Andrew Robinson’s article “How to get around,” Aug. 25, concerning regional public transit, outlined the absence of leadership and vision present among provincial and municipal leaders towards the subject.
Unfortunately, the provincial government, in its energy policy document, exhibited its shortsightedness when it dismissed regional public transit as a viable option in its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To date they have tended to view it as a transportation option meriting little importance on their agenda.
Deeper examination of regional public transit reveals it to be an important piece of economic development and accessibility infrastructure for many communities on the Northeast Avalon. Discussions with employment agencies and employers reveal the lack of access to public transit inhibits potential employees from taking entry level positions and thus affects economic growth among some local businesses.
The absence of regional public transit in areas outside the boundaries of St. John’s results in up to 40 per cent of available parking in the downtown being taken by downtown workers who have no other option to access their places of employment.
Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador identified transportation as a key issue in the future expansion of tourism in the province. So many visitors rely on car rentals that the fleet is usually booked solid before the start of the tourist season. Unfortunately, the number of motor coaches and private buses has stagnated in recent years.
Under these circumstances, it seems unlikely that the province will achieve its target of doubling tourism revenues over the next few years.
Similarly, the seniors population of the Northeast Avalon is projected to be 30 per cent of the total population for this region by 2026. As many of them become unable to drive, they, too, will need access to public transit.
Every day, 20,000 or more students, faculty, staff and visitors migrate towards the Memorial University campus.
Many of these individuals have to travel from outside the city boundaries where public transit is not available. They often mingle with staff and patients travelling from similar locales to the province's largest hospital — the Health Sciences complex. Most of us are painfully aware of the difficulties involved in finding parking space and suffering through traffic jams in these situations.
In this context it seems that the comment of Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien that, “It’s not even on my radar,” is very much out of step with
the reality of the expanding urbanization occurring on the Northeast Avalon.
The population of Newfoundland and Labrador needs accessible public transit so they can access the public and private services situated on the Northeast Avalon.
Along with the university and the Health Sciences complex, these include: the Confederation Building and other federal, provincial and municipal government offices and services; the Marine Institute; the College of the North Atlantic; the St. John’s downtown core; shopping centres and the airport.
As many urban and rural regions of Canada have come to realize, regional public transit provides mobility and access to basic services and amenities for all but the most challenged of our citizens. It’s been shown to reduce stress and greenhouse gas emissions, thus improving our quality of life and our natural environment.
However, for the system to be effective it must make the transition from being a service provided by one city, St. John’s, to a truly regional public transit system that provides a high level of service to all areas on the Northeast Avalon.
It needs to consider multiple perspectives and integrate a variety of transit models ranging from present urban bus routes to commuter buses to rural van service and carpool programs.
Public dialogue combined with partnerships among government departments, local businesses and employers could be some of the first steps taken to develop pilot projects and identify routes and schedules to make regional public transit a reality.
Fred Winsor writes for the Regional Public
Transit Coalition. He lives in St. John’s.