Last week the Transportation Standing Committee learned that Halifax Transit no longer had the will to follow council’s direction of a system wide review. The path now was that a review would happen strategically and only as where deemed necessary by transit staff.
The disappointment that I feel in this path is immense because our public transit system is broken. The system is ineffective in reducing the number of cars on the road and inefficient in moving people quickly around our city. Our broken public transit system has serious impacts to our city from an economic lens, a family lens and a community lens.
First, let us consider the economic lens. It is sighted that an effective and efficient public transit system that can move people around quickly and to numerous businesses can aid a local economy. Businesses require infrastructure to bring customers and employees to them. In many cities the public transit system can accomplish that. However, in many parts of our city, Halifax Transit fails at this very basic need. The failure to accomplish this has the potential for serious negative economic impacts. It’s well known that the more people spend locally, in turn the more the local economy benefits.
Stronger local economy = more jobs = more tax revenue for government = improved services for residents.
So, how does this tie into public transit? Well, in our city with a transit system that is ineffective and inefficient it has the potential to actually remove money from the local economy. This, in my opinion, is because it pushes residents into car dependence. Car ownership is not cheap when you factor in the full cost. For my family, we have a car because of where we live the city transit is horribly ineffective for our needs. On average, every month we spend $690 to maintain a car, and have said car transport us. With a more efficient public transit model, imagine if $345, half of what we spend currently for transportation went into supporting our local economy. To further that, imagine the positive impact in our local economy if every car owner could switch to using transit primarily and thousands of people’s extra $345/month was spent in our local economy. The revenues it would generate for businesses and jobs it could create would be amazing. A very exciting thought indeed!
Second, the impact on family and friends: an ineffective transit system means less time with your family and friends. My husband takes the bus home from work because we don’t finish work at the same time. In the morning, what is a 20-25 minute drive to work for us becomes a 45 minute to 1 hour bus ride home for him. That is double the time which leads to less time with family and decreases the work-life balance. This has impacts for interpersonal relationships, free time and for children who would see their parents less because of long transit commutes. Also, an ineffective transit system has strong potential to reduce social time with friends because of the time required to arrive at a venue and return home. A more effective and efficient transit system would help to create a better work-life balance and aid in increasing social opportunities.
Lastly, the impact to community: when I consider aspects from this lens I consider how an inefficient transit system can reduce volunteerism. I believe in the power of community, in giving back and I volunteer across our city. I am proud to volunteer for various causes and sit on several boards in our region. However, if I had to depend on the current transit service for transportation, I would have to drastically reduce my volunteer participation. There are some days where I have several meetings that happen in different parts of the city, without an effective transit system it would be a challenge to be as involved. Furthermore, for individuals that do depend currently on transit as their principal mode of transportation –it too could reduce their volunteering because of the time they spend on the bus getting between from “a” to “b”.
Halifax deserves a modernized, effective public transit system that blends buses and ferries seamless with active transportation infrastructure. It should be a system we can all be proud of and one that we can get around our city faster than or at least as quick as if we used a car. Let’s hold transit staff to what council directed them to do: a full system review.