Earlier this week Halifax Transit released their draft proposal for a redesign of our regional transit network. Halifax desperately needs a redesign of our transit network, because presently we see huge amounts of inefficiency and duplication of service across our regional transit network. I am thankful that Halifax Transit is undertaking this network redesign, but the draft plan leaves me questioning how much better it will really get. There are many changes that are just renaming routes, and small route changes which in the end I feel we do little to improve our overall transit network.
Praise the Transit Czar: We have corridors!
One of the big changes in the draft plan is the introduction of corridor routing. On the surface, I will give credit where due in the fact that this change does go to address some duplication of service in the network. However, I thought that this new corridor model would be the adoption of express corridor routes with a the very least sections with limited stops. Instead what we get is full stop service within a corridor route model. There are some of the corridor routes that strongly resemble presenting routing but with shortened routes or modifications. While those are positive changes, they are not enough. Why are we not utilizing a corridor philosophy to the best approach that we can. If we could have higher frequency, limited stop service on corridor routes when coupled with local transfers and transit priority infrastructure –maybe we could get somewhere at quicker than a glacial place.
Missing the boat.
One of the great features of our city is our harbour. We have a deep, natural beautiful harbour. Our beloved harbour is one of the reasons that for centuries K'jipuktuk/Halifax has had inhabitants: mi’kmaq, then British and now all of us. However, for a city our size we have three ferry terminals. One of which in Woodside until recently has been drastically underutilized. Even with the service enhancements, the Woodside ferry terminal is a diamond just begging to be admired. In the new draft plan, there are only two direct express links going to the Woodside Terminal from Cole Harbour. Did transit planners fall asleep when they were looking at Dartmouth South – Cole Harbour possibilities? Just past where the Highway 111 ends, we have South Woodside, then Shearwater, Eastern Passage and Cow Bay. Eastern Passage/Cow bay as of 2011 had a population of nearly 13,000—fast forward to 2015 and easily that community has a population of 13,000+. However, with the network re-jig there is no express route to connect Eastern Passage to ferry service in Woodside. It is a parade of cars every morning from Eastern Passage and Shearwater, if we are serious about reducing single use vehicles let’s get these people to the boat!
Get in your car or stay in your community
If you live on the peninsula or just a bit outside on the Halifax side of our city, this draft plan is having more pros than cons. Honestly, for the time I lived on the peninsula, even the current bus system was relatively efficient and got me where I need to go if I stayed on the peninsula. However, with the implementation of the Urban Transit Service Boundary, there are growing communities just outside the line. There is little talk in the draft plan about how to connect these communities to the network. Can we provide transit to every nook and cranny of our city—of course not. However, I believe there could be a better plan to help rural transit that is funded by local communities to connect to the regional network. Furthermore, Halifax transit is missing a huge community within the service boundary. With the network reboot, my home community of Eastern Passage still remains isolated in the regional network when considering that people want to be moved quickly on transit. The corridor model applied to our area, results in peak service of only 30 minute frequency and drops to 60 minute service midday/evenings. There are over 13,000 people living in Eastern Passage/Cow Bay and it is one of the fastest growing communities in Halifax. However, we do not have an express route linking us to Woodside Ferry Terminal. Nor is there any plan for a direct connection to Cole Harbour or Baker Drive. Both of those areas are important for this community as many residents access services in those two locations. By not using Woodside Ferry Terminal as a hub and adding express services and direct connections for Eastern Passage is a mistake. Just because the community happens to be at the end of the service boundary is no reason to ignore the need.
Not all bad
There are positive in this first draft of the network redesign. The focus of other moving parts of things like the coming Centre Plan, the Halifax Regional Plan and transit technological advances into this draft are good. It is nice to see that at the very least this plan was not conceived in isolation. The reduction of duplication of service is a good move. The attempt to re-define routes so it is easier to understand for both residents and visitors to our city is good as well. Better coverage for Burnside and Dartmouth Crossing is good as well. What we can do as users and residents who would like to be transit users again is to provide or honest, respectful comments and help Halifax Transit make our public system the best it can be with the infrastructure we have. Let’s all put our thinking caps on and take a seat at the table. Over the next month there will be public info sessions on the draft plan. Also, take a moment to take the Halifax Transit Survey. We can have a great transit system, but this plan is not there yet.