Public transit steals your time

Brian Jones
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You can’t tell some people anything.

“Don’t go out on those rocks,” you’ll say.

And guess what they do?

“Don’t stand behind that horse,” you’ll say.

And guess what happens?

In the 1990s, a lot of people tried to tell St. John’s City Council something.

“Don’t build the new arena downtown,” they said.

And we all know what city hall did.

Parking was a primary concern. Or lack of parking, to be more exact.

As is often the case, the critics of officialdom were right. Arrive downtown for an IceCaps game 90 minutes before the puck drops, and you have a chance of finding a parking spot in the same time zone as Mile One Centre. Show up 60 minutes before game time, and you’ll need about that amount of time to hike to the rink.

Strange, then, to hear the moaning and groaning emanating from city hall about how the downtown area needs more parking spaces to meet demand, and more people using public transit to ease parking demand.

Their whining is so last-century. It reveals another common trait of officialdom: they’re slow to clue in.

“There isn’t enough parking downtown.” What part of that statement made it unfathomable to city hall, circa 1998?

Mile One Centre or the IceCaps or Leonard Cohen aren’t necessarily the cause of the downtown parking shortage, although they are proof of it. (Note to city council members: read that sentence to someone nearby, and get them to explain it to you.)

Bus boondoggle

Staying true to its credo of taking action while ignoring critical facts, city council has jumped on the public transit bandwagon (a bandwagon being what mobs used before buses became available).

City council wants to extend Metrobus service into outlying towns. It wants those towns to help pay for Metrobus’s expanded service, and it wants residents to use it.

The city should curb its enthusiasm. Its plan will cost taxpayers more money and will not result in enough people using it to justify the expense.

Saying bad things about public transit is akin to calling a baby ugly, so let’s not do it here. Instead, let’s bounce some salient information on our knee.

Statistics Canada did a study in 2011 about Canadian commuters and public transportation. As reported by The Canadian Press, StatsCan found that 82 per cent of commuters drive to work, 12 per cent use public transit and six per cent either walk or cycle.

Supporters of expanded public transit — and its accompanying increased public subsidies — habitually decry “car culture.” It is a derogatory term that implies laziness, selfishness, disregard for the environment and, quite possibly, hatred of ugly babies.

It is also erroneous. We don’t so much live in a car culture as we live in a time culture. Everyone, at a certain age — say, six — realizes their time on Earth is finite. At about 12, they realize that waiting for a bus or sitting on a bus is stealing their time.

The StatsCan study concluded what should be obvious: “Commuters who used public transit took considerably longer to get to work than those who lived an equivalent distance from their place of work and went by car.”

How much longer? In a mid-sized city such as St. John’s, getting to work took an average of 46 minutes by public transit and 23 minutes by car.

Simple arithmetic reveals how much time buses steal: 46 extra minutes commuting each day, multiplied by 240 workdays per year, equals 184 extra hours travelling by bus instead of by car; divide 184 by a 16-hour waking day, and you spend 11 1/2 days per year waiting for and taking a bus.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at

Organizations: IceCaps, Statistics Canada, Canadian Press The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • Amanda Hyde
    July 10, 2013 - 14:11

    We absolutely need public transit, but aside from expanding service to outlying suburbs, St. John's needs to halt urban sprawl and pursue smart, in-fill and higher density development.

  • Stephen
    June 01, 2013 - 11:07

    This article just stole my time. What a load of nonsense and condensed misinformation.

  • david
    April 26, 2013 - 16:39

    Transit may never be a completely cost-effective option here, but it does provide a significant, undocumented public benefit...when people get convicted of drunk driving here and lose their driving privileges (note the word "privilege".....), the existence of public transit does provide a cost-effective option for them to still get around. Based on this newspaper's regular coverage of arrests, I would not be surprised if around 4% of all Newfoundland drivers (1 in 25 does not seem wildly unrealistic at all) are driving drunk on our roads at any given time ( and at least double that on weekends, or after an Ice Caps game, etc.). With more ambitious policing efforts, this one source of "market demand" would keep an entire fleet of buses quite full. The only thing more dangerous in Newfoundland than being a driver is being a pedestrian. Thankfully, due to our own laziness and very uninspired urban planning, no one here walks anywhere.

  • Anna
    April 26, 2013 - 13:03

    I tried to take the bus for one week and I figured out I could have walked there just as quickly. The routes are outrageous, why don't the transit managers work out better routes, they need to remind people they are not a taxi service or a school bus service that stops in front of every door. My friends and I gave up eating out downtown as we couldn't find a place to park and I wish someone would tell me why Atlantic Place can't be opened in the night time to accommodate all the extra vehicles. Your column is great as usual, too bad the right people never seem to read it.

  • Jay
    April 26, 2013 - 07:33

    Well said. I'm sure there are people who absolutely need to use it, but the public transit system has never worked in St. John's. It never will. Even when I went to university and had to use it, I often just walked home rather than waste my time waiting for, or on, the bus. The service should be seriously curtailed, and savings put to better use, perhaps clearing sidewalks so people can walk in the winter. As for Mt. Pearl, more specifically Randy Simms,'s not going to happen, so why do we constantly waste our time. Council constantly talks about planning. One of the key areas of a strategic plan is managing strategic issues in which you can affect change. Council should have learned, by now, that you cannot force somebody to cooperate, who doesn't want to. We have to learn that "NO" is an asnwer. Let's move in another direction, or would that take away Tom Hann's soapbox.

  • Steve
    April 26, 2013 - 07:19

    Brian, You've got a point, but you're missing the nuance here. The issue that needs to be pusued is park and ride. It's obviously crazy to have Metrobus meandering through the streets of far flung low-density suburbs and municipalities. No one has time for that unless they're desperate and have no other options. What will really help the downtown is if the City establishes one or two park and ride locations. These should be easily accessible off major thoroughfares, and the incentive to use them should be that there are direct runs downtown in the morning leaving every five to ten minutes. The parking lots should be secure areas, and the price should be free or significantly cheaper than paying for parking downtown, which would be the incentive. It also must have a minimal impact on people's time in the morning. The bus should head down harbour drive, turn around behind Atlantic Place and drop people off, and head back.