Nfld. & Labrador

Free rides, shorter waits: St. John's releases road map for public transit

The City of St. John's wants more people to use its Metrobus and GoBus public transit, and has released its review of the system to help reach that goal.

Recommendations target younger riders, reopening U-Pass proposal

St. John's has released its new transit review, which recommends Metrobus take certain steps to better serve youth. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Free rides for children under 12, a U-Pass system for university students, and route changes are some of the key recommendations of a public transit review commissioned by the City of St. John's. 

A report released Wednesday on problems with the city's public transit — Metrobus and GoBus — offered several ways to improve ridership. 

"Travel behaviours will not change unless Metrobus provides a service that is more convenient and reduces travel time," said the report, by Canadian firm Dillon Consulting.

The review's recommendations include:

  • Developing a transit outreach program for youth.
  • Implementing a student pass program.
  • Offering free rides for students under the age of 12.
  • Targeting high school and post-secondary students.
  • Continuing the discussion with Memorial about a U-Pass system. Earlier this year, MUN students rejected a proposal for a mandatory fee that would provide all students with bus passes.
  • Investing in a frequent transit network of routes that connect key destinations.
  • Implementing a low-income fare pilot program.

Waiting too long for the bus

Metrobus general manager Judy Powell said many routes have hour-long wait times, although the core routes have shorter waits. 

"That's not attractive to people wanting to use it as [their] main source of transportation."

She said she recognizes that St. John's has a car-oriented culture, and that change is needed on that front. Powell agreed with the report that starting with youth is a way of addressing that.

Metrobus general manager Judy Powell says there are fewer high school students on buses these days than there were a decade ago. (CBC)

"We don't see the same number of high school students on the buses that we did 10 and 20 years ago. How do we reverse that trend? How do we make it attractive? One of the recommendations is a discounted bus program, whether it is a 50 per cent discount or free," she said.

"It is about putting the pass in their hands and getting them to think about their choice of travel, and getting them used to the bus — that this is a legitimate form of transportation."

Powell said a Metrobus subcommittee will go over the recommendations and decide how to proceed, starting with changes that will affect the upcoming 2020 budget.

"All the rest will be in a future budget year."

'More robust'

Jennifer Crowe, the chair of Happy City St. John's, a non-profit organization promotes civic engagement, said the report's recommendations on youth riders are a good thing.

"If you look at the City of Kingston, they implemented a really successful program for students in Grade 9 to Grade 12. So they implemented a free bus pass system for those students. They saw ridership increase among that population from 30,000 to 600,000. So that's really significant."

Happy City St. John's chair Jennifer Crowe says more can be done to connect the Northeast Avalon through public transit. (Stephen Miller/CBC)

Crowe said the report could have looked more at transit between different regions in the province.

"If we're ensuring that a transit system is serving people in the City of St. John's, we need to ensure that it's also serving people who are just outside of St. John's, who are in Mount Pearl, Paradise, C.B.S., etc.," she said.

"I think Happy City in general is hearing from citizens that they would like something that's more robust, that ensures that if they have friends who live out in C.B.S. they can actually get out there using regional transit."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On the Go

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