Saint John bus riders fight big cuts

Saint John public transit users are protesting upcoming cuts to the bus system.
Saint John is considering a proposal to reduce bus routes and services in the city 2:08

Saint John public transit users are protesting upcoming cuts to the bus system.

Job losses and a reduction in routes and services will come into effect in a few weeks.

Saint John Transit Union President Tom McGraw has started a Facebook campaign to fight the cuts. More than 1,000 people have joined so far. He says most are bus riders who rely on the system.

"It's the people who don't have options, people who don't have a car or two in the driveway. It's the seniors trying to get to the grocery market or doctor's appointments," he said.

Saint John has already endured transit cuts this year. A total of 20,000 service hours have been removed.

The city has promised to focus on cutting seldom-used routes, but 17 per cent of the entire service has to go as the city deals with crippling financial problems.

'It's not a pleasant task'

Tom McGraw started a Facebook group against the cuts. (CBC)
Chris Titus, a councillor and the transit commissioner, alerted the public to the cuts in the fall. He said deep cuts are coming and they're unavoidable.

"It's not a pleasant task, but it's a task that we have to deal with. We've gone through every sort of option that we could go through and this was the only one that we could come up with," he said.

Titus blamed Saint John's enormous employee pension deficit for much of the cutting. The fund that pays pension benefits to city staff is under-funded by almost $170 million. 

Transit workers are not part of that plan, but 15 of their positions are being eliminated.

McGraw said the impact on service will be huge.

"You're certainly going to feel it. All the feeder runs have been hit hard. People are losing night service, mid-day service [and] there will be last trips and early trips missed, so the effect is going to be great," he said.

Another group has collected 800 signatures on a petition to save the bus service and planned to present them to city councillors Monday evening. 

McGraw said his members would also be at Monday's council meeting to add their voices to calls on the city to reverse the cuts. 

But the wheels already appear set in motion. Route changes and pink slips are expected to take effect on Boxing Day.