Question Period: Public Transportation System – June 3, 2015

Mr. Coon: As members present know, we are in the midst of Environment Week. The theme this year is around reducing consumption. Several municipalities across the province and many of our own constituency offices are participating in the Commuter Challenge. Anyone who takes public transit knows that it can be very challenging to get from point A to point B because transit commissions lack the budgets to provide frequent and efficient service.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure does not directly fund public transportation. Can the minister explain why his department spends tens of millions of dollars to support private transportation and nothing to support public transportation?

Hon. Mr. Melanson: Last week, my colleague from Moncton East and I participated in a joint announcement in the city of Moncton, where we are helping out with public transit. We have been strategically investing in public transit.

I would remind the member that, in this capital budget, we are also investing in renewable energy sources for our own assets, our own buildings. We believe that this is the right thing to do—to have more efficient energy and renewable energy in the way we supply energy to our buildings. Certainly we need to do more. We completely agree with this. As we move forward, we believe that this is the right direction in which to go—to keep investing strategically in terms of renewable energy and public transit.

Mr. Coon: Across the country, about 7% of transit revenue comes from provincial governments. That is not the case in New Brunswick. This makes us one of the odd ones out. In a world where fuel prices are volatile and the climate is warming rapidly, this government needs to provide for its citizens. It needs to provide a reliable and adequately funded public transit system, and that means contributing to what the municipalities contribute from their budgets and from ticket sales.

Will the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure reallocate a small amount of funding to support public transit in this province?

Hon. Mr. Melanson: Certainly all jurisdictions need to do more. We need to see more public transit. We need to invest strategically in these types of initiatives. The municipalities do a good job. The provincial government participates when it can in these types of initiatives. Our government participates in some announcements, and we have contributed financially to some of these public transit services that are offered around the province. However, we do it in partnership. That is why we have said, in our capital budget, that, when we can leverage our dollars with municipalities, and certainly with the federal government, we do so. This is one example of things that did happen.

I would remind the member that renewable energy is part of our strategy. Last week, the Minister of Energy announced an initiative whereby we will see more community-based renewable energy in the windmill sector. This is part of renewable energy and investing strategically.

Mr. Coon: To follow up on the question regarding public transit, the law currently restricts municipalities from serving their metropolitan areas with transit by requiring city transit commissions to operate within city limits. This means, for example, that Fredericton Transit does not have the authority to send a bus from downtown to the airport, from downtown to Oromocto, or from downtown to New Maryland.

Will the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure ensure that these restrictions are eliminated to give Fredericton Transit and the other public transit systems the freedom to serve larger markets beyond their city limits?

Hon. Mr. Melanson: To respond to the question, I have never received a request with regard to the question the member asked this morning. Any time we could encourage public transportation, we would do so. We believe that municipalities do a good job. We participate with them when we can, and we want to leverage our investments with other levels of government. We have a rural province, and that becomes challenging with regard to how we can offer public transit in some of our rural communities. The municipalities do a great job. They do what they can, and, when we can partner with them on public transit, we do.

With regard to the specific question that was asked, I have never received a request for that. If I did, we would certainly assess it.