Rough ride

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For all its big-city bluster and growing economy, St. John’s has no concentrated urban core.

The downtown is small, buildings are not tall, and the population is spread far and wide over a hilly terrain.

In 2011, the combined population of Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and Torbay stood at 81,590, a 13.1 per cent jump from the 2006 census total of 72,077. Over the same period, the population of St. John’s proper rose a little over half that amount, from 100,646 to 106,172.

It’s no place to run a bus system, and municipal leaders in the region are all too aware of it.

A new poll conducted exclusively for The Telegram and the St. John’s Board of Trade found that public transit in the metro area is nothing to ride home about. And talk of a major refocus on regional service is not gaining much traction.

A single question on the MQO Research survey found that almost 80 per cent of respondents in the metro area never use public transportation — i.e. Metrobus. That reflects chronically low ridership on the existing Metrobus system, which takes in the boundaries of Mount Pearl and St. John’s.

In August, The Telegram’s Andrew Robinson surveyed mayors of communities around St. John’s and found little interest in expanding the transit system beyond its current borders.

“You’re not going to put people on a Metrobus in Seal Cove and take them all the way to St. John’s,” said C.B.S. Mayor Woodrow French. “People just are not going to do that.”

MQO poll numbers for outside the capital city back up French’s assessment; 86 per cent of respondents said they never use transit, with the rest using it once a month or less.

This is a problem for St. John’s, which subsidizes the bus service to the tune of $10.5 million annually. (Mount Pearl pays an annual subsidy of $800,000.) St. John’s Coun. Tom Hann expects the total will rise to about $13 million in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, car-centric residents are not much happier with infrastructure in their region.

According to the MQO poll, only 30 per cent of respondents felt it was easy to get around in the metro area. Thirty-four per cent said they were happy with snowclearing services, and a paltry 14 per cent were pleased with road maintenance.

(One caveat: there was a lot of roadwork and traffic delays in late September when the poll was conducted.)

Today in The Telegram’s continuing MetroView series, Bonnie Belec takes a further look at road and traffic woes, while Steve Bartlett examines the struggle to get more people riding the bus.

Organizations: The Telegram, MQO Research, Board of Trade

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Portugal Cove, Torbay Seal Cove

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Recent comments

  • CBS student
    October 23, 2012 - 10:12

    Hey Woodrow French, you never asked me if I wanted to take a bus from seal-cove to the mall. You clearly have no idea how far it is to get back and fourth to work and school in town once you blow a head gasket. Then again, that's why I don't vote for you. You're so out of touch with how people get around. This is clearly evident with the countless cul-de-sacs that could have been used to connect roads over the last few years. As for the metrobus, I hesitate to call it a service. A necessary inconvenience is closer to the truth. And with taxi fares as outrageous as they are, it's a wonder we don't have more impaired driving convictions.

  • Jon Murphy
    October 18, 2012 - 17:00

    Well than Mr. French, if people aren't going to ride metrobus, why doesn't your booming town start their own service that will commute people in the town to let's say, the village mall, or downtown or anywhere else on non-stop express routes. This is a great article about the very poor public transit and lack of regional cooperation.

  • Turry from town
    October 16, 2012 - 18:30

    The thing this proves is that St.John's had slow growth,but the towns outside had combined significant growth.So if the traffic is heavier now in St.John's,where is it coming from?Ofcourse,from outside the city.And who pays for the roads that these people from outside use? The taxpayers of St.John's with their municipal taxes. Time to toll the roads leading into the city.

  • Sean
    October 16, 2012 - 13:26

    Low density is a term in urban planning, which usually refers to the standard suburban lot. Housing in CBS is almost entirely of this nature, ie, there are very few apartment buildings, condos, etc. Density refers to people per square kilometre. Even though there are tons of houses everywhere, no one lives in a five story building, for example. Take Elizabeth Avenue in St. John's as a contrast - in the west end of it, you have Summerville Plaza, on the other side of the road, you have some NL Housing, further down you have single family dwellings on standard suburban lots, then you have churchill square - lots of apartments and condos, then more single family homes, then Elizabeth Towers. So you have a mix of housing types. That's what a transit corridor would look like - more multi-story buildings, interspersed with retail and office, etc.

    • Eli
      October 16, 2012 - 14:59

      Thanks for the tutorial ol' kok. The CBS by-pass road is nothing but a death trap that takes the word rural out of CBS & Holyrood.

  • Observer
    October 16, 2012 - 10:51

    When is St. John's going to start building up? And I mean upward with well-built condominiums of no less than 10 stories. Condos with solid,concrete construction that provide quiet and high-quality enjoyment of one's home. It would provide much-needed starter homes for all those young people in well-paying jobs who can't possibly afford the upward of $350,000 for their first home. And an alternative to older people who wish to downsize from full-sized houses that require so much upkeep and maintenance. There must be a huge pent-up demand for good , modern condos , not like some of those stodgy ones that I've seen. And this intensification and the subsequent condo communities that would be created would go far in eliminating much of the congestion on roads around St. John's.

    • Eli
      October 16, 2012 - 12:17

      Show me the condo under $350,000.00.

    • Christopher Chafe
      October 16, 2012 - 13:40

      You must be new to the area, or have lived under a rock. It's well known that St. John's has a height phobia and we are extremely afraid of change.

  • Calvin
    October 16, 2012 - 07:44

    Bottom line around St. John's is that people are not going to use Metrobus to get around when it takes at least 5 times longer to travel to and from your destination by bus than by car. In larger metro regions on the mainland, people use public transportation because it is actually faster than travelling by car. It takes me 5 minutes to drive to work every morning. If I were to take the bus, it would take me a little over an hour, and I would be late for work. With the economy booming and more and more families able to afford to have their own cars, public transportation in St. John's is not getting used. I think people who work downtown, Kenmount Road/Pippy Place, and other busy commercial areas in the city should use the bus system, it would cut down on traffic, pollution, accidents, etc. but I doubt it will happen any time soon.

  • Sean
    October 16, 2012 - 07:41

    You are never going to get people in CBS and Paradise riding the bus in large enough numbers to warrant establishing the service until 2 things happen: 1) stop building roads like the CBS bypass. By building this road, we are subsidizing low density suburban living in distant suburbs for people that have to drive to town every day for work. These are the people who are clogging the roads every day. Without the road, there would be a disincentive to live that far out, and people would have an incentive to live in St. John's. Eventually this would create a market for denser housing forms within the city. Car trips would then be shorter to and from work, some people would be able to walk to work and others might be able to take public transit - like a real city. 2) the other thing that would need to happen is transit corridors have to be idenitified. One might be Topsail Road, where high density housing mixed with commercial and office uses are approved through municipal planning in all municipalities that the street runs through, all the way out through CBS. The bus would then have a ready made ridership from the denser population, and because of the mixed uses, those residents would be able to live near where they work and shop, and might be able to get along without a car. Then they would ride the bus. These are long term solutions, but would work.

    • Eli
      October 16, 2012 - 12:21

      Where have you been for the last 10 years Sean? Low density in CB S & Holyrood? You gotta be kiddin' or still pickin' blueberries from the side of the train.