With Metrobus $1.4M over budget, St. John's waits for provincial backing for relief funds

·2 min read
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen says federal funding for transit would go a long way in helping the city combat rising diesel prices, but the provincial government's support is needed to get it.  (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen says federal funding for transit would go a long way in helping the city combat rising diesel prices, but the provincial government's support is needed to get it. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

While Metrobus's fuel costs soar, the mayor of St. John's says he's still waiting to hear whether the provincial government will apply for federal relief funds.

Danny Breen told CBC News on Friday that emergency federal funding to help transit systems through the COVID-19 pandemic has been made available to municipalities, but isn't available unless the application is supported by the provincial government.

"There's roughly about $8.1 million in total available, that would be $4.1 [million] from the federal government. We want them to apply for that funding and be able to funnel some of that money back to transit in the city to be able to minimize the impact of the diesel cost, so we can avoid making other decisions such as raising fares or a reduction in services," he said.

"We need that partnership to get this done."

Breen said Metrobus burns about a million litres of diesel per year getting residents around the city, and that the current price of a litre of the fuel — just over $2.69 per litre on the Avalon Peninsula — is $1 per litre higher than what was budgeted by the city. The higher cost translates to about $1.4 million in extra city spending.

"[It] is a significant amount. It's one that will have to be dealt with," he said.

Breen says most municipalities he's spoken to say other provinces are availing of the funding, but hasn't gotten a clear indication from this province as to where they are in the application process ahead of the May 31 deadline.

John Gushue/CBC
John Gushue/CBC

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the province's Department of Finance says the provincial government has contacted the city to discuss the issue. The statement says government submitted a proposal to commit to collaborating on the project with the federal government in March, and is evaluating the allocation of the funding based on specific requirements from Ottawa.

"Royal assent is required for Newfoundland and Labrador to receive the proposed federal funding. Should Parliament pass the legislation providing the authority for the transfer, the government of Canada will transfer $4.136 million to Newfoundland and Labrador," the department said.

Breen said the city isn't considering raising bus fares or cutting services yet, and he hopes the city doesn't get to that point.

"Our ridership is back up post-COVID, so that's improving. And it's certainly not the time when we want to reduce services or increase fares," he said.

"Transit is an important part of life for people in this city … and we need to keep it affordable and we need to encourage increased ridership in it."

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