Vibrant Communities hopes to gather 300 completed surveys this month. ((CBC))

A poverty advocacy group in Saint John is seeking input on how to make public transit more accessible to low-income residents, particularly the working poor and single parent families.

The study by Vibrant Communities comes on the heels of city council approving cuts to Saint John Transit.

But the Urban Transit Initiative has been in the works for months, said project co-ordinator Sara Stashick.

"We need to make sure that there's transportation available for all residents in our community, regardless of what our economic and financial status is," she said.

"Folks need to be able to get places. So it's really, really important that we get this right."

Good public transit will help reduce poverty, said Stashick.

"For an individual who's trying to improve their circumstances, obviously, getting to school, getting to work, accessing child care is really critical to making those forward steps," she explained.

Many people who work in retail and call centres, for example, depend on the bus to get to work, said Stashick.

They don't have regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours and can't afford to take taxis or buy a car, she said.

Report will offer recommendations

Over the next month, a team of six will talk to people who take the bus, as well as people who would take it if it were more convenient about where they need to go and when.

They want to find out if route changes, scheduling changes, or price changes would foster more transit use, said Stashick.

"The average person may not be a transportation expert, but each one of us is an expert in our own life and what transportation we need to live that life," she said.

Team members will walk around low-income neighbourhoods, ride the buses, and visit the working poor at their jobs.

The survey will also be available online and on city transit buses.

The group hopes to gather 300 completed surveys.

Meanwhile, the team will also look at what's being done in other cities to make transit function better for those who have few choices, said Stashick.

It will then prepare a report with recommendations.

On Dec. 26, some Saint John Transit routes were eliminated, while others were reduced on evenings and weekends.

About 15 drivers and maintenance workers were also expected to lose their jobs or have their status reduced to part-time.

Saint John Transit Union president Tom McGraw had started a Facebook campaign to fight the cuts. More than 1,000 people joined.

Another group had collected 800 signatures on a petition to save the bus service.

City council had ordered transit to hold its budget increases to one per cent, but general manager Frank McCarey said that wasn't possible with higher than anticipated fuel prices wreaking havoc on the commission's bottom line.

Diesel, budgeted at 90 cents a litre, ended up costing closer to $1.11, he said. The transit commission uses nearly two million litres a year.