It’s a discriminatory practice that excludes some low-income earners from the workforce and prevents others from taking classes that would provide them with the skills to contribute to the economy. If you don’t own a vehicle or know a dependable person with equally dependable transportation, your only option is a private taxi.
This is certainly well beyond the means of the minimum or modest wage-earner, the student not within walking distance of their classes with no reliable transport, and those who don’t wish to become nuisances by begging rides to and from appointments or errands.
As usual, it is the people at the bottom who are the most negatively affected. Anne Collins Brown, client services officer with the Carbonear office of the Single Parent Association of N.L., has identified lack of affordable public transit as the main problem faced by her non-profit service agency. Collins Brown teaches pre-employment classes to single parents receiving income support and she is frustrated.
“We could have a lot more people going through our doors, people could be prepared for the workforce or for schooling or for whatever they choose to do next, but they’re not getting that opportunity because they can’t get here,” she said.
Bus companies in the area mainly do charter and school runs now. Most representatives did not want their companies named nor see their comments in print, but collectively they claim the big buses that once trundled through the communities are no longer profitable. Too many people have vehicles and passengers are going the way of the dinosaur. And no doubt there is some credibility to their argument.
But while the day of the large motor coach may be over, there are smaller models that could work well between our communities and also give a much-needed connection to St. John’s. Jason Roberts, owner of the trans-island bus company DRL, would look at the feasibility of moving into the region, if asked, but he never has been.
It is here where municipal leaders can help, but it is not a problem to which they give much attention. Some see it as an issue, but not a priority issue like roads, water and sewer, snowclearing and public safety. It’s simply a side issue, of paramount importance only to those affected and those affected are usually the least likely to make their voices heard because they feel they will be ignored.
This may not be the case and a bit of prodding never hurts. Gord Power of the Joint Councils of Conception Bay North, while familiar with the issue, said it was never raised by council members in the few months he has served as chair. It takes just one phone call to have it placed on the agenda for a meeting in late February. Clayton Branton, chairman of the Joint Mayors’ Association for Trinity-Bay de Verde, didn’t think there was any problem among working-age persons getting to and from employment or classes in the 1l communities that fall under the association’s umbrella. It was pretty much a non-issue, but one phone call later he is at least willing to bring it to the table.
Ironically, Collins Brown knows a potential client in Heart’s Delight who can’t attend her program because the person has no way to get to-and-from Carbonear. Branton is mayor of Heart’s Delight-Islington.
It is understandable why municipal governments are reluctant to wade in. They realize it can’t be done without a government subsidy and they think that will be hard to get. Perhaps it will. But Prime Minister Trudeau has promised multi-billion dollar investment for public transit. Surely our municipalities, social-service agencies and other interested groups can lobby hard enough to tap into that.
Premier Ball has promised improved transportation for seniors. Such a service could be expanded to embrace other disadvantaged groups. It is disappointing that MHA’s Steve Crocker and Pam Parsons have never even received one request to discuss lack of affordable public transportation from anyone.
So, it’s time for we who need it to shout. Don’t settle for the politicians’ standard answer that “we’ll look into it,” because it may just be tokenism. Don’t assume Trudeau’s transit plan is limited to construction and repair for cities only or let others convince us it is. If we organize and keep applying pressure, something, excuse the pun, will eventually move.
It’s time to ask Municipal Affairs, Transportation and Works or DRL to look at the issue and see what’s best for us. What we don’t want in our worsening economy is working-age people collecting income support because they have no means of either getting to a job or to the skills classes which will equip them to take one. That’s not only outrageous. It’s just plain stupid.
Pat Cullen is a journalist and community volunteer who lives in Carbonear.
She can be reached at 596-1505