of St. John’s releases public transit study

Richard Puccini (left) of Dillon Consulting Ltd. speaks at a news conference Tuesday releasing a Metrobus transit study as Coun. Tom Hann and Metrobus general manager Judy Powell look on. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

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.”

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Transit Commission, Avalon

Geographic location: Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Mark Wilson
    December 15, 2011 - 14:29

    Has anyone done a cost/benefit analysis on how public transit would change damage to roads from the many many cars and and trucks that the bus could replace - or a cost/benefit on the health care system related to air quality ??? Maybe one of the old boys club just has a friend with a taxi company.... Perhaps calling our municipal and provincial politicians to express our concern regarding the lack of public transit service in the St. John's Census Metropolitan Area would help.... can people do this?

  • Anne Hoskins
    December 14, 2011 - 09:20

    Dear tax payer, I am very offended by your comment! The so called "types that ride busses" are not too lazy to work. They may have some hidden disabilities like mental illnesses. I suffer from a learning disability. I spent most of my post high school life trying to get established in a career. I even did a lot of volunteer work trying to get experience and references. I tried everything to rectify my situation. You or yours might very well find yourselves in my shoes some day!

  • Taxpayer
    December 14, 2011 - 08:45

    Why should I pay more of my hard earned tax money to subsidise a transit system that I woudnen't use? We know what kind of people take the bus (Just ask the management at the Village). These people shoud get jobs and buy a car or truck like the rest of us.

    • human
      December 14, 2011 - 11:09

      I read this and it made me sad.

    • Anonymous
      December 14, 2011 - 11:24

      That attitude is the kind of ignorance that keeps society from growing. I used the bus for years while I had a job. As do many others. If you try to get into the city during the morning you will see traffic holdups. You will see too many cars/trucks on the road. Many of the drivers have either no knowledge or no regard for the rules or etiquette of the road. The answer is not to put more vehicles on the road to cause more congestion and accidents. Look forward not backward. And don't stereotype everyone who uses public transit as vagrants. Keep that attitude in the fifties where it belongs.

  • Paperboy
    December 14, 2011 - 08:43

    3 ideas (and not rocket science): #1: Have express buses going to Mount Pearl and CBS. "Express" meaning less stops. For example, an express bus to MP could stop on Water Street, Bowring Park, Commonwealth Ave, Ruth Ave. That's it. No one from out of town will get on the bus if it's stopping every 2 blocks. Limit the stops and people will ride. #2: Night buses. Go to George St at 3am on a weekend and see how many people are struggling to get home (in MP, CBS, Paradise, etc). You could probably charge $10/head and still be full every half hour. #3: Have shelters (we're in NFLD remember!) with route maps inside. No one dares to get on the bus without doing their homework because you have no idea of the route. If it was easier to know the routes, people would be less hesitant to getting on. The public transport issue is a big problem not only for downtown parking but also for parking at shopping centres, conjested roads, and the environment. The amount of cars on the roads seems to double every year and it seems like Metrobus is doing the absolute minimum to improve their service.

    • Chantal
      December 14, 2011 - 09:25

      Good suggestions, paperboy. I would suggest having parking lots where people from out of town can park and take express busses as well as regional busses, along the lines of Ontario's GO Transit. And, as Brian says, it has to be dependable and efficient if people are going to get out of thier cars.

  • Brian S
    December 14, 2011 - 08:38

    Compared to other transit systems in the country I've been on, yeah, I'm not surprised the busses aren't being ridden. I avoid them whenever I can. At peak times, they might come every 15-20 minutes, but more often they only show up every 30-60 minutes... less so on Saturday, and you might as well walk on Sunday. I can probably count on one hand the number of times a Metrobus I've ridden has shown up on time... and it takes 3x or longer to get from point A to point B that a car would. While not a really fair comparison, the TTC busses in Toronto usually runs every 5-15 minutes during the day, is almost always on time, and runs through the night. Subways run every 2 minutes until after 2am. With the traffic jams and high cost of parking, you'd almost be a fool to not use public transportation in Toronto. Not all of the problem lies with Metrobus. We live in a city where many of the roads were created hundreds of years ago. Others were just poorly planned. They make little to no sense, especially downtown. It's certainly not a grid like Toronto. Trying to plan bus routes around this is no doubt a nightmare. Top this all off with the lack of sidewalks in the winter; yes, you're much better off with a car in St. John's

  • TURRY from town
    December 14, 2011 - 07:41

    There are two things obvious from this story.Metrobus needs more ridership to pay for it's viability,and,the population is growing ouside of ST.JOHN"S but commuting in to go to work.Another reason for amalgamation.And yes,your taxes will go up,because you now have to pay for what you use but were getting freely, like a parasite.