This Metro Transit launched an ad campaign aimed at increasing ridership. The campaign entitled "Do it on the bus" is a cheeky double entendre, however in looking at the website I find it dissapointing. You can see the site here While I appreciate the fact that Metro Transit is launching this campaign to beef up ridership, I don’t buy into this campaign. I feel that the campaign while cheeky, has little substance and I am not confident it will increase ridership. The transit strike did of course affect transit use, coupled with decreased revenue and rising costs—it is a tough spot. Furthermore, the cost of this ad campaign could reinstate the Alderney ferry service to pre-budget cut levels of 2012. Cheeky ad campaigns, which lack substance, are not going to change behaviour, and in this case increase ridership. During the election campaign there was much discussion about how to improve transit, and they were some great ideas. Now is the time that our local government and we as citizens should be tapping into and exploring some of those ideas. However, across the municipality people are unhappy with the current transit models being used. If the management of Metro Transit and HRM council feel that this is the best way to address the issues, then they are missing the boat.
There are issues with the Go Time service, route efficiency, employee morale and how the public perceives Metro Transit. It is a double edge sword where public demand and economies of scale are working in tandem and causing problems for Metro Transit. While for some people in HRM, Metro Transit may very well meet your commuting needs, but there are many I feel that this is not the case. I know of many people who are frustrated by the frequencies of buses, the routes and lack of a truly integrated system.
For example let’s look at the new bridge terminal, yes it is shiny, bright and beautiful and we did need a large terminal in the network. Though, just down the hill at Alderney are ferry and the potential for rail connections: a transit hub you say? No, not in HRM: this example is but one of many that I feel undermines the confidence residents have in our public transit system. Having a hub system that is properly integrated between bus, ferry, active transportation and one day rail would go a long way in address concerns and improving mobility for all residents across HRM. There are three parts that I feel are contributing to our public transit woes: city hall, city infrastructure and human nature.
First, city hall since amalgamation there has been a well known divide between urban, suburban and rural councillors. This divide is playing into how as a municipality we value public transit. You have urban and some suburban councillors calling for better transit while rural councillors say not on my watch. This divide was highlighted last year in the debate to cut back Alderney ferry or not. There were councillors saying thing such as ‘I’ll cut the ferry because you cut my bus’. The reality is that even with all the supposed focus on greener transportation, HRM is still from a policy perspective a very car centric place. It is not merely that regional council must be looking at transportation through a different lens, so must the bureaucrats behind them.
Our city infrastructure plays a lovely piece in the perfect storm that caps transit at the knees. Look around HRM, and consider how our roads are laid out. All Across HRM we lack a grid structure, either because of geography or poor planning; couple that with narrow roads in the urban core and providing efficient transit is a challenge and an exercise in patience. Metro transit made a good move last year in the introduction of a corridor on Portland Street, to increase frequencies of runs and modify the routing. This is a good move because it takes into consideration of the limitations of geography and municipal infrastructure. Having separate transit ways, like in other centres, is not a viable solution for Halifax but having corridors and transit hubs I believe is.
Lastly, we should address human behaviour and how that impacts use/non-use of transit. As humans, we are wired to take the means that provides the least resistance. If we are en route to a destination and there are two options: one takes say 15 minutes and one takes 1.5 hours—we will take the option that only takes 15 minutes. All across the city, there are examples that trips on transit simply take too long. For example if you are in Clayton Park and you need to get to Burnside, you better get comfy it would be roughly an hour and that is without traffic issues. When I attended culinary school at NSCC Akerley, what was a 15 minute car ride took 1-1.5 hours on the bus. So, because the city is truly built for cars and to move cars around quickly that is what a lot of people do.
So, to truly improve transit, I feel we need to do the following:
- Stopping viewing public transit as a burden to municipal coffers and starting viewing it as an asset
- Use our natural harbour to a greater extent to help move people in our public transit model
- Develop a stronger hub system, and expanded the corridor model that was introduced last year on Portland St
- Management and council actually need to sit down with transit users and transit drivers to talk about what will make the system better from their perspective.
- Don’t spend money on ad campaigns, when they could be better directed to improving actual service.