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 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.