A Fredericton councillor says he’s “ashamed” by the city’s decision to slash bus service to parts of his ward and he called the public consultation that went into the new transit strategy a “sham.”
Fredericton’s new transit plan is attempting to boost bus service to the heaviest populated areas of the city without adding any extra cash into the transit system. But it also means axing routes in the Silverwood and Lincoln Heights subdivisions.
Coun. Scott McConaghy, whose ward includes Lincoln Heights, called the transit plan a “two-tier system” that forces some Fredericton residents to pay for a transit system they can’t access.
“What we have done with transit, is we have said to the people of Lincoln and of Silverwood that you just don’t have the access to it. You have to pay for the service that you can’t use. It is just so wrong,” he said.
McConaghy said the ridership was low in the subdivisions but he thought reducing the service to two runs in the morning and two runs in evening was a better alternative than abandoning the areas completely.
The councillor said transit staff were “fixated” on council’s order that they couldn’t add any new funds to the system. He also said council has been too focused on fiscal restraint “to the point that they are paralyzing their decisions based on that.”
“I was extremely disappointed after this decision and discouraged and quite frankly ashamed that we would basically turn our backs on parts of the city and people who had made decisions to live there based on this service,” he said.
“It is ultimately disheartening.”
Transit staff held two public meetings to explain the proposed changes.
After one of those meetings, Coun. John MacDermid, the chairperson of the city's transportation committee, said he realized the reforms would not satisfy everyone.
He said he hopes the changes would make a better overall system.
"They need to be consistent and predictable and by making these changes, hopefully we're going to get more bums on the seats on the buses,” he said in June.
Public meetings were 'a sham'
The reaction to the new transit strategy at those meetings was mixed. But McConaghy said city officials essentially ignored the dissenting views when it came to vote on whether to push ahead with the changes.
“I feel like going out there for people’s input was a sham and we didn’t listen to it at all,” he said.
'I feel like all we were doing is just informing people what was happening and we really didn’t care what they told us.' - Coun. Scott McConaghy
“In the presentation on Monday night it was glossed over that there were concerns in the Lincoln area. If you are going to out there and you are going to ask people what they think about a plan that you have then I think if you get feedback then somehow you do have a responsibility to maybe address what you might want to do.
“I guess, in this case, I feel like all we were doing is just informing people what was happening and we really didn’t care what they told us.”
The Fredericton councillor said the lack of bus service has other implications as well. Transit service to the city’s food bank was improved in the new plan, but no one from the Lincoln Heights or Silverwood areas will be able to make it to the food bank because of the service cuts.
Further, he said no one from those neighbourhoods would have been able to use public transit to make it to the Grant-Harvey Centre after post-tropical storm Arthur to use the city’s charging stations or the showers.
McConaghy said the city’s transit plan is going to make it difficult to convince people in these areas about the importance of remaining inside the city limits.
“It’s one less argument that I have when I talk to somebody out in Lincoln Heights about why they shouldn’t maybe leave to go outside the city,” he said.
“For a pretty smart city, at least we claim we are, and a pretty green city, we will question why we might lead people from those areas to outside areas.”