Fredericton – Recent changes to Fredericton transit in outlying areas of the city continue to pose challenges to residents of Lincoln and Silverwood. The future of these outlying transit routes also remains uncertain.
“My daughter was so luckily employed by Fredericton Autism Connections… With the bus gone in another year, she will not be able to attend any events going on at Fredericton Autism Connections,” says Donna Gorham, one of many local residents impacted by Fredericton City Council’s decision to reduce several Fredericton Transit bus routes and raise bus fares.
Gorham’s daughter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been accessing Fredericton Autism Connections in Lincoln for employment and social purposes.
“The bus is her only way to get to work,” explains Gorham of her daughter’s transportation needs.
Fredericton City Council approved a new transit plan on July 14, 2014, which would see hourly service on all routes, including half hour service at rush-hour times, and greater access for more densely populated areas of the city. The plan also moved to eliminate transit routes to both Lincoln and Silverwood.
The plan, however, was met with harsh criticism for having failed to properly consult the public or take into account public input on the proposed plan.
“The consultation process felt like it was being pushed on the city as a done deal,” says Doug Mullin, a local transit advocate and founder of Making Transit Work.
“It was almost like it was a fait accompli. There was a lot of feedback, but it wasn’t although it made any change,” posits John MacDermid, Ward 10 City Councillor and chair of the city’s Transportation Committee.
Following public outcry from Lincoln and Silverwood residents, these routes were extended by City Council for 12 more months, effective September 2, 2014.
While both bus routes were temporarily saved from the chopping block, this extension comes with less frequent runs–two each morning and afternoon on weekdays–and a universal fare increase of 25 cents, bringing a one-way fare to $2.50.
“As a resident of Ward 7 (Lincoln), the reduction of transit services have been increasingly difficult for me,” expresses Kelsey Nevers, a student at St. Thomas University.
“Traditionally, when you have services cut, they never come back,” explains Mullin, amidst concerns that transit services would not be further extended to Lincoln and Silverwood.
The city’s current transit strategy subsidizes transit on a “40/60” basis; this means that 40% of the city’s subsidies for transit come from rider fares, while the other 60% come from property taxes.
Following City Council’s transit reforms, property-owning residents of Lincoln and Silverwood will continue to contribute 60% of subsidies for transit services while receiving limited and possibly zero access to said services.
City councilors, such as MacDermid, are looking for alternative and cost-effective ways of providing transportation to outlying areas of Fredericton.
“Quite often the private sector is one way of doing that…There are other jurisdictions looking at hybrid systems, such as contracting out to taxis,” says MacDermid.
In these hybrid forms of transportation, municipalities contract out service to a taxi company. Riders pay the taxi driver a reduced cab fare subsidized by the municipality, as well as the internalized cost of public transit. The taxi will then take residents to a nearby bus stop and provide the rider with a transfer sheet, permitting them access to public transit such as buses.
While this hybrid system is seen by some as efficient for a cash-strapped city such as Fredericton, Mullin argues that it works better for individuals and not families that may end up paying multiple transit fares and at an increased rate.
Scott McConaghy, Lincoln’s City Councillor, who was outspoken on the initial elimination of transit access to his ward, would prefer to see existing bus services extended beyond the current 12 month period.
“My hope is that the numbers will be solid enough and similar to other areas that we see in the fringes…So I’m very optimistic that we’ll extend it further than one year.”
Other residents, such as Mullin, are thinking more broadly in their proposed alternatives to public transit in Fredericton, and are advocating for increased funding to public transportation as a long-term investment.
“You get a public transit system based on the money you put into it. I see public transportation as infrastructure, as opposed to a public service.”
Both Councillors MacDermid and McConaughy feel that the city now has adequate time to develop a plan for delivering some form of transit to outlying areas of Fredericton, namely Lincoln and Silverwood.
While there is no current plan for what happens following the expiration of the 12 month extension of the Lincoln and Silverwood bus routes, Councillor MacDermid acknowledges the importance of this issue, “There is recognition on council that this is core service that needs to be provided.”
For residents such as Gorham and Nevers, their ability to access Fredericton transittoday, and in the future, remains uncertain.
Shawn Martin is a social work student at St. Thomas University interning with the NB Media Co-op.