Myles Russell on Transit

Happy City: Consultants hired to study our transit in 2019 found St. John’s provided a worse transit service by most measures than ten other comparable Canadian cities, and it called for improvements like free transit for children and students up to Grade 12, as well as route and frequency improvements that were projected to cost an extra $2 million a year. 

Since then, some of these recommendations have been partially implemented but there is a still  a long way to go in terms of providing an accessible and comprehensive transit service.  Nonetheless, ridership increased to levels not seen for decades. The Metrobus budget for 2024 did not increase as a result of increased fare revenue. Instead, Council chose to reallocate funding they had previously provided to support other priorities. 

Two major Metrobus hubs are located in Ward 4 (Memorial University and the Avalon Mall). As the cost of living crisis has hit, an increasing number of people, especially in this ward, appear to be relying on the bus as their primary form of transportation and more might do so if presented with a better service. As the representative of all Ward 4 residents, would you be willing to provide significant additional funding to Metrobus? If so, how would you want it spent? How would you balance the needs of transit users with those who object to further subsidizing the system? 

Myles Russell

Not only do I want to expand the funding for metrobus, I want the city to take control of  Metrobus and revise it to operate more efficiently. Metrobus currently operates on an  antiquated ethos of transit planning, and everybody suffers for it. Mechanisms exist within  city bylaws to allow Metrobus to request spaces for covered stops, transit only lanes,  transit priority signals, but metro bus will not because they have no ambition or any reason  to. 

I’ve taken Metrobus for work and college for 3 years. It is the same as it was when I was in  college 20 years ago as it is now. There are no relief or express routes. There is no  regionally planned public transit. There are no frequent routes. Our routes are not  accessible as proven with my not for profits work directly with happy city where we  analyzed data provided by Metrobus, corrected their errors, and then planned an entirely new  route system. 

Right now, the failures of Metrobus are extensive and our current Council seems  completely uninterested in even remotely attempting to make it better. Council decided to  cut Metrobus’ budget when it has record ridership because they think of it as a business  and not a service. Transportation is a right that everybody should have access to  regardless of their need or want to own a personal motor vehicle. 

The funding the city cut from Metrobus could have ordered 6 new buses including a high  capacity articulated bus. Those vehicles have up to an 18 month lead time and are  manufactured by the same provider we already use for the majority of our bus fleet; Nova. 

When our current fleet of 54 with 44 in operation is at capacity and beyond for large chunks  of the academic year, cutting funding is abhorrent. 

St. John’s should be meeting with all regional municipalities to provide an integrated  regional bus service. They should be meeting with MHA’s to ensure the provincial  government gets on board. Even if the provincial government is not on board, a 5% expenditure by all regional municipalities would provide a budget of over $30 million,  which would enable a lot to get done. 7% nearly doubles funding to over $35 million. 

As long as we keep our engineering manuals and development regulations car focused,  public transit an active transit will be pushed to the sidelines. St. John’s City Council  should also be discussing how to drive business and institutions to promote transit. I have  regular meetings with several developers who are on board with providing funding directly  to Metrobus in lieu of removing unnecessary car parking. You read that correctly. They  themselves don’t want to build all this car infrastructure. They would rather give money to  Metrobus. 

The provincial government, memorial university, and companies could be approached to  provide benefits to having their staff and students take transit over driving a car. However, that cannot work unless we have a complete well structured public transit system. With proper transportation management, public transit can be the superior method of  getting around our city. Public transit is amazing for climate action, reducing road wear,  and is more space and mass efficient. 

To finish off I will go over several core aspects of modern public transit planning that metro  bus does not enact. 

  • Wayfinding maps 
  • bus terminal directional understanding 
  • public land bus terminal locations 
  • express bus rapid transit 
  • single corridor direct route planning 
  • minimum transfer total journeys 
  • radial and mesh network planning 
  • bus only modal filters 
  • bus only street lanes 
  • bus priority traic signals 

These are all aspects of modern public transit planning that Metrobus does not follow, and  St. John’s allows to continue. 

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