Background Report for Regional Public Transit in the Northeast Avalon
The Regional Public Transit Coalition (RPTC) which was founded in 2011 is a citizen-led group actively engaging with interested municipalities, academics, non-governmental organizations, businesses, students, and concerned citizens to develop and implement a regional public transit system in the Northeast Avalon region, given that the Avalon region represents 51% of the province’s population (Statistics Canada, 2010a).
Our coalition’s overarching goal is to decrease provincial greenhouse gas emissions originating from the on-road transportation sector that was responsible for 31% of all of Newfoundland and Labrador’s greenhouse gases in 2009 (Newfoundland and Labrador Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading, 2011). As climate change continues to impact our communities and weather events are projected to become more frequent and more severe, the rising cost of adaptation will become increasingly prohibitive especially at the municipal-level. Climate and weather-related issues which impact our communities and environment include coastal hazards, inland flooding, drinking water challenges, slope failures, sea-level rise as well as ocean acidity and saline pattern changes (Catto, 2010; Mitchell, 2009).
Navigating climate change requires both sound adaptation strategies and strong mitigation approaches. While Newfoundland and Labrador only produces 1.4% of national greenhouse gas emissions, it was the 5th highest per-capita emitter in 2007 (Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation, 2011; Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network, 2011).
By incorporating a regional public transit system, the province can make significant strides towards its stated greenhouse gas reduction commitment of 10% below 1990 levels (9.448 MT) by 2020 as outlined at the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP). Currently we stand at 2.7% above 1990 levels (CCEEET, 2011).
Over the course of looking at our objective of greenhouse gas reduction in the transit sector we became aware of other transit challenges currently facing residents of the Northeast Avalon which will become more pronounced in coming years if not addressed in a timely manner. We found some of the most notable challenges to be in the spheres of employment, education, tourism, and our senior population.
An affordable regional public transit model would allow a greater number of prospective workers to be connected to employment opportunities. The Moving Forward: Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2011 (CCEEET, 2011) provincial policy document acknowledges that many people have to travel long distances to get to work. On average, over a thousand residents regularly travel between St. John’s and Mount Pearl to get to their location of employment, along with hundreds of people travelling within the Northeast Avalon region for work (Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Finance, n.d.). As the province with the highest unemployment rate, connecting workers to jobs is critical for economic development (Statistics Canada, 2008).
In terms of education, the government has been key in having our province’s university offer some of the lowest tuition fees in the country (Memorial University, 2011). However, connecting prospective students in the region to post-secondary institutions, such as to the Ocean Sciences Centre in Logy Bay, can be prohibitive given the reduced or lack of access to public transit. The Ocean Sciences Centre is a Memorial University institute that has 60 graduate students and 140 employees, but lacks the public transit needed to connect students to its facilities.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s population is rapidly aging, with the median age rising from 20.9 years in 1971 to 42.0 years in 2008 (Storey, 2009). Northeast Avalon regional population projections for 2025 demonstrate not only a higher senior population but one that is accelerating (people aged 60-64, 65-69, and 70-74 show an increase from 2011 to 2025 by 24.0%, 40.3%, and 77.4%, respectively) (Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Finance, 2011). In fact, demographic estimates for 2021 in Newfoundland and Labrador show it as the province to have the highest percentage of seniors at 22.5% of the population (Health Canada, 2002). The mobility needs of current and future seniors must be addressed and is not something that can be assumed to be met with private transportation.
Overall, the tourism industry continues to grow; in 2009 over half a million visitors came to the province to spend $411 million dollars in our businesses and services (Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, 2011). Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (2012) has identified access to transit as a key priority in promoting tourism industry growth. The tourism sector would benefit greatly from public transit which links tourists to the numerous destinations in the region, beginning with a bus that connects to the airport.
Transport Canada (2010) reflects upon these issues as well.
Sustainable transportation is often considered a “big city” issue. But in order to maintain economic and environmental health, and ensure equitable access to key services such as employment, educational institutions and medical services, smaller and rural communities in Canada also need to find solutions to increase mobility options for their citizens. (Transport Canada, 2010).
In Focusing Our Energy (Newfoundland and Labrador 2007: 59), the expressed position was that “the largest centres in the province are too small to economically support many forms of mass transit”, while the Moving Forward: Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2011 (2011: 35) four years later reiterates “the province’s population is too small to support public transit in most locations.” While the RPTC acknowledges that individual responsibility and business initiatives are important factors in energy efficiency as mentioned in the document, the lack of available public transit is one of the main causes contributing to our high greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emission increases in this sector are accelerating due to individual choices in automobile purchase and use. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of on-road vehicles rose from 367,069 to 526,894, representing a 43.5% increase (Statistics Canada, 2010b). Not only are on-road vehicles increasing in numbers, they are also increasing in size. On-road transportation greenhouse gas emissions in the province have increased by 28% from 1990 to 2008, and this increase is attributed to the transition from light duty gasoline automobiles to SUVs, vans and pickups. The larger vehicle class on average produces 40% more greenhouse gases than lighter vehicles. Between 2004 and 2008, emissions in this sector increased by 20% due to both the transition to heavier vehicles as well as the increase in the number of cars in the province (Environment Canada, 2010). The accelerated increase in this sector demonstrates that individual choices will not translate to desirable changes or target emission reductions. Lowering fuel consumption and vehicle purchase choices are peripheral to the systemic-level management required to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Newfoundland and Labrador is currently the only province in Canada which does not have some form of regional (three community plus) public transit system. We are cognizant of the challenges involved in implementing a regional public transit project in an area that has not previously serviced buses and in a place with this demographic distribution. However, by drawing upon best practices and lessons learned from successful case studies in the Atlantic Region, and more broadly in Canada, it is possible to compare and contrast models in places that face similar challenges to those of the Northeast Avalon.
Case study possibilities include the Government of Nova Scotia Sustainable Transportation Strategy applied by Kings Transit in Annapolis Valley, NS; and an example that blends the urban-rural population is the Nanaimo Regional Transit System in British Columbia. These case studies employed mechanisms and strategies to overcome comparable challenges that have traditionally been perceived to be too prohibitive.
The roadmap to a viable public transit system in the Northeast Avalon region can be created by conducting a comprehensive feasibility study that explores cost-sharing structures between multiple-levels of government and financing models tailored to the current and projected Newfoundland and Labrador context. By building a pilot project into the feasibility analysis, we can test the applicability and adjust where necessary to suit the regional context. This is not only an opportunity to include surrounding communities into the transit network, but also improve upon existing transit jurisdiction and concretely explore ways to increase ridership by changing attitudes and perceptions towards public transit.
The feasibility study must be conducted by a qualified consultant who understands public transit concepts. In this vein, RPTC recommends choosing a qualified transit planner well-versed in Transportation Demand Management principles and strategies. We understand that the initial cost of transit system implementation is substantial; however we also recognize the high environmental cost associated with not having a regional public transit system. By applying a well-researched financing model, a service delivery model, a demographic analysis, a transportation demand management study, community consultations, and a pilot component, regional public transit can play a vital role in the broader economic viability and environmental sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Dr. Don Deibel
Dr. Fred Winsor
Catto, N. (2010). A review of academic literature related to climate change: Impacts and adaptation in Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John’s, NL: Memorial University.
Environment Canada. (2010). National inventory report 1990-2008: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks in Canada. Ottawa: Environment Canada.
Health Canada. (2002). Canada's aging population. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada. Cat H39-608/2002E.
Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador. (2011). Policy Priorities: Access and Transportation. Retrieved from http://hnl.ca/advocacy/policy-priorities/access-and-transportation/.
Memorial University. (2011). Become an undergraduate student. St. John’s, NL: Memorial University.
Mitchell, A. (2009). Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation. (2011). Greenhouse Gases. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Finance. (year). Travel flow to usual location of work by place of residence, 2006 Census. Newfoundland & Labrador Statistics Agency Social and Economic Spatial Analysis Unit. St. John’s, NL: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
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Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation (TCR). (2011). Year-to-date (YTD) tourism highlights August 2011. St. John’s, NL: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
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Newfoundland and Labrador Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading (CCEEET). (2011). Energy efficiency action plan 2011: Moving forward. St. John’s, NL: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Newfoundland and Labrador Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading (2007). Focusing our energy. St. John’s, NL: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Statistics Canada. (2008). Provincial labour force differences by level of education. Catalogue no. 75-001-X. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2008105/pdf/5215211-eng.pdf
Statistics Canada. (2010b). Number of Road Motor Vehicle Registrations, Annual. Newfoundland and Labrador 1999-2009. CANSIM Table 405-0004. February 19, 2010.
Statistics Canada. (2010a). Annual Demographic Estimates: Subprovincial Areas 2004-2009. Catalogue no. 91-214-X. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-214-x/91-214-x2008000-eng.pdf
Storey, K. (2009). “Help wanted”: Demographics, labour supply and economic change in Newfoundland and Labrador. Harris Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.
Transport Canada. (2009). Sustainable transportation in small and rural communities. Retrieved from http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/programs/environment-utsp-smallnruralcomms-1012.htm