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At a Crossroads


Effective public transportation systems important in the development of an economy

> PUBLISHED April 22, 2016    |    WRITTEN BY Kieran Hanley

transportation newfoundland

From supporting the innovative potential of a region, to helping get tourists to their destinations, public transportation systems really matter

If you are living somewhere on the Northeast Avalon and have attended an engagement session or consultation in recent years about city planning, regional cooperation, neighbourhood improvement, etc., odds are that ‘public transportation’ has been a hot topic – even if it wasn’t on the agenda.

This is of course, in part, due to the fact that public transportation is a service that has an impact on a wide swath of a population – from the student to the senior, the low-income earner to the professional, and the tourist to the environmentalist.

What may not always be apparent is that a public transportation system, for better or for worse, can have a significant effect on an economy.

At the high level

In business, the ease at which products and services can move from one place to another is an important financial and logistical consideration. In the case of public transportation, the ‘business’ is our economy, and people are the products and services. The speed and simplicity at which people can get around a region impacts the bottom line of a local economy.

An efficient public transportation system links important resources together – such as airports, research centres, hospitals, schools, and commercial districts – making it easy for individuals to get from one to the other. This in turn contributes to the ease of knowledge transfer and idea sharing within a region – factors of the innovative potential of an economy.

It also facilitates the movement of labour, ensuring potential workers can reach employers no matter where they live in a region or whether or not they can afford to buy a car.

From the taxpayer perspective

While these ideas are somewhat abstract, there are very practical economic reasons for a good public transportation system. Efficient public transportation systems will provide relief for aging infrastructure – like roads, bridges, and intersections – that were built for the traffic of the 1980’s and ill-equipped to handle the traffic of the 2000’s. The resulting decreased traffic congestion prolongs the life of infrastructure and facilitates faster travel.

On the other hand, an inadequate public transportation system reinforces the use of cars for everyday activities, and impacts the design of a region. You may have heard the term ‘urban sprawl’. Sprawl occurs when the developed boundaries of a city or region continue to be expanded upon with predominantly residential growth. The growth of a region is, of course, desirable. However, sprawl requires that services like roads, sewers, garbage collection, water, etc. must also expand geographically to meet resident needs. These are major expenditures for local governments.

An effective public transportation system will reduce the need for an individual to use a car for every-day commutes. This in turn increases the demand for residential expansion within existing developed areas of a region, while reducing demand for residential expansion on the outskirts. What does this equate to? The same services are provided to the same number of people, but in a smaller geographic area – which means savings for the local government and ultimately the taxpayer.

An example

To tie all of this together an example might be helpful. Let’s take Joe, from an engineering firm located off of Kenmount Road, who has a lunch-time meeting at Memorial University. While one employee leaving the business park on Kelsey Drive for a meeting at MUN seems trivial, consider that 100 other people have a meeting on campus at the same time, competing for limited parking spaces. Now consider the amount of lunch-time meetings region-wide, and the number of people on their lunch break. If everyone takes their individual cars, that is a lot of traffic on the road in a region not designed to handle it, and the inefficiency of moving from point A to point B either requires a lot more time than it should or actually becomes a deterrent for such meetings to take place.

An efficient public transportation system links important resources together – such as airports, research centres, hospitals, schools, and commercial districts – making it easy for individuals to get from one to the other

Conceivably, an effective transportation system would take individuals to and from these points of interest. This would have a series of consequences. From the perspective of Joe, who only really needs his car because he lives in CBS and his spouse works in downtown St. John’s, can now get to work and to most of his meetings with the ease and reliability of the public transportation system. This frees up significant money in his family for other uses. From the taxpayer’s point of view, existing road infrastructure sees less wear and tear from reduced congestion. The competition for parking would be reduced, and in fact the overall need for spaces across the region is reduced – allowing land to be used for more valuable purposes which could potentially increase tax revenues or increase the quality of life in a neighbourhood. Meanwhile, in Paradise, a residential developer weighs redeveloping an old school into apartment units versus creating a new subdivision on the outskirts. She discovers that there is more demand for the apartments which are on a major bus route. The same amount of services will be provided by the town to the same number of people, yet over a much smaller geography – meaning savings for the taxpayer.

Other stakeholders

Aside from strictly economical factors, public transportation has many other impacts on our region and its communities. For example, the environmental advantages of an effective transit system can be considerable. Specific to Newfoundland and Labrador, it is estimated that ‘transportation’ is responsible for approximately 30% of the province’s carbon emissions. While much of this can be attributed to large trucks crossing the province and marine vessels, it is important to remember that more than half of the province’s population lives on the Avalon Peninsula – with most of those people crammed in to its Northeast. It is reasonable to assume that a large portion of the passenger traffic in the province takes place within that area, and that this is a significant contributor of greenhouse gasses. In this context, the effectiveness and broad use of a public transportation system can have a tangible impact on the environment – moreso if the system’s assets and operations were ‘green’ as well.

None of this even takes in to consideration the societal demand for effective public transportation systems. The quality of public transit greatly impacts the mobility of students, the financially stressed, new Canadians, tourists, and the elderly – an important concern in Newfoundland and Labrador which is seeing its population age rapidly.

So what’s the issue?

So public transportation (1) has important economic development implications, (2) can significantly reduce impact on the environment, and (3) is demanded by a number of important groups in society.

How does this explain the state of regional transportation on the Northeast Avalon? Why, despite continued and persistent demand over the course of a long period of time, is there no system? How is this lack of public infrastructure impacting our communities, our industries, and economy at large?

These are themes that the nlpost will be exploring in the months to come in this paper. If you have strong feelings regarding the state of public transportation in the region, and would like to contribute, have your say on the interactive chalkboard at http://www.nlpost.ca/transportation.

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> About the Writer
Kieran Hanley is the Owner and Publisher of the nlpost.