New Brunswick shortchanged $1.6M by federal transit fund

Moncton, Miramichi officials say passenger numbers way off in formula Ottawa uses to divvy up transit funds
By Robert Jones, CBC News 
Posted: Jul 28, 2016

Confusion and disagreement over city bus passenger numbers in Moncton and Miramichi is raising more questions about whether New Brunswick is being shortchanged by the federal government's new Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.

The $3.4-billion fund was announced in the Trudeau government's March budget to expand public transit systems across Canada.

It will pay for 50 per cent of the cost of capital projects — such as buying new buses — and is being divided up over three years based on passenger levels transit systems reported to the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) in 2014.

But there are questions about whether those statistics have failed to account for up to one million transit passengers in New Brunswick, mostly in Moncton, an amount that would qualify for an extra $1.6 million in funding, if verified.

"We need to have these funds to invest in our transit systems," said Green Party leader David Coon, who has criticized the program's treatment of New Brunswick since it was announced.

"They can fix this, they should fix this, they must fix this."

The transit fund, which proposes to pay transit systems $1.63 per passenger based on 2014 ridership levels, will see the vast majority of its money go to large Canadian urban centres with major transit systems.

N.B.'s small allocation
New Brunswick, which has two per cent of Canada's population, was allocated only 0.26 per cent of the transit money — $8.74 million — based on 5.35 million passengers that CUTA says used public transit in 2014 in Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton and Miramichi.

But Moncton's Codiac Transpo believes numbers being used for it are 937,000 passengers too low and Miramichi says its passenger number, which is recorded by CUTA as being zero in 2014, is a definite error.

"Hopefully we get some. Anything would be helpful," said Miramichi transit general manager Jim Malone.

​Miramichi did not fill out its CUTA paperwork in 2014, but its 2013 report shows it served 65,800 passengers.

That would be enough to qualify Miramichi for about $107,000 in transit funding if its 2014 levels were similar and counted.

Malone said the money would help a lot in the purchase of the small $80,000 buses used by Miramichi Transit.

"We need new buses. I'm looking at peanuts here and I haven't got peanuts," said Malone.

But the bigger issue is in Moncton where Codiac Transpo claims to have carried 2.44 million passengers in 2014 but CUTA recorded only 1.5 million.

'No real consultation'
Angela Allain, Codiac's general manager, said the larger number is the accurate one but the transit service had no say in what figure was used.

"This has all been done through CUTA and the federal government. There's no real consultation with the transit systems," said Allain.

"We just have to accept that because we can't change it. We were too late in asking for our case to be heard."

The difference between the two passenger numbers is considerable, lowering Codiac Transpo's three-year grant amount to $2.5 million from $4 million.

But Allain said she prefers to look at the bright side of what is happening.

"It's good news the federal government is funding transit. We've never seen this before, I don't want to diminish that," she said.

But Coon is not as charitable, and said the funding formula hurts New Brunswick too much to let additional problems with passenger counts slide.

"It's completely and utterly unfair. It's pathetic the money New Brunswick is receiving proportionate to the other provinces," he said.

Saint John Transit is in line for the largest grant of $3.7 million.

Fredericton getting more than Moncton
Fredericton, which has just 27 buses — 12 fewer than Moncton — will qualify for $2.55 million, the second-largest amount.

Federal government spokeswoman Jen Powroz said Ottawa is still working on an agreement with New Brunswick on how the transit money will be delivered to the cities and cannot comment on the issue.

"Until such time as the agreement is finalized, the department cannot provide further information on the allocations for the municipal transit agencies in New Brunswick," Powroz wrote in an email.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association said only its chief executive Patrick Leclerc could speak about its passenger counts in New Brunswick and he was not immediately available.