Transit ridership continues to decline, hits 5 year low

Halifax Transit released its quarterly Key Performance Indicator report. The report contains ridership figures for Q4 of FY2017-18 (January 1 – March 31 2017).

Notable figures include:

  • A 2.5% decline in ridership compared to the same time last year
  • A 1% decrease in ferry ridership
  • A 3% increase in Access-A-Bus ridership

It’s worth noting that this represents a 5-year low in 4th quarter transit ridership. The highest reported ridership figure was recorded in Q4 of FY2012-13. Since then, transit ridership has continued to decline in the fourth quarter (with the exception of FY2015-16).

Halifax Transit doesn’t report annual ridership figures, but we pulled the data from previous years’ reports. This fiscal year also represents a 5 year low in annual ridership.

Annual Transit Ridership by Quarter (in millions of passengers)
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Annual
FY2012-13 4.43 4.51 5.28 5.14 19.36
FY2013-14 4.61 4.71 5.36 5.08 19.76
FY2014-15 4.58 4.65 5.29 4.94 19.46
FY2015-16 4.6 4.61 5.28 5.01 19.5
FY2016-17 4.49 4.64 5.14 4.88 19.15

It’s worth noting that Halifax Transit is changing the way it counts riders. According to the report, Automated Passenger Count technology is expected to be implemented in Q1 of FY2017-2018, which means by next quarter, we should have a more accurate picture of how well transit is used.

The two reasons Halifax Transit gives for the decline in ridership:

  • Snow Days
  • The Big Lift


Nova Scotia Election 2017 – What the parties are saying about public transit

We reached out to all three major political parties to gauge their positions on public transit.

Only the Progressive Conservative party returned our email. Here’s what they had to say:

Thank you for your email regarding public transit.

A Progressive Conservative government supports a public transit plan. We will work with the municipalities and federal government to ensure we have transportation services that fit community needs.

Good public transportation is crucial to the development of a city. We know that Halifax Transit serves 100,000 commuters daily. We want to ensure that commute is easy and affordable.

By opposing a carbon tax, we will also ensure the cost for riders doesn’t increase. The pending carbon pricing scheme to be imposed on Nova Scotians by the McNeil government in 2018 will raise the cost of gasoline, home heating fuel and electricity going forward. A carbon tax will raise the cost of public transportation.

A PC government will review Stephen McNeil’s shady deal to move outpatient health services from the QEII Health Sciences Centre to a remote area in the Bayers Lake Industrial Park. We share the same concern as many residents, seniors and persons with disabilities in Halifax who are worried about the loss of services to an inaccessible location that has zero access to public transit.

We support initiatives under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund including: Bus stop accessibility improvements, Transit Bus Replacement and Electric Bus Pilot study, etc.

PCs will also work with the municipality on the feasibility study and the work that is under way to review options for a commuter train.

A Jamie Baillie Progressive Conservative government will work with institutions and stakeholders, the municipal and federal government, Halifax Transit and riders to ensure best services for Nova Scotians.



Hon. Jamie Baillie
Leader, PC Party of Nova Scotia

We will update this post if we hear back from the other parties.

MEDIA RELEASE: New healthcare facility severely lacking in transportation options



HALIFAX NS – Transportation advocates from It’s More Than Buses, the Halifax Cycling Coalition, the Ecology Action Centre, and Our HRM Alliance released the following joint statement regarding the proposed Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre redevelopment project:

“The new facility in the Bayers Lake Industrial Park announced today at Susie Lake Crescent and Chain Lake Drive severely lacks adequate access to public transit, bike routes, and even safe pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks and crosswalks.

“Many people who would visit the new facility – who are not just patients, but also doctors, nurses, and staff – rely on modes of transportation other than driving to get to and from work and access to healthcare services.

“Health data in Canada indicate that 91% of youth and over half of adults are not getting the recommended levels of physical activity. Locating a hospital outside of walking, bicycling, and transit corridors increases health risks and costs associated with inactivity.

“We believe that healthcare needs to be accessible to everyone, not just car owners. The government’s decision to relocate essential medical services to an industrial park undermines years of work done by Halifax Regional Municipality – including the Regional Plan, the Centre Plan, and the Integrated Mobility Plan – to make the region a healthier, more accessible place to live and to reduce the overall number of trips taken by car within the region.”



Kelsey Lane

Eliza Jackson

Jenny Lugar

Houssam Elokda

About It’s More Than Buses

It’s More than Buses is a public transit advocacy group in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Comprised of urban planners, business owners, students, and everyday transit users, IMTB envisions fast, frequent, reliable and user-friendly transit for all of Halifax.

Halifax Cycling Coalition

The Halifax Cycling Coalition is a non-profit that works to make Halifax’s streets safer for people who ride bicycles.  We organize events, advocate, and provide educational opportunities for people to learn more about safe cycling .The Halifax Cycling Coalition was founded in 2008.

About the Ecology Action Centre

Since 1971, the Ecology Action Centre has been working at the local, regional, national and more recently, international level to build a healthier and more sustainable world. While all of our work is connected to Nova Scotia, we draw inspiration from many places. We work closely with communities as well as social and natural scientists and make strong use of science in communicating our message.

About Our HRM Alliance

Our HRM Alliance is a coalition of 58 organizations representing voices from rural, suburban, and urban HRM with diverse interests such as the environment, business, transportation, health, trails, social justice, and many others. The Alliance shares a common goal: fostering engaged communities and accessible neighbourhoods that protect the environment, encourage better health and wellbeing, and attract sustainable economic opportunities for all citizens in the municipality.

What can travel-time mapping tell us about transit?

Something that we’ve constantly advocated for is the use of travel-time mapping in decision making around transit issues.

Maps are a useful tool in transit planning. They communicate where people can go, and how they can get there. But one thing that is often missed in decisions involving public transit in Halifax is how long it will take to get there, which is why communicating travel time is so important.

Anecdotally, we all know that in Halifax there are certain places that are in accessible by transit (Burnside, Woodside, Bayers Lake, etc…). But exactly how long does it take to get to these places from certain neighbourhoods? This question is a little more difficult to answer without the use of maps.

To answer it, we pulled Halifax Transit’s scheduling data and created heat maps of the time it will take riders to get to some of the major employers in Halifax. The maps are generated using schedule data during the morning peak (8:30am).

We used Halifax Transit’s current schedules, not the proposed changes in the Moving Forward Together Plan.

A note on the colour schemes:

  • Dark Green (1-15 minute travel time) is generally a walk-able distance. But on some days (rain, snow, or when a rider in hurry, for example), transit would be useful.
  • Light Green (16-30 minute travel time) is fairly optimal for transit use.
  • Yellow (31-45 minute travel time) is where transit becomes less attractive, but still a feasible option for some trips.
  • Red (46+ minute travel time) is where transit is a completely unattractive option, especially compared to driving by car. Generally, riders will not choose to take trips by transit this long if other modes can get them to their destination faster.

Scotia Square

Joe Howe/Chebucto (Manulife, Chronicle Herald, CBC)

Barrington North (Irving Shipyard, CFB Atlantic)

Burnside/Dartmouth Crossing (Halifax Regional School Board, new IKEA)

Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Canadian Coast Guard

Dartmouth General Hospital, NSCC Waterfront


Halifax International Airport

The airport is a really interesting case because of how dynamic it can be. Throughout the course of a day there are several employers changing shifts (think: airline representatives, security screeners, police, border services, restaurant workers, baggage handlers, merchandisers, cleaners, mechanics, etc….) as well as flights coming in and out, which means passengers and flight crews. Because there’s only one route that services the airport, we decided to create a second map for 8:45am.

What’s interesting is how many more places the airport is accessible from 15 minutes later in the day (granted, much of that large area, it still takes 46+ minutes to get there).

Robie, Bell, Summer, Spring Garden (QEII/IWK Health Sciences Centres, Universities)

This area has a lot of transit service. But again, we thought it would be interesting to see what it would look like two hours later during an off peak period at 10:30am.

Notice the remarkable difference in travel time during the off-peak (mainly from Bedford/Sackville). It would be safe to assume that in the off-peak midday period, travel times should actually be shorter because there’s no rush-hour traffic. However, that clearly isn’t the case here.

Some key takeaways from these travel time maps are:

  • Travel-time mapping can show how long it will take to get to a destination by transit.
  • A lot of focus of Halifax Transit’s current service is on the downtown core, which comes at the expense of other major employment areas.
  • Frequency and time of day matter when scheduling service. Not everyone works Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.

Recapping SHIFT in Transit 2017

This past weekend, the folks from It’s More Than Buses had an opportunity to attend SHIFT, and annual conference hosted by students at the Dalhousie School of Planning. This year’s theme, SHIFT in Transit, focused on the need for a broader discussion on how people move into, out of, and around cities.

On Thursday evening, the conference opened with the 15th annual Carmichael Lecture, where Andreas Rohl, former director of the Bicycle Programme in Copenhagen, Denmark discussed a new vision for urban transportation.

“Transit is about connecting people to opportunity”

On Saturday, the first full day of the conference, Monica Tibbits-Nutt, executive director of the 128 Business council in Boston, and MassDOT board member, opened the morning keynote session with a simple message on transit equity.

If transit is not connecting people to opportunity, then it has failed. Too often transit is about cutting ribbons on shiny new projects that this very necessity – how many people are connected to how many opportunities – is missed. And, when transit fails, it’s society’s most vulnerable people, the poor and the marginalized, that bear the burden first.

Transit must give people choices. That means that transit needs to bring people to jobs, education, healthcare, etc… and do so quickly, frequently, and reliably. When transit does this, an individual can have the basic opportunities they need to succeed. When it doesn’t, a person’s options are limited by where they can get to. That means they can’t get a job unless they have a car. They can’t go to school if they can’t walk. Most importantly, Tibbits-Nutt delivered a word of caution for all transit agencies saying, “if transit is bad enough, people will find another way”.

Politicians support transit, but have different ideas of what transit is

Mayor Mike Savage had a chance to deliver remarks to conference attendees and to moderate a panel discussion with six, yes SIX, city councillors –David Hendsbee (District 2), Sam Austin (District 5), Tony Mancini (District 6), Waye Mason (District 7), Richard Zurowski (District 12), and Lisa Blackburn (District 14) – as well as provincial MLA Lisa Roberts (Halifax Needham) and federal MP Andy Fillmore (Halifax).

What was clear is that everyone can agree that transit it’s a good thing. But what was less clear from the panel, was what exactly it meant to make transit better. The conference heard everything from building commuter rail to making sure that there’s wifi and cup holders on buses.

Transit in Halifax is changing

Afternoon sessions featured presentations from Halifax Regional Municipality staff, as well as accessibility advocate Paul Vienneau. The theme of the afternoon was the “major” changes that have taken place in Halifax regarding public transit and transportation. Notable changes that have occurred are the introduction of real-time GPS tracking, and the construction of new terminals which according to Halifax Transit Director Dave Regae, wasn’t even on people’s radar 10 years ago. In addition, automated stop announcements and low-floor buses have made transit more accessible.

Gerry Post, another accessibility advocate, made a cameo appearance at the conference and sparked an interesting discussion with Vienneau about their experiences with getting around the city in a wheel chair. They highlighted the need for a fully accessible taxi fleet, as well as simple changes to street design that permit rolling up sidewalks. The quote of the session came from Vienneau, who said, “if we shovel the ramp before the stairs, we can all get up. Everybody benefits.”

Learning from major changes in other cities

The afternoon keynote session went to Kurt Luhrsen, Vice President of Planning at Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, who presented the nine “lessons learned” from Houston’s transit network system re-imagining. The session presented an interesting contrast to Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together Plan and specifically how Houston has focused on the concept of trade-offs. Transit can’t be everything to everyone, and with limited resources, its important for decision makers to understand how the choice to have transit serve one particular purpose can have dramatic repercussions on other purposes.

The primary example that has been detailed over and over again is coverage vs. ridership. Do we allocate transit resources to servicing a large geographic area, or a large number of people? (Shameless plug – our Sunday workshop aimed to capture this)

Frequency and Travel Time

Sunday featured our workshop, as well as the closing Keynote by David Bragdon, director of TransitCenter, a New York based public transit advocacy, research and education foundation. Bragdon’s message recapped the major themes of the weekend – that transit is about connecting people to opportunity, that transit means different things to different people, that no one uses only one mode of transit (everybody at some point walks, drives, bikes, or takes the bus/train), and that if transit is bad enough, people will find another way.

Bragdon offered simple solutions to improve public transit. First and foremost, frequency and travel time matter to people. To get more people onto transit, improve those two things. Second, connect people to where they need to go, not just to downtown. As cities, employment and opportunity patterns change, transit needs to evolve to service these. Last, be willing to reach out to people and adapt to their needs. For transit agencies, planners and advocates, this means not only hosting community events, but also showing up at others’ community events and listening to peoples’ needs and being responsive.

To close off, the Bragdon, the presenters and the conference organizers emphasized that transit is “not about one particular mode, because cities don’t just have drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders, they have people and transit needs to understand and learn from them.”

The Mumford Terminal replacement process is underway


Buried in this years Halifax Transit budget and business plan, was a project to replace the outdated and inadequate Mumford Terminal at the Halifax Shopping Centre. One of our favourite descriptions of Mumford has to be this one, from November 24, 2016 written in the Coast.

Last week, a tender was issued by Halifax Transit to seek replacement opportunities for the terminal. The tender is available on the Nova Scotia procurement website and lists a number of criteria for the project.

According to Halifax Transit, over 9000 people use the terminal every day. The facility is a major hub for all transit routes in the area and most, but not all transit routes that enter and exit the peninsula divert into the terminal. The facility itself has poor pedestrian access, no amenities, and a rather confusing layout.

Given the number of logistical challenges with the current terminal, replacing Mumford makes sense.

But, there’s one question that isn’t being asked, and that’s: Do we need to replace the terminal with another single mega-terminal?

This question of whether a single terminal, or whether multiple terminals, on-street transfer points, or smaller hubs, would serve the area and the overall transit network’s needs, is one that can and should be included in the Tender.

One of the concepts that It’s More Than Buses has constantly advocated for is a crosstown connective network. The Mumford Terminal replacement project is an opportunity to explore the overall connectivity of the area, and how to improve transit access not just to the Halifax Shopping Centre, but to the area as a whole.

Halifax Transit releases real-time GTFS data

Early Wednesday morning, users of Google Transit, Transit 360, and other applications noticed something awesome: live information on their bus location. It seems the long awaited release of Halifax Transit’s real-time data feed has finally occurred, much to the delight of both riders and app developers.

In a press release, Halifax Transit noted it:

 is initially launching the data feed to developers as a beta release. During this time, the technology team will be closely monitoring the service to identify and address potential technical issues. Users of the real-time data may experience occasional downtime or possible inaccuracies in data quality until the technology team has resolved any issues that are found. Subsequent communications will be issued once the beta version of the real-time data has been tested in the marketplace, and is deemed to be fully operational.

GTFS, or General-Transit-Feed-Specification, is a universal format for public transit scheduling data. Previously, the GTFS data provided by Halifax Transit was static, meaning that it was not updated on a real-time basis. With the release of the real-time version of the data, riders can access live information about departures, and any potential delays and service disruptions.


Developers can display this data in various ways. Check out Dan Peterson’s use of One Bus Away as a concept for an airport-style departure board:


The data is published as part of Halifax’s Open Data catalogue and is available here.