Jane Austen once wrote, in Pride & Prejudice, that a “single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” A student in Fredericton, however, must be in want of a car.
Not all students have cars. For this reason, some of them must rely on public transportation to move around Fredericton, attend classes, and run day-to-day errands. For the last month, however, car-less commuters have been frustrated.
“A lot of the time, the buses come really late,” an anonymous interviewee told The Brunswickan.
“The buses themselves mostly run on time, but then in rush hour there are delays,” he continued.
“But it is not about delays, but about having a few backup buses if there are delays in certain routes,” the interviewee suggested.
Some of these instances have had disastrous consequences to UNB students: “I’ve missed a few classes [because of] those delays.”
Sébastien Galbrand, a 2nd year Bachelor of Arts student, has dealt with a similar situation. He told The Brunswickan that since coming back in late August he has “had multiple delays.”
“I even missed a class that was incredibly important,” he said, “and I’m gonna have to not re-do a test, but make up my grade some other time in the year.”
“I hope they get [the delays] under control,” Galbrand concluded.
James Paquet, a 4th year student in the Bachelor of Arts program, has also dealt with delays. He stated: “The buses are often late, at least by a few minutes, but being a few minutes doesn’t sound like that big of an issue.”
“Until you have to catch one transfer that will only be there an hour later if you miss it, and then it becomes an issue,” said Paquet.
“Or if it’s a question of being able to even find a seat on a bus that’s more crowded, getting there five or six minutes later than the bus normally would,” he continued, “it ends up that you don’t have time to get a seat and then you’re standing for a long period of time.”
Students also complained about the buses being too full, which results in uncomfortable rides. The anonymous interviewee stated: “The 8:15 bus that I take sometimes is packed and last Fall it wasn’t that bad.”
He suggests that, to solve this problem, perhaps there should be an increase in buses.
“The transit system needs to understand that they need more buses and they need them soon,” he concluded.
For students who don’t own a car and live on the North side, the transit system is their only option for affordable transportation.
“I just obtained my driver’s license,” said Paquet, “for the past few years I’ve been on campus and I haven’t had a license, and I live on the North side.”
“So I have to find the only way that’s somewhat affordable to get to campus, because the price of taxis and stuff is just outrageous here.”
With those issues in mind, The Brunswickan spoke to the UNB Student Union’s President Amanda Smith, and Vice-President Research and Policy, Rose Grant.
The UNBSU is currently advocating for changes in the transit system. “It’s been an on-going advocacy effort,” said Amanda Smith.
“This year we’ve been meeting with Charlene Sharp, the transit manager, and city councilors Bruce Grandy, Jason LeJeune, and Mayor Kate as well,” she continued.
Regarding the negotiation for a universal bus pass paid for on the tuition fees, Amanda said: “We are trying to advocate for affordable costs when currently they’re trying to come to us with more expensive costs in comparison to STUSU and GSA.”
“The amount was $220, and no opt-out. That is a lot of money.”
Although students really want a universal bus pass, its feasibility depends on getting Fredericton Transit on-board with the price and whether students may be available to opt-out.
“We’re planning to do a referendum,” said Smith. That would not be the first UNBSU referendum on this matter.
A vote was called on the universal bus pass in 2019. Smith explained that the “only reason” UNB undergraduates did not get the universal bus pass was that “they did not actually have enough percentage of voters to actually agree to it.”
Rose Grant, VP Research and Policy, stated that there has been a lot of work from the summer onwards.
“So we’ve had a lot of meetings with stakeholders in the community,” she said. Aside from government officials, the UNBSU also met with “the business community to understand their perspective.”
During the summer, Grant was involved in putting up a survey on the bus ridership for the UNBSU. Over 400 students responded to the survey, and 50% of the respondents were international students.
“The survey was great to understand how this kind of issue impacts individuals intersectionality,” she said, “we see a lot of international students who rely on the bus system.”
The survey makes sure that the SU understands “which communities are impacted disproportionally with the bus pass.”
For international students, the flaws in the transit system prove it to be a “barrier to education, coming to campus, or getting a part-time job.”
“If you think about it, too,” Grant said, “it is a barrier to even getting work experience in Canada while they’re studying.”
The bus pass was a huge concern for the survey. Grant said that the SU “wanted to see what students were willing to pay for the bus pass” before going into negotiations.
Students also indicated that the uptick in the cost of food, housing, and other essential goods rendered them unable to pay for the student bus pass.
“They are really having to pick and choose if it’s food or if it’s a bus pass,” she explained.
“Some folks indicated that sometimes the buses don’t even come, which is an issue for those who have a job interview and may not be able to get to it because [the bus] is late or hasn’t come.”
Amanda Smith also spoke about the issue of access and over-selling bus passes.
“We sell the student bus pass here [the SUB] at $55 a month, you can only get them here or at City Hall,” she said, “so that is another barrier for students to get them and then we run out, we can’t sell anymore.”
“We have been over-selling and it is about 300 to 400, but it is wild to think that if we run out then that’s it.”
In September, in fact, the UNBSU actually quickly ran out of bus passes before some students could get it.
“And it is becoming a huge obstacle,” said Smith, “and we’re gonna have somebody delivering these to us every month.”
“Think about that plus the cost of printing all these, and they can only print so many.”
A more affordable, and generally better transit system, would enable car-less students to have part-time jobs. Smith noted that it would “contribute to the Fredericton community economy.”
“We are not just thinking about what is in it for our students,” she said, “we’re thinking about what is in it on a global aspect.”
“How this can be a circle of return and give,” she continued, “that is why we are planning on doing a letter later on to get businesses to sign.”
The lack of Sunday service, Amanda points out, renders people unable to “be part of [their] community.”
“It does impact mental health,” she continued.
“Students are getting the slight end of everything right now, with the cost of living, cost of tuition, cost of books, of everything.”
Rose Grant pointed out that the issues with Fredericton transit also transpire into the housing market: “There may be available housing further away from campus, but students don’t want to access that because they don’t have a viable option to get to campus.”
Smith said that there needs to be the use of data on the part of the City of Fredericton to better circulate the bus lines.
“They want to chart over a term so they can get a real picture of it,” she said, “that data should be telling them where they need to do stops.”
“Whenever I’m out, I’ve been looking at buses to see if they’re full and like Downtown at six, seven o’clock. There’s four or five people on that bus, that’s it.”
Grant applauded the City of Fredericton for its recent use of data to better cater the transit system and established more bus stops where needed.
Smith emphasized that the adherence to data collection has been, in no small part, owed to the hiring of Charlene Sharpe as transit manager. She took office in February of 2022.
“Charlene Sharpe has done a lot of hard work trying to gather the data. She came into a situation that didn’t have the ground and the bones built for her, so she is doing it from the ground up.”
“She came from Toronto, and she was the Transit Commissioner there. And she also comes from Vancouver,” said Smith.
“We are very fortunate to have someone who is so experienced, and she has got a bit of something to fix. We know that she will.”
“Before this year there was really just no data to kind of indicate yet like spots that were being used a lot weren’t being used,” Grant said, “so we’re hopeful that that data can kind of indicate to the city where kind of there needs to be more stops.”
“There needs to be more bus routes,” she suggested, “so we’re hopeful that will help.”
“Of course we have been hearing from students reaching out to us about the delays, especially with the start of school.”
According to Amanda Smith, the city is currently looking into alternative viable options for Fredericton buses.
“They have actually been talking about half-buses, because our city doesn’t need such large buses.”
Improving student access to the transit system in Fredericton would also help the UNBSU in achieving its sustainability goals, which were outlined in the Strategic Goals for 2022-23. In fact, the Universal Bus Pass itself is listed as a goal in the document.
“Having individual cars on the road contributes to GHG emissions,” noted Grant, “if folks are using public transit, that reduces significantly.”
“It would not only help our goals, it would help the city’s emissions goals and would also help the province.”
“So we really see that this has an impact on not just our advocacy, but advocacy more broadly in the community.”
“We’ve come to the conclusion that there is like the colloquial term of ‘car culture’ in Fredericton,” said Grant, “and for obvious reasons, when transit doesn’t feel like a viable option to students.”
In these circumstances, “students are a lot more inclined to take a car.”
To address Fredericton’s car culture and its damaging effects on the environment, Amanda Smith said that the UNBSU is currently looking into launching a bike co-op.
But having reliable transit, she noted, would also play into that: “Why would I take the bus if I can’t trust it to come on time?”
“You know, like I said, I have my own car. I use it even though I live a five minute drive away, because it’s quicker and it’s easier for me and I know I can get there.”
“But if it was a reliable system, in the winter I’d probably use that instead of driving my own car because it is kind of scary,” Smith concluded.
Smith and Grant assert that the UNBSU has not faced many hurdles in its transit advocacy. Rose Grant emphasized that “a lot of the council members that we’ve met have been super eager to chat with us, to give us a little bit more perspective, and ask us some questions.”
“Students have been really great at giving us information,” said Grant, “they’ve been really great at just giving us their perspective on transit.”
Smith elaborated on that: “Even though it seems that students are the only ones that are having a problem with transit, it is something that is on the minds of everyone.”
“At the Chambers Committee, that is the big thing: transit, transit, transit, everybody is saying transit,” she noted, “we are all on the same page right now, which gives hope for us that there will be a solution for our students.”
However, there is still one problem: timing.
“It is all about the time, how soon,” said Smith.
City of Fredericton’s transit survey can be accessed here.