Nicholas Hillier 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?

Nicolas Hillier:

The fact that St. John’s provides one of the worst transit services does not come as a shock to me at all. While not a public transit user myself, I recognize the importance of public transit/the Metrobus system to the community. I believe it is a cornerstone of our community and something that can be used to make getting around this city easier. With ridership increasing, the city slashed funding. I believe this was the wrong move to make. Continuing the investment into the Metrobus system could have sparked more growth for years to come. While we see ridership has increased, I believe we need to focus more on how we improve the service that the organization provides rather than simply trying to boast about those increased ridership levels. 

When considering the question of “significant additional funding”, I believe that outside of the reinstatement of the budget line from last year into the coming budget, we must consider finding wastage within the organization and reallocating that WITHIN the organization to improve the service offered. I am a firm believer that throwing more and more money at something is not the way to fix it. If the issue is not fixed quickly, we cannot expect to keep throwing more and more money at it until we’ve ballooned to a point where the budget for the organization is unmanageable and there is significant wastage. The question “how would I want it spent” is a big one – but my answer is simple… I would want the money spent in the areas it needs to be spent along with the areas that result in the most improved service possible. 

I want to be very clear – I am NOT anti-spending when it comes to Metrobus. As I said, I recognize the need for this service, but I also recognize that our tax dollars need to be managed well. We live in a time where governments are asking residents to tighten their financial belt more and more every day… but we must ask our governments to do the same and ensure there is no wastage of any tax dollars. Balancing the needs of transit users with those who object to further subsidizing the system is difficult, but can be done; it can be done through a comprehensive review of the organization’s finances to ensure there is no wastage while also guaranteeing that the city will be there to do whatever possible to improve the system for all who use it.

You Might Also Like