An independent consultant is recommending that Metrobus expand beyond the borders of St. John's and target post-secondary students to boost ebbing rider numbers.

"Major market opportunities exist within and adjacent to the Metrobus service area," noted the report, by Dillon Consulting Ltd.

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Metrobus provides public transportation in the St. John's area. ((CBC))

One of those opportunities involves turning Metrobus into a regional transportation service. According to the consultant, there is a "strong case" to extend service to areas such as Paradise and Conception Bay South, which comprise the fastest-growing parts of the greater St. John's area.

The population of the suburbs has increased 70 to 95 per cent over the past three decades, compared to growth of just four per cent in Mount Pearl and St. John's. Many residents of those fast-growing outlying municipalities work in the urban core.

But St. John's city council says it needs help to make any such expansion reality.

"The other municipalities have to come on board and start dialoguing with us and see how we can improve the system ...  the provincial government is going to be a big partner in this," said Coun. Tom Hann, chair of the St. John's Transportation Commission.

But the mayor of one of those towns says he is not interested in an expanded Metrobus service. Paradise Mayor Ralph Wiseman says it's been six or seven years since the town last looked at the issue, but there's no call from residents to get the service.

"I mean you need to do an in-depth study of how many people are going to ride those systems," Wiseman said. "I understand from Mount Pearl that there's not a lot of participation."

Wiseman says the last time Paradise did look into it, the cost was too high.

Student service

The consultant also recommended that Metrobus aim to capture a larger share of the post-secondary market, by improving   service to Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic. That could be done through a universal transit pass, or U-Pass, for students. Such a program would provide all enrolled students with a transit pass as part of their tuition. It would need to be ratified by the student union.

Metrobus ridership has dropped from a peak of 3.3 million in 2006 to just over three million today — a decline of 10 per cent.

St. John's taxpayers will provide a subsidy of $10.5 million to Metrobus in 2012.