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.