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LETTER: Report on Metrobus’ future is out — have your say

The Metrobus fleet will soon grow with 18 new accessible busses as part of a $2.6 million funding announcement. It will also allow for 29 new wheelchair-accessible shelters and a new transit operations system.
A Metrobus drives past an empty bus shelter. — Telegram file photo

The long-awaited consultant’s report on the future of Metrobus could be the first step towards a truly useful public transit service on the Northeast Avalon Peninsula.

Three of the key recommendations are attention-grabbing — a Frequent Transit Network operating every 15 minutes; moving many routes that are hourly to half-hourly service (during weekdays); and making transit free for schoolchildren and those on income support in St John’s.

The report acknowledges that the city has fallen behind the transit service in other similar Canadian cities and these changes would go some way to putting this right.

There is no guarantee that these changes will be implemented, however — they have to be endorsed first by the Transportation Commission and then by the council.

St John’s also has to hold the provincial government to its pledge to fund low-income passes (the Liberals said back in April that this would be in place in six months if they were elected). There are also less ambitious options in the report which would water down its effectiveness — an offer of a half-price pass for schoolchildren instead of free travel for example — and many improvements are set to be phased in between now and 2023.

Those with an interest in better transit must let their councillors know that they want the key proposals implemented in full and as speedily as possible.

The formal “public engagement” period is over but the key decisions will be made in the next few weeks.

There are also important gaps in the report — it has very little to say about the need for more and better shelters to make the wait for a bus more bearable, for example.

The biggest gap, though, is in the wider regional transit picture.

Those with an interest in better transit must let their councillors know that they want the key proposals implemented in full and as speedily as possible.

After all, most of the population of the Northeast Avalon Peninsula now lives outside of St John’s, and a stronger regional transit network would help make the existing system more viable. Since Metrobus receives its funding largely from St. John’s taxpayers, the report concentrates almost entirely on St. John’s itself.

Transit outside of that area has to be paid for by other municipalities, who have limited resources even to consider transit possibilities, let alone spare funding to enable it.

The report suggests St. John’s reach out to the surrounding cities and seeks sustained provincial funding.

This is vital, and the province must demonstrate it is ready to be an active partner. Only the province has the scope to make a proper regional plan and the resources to help already-overstretched municipalities address this new responsibility alongside their existing roles. Most other provinces already recognise this.

It is telling that transit has almost no place in the Liberals’ Way Forward plans or in the province’s climate change plan, and that the only minister with any direct connection to transit is Derrick Bragg, who also oversees the Environment brief and all other aspects of Municipal Affairs.

There are 15 different offices in his department, none of them focused on transit. This needs to change, but it will only do so if provincial politicians hear loudly both from the cities and from the public (you!) that we want them to step forward. Email and call them, call in to the radio and write your own letter to the editor (letters@thetelegram.com).

Don’t be discouraged by the years of neglect and indifference — many on St. John’s council are now interested in a bold approach and the minority government provincially may be more open to progressive ideas.

Getting more involved in this would not just be an added cost for the province — in many ways the province is already paying in many ways for the lack of transit infrastructure. As the report recognizes, a better public transit system could allow schools to do without some (provincially paid) buses, for example or reduce use of medical transport and taxis. It would also help the budget longer term by improving mental and physical health or reducing the burden on our roads.

A key first step for the province would be to start trying to measure the more hidden costs and benefits of better public transit.

There is much more in this report than this space allows. Visit https://www.facebook.com/essentialtransit to learn more and get involved.

David Brake

St. John’s

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