By Fred Winsor
The recent public transit study completed for the City of St. John’s identifies expansion to regional public transit as a key next step in the development of public transit on the Northeast Avalon.
Section 18 of the report focuses attention on the subject of regional public transit. The report’s authors, Dillon Consulting, identify several key points which emphasize the need for regional public transit. They include: increased traffic congestion due to population growth, scarcity of parking in the downtown, access to employment opportunities and community services, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality.
To make this happen, the report recommends that Metrobus ask the provincial government to facilitate the formation of an implementation team comprised of Metrobus and representatives from St. John’s, Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South and Torbay. According to the report, the implementation team would establish service standards to ensure a performance-based approach for public transit throughout the region.
The Regional Public Transit Coalition, a group of citizens advocating for expanded public transit in our region, supports the recommendations made in the consultant’s report. The group believes they reflect many of the findings of other public transit surveys conducted on the Northeast Avalon and elsewhere.
The challenge now is for Metrobus and the provincial government to follow through by putting together the aforementioned implementation team. One encouraging step in that direction was the recent announcement by the City of Mount Pearl that it is conducting its own public transit study to explore expansion of public transit in that municipality.
The weak link in this initiative may well be the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the only provincial government in Canada that does not contribute to public transit costs. In its energy policy document, “Focusing Our Energy,” the province makes no mention of public transit while advocating expanded automobile usage. This runs contrary to agreements the province has signed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. At a conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian premiers, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
To date we have not reduced emissions at all. Instead, we have increased them by 2.7 per cent above 1990 levels, even with a net out-migration of 60,000 people. In 2009, the on-road transportation sector was responsible for 31 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the province. The increase in emissions from this sector is accelerating due to individual choices in automobile purchases and use. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of automobile purchases rose 43.5 per cent from 367,069 to 526,894 (Statistics Canada 2010). Many of these vehicles were large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs). There are more on-road vehicles in Newfoundland and Labrador than people. This must change if we are to meet our emissions reduction target. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador can support its citizens in decreasing emissions by assisting with the development of a regional public transit system.
Until now, most public transit outside of St. John’s and Corner Brook has been left to the private sector to operate on a for-profit basis. In recent years, many of these operators have discontinued providing the service. Most municipalities that have explored establishing their own public transit system have found it too expensive to fund on their own. This is perfectly understandable. There are few, if any, public transit systems in Canada that function on a for-profit basis. Public transit is generally regarded as a public service.
In most urban municipalities in Canada it is regarded as part of our built infrastructure and paid for out of taxes. If run efficiently it promotes access to employment, schools, post-secondary institutions, and other public and community services. It serves to improve the quality of life for citizens in urban and suburban communities as it reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
The next challenge for the establishment of regional public transit rests with the provincial government, the cities of St. John’s and Mount Pearl and the municipalities of Paradise, Conception Bay South and Torbay. Given the projections of continued increases in the median age of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians over the next decade, this would seem to be an item on which governments should be focused.
We encourage Metrobus, the City of St. John’s, the City of Mount Pearl, the towns of Conception Bay South, Paradise and Torbay, the provincial government and the citizens of the Northeast Avalon to become involved in developing a vibrant and functional regional public transit system.
Fred Winsor writes from St. John’s.