City won’t continue free ride

Metrobus passengers say permanently waiving fares should be considered.

Mark Quilty

A student from Ridge Road campus waits at a bus stop to take a free ride.
A student from Ridge Road campus waits for the bus. Students have been one of the demographics using buses most often during the free fare weeks in the aftermath of the state of emergency. Mark Quilty/Kicker

Full seats, sometimes with people jostling for space on grab rails, is what buses have looked like in the two weeks since the city of St. John’s weathered the biggest snowstorm it has seen in recent memory.

During the state of emergency caused by the storm which began ripping into the Avalon on Jan. 17, the St. John’s Metrobus fleet was pulled from the roads. Since the state of emergency ended, bus fares have been waived for any passenger looking for a ride. City officials wanted to keep the roads clear to allow snow-clearing operations to proceed.

Coun. Ian Froude is chair of the St. John’s transportation commission.

“The fewer vehicles on the road have really helped snow clearing,” he said.

Buses have been packed full in the two weeks they’ve been free. Major routes, such as those servicing Memorial University and the Avalon Mall, have seen overwhelming amounts of riders.

“Making buses entirely free, for everyone, isn’t our priority.”

“We’ve seen the amount of riders go up from 11,500 to 15,000 in this free period, that’s a 30 per cent increase,” said Froude.

Every walk of life has taken advantage of the free bus rides. 

Jason Anthony says he’s been hopping on the bus to go to work and everyday needs, too.

“Buses are more filled, yeah,” said  Anthony. 

Anthony says he’s used the free rides almost everyday since the eight-day state of emergency ended. But he wonders if maybe the city should just make buses free all year round. 

“I think it would be a good idea. Some people really can’t afford $2.50 everyday,” said Anthony.

Cities in Europe, like Dunkirk, France, and Tallinn, Estonia, have removed fares. These cities have switched to providing taxpayer-funded public transit. St. John’s city council, however, doesn’t see this as the way forward.

“Making buses entirely free, for everyone, isn’t our priority,” said Froude. “Our priority is making transportation more affordable for everyone, especially groups, low-income people, [those] who need it.”

The free ride ends Feb. 7.

Chris Mullins is a long-time resident who’s rode the buses since he was a kid.

“They should do it, as a pilot project,” said Mullins about making the buses free permanently. “See how it goes. The city should see how people respond, and listen.”

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