A Tale of Two Twinnings: Routes 7 & 11

New Brunswickers love their highways. New Brunswickers love talking about their highways. AND New Brunswickers love talking about what highways should be twinned next. It’s a common subject and one which can be brought up with any resident just about anywhere to get an opinion on the subject.

Because New Brunswick’s population is still made up of a significant rural population many residents are spread throughout the regions of the province. Although the province is not that large compared to an Ontario or a Quebec, a sizeable portion of its population lives outside of its major population centres, so having connecting highways that are both efficient and safe for travel are important to a large number of residents as well as businesses.

In total, New Brunswick has roughly 825KM of twinned, four-lane highway for a population hovering around 755,000.

A lot of discussion in the past has revolved around two Highways that likely should be twinned but haven’t been for whatever reason you’d like to believe. Some in Saint John will make the joke that there is no twinned highway to the Capital from Saint John for a good reason, and the lack thereof shows Fredericton’s contempt for the southern port city. Others, in Kent County, may point to political favouring and posturing as why Route 11 may not have been twinned in the past, or a dwindling population in rural parts of Northeastern New Brunswick. Others have been very pro-twinning, stating that it will bring economic impacts and tourists (more-so for Route 11) to areas currently underserved by them, whilst others go further and say twinning highways will pull tourists away from local towns (Charlotte County Route 1).

It’s a tricky and sometimes controversial subject.

ROUTE 11

Route 11 is, at this stage, the most likely to be twinned in New Brunswick as there is currently work being down to twin a short segment from Shediac Bridge to Shediac River. Initial, potential plans for Route 11 had it being twinned as far north as Miramichi, but as the following numbers indicate traffic does not warrant twinning that far north.

The following are AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic) numbers for Route 11 from 2010, 2012, and 2014.

aadt-route-11-2010-2014

These numbers highlight increasing traffic between Shediac and Richibucto until it tails off further north before further tailing off the further one travels north. The Province of New Brunswick and Department of Transportation indicate that an AADT of roughly 8,000 is the amount required to investigate twinning of a segment of highway, and nearly all of Shediac to Richibucto will meet that in the near future with its current trending. The sections of Route 11 north of Richibucto barely meet half of that requirement currently.

aadt-route-11-2014

The current project underway is twinning a section of Route 11 from Shediac Bridge to Shediac River, a short section of the southern portion of Route 11. Traffic dictates this is (or will be soon) needed further north towards Bouctouche. Further twinning north to Richibucto seems to be destined as well, although this will depend on political expediency and safety concerns.

Those that desire full twinning of Route 11 seem to be grasping at straws at least as far as the AADT numbers indicate. The numbers do not pick up high enough again until Route 11 is well into Miramichi and crossing the Miramichi River, and are only high enough for that river crossing. Although full twinning would provide a higher degree of safety for motorists the traffic numbers are not there to warrant it, and the CBC lists Route 11 as having a lower collision rate than other two-lane highways in the province.

In fact, one report on Route 11 twinning from 2012 found that safety concerns were not warranted on Route 11 compared to other routes in the province.

ROUTE 7

Route 7 is the primary highway route connecting two of New Brunswick’s largest population centres: Saint John & Fredericton. For a stretch of highway less than 100km in length connecting two major NB Cities it would seem obvious that this would have been twinned and would have the traffic necessary for that twinning. However, Department of Transportation’s AADT numbers tell a different story:

aadt-route-7-2010-2014

These numbers highlight Route 7’s stagnating, and in some areas decreasing, traffic trends. If we remove sections of Route 7 that are shared with Route 2 from Oromocto and Fredericton we’re left with a particular trend: The average traffic on Route 7 between Oromocto and Saint John has been decreasing from an average AADT of 6,201 in 2010, to 6,077 in 2012, to 5,750 in 2014. The biggest loss of traffic are in Nerepis (-210), Welsford (-1,270), and Petersville (-540). The North section near Geary and the South section nea Grand Bay have seen increases over this time frame.

On the whole it seems likely that Route 11 is on the precipice of twinning whilst Route 7 is heading in the opposite direction, at least for its full length. The newly opened twinned section which bypasses Welsford (and replaced an awful winding section which traveled through the time) seems to have dwindling traffic, or at least its numbers have fallen as the new bypass has replaced the old. Time will tell if these numbers continue to trend.

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On the Gagetown Ferry

The government of New Brunswick currently maintains 13 ferries running on nine different routes running throughout the southern half of the province. Some of these routes connect islands to the mainland whilst the others connect communities across bodies of water, most prominently the Saint John River. For the sake of livelihood ferries that connect to islands are an absolute necessity for those that live on the islands and those traveling to them, either for work or personal or touristic reasons.

It’s important to make the distinction to what should be considered “vital” ferries: These islands would not be accessible by vehicle otherwise.

Six of the thirteen ferries are used on four different routes connecting Islands:
Grand Manan (two ferries)
Fundy Isles (two ferries)
White Head Island
Kennebecasis Island

The remaining seven ferries run on five different routes traversing the Saint John River:

Belleisle Bay
Evandale
Westfield (two ferries)
Gondola Point (two ferries)
Millidgeville

This is a reduction in ferry service in the province following the provincial government’s decision in 2016 to remove the Gagetown ferry service which operated between Gagetown and Lower Jemseg crossing the Saint John River. The northernmost ferry on the system, it was located roughly 15km south of the nearest river crossing bridge (Jemseg-Coytown), which is Trans-Canada Highway Route 2. The ferry immediately served the Village of Gagetown (2011 Census population of 698) along with the nearby communities of Queenstown and Lower Jemseg.

Gagetown Ferry

When the Gagetown Ferry service was axed in February the province announced savings of “about $5 Million” on what they called the lowest ridership ferry in the province. It’s proximity to a nearby river crossing was another reason for its elimination.

The distance north to the nearest river crossing from the former Gagetown Ferry site is approximately 15km and provides a highway, grade-separated crossing via bridge. The nearest river crossing to the south would be the Evandale Ferry in Evandale, which is a 30km drive (roughly 20-25 minutes). The Trans-Canada crossing to the north connects to a river crossing in Cambridge-Narrows further to the northeast, allowing access to Eastern Grand Lake and to communities located on Washdemoak Lake. The crossing to the south in Evandale provides access to another ferry crossing to the Southeast crossing Belleisle Bay.

As previously noted on this blog, the rural population of New Brunswick is deteriorating – and it’s deterioration will only quicken in future years. This future deterioration is due in part to rural areas in New Brunswick having a higher median age and higher percentage of senior citizens (persons aged 65+). Gagetown Ferry predominantly served this rural population.

Gagetown ferry is located in Queens County, which is New Brunswick’s oldest county by median age (51.3) along with having New Brunswick’s highest percentage of persons 65 or older (24.40%). The population of Queens has declined by 12.3% between 1991 and 2011, dropping from 12,519 to 11,086 in that timeframe. Queens County’s share of NB’s total population has declined from 1.73% in 1991 to 1.48% in 2011. This trend is assumed to continue with the 2016 Census numbers which are to be released in roughly six months time.

Queens County Population (1991-2015)

StatsCan’s estimates numbers don’t provide a prettier picture for the area. StatsCan estimates a 2015 population for Queens County of 10,415, a decline of over 600 residents in five years. For the sake of this exercise it appears as though the area immediately surrounding the Gagetown Ferry’s former location is becoming less and less populated, thus rendering the ferry less and less feasible from a future ridership perspective.

[Queens County actually encompasses all of Grand Lake including the communities of Minto and Chipman further north which provide for a bump in the population despite their relative distance from the Ferry’s location. For the sake of this article i’m using the county, but my Municipal Subregions could also be used. In this instance, the immediately-served area of South Queens has a population of under 3,000 in 2011]

With these numbers in mind is there the possibility that potential money invested in a future Gagetown Ferry would be good return on investment? Tourist numbers are cited as a reason why the Ferry should maintain operation, but tourists who are driving to this area should already be accustomed to driving long-ish distances and shouldn’t mind driving the extra 20/30km in either direction for an alternative river crossing.

Would residents in the areas served directly by the former Gagetown ferry be willing to pay a toll to cross, to perhaps provide some sort of revenue stream for their operation? I have a feeling there are not enough local residents to supply enough revenue for the ferry to operate unless the provincial government covered some of the costs.

In 2009, when the Graham Liberals were threatening to remove the Gagetown Ferry, they offered that the Gagetown Ferry could stay in operation if the local residents operated it. In this scenario, the only way this would be feasible would be if the local parishes and local service districts amalgamated with the Village of Gagetown, granting themselves more control over their local area and perhaps taking on the onus of operating their own ferry separate from the provincial government. As it stands, the province runs ferries, which means taxpayers from all over the province are on the hook for a local service in a rural area with declining population and traffic. How sympathetic is the average person in Moncton, Miramichi, or Edmundston going to be?

At least from a statistical point of view it appears that the business case for a ferry is declining as the local population declines, and it’s entirely feasible that the government’s removal of the ferry service was a wise one in the long run so long as the expenditures saved in the process are worth the reduction in immediate access to local residents. It’s always tough to see services like these reduced, but with nearby alternative crossings and a declining potential userbase it’s difficult to argue against.

Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Recently Interprovincial Trade Barriers (IPTBs) have been in the news in New Brunswick for the case of Gerard Comeau, whose alcohol purchased in Quebec was seized upon re-entry into NB. Since then the entire case has been a roller coaster giving us a pretty good example of why IPTBs are so terrible to begin with.

 

Recently I had the opportunity to write on IPTBs which will be posted below. Although it focuses on Alberta’s economy (as was required at the time for the article in question) the same can apply to New Brunswick. IPTBs are a Provincial mechanism used to protect the Province in question from being taken advantage of by other provinces through export/import variables in trade. Consider it like children building forts in the living room and bothering each other whilst the parent, in this case the Federal Government, ignores or pretends they’re not doing this at all. Over time the lack of cooperation will be detrimental, but it’s difficult to convince one province alone to remove their IPTBs whilst the others still benefit from them.

This is precisely why Federal leadership needs to happen on the IPTB file, or more ridiculous cases such as Comeau’s will continue to occur.


Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Interprovincial Trade Barriers (IPTBs) in Canada are denying access throughout the country to export-oriented businesses seeking to move their products outside of the borders of their province. As the Federal Government continues to sign free-trade agreements with dozens of countries around the world the domestic trade environment within Canada is stymied – trade barriers prevent many businesses from expanding and capitalizing on new and emerging markets. This Policy Resolution recommends abolishing current trade barriers in Canada and proposes the Federal Government take action in creating a trade-free domestic zone throughout Canada for Canadian businesses.

The MacDonald-Laurier Institute’s report on IPTBs (2010) titled “Citizen of One”  estimated a very conservative figure of $8 billion per year was lost due to provincial trade barriers – or roughly $242 per Canadian; $940 for a family of four. Due to changes in national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year, that number can swing up to 2% higher or lower each year.[1] Canada’s Public Policy Forum, when exploring the impacts of IPTBs in 2013, found that interprovincial trade has increased despite these barriers – up from a total of $107B in 1984 to $177B in 1998. Alberta had consistently the third highest interprovincial trade import and export numbers in Canada, only behind Ontario and Quebec.[2]

The agreement currently in place which covers trade barriers in Canada is the Agreement on Internal Trade (1994) (AIT) which was concluded prior to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) coming into effect.  Although the AIT benefited the procurement processes in many provinces by 2016 standards it is outdated and in need of replacing. Because provinces can individually sign trade agreements amongst themselves the AIT has become outdated. In 2010 Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan signed The New West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWPTA)[3].  This agreement was reached to remove barriers on labour movement whilst also removing some fees, levies, and taxes on services and goods moving between the provinces. Although beneficial for these provinces more still needs to be done as these barriers still exist with other provinces.

Goods and services that have extreme difficulty moving through borders are alcohol, professional businesses (accountants, dentists), chicken products, and dairy products. Because provinces are not standardized on items such as transportation of goods this leads to issues where each province has different rules for how transportation companies can operate. Many provinces have different standards and regulations for certification of different professions.

Provinces are individually responsible for accreditation of numerous professions which makes ease of movement difficult for relocating professionals as well as protecting residing professionals from competition. Regulations in place for the issuers of securities, for example, require them to comply to 13 different regulations across the country; one for each province and territory. Regulations such as this make Canada a less attractive market to foreign investors, and create unnecessary costs on Canadian businesses. [4]

Current trade barriers also mean that provinces give preferential treatment to local, provincially-based companies and corporations bidding on government contracts. Local companies can undercut a more qualified bid from a company in a neighbouring province quite easily.

In August 2014 the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released an open letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne asking that the Premiers reform the AIT and bring it into the 21st century. Headed by the CFIB, the open letter was signed by the CEOs of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, The Dairy Processors Association of Canada, Restaurants Canada, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, amongst others. Their goal was to open domestic Canadian trade markets and make Canada more open for business for Canadian companies. [5]

Other countries have benefited greatly from reforming IPTBs and removing red tape for their businesses. Two examples are Australia and Switzerland; both have provinces (states and cantons, respectively) which are similar to Canada’s in the makeup of their federal systems. Their agreements were based on mutual recognition of products created in those countries. This would work in Canada by creating mutual recognition for any product created in Canada, meaning that if mutually recognized it could move to any other location in the country and not be subject to taxes or fees. Canadian provinces have agreed on mutual recognition in the past when attempting to update AIT.

Writing in 2014, the Managing Director of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, Brian Lee Crowley, pleaded with then Minister of Industry James Moore to take a hard-line approach to the reform of IPTBs in Canada[6]. He argued that because the provinces have created the very barriers that exist today it is unfeasible to ask them to remove them on their own. Thus, it was proposed, that Ottawa take the rare step in leading on this policy file. Minister Moore estimated at the time that lost business in Canada due to interprovincial trade barriers totaled over $50 billion –

Crowley guessed it was a much higher figure than that – he was under the belief that Ottawa was playing too “nice” with the Provinces and it was time to take charge.

Resolving Interprovincial Trade Barriers

Recommendations:

 Encourage the Federal Government of Canada, via the Minister of Industry, to remove current IPTBs in Canada and to replace them with a Federal Act which would harmonize and open up the Canadian domestic market for businesses seeking to export interprovincially.

  • Create an Act of Parliament which would:
    • Remove and prohibit restrictive trade barriers between provinces. Take into consideration some provinces delicate economies
    • This would replace the AIT and BNA Act 1867 – both of which allow provinces to create IPTBs
  • Create a new Charter for Economic Activity in Canada, which would outline internal trade and open up provinces for business with each other
    • Create a Commission of Economic Activity which would hear grievances from provinces and companies and oversee larger-scale issues as they arise
    • Encourage accreditation of professional services to be aligned amongst provinces. This can include lawyers, dentists, accountants, etc.
    • Revise procurement practices in Canada and prevent local/regional monopolies over government contract bidding
    • Encourage the transportation industry to be harmonized throughout Canada. Create one national weighting, registration, and design system for vehicles transporting goods.
    • Ensure no overlap is made with past or retained trade barriers, if necessary (NWTPA, etc.)
    • Merge provincial boards into reformed national boards (Dairy, etc.)
  • That the Minister of Industry be responsible for said Economic Activity Charter and Commission.

[1] http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/citizenofone/

[2] http://www.ppforum.ca/sites/default/files/Beaulieu%20-%20Exploring%20the%20economic%20impact%20of%20AIT%20chapters.pdf

[3] http://www.newwestpartnershiptrade.ca/

[4] https://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/backgrounder_106.pdf

[5] http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/cfib-documents/5581.pdf

[6] http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/crowley-in-the-globe-fixing-interprovincial-trade-up-to-the-feds/

On Uber and Saint John taxis

In the past month city councils in Ottawa and Toronto have legalized the ride-sharing app known as Uber.

For those unfamiliar, Uber’s app on your smartphone can be used to find vehicles that operate the same as taxis without the need of having to call or wait for taxis. Uber drivers, unlike their taxi counterparts, do not have to operate under municipal taxi laws (like having very expensive plates) and generally use their own vehicles in their spare time to make extra income on top of jobs they usually already have. The bonus of the Uber app is that you can watch via GPS where your car is in relation to your position; can split-fares with friends; never have to physically exchange money in the car; and, you can rate drivers (as well as drivers rating you as a passenger).

Because Uber does not pay the (sometimes obscene) price of municipal taxi plates their rides are generally much, much cheaper. My experience in Ottawa has been rides with Uber being anywhere from 15% to 40% cheaper than regular taxis depending on distance….along with a better overall customer experience. I’m not going to sugar coat this: Uber is a considerable step up over taxis when it comes to reliability, convenience, and pricing.

Part of this is the reason why taxi companies have been fighting so hard in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. The Taxi industry’s monopoly over local transport has been under attack as it has quickly become superceded by new and better technology. Part of this isn’t the taxis fault; Municipal guidelines, when they’re not spotty and very outdated, are generally very expensive and costly for individual taxi  drivers.

This should all sound familiar to residents of Saint John who have a very vocal, and very outdated, municipal taxi industry. Whilst other cities in Canada are having conversations about using smartphones to hail cabs and how to make lives easier for both taxi drivers and transport users, Saint John taxi drivers are fighting against meters in 2016, something that other cities have had in place for decades.

Saint John’s taxi demands are dishearteningly out of place and time. Taxi drivers in Saint John believe that once a vehicle is inspected and deemed safe it should be permitted to be used as a taxi. That’s any vehicle ever. Regardless of age. Uber Ottawa cannot be used with a vehicle more than six years old. Toronto Uber vehicles must be inspected twice a year. These taxis in Saint John have resisted metres for decades on the claim of rising fares ( and their proof is using a metre on one taxi as a test for such a system with zero outside oversight. Just accept their findings as absolute truth, yes?).

Saint John has had a plethora of issues with its taxi industry in the past…from overcharging cruise ship passengers for simple trips, to this metre issue, to having a fleet of cars where a majority (65%) are older than seven years. Saint John is a large, vast city, with a difficult terrain; difficult to get around in without a vehicle. Saint John Transit, for all of its benefits, does not have a consistent enough frequency or coverage area to make it a reliable, dependable transit option off of the main routes. This is where taxis come in and where they can be an actual benefit to the population.

I see three options:
1) Seek out Uber, or a company like it, to completely revitalize the taxi and private transportation company (PTC) environment in the City. Allow competition between the monopolized taxi industry and newer private industry. With its large area for a relatively small population this sort of company should have a steady base of users so long as the company is not targeted negatively and viewed as outsiders.

2) Encourage current Saint John taxi companies to modernize and join the 21st century of taxi, spurred on in many areas by the entrance of competition. How difficult would this be given the taxis insistence on fighting even the smallest of changes (metres)?

3) Do nothing, and let the status quo remain.

Uber, and PTCs in general, allow normal citizens to make a bit of extra income by driving and delivering others around without the necessity of owning an expensive taxi plate at the behest of a taxi company, which require hours and times and places without your say. An Uber driver has their own free will to work as little or as much as they’d like, depending on their own preferences, and are encouraged to drive more with surge pricing during peak hours or days (think holidays, cruise ships, major events).

To put it simply: View Uber drivers as part-time workers. They can be a student trying to cover tuition at UNB, or a bartender trying to pay off car insurance, or a parent trying to save money for their child’s education. Taxi drivers do all of these things, as well, but they have to work taxi as a full-time job with much less personal freedom in their work environment.

Perhaps i’m making the assumption that something like Uber or another PTC would work tremendously well in Saint John – I don’t know for sure; but could their introduction be any worse than the status quo? Saint John is actually the perfect market for developing sensible, evidence-based urban transport: It has a reasonably-sized population spread across a very large and hilly area. It’s difficult and financially unfeasible to reach a lot of it by bus, and expensive by taxi due to its expanse and the zone coverage that the current taxi industry wishes to maintain for obvious reasons.

There’s more at play here than just taxis: the overarching theme that cities in the Maritimes are falling behind their Canadian counterparts in modernizations such as this. If NB is serious about wanting to attract back the young people that have left it needs to seriously consider having municipalities that are strong and able to adapt to changing technological times. Encourage entrepreneurship.