Posts Tagged ‘Public Transit’

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.

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In the last week of January, regional council has made some interesting choices and there have been some long term projects that are moving forward albeit slowly.

First up, Councillor Steve Craig (District 15- Lower Sackville) purposed a motion around the crosswalk issues.  Over the last year, accidents between motorists and pedestrians in crosswalks have grown exponential.  Specifically, in the last two months there have been at least 10 people struck in crosswalks across HRM.  Ken Reashor, who is the Traffic Authority for HRM and Director of Transportation and Public works, has taken an unpopular stance on crosswalk safety. He believes that less not more crosswalks are the answers, and that motorists should maintain the right of way more often. Working against people such as Norm Collins, who has been a long time crosswalk safety advocate; Reashor has in my opinion helped the foster the car centric policies of HRM.

Councillor Craig’s motion is as follows:

11.3 Councillor Craig

That Halifax Regional Council direct staff to provide a report which:

1. Prior to the end of fiscal 2012-2013, to provide an interim report that:
– Provides the current understanding of how HRM focuses and performs on all factors related to pedestrian safety – HRM engineering, public education, law enforcement, public engagement and evaluation;
– Identifies HRM pedestrian safety statistics and how HRM statistics compare relative to other municipalities; and
– Identifies a short-term HRM action plan to address pedestrian safety and any impacts on the 2013-2014 budget.

2. During fiscal 2013-2014, to develop and present for consideration by Halifax Regional Council, a long-term comprehensive pedestrian safety action plan to help ensure, and to be seen as ensuring, overall pedestrian safety for HRM residents based on:
– The analysis of factors which may be contributing to pedestrian accidents;
– Provides options considering both process and organization structure that focuses on engineering, education, enforcement, public engagement, such as a Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee, overall evaluation, policy and legislation, inter-agency/departmental coordination and cooperation elements;
– Provides a mechanism for continuous reporting and evaluation of the foregoing; and
– Identifies ongoing budget impacts to the proposed action plan.

In addition, that the Mayor, on behalf of Halifax Regional Council, correspond immediately with the provincial Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to request an update regarding a recommendation from the 2007 Crosswalk Safety Task Force which stated that “the departments responsible for collecting and analysing collision data do so in a timely, comprehensive, consistent and accurate manner.”  [i]

While, I side with Councillor Craig on this motion.  There is additionally mention of the 2007 Crosswalk Safety Task Force that presented specific recommendations.  I think that the report process has some merit.  However, I feel that if we are to truly move forward on the issue it will need to be at the community level.  Presently, council is not moving to deal with the lack accountability of Reashor to HRM citizens.  While, this would require coordination with the province; I believe it should be a necessary part of this puzzle.   Furthermore, it is my hope that staff does not fully re-invent the wheel and access past reports, updating as required to expedite this process.   On the citizen level, if crosswalk safety is of concern to you I suggest that you contact your councillor and Mayor Savage to communicate such.

Another big, and in my perspective, positive move this week came out of the Audit and Finance Committee.  Eddie Robar, Director of Metro Transit, presented their annual budget but it did not include full late night ferry service.  Councillor Gloria McCluskey (District 5, Dartmouth Centre) motioned for Metro Transit to re-work their annual budget to include re-instatement of full late night ferry service.   The motion passed and sent Metro Transit back to the budgetary drawing board.   This is an important move, last year when regional council cut late night weekday ferry service, it was a horrible decision.   The harbour ferries provide a crucial link between our downtown cores, and if we are ever going to get serious about public transit in this city some of the things we need to:

  1. Restore full Halifax-Dartmouth ferry service to the level of pre-August 2012
  2. Look at expansion for the Woodside – Halifax ferry service.
  3. Explore how we can better use our harbour to move our residents around quickly and economically.

The negative aspect to the Metro Transit budget is the fare increase.   Metro transit has asked for a 0.25 cent increase, to help in funding technological modernization of their operations.  The fare increase was approved by the committee.  However, I do have reservations as to how that increased capital will be utilized.  Citizens have been hearing for years from Metro Transit, of a commitment to improved “real time GoTime” values, but to date that change has not occurred.   I am skeptical of the plan as in the past our public transit department has promised large but come up very short.   If you would like to read, the budget presentation from Metro Transit please click the link under the end notes.[ii]

The city has sold off the last piece of property it owned in Bayers Lake but because of development agreements has had to buy back the streets in this parcel of land to make them public.  Couple this with the expansion of the approved expansion in Burnside, and there is great potential to undermine our downtown core.  This is important because of the challenge we already face to attract retail and office space into our downtown cores.   Finally, council has approved a study to assess the viability of HRM investing in a district energy system.  District energy systems recycle waste heat from primary power generation, and sell it via a grid to customers.  The feasibility study will cost 300, 000.  I believe the investment could in the long term be beneficial to HRM and I approve the feasibility study.  If you would like to read the staff report, please check at the bottom of post.[iii] 

Stay Connected. Be Informed.

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