Regional transit would ease traffic snarls

Denis Mahoney
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How long is too long to spend in your car? Is a two-hour commute to work too long? How about four hours to a vacation home?

Would you drive to work, back home and back to the city for dinner and a show?

Newfoundlanders are notorious for loving their cars. We demand parking directly in front of destinations and our highways are full of cars with single drivers inside. But everyone has a limit on how far they will travel.

Whether you’re talking about time in your car, on a plane or ferry, Newfoundland and Labrador is remote by national standards. Geographically, we’re vast and we have few large settlements, meaning transportation is more important to us than perhaps anywhere else in the country.

In terms of business and the economy, transportation networks are essential to keep this place moving.

Consider Bay Bulls as an example. Prior to the construction of the Robert Howlett Memorial Highway to the Southern Shore, the drive to St. John’s could take from 30 to 50 minutes from Bay Bulls. There had been no new development in the area in years and there was no industrial capacity.

Today, the town is booming, with more than a half-dozen new subdivisions and a huge marine terminal. Improved road networks allowed for a “rural community” to become a large town in a matter of years. A 20-minute drive made all the difference.

Compulsory commuting is a part of life today on the Avalon region and it’s not helping us get where we’re going any faster. Commute times affect economic performance, health and wellness, and the environment.

Newfoundland and Labrador reportedly has 100,000 more registered cars than people — a dichotomy that’s created a reliance on road networks as the primary means of moving people and goods.

Canada’s Best Places to Live 2012, a survey carried out by Money Sense Magazine, ranks 190 Canadian cities on factors of livability. On the list, St. John’s ranks fourth in new car ownership. On the ability to ride a bike or walk to work we ranked 73rd out of 190 cities.

If the Avalon region doesn’t have integrated, efficient and effective transportation links, we are putting a ceiling on our own economy.  

Transportation networks are one area where the communities in the Avalon region can work together for the benefit of us all. Further, by working together, good regional transportation could become more than a concept.

Alternate modes of transportation are good for business, resulting in higher customer counts and greater shopping frequency.

The recent Brookings Institute Study on American transportation shows that for every $1 million spent on infrastructure for biking and walking, 11 to 14 jobs are created, while only seven jobs are created by every

$1 million spent on highways

A major aspect of regional transportation is public transit, an issue that is still hotly debated within the Northeast Avalon.

In fact, Conception Bay South Mayor Woodrow French said that while he believes regional transit is necessary, he doesn’t believe people will ride from Seal Cove to

St. John’s.

Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms does not believe a regional transit system is necessary for the metro area. His counterpart in Paradise, Mayor Ralph Wiseman, agrees.

Indeed, even Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien said the public transit system, while necessary, is not a priority or the responsibility of the provincial government. He also questioned whether people under the age of 60 years would use such a system.

Our members — that means more than 880 businesses and their thousands of employees — have told us in numerous surveys that regional transportation is their second most important municipal issue.

They’ve also ranked regional transportation — roads, public transit, parking and general transportation planning — as the worst of the services provided in the Avalon region.

In this region, we know that nearly 50 per cent of the people working in the downtown live outside the city proper.

But public transit would reduce the congestion of Topsail and Kenmount roads. It would mitigate the environmental impact of all that driving and the cost to upgrade such expensive road networks. None of this will become a reality without the support of other towns and cities in the region.

As well, people who live in St. John’s work in other places, too, just as those in Paradise, Torbay and Mount Pearl commute to the centre city.  

That’s why the board is making this an election issue.

Now, let’s get out of our cars for a second and think about the bigger picture.

Every candidate should be asked what their stance is on regional transportation — and have a good answer.

Common sense would suggest that regionalizing transit isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity for every community. The question is, how far are the candidates willing to go to get your vote?

Denis Mahoney is chairman

of the St. John’s Board of Trade.

Organizations: Brookings Institute, Board of Trade

Geographic location: Avalon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Bay Bulls Canada Paradise Conception Bay Seal Cove Torbay Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • Jacob Allderdice
    September 17, 2013 - 07:34

    I am an architect who recently moved back to St John's from Toronto. In Toronto, I had an hour and 20 minutes commute each direction to work, involving a streetcar, a subway and a bus, with short walks at each end. I enjoyed that commute insofar as I got a lot of reading done enroute--I credit that reading time in part for the my ability to pass my architect exams, LEED exams, and Ontario Building Code exams in short order. Here in St. John's, I live on the Battery and work in Mount Pearl, and guess what? My commute time is still one hour, including two buses and a short walk at each end. The difference is in Toronto my hour and a half took me 32 km, while in St John's my one hour commute is just 12 km in distance. In St John's the bus route twists and turns around suburban enclaves, while in Toronto the route is relatively straight, using major arterials. In Toronto I never worried about timing my trip, either--there would always be another bus along if I missed this one. Here in St John's, I have to be sure to hit the bus on schedule (which means getting there early) because if I miss the bus in Mount Pearl there's nothing for another hour--or worse, if it's after 6 pm. What is great about these long trips is they offer a chance to unwind. I've made friends on the bus, and I enjoy the chance to read the Telegram in peace each morning (sold for just 25 cents on the bus, it's a steal!). I get to work knowledgable about local affairs and intrigues worth sharing with my colleagues. I can also collect one Air Mile point per trip. There are some things I don't like about the transit experience. The fact is, St John's has just 53 buses in its entire fleet, and the schedule is poor--the bus to Mount Pearl only goes once an hour, and does not run during midday or in the evenings. I also find it strange that some buses play the radio over the P.A. system, subjecting all passengers to the whims of the driver. I've never seen this anywhere else in the world! And of course, with a 40 hour work week, an addition 10 hours on the bus is time away from my family, which I regret--but I don't kid myself--with a car I might have 5 hours per week more at home, but it would be time when I would be stressed out from the drive, or eager to read the newspaper that I'd not had a chance to see yet. So the trade-off seems reasonable to me. I've read several columns by Denis Mahoney, and have to say they all strike me as extremely intelligent. We need more of his kind of thinking in this city!

  • Beep beep
    September 11, 2013 - 06:17

    Let me just say that public transit is useless to most people with the routes as they are and the amount of time it would take to get from point A to point B. Mahoney says "Newfoundland and Labrador reportedly has 100,000 more registered cars than people — a dichotomy that’s created a reliance on road networks as the primary means of moving people and goods." interesting statistic, but what odds about it, a person can only drive ONE vehicle at a time. Are you suggesting that a person only be allowed to own ONE vehicle? That's not very capitalistic idealism from a board of trade chairman/member. The reason for the congestion on roads in the NE Avalon is tied to the amount of activity here, something that the chairman of the board of trade should be ecstatic about. How many of those on the board of trade, or even business people in general use public transit? I would like to see that statistic. Maybe Mr. Mahoney and his peers would prefer that the little people stick to public transit so that the roadways are not too congested for Mahoney and his peers to drive about on in their Beemer's and Mercedes.