October 25, 2030 (Fredericton, New Brunswick)
What a difference a decade can make! At the end of 2019, Canada had just elected a parliament no one was quite sure was going to do very much about climate change, let alone about public transit. But then events took their course.
As a result, Fredericton now has a chance to redefine its transit strategy, and has already made huge strides.
As climate protests ramped up across democratic countries, major investment banks located there became the focus of Extinction Rebellion actions. Scandal after scandal forced new regulations in the US, EU and other countries. Suddenly hundreds of billions of dollars a year that used to finance oil and gas projects were redirected towards fighting the climate emergency.
We are not out of the woods yet, but our mobility system is on the right track.
In 2019, most middle-class people owned their own cars and drove to work. This is no longer the case. It seems miraculous, but the huge increase in oil and gas prices in 2022 made a switch inevitable. The price hike in Fredericton corresponded with new federal funding for public transit for small and medium size Canadian cities, most of which lacked the density to justify frequent service routes.
This was a major problem in Fredericton. While housing construction in the 2010s started to focus on more density and apartment units, local developers and city officials had singularly failed to account for planned neighbourhoods, or for linking real estate investments to public services like transit.
The new funding agreement with the federal government required smaller cities to make changes to their municipal plans to account for transit, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities worked to provide smaller cities with resources to help in a shift that seemed technocratic when it was launched in 2021, but which became crucial after price hikes in 2022.
For many decades, Fredericton’s transit planning had focused on sending buses across the city, attempting to cover as much space as possible. The goal of the 2008 Transit Plan was to ensure a high percentage of the city’s residents were within 500m of a bus stop. What this meant was that the city’s bus lines wriggled all over the city as development sprawled outward.
Moreover, it meant that taking the bus was not really practical for most people. Service was not frequent, and it was also not quick. To get to the Regent St. Mall, some lines would first go out all the way out to Lincoln. All buses met on King St. downtown, where they idled for 15 minutes every hour, ruining the streetscape with toxic diesel fumes.
The bus service in Fredericton ended up being used by very few city residents. Mostly, it was a service for people unable to afford other transport options, like private automobility.
It didn’t even run on Sunday.
Finally, Fredericton got a new mayor in 2020, and began to implement new ideas about how to manage public transit that had been overlooked by uninterested councillors for years.
The first thing they did was fund Sunday service to great acclaim. They paid for the modest increase—capital costs for service delivery were nil—through a new tax on the city’s gas stations, a land management tax that also helped fund future remediation costs of removing oil tanks. The new tax was the result of municipal governance reform, that granted municipalities new autonomy.
As the Irving press fumed at the changes, the 2022 oil crisis hit. A six-fold price increase over the course of three weeks stranded many motorists in the suburbs. Some folks got fit—it was a warm spring and walking was easy for a while. But other parts of the city were unliveable without a public transit solution.
Luckily, the city had already planned to add buses and change routes. A new fast transit route between the Brookside and Regent malls was established. The rapid shift in automobility use made the line an instant success and helped save jobs at the malls. Isolated from residential neighbourhoods, malls all over Canada were being abandoned. But not in Fredericton.
When new federal funding for small and intermediate cities started in June 2022, the new council could ramp up its plans for urban transit. Its next move was to completely change the hub-and-spoke system centred on King’s Place, and establish rapid transit routes linking high-density neighbourhoods with the downtown and key service areas.
The routes came with new planning regulations mandating development ratios and providing incentives for developers to build mix-use density along transit routes. Houses along Dundonald and Beaverbrook which used to house groups of students were torn down, and by 2030, a new high-density streetscape had emerged with retail space along the street. This completely changed the universities’ place in the city, giving them a high-amenity, walkable neighbourhood that suddenly attracted students from around the country. Recruiting to the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University in larger centres became a whole lot easier, boosting enrolments.
University is a transit hub on the Brookside-Regent route—now called the Red Line for its shiny red buses. Buses run every 10 minutes. Two new East-West lines (the Blue and Yellow lines) link the city east to west along Main-Union and Forest Hill-Woodstock Road via University. These lines run every 15 minutes all day long.
New provincial funding for an Age-Friendly Cities initiative has given new life to the city. Older residents, many of them living in isolated apartment buildings, now benefit from new funding to improve public transit infrastructure. This makes apartment living a lot more desirable, and attracts retirees from all over the country to live in vibrant new mixed-use neighbourhoods like the one being retrofitted along Biggs Street near Forest Hill.
There are new bus shelters that would tell you when the next buses are coming. There are smaller buses to link denser but isolated neighbourhoods, like Lian Street and Marysville to the higher frequency lines. A new high frequency transit route—the Green Line—which runs from Hanwell to Knowledge Park just started this spring.
In the cold winter of 2023-24 the new rapid service bus lines became indispensable, especially after the oil shortages of February 2024—the result of an investors’ strike at Irving Oil’s refinery. The federal government was finally pursuing their tax haven practices in Bermuda, but that is another story.
At first, the bus system resembled ones that were already common in the 2010s. But since 2025, things have begun to get decidedly high-tech.
New federal funding gave access to new buses, especially ones that run on renewable energy. Who knew that design students from New Brunswick Community College’s new Urban Design programme could completely reconceptualize the interior furnishing of buses, suggesting new materials and arrangements that have just been bought by Germany and Italy for their public transit fleets.
NB Power has helped to revolutionize automobility, adding new infrastructure to replace the old private gas stations. Financing mobility has also changed. The CMHC—yes, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation!—teamed up with Canada Post—yes Canada Post!—to design new, public ownership of automobile fleets.
Generally, people don’t own their cars anymore. They rent a public service that gives them access to a car fleet managed by the public for the public, profit free. (The federal government is in litigation with car dealers, some from Fredericton, whose source of rent has been “expropriated” but given their lack of innovation in the face of the climate emergency, they have not garnered much public sympathy—meanwhile those lots up on Hanwell and Bishop’s Drive are an empty eyesore).
The mobility sector, as it is now called, has created hundreds of new jobs in Fredericton, some of them with high tech firms that run infrastructure systems in other cities, like apps that track buses and tell you about connections, or that order the public mini-bus service (sometimes actually just a car service, run by Canada Post) to come and pick you up to take you to main bus stations. These are not the call centre jobs of the 1990s either. They are unionized jobs, some in the public sector, that pay high qualified personnel a good wage with benefits.
After the 2024 municipal election, city council began quantifying expenses related to the Hill and comparing them with similar flat surfaces. It turns out that the Hill is a huge money pit, which the local tax base can’t compensate, especially as housing values there have stagnated. What will the city do about the Hill now that the age of oil is over?
A completely new city is being developed along what used to be Prospect St. You wouldn’t recognize it. Massive new housing developments in the parking lots of the old Fredericton Mall as well as around the Regent Mall have transformed those neighbourhoods into service hubs. The same occurred on a lesser scale around Brookside Mall, but there are plans for further development.
The future of the city, it seems, is rising up from the parking lots left empty. These are quickly becoming some of the city’s most efficient communities and have drawn significant residential mobility from more expensive cities, like Shanghai, Toronto and Sao Paulo, who now send high qualified personnel to live and work in cities where costs are lower and amenities are high. Much remains to be done, but the city has experienced significant growth as a result of the shift in the energy base of our society. But this shift alone is not why Fredericton is Canada’s growth capital. Well thought out urban planning is widely recognized as the key—and a forward looking group of city councillors deserve a lot of credit.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the last few years is how greater urban density in Fredericton has led to new types of sociability that differ entirely from the 2010s, when social media was all the craze. Today socializing takes place way more often face to face. People run into one another more often. But there are also more people in Fredericton moving around.
Older residents, especially retirees, are using the city in new ways, experimenting with new ways of being social and having fun in the Third Age. Young people, especially students, are less cut off from the city, and also use it in new ways thanks to the rapid service bus system. There is a student-run café on Main Street. Yes! On Main Street, a place few students went to until recently.
We don’t know yet whether the efforts we have made are enough. We are still decarbonizing our civilization at a global scale. The level of cooperation is unprecedented. Acceptance of a few sacrifices has shifted the public mood away from anger and cynicism so common in the 2010s and towards optimism and collaboration now in 2030. Fingers crossed, but there is a growing confidence that we have got this thing, that we can limit further carbon emissions, and maybe even prevent runaway climate change.
Matthew Hayes is a is associate professor of sociology and Canada Research Chair in Global Studies at St. Thomas University, Fredericton. In 2012, he ran for mayor of Fredericton on an ideas-based platform, focused on shifting our everyday lives in the city from high-carbon to low-carbon networks. Though he rides his bike to work, he is stuck in 2019’s high-carbon way of life, just like everyone else. Changing this won’t be the result of individual choices to avoid certain forms of consumption, but through collective decisions that change the way we live.
In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.
Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.
This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is a Masters student studying political economy at Carleton University and was an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at email@example.com and Abram Lutes at firstname.lastname@example.org.