Car dependence hurting New Brunswick economy

A study by two UNB researchers shows New Brunswickers are much more likely to depend on cars to get to work than other Canadians, and that makes newcomers less likely to stay in the province and prevents others from returning to the work force.

New report by UNB researchers highlights urban sprawl and a lack of public transportation

A new report from the Urban and Community Studies Institute at the University of New Brunswick shows New Brunswickers are among the most car-dependent Canadians, and it's hurting the province's ability to create jobs, retain residents and compete. 

The study found New Brunswickers are almost twice as likely to live and work in different communities than the average Canadian — 35.2 per cent compared to 20.6 per cent — and they are much more likely to commute by car — 90.4 per cent compared to 78.6 per cent.

Those figures are based on Statistics Canada data from the 2011 census.  They're contained in a report called Road worriers: The costs of car dependence in New Brunswick.

Co-author Yves Bourgeois said car dependence undermines the government's ability to tackle other issues.

The province wants to restore fiscal health, but inadequate transportation increases expenses on social assistance, lowers business competitiveness, and government tax revenues, he said.

"When it costs an average $7,600 a year to put a toddler in daycare and $10,500 to operate a vehicle, for low-income households in particular, it may make more sense to stay home. That is neither good for the household, the economy or public revenues," Bourgeois said.

The report said New Brunswickers spend 18.9 per cent of their budget on transportation, compared to the national average of 14.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada's 2012 Survey of Household Spending. 

It also noted car dependence is a barrier to retaining immigrants.

"Maritimers like to trumpet lower housing costs, but when you factor in access to cheaper transportation, cheaper groceries and better labour markets, it's not surprising that half of new Canadians arriving in New Brunswick leave for another province within five years," said Bourgeois.

Bourgeois hopes to measure additional costs of car dependence by looking at air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, traffic injuries, environmental remediation, parking subsidies, road construction and maintenance, policing and other factors.

Without accurate measures of those factors, governments underestimate the the full costs of car dependence, Bourgeois said.

"Government will continue - and even private businesses - will continue making decisions like instead of refurbishing a high school or hospital in a core area in Saint John or Moncton or what not, it will be cheaper to build a new one in the outskirts," he said.

He said part of the motivation for the report is to highlight economic reasons to subsidize public transportation.

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said all levels of government need to improve alternative transportation so more will use it. 

"Analyze our behaviours and our car use, figure out if we can help the residents of New Brunswick choose alternatives, and invest in those alternatives," said Corbett.