Halifax Transit Plan – what trips are possible?

It’s tough to evaluate Halifax Transit’s newest Moving Forward Together plan.

On Friday, Halifax Transit released a big, complex bus network proposal. The regional Transportation Standing Committee will review the proposal on Thursday, Mar. 26 at 1 p.m.

So, how do we evaluate a big network? One big question: can lots of people easily take transit to key destinations? Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell how many people have convenient transit options from a 190 page report.

Instead, what if there were maps of the proposed network like the transit heat map below? This map shows how many places you can reach by transit in one hour, from Alderney Landing. It’s from a site called Transit Heat Map, and shows options for our existing network. Jarrett Walker, transit professional and author, calls these maps of freedom. This kind of info is critical to understanding and evaluating the plan.

Heat Map

Heat maps show how far people can travel from different locations in a set amount of time. They are clear maps of travel options and the freedom to travel by transit.

Please email, tweet or call your Councillor or a member of the Transportation Standing Committee: ask them to direct Halifax Transit to provide clear info on estimated travel times and job access under the Moving Forward Plan. This info will help residents understand their potential travel options. Without clear ways to visualize travel options, it will be difficult to make good choices about the tradeoffs between different network options. Better info will result in better decisions and a better transit network.

Halifax Transit started their network revision with a broad, public conversation on what residents want in their transit network. We want to continue this conversation, but to do that we need more info and clearer info about how the network will function. The plan has lots of measures to evaluate individual routes, but fails to answer the big questions: How many riders will be able to get to what destinations? And in how much time? How many travel options will the plan provide? How many new riders will it attract? If we can’t answer these questions, how can we judge success?

Most people will want info on big basic questions: how quickly and easily can they travel by bus? How many jobs or services can they reach quickly via transit? Businesses and institutions will want to see if transit connects them to employees and customers. Taxpayers and environmentalists will both want to see transit service that attracts lots of new riders, meaning more revenue, less congestion and fewer emissions.

But, it is very hard to evaluate a complex transit network without having a clear picture of what trips would be easy, and what trips would be difficult. So, we are asking Halifax Transit to provide the following info for their network proposal:

  • Estimated number of jobs accessible from different origin points via a reasonable transit ride. For example, how many jobs could a resident of Spryfield, Clayton Park West, Mulgrave Park, West Bedford or Colby Village access within a 30 minute transit ride? We don’t need to see every possible origin, but we need to see a representative selection of origins from across HRM.
  • Visual transit ‘heat maps’ that show how far people can travel from different origins, like our example above. Heat maps will easily show where people can travel. This will help show what gaps exist in the network and if the network will be attractive to riders.

We are confident that with the right information, our big concerns can be addressed through smart discussions and further revisions. Our big concerns are:

  • Many riders will not have an easy, one transfer trip to CFB Halifax, the Irving Shipyard, Burnside, Main Street Dartmouth and Bayers Lake. There are thousands of jobs that may not be conveniently accessible by transit. Again, the plan is complex and we don’t have the metrics to really judge who can travel where. Travel time estimates and heat maps will help identify gaps.
  • There are still lots of routes overlapping on Robie, Spring Garden, Barrington and Lacewood Drive. This overlap could be deployed elsewhere to improve frequencies, to offer better local routes, or to improve crosstown service.
  • There are few routes or convenient connections for people travelling within their neighbourhoods, such as people travelling from within Sackville to jobs on Sackville Drive, or people travelling along Dunbrack Street in Fairview/ Clayton Park.

We are pleased to see plans for quicker installation of transit priority measures, which will increase the speed and reliability of critical routes. We are also glad to see that Halifax Transit has made changes based directly on public feedback. However, we don’t feel these changes fully explain or consider the tradeoffs involved. Once again, travel time estimates and transit heat maps will help show what trips are convenient or difficult based on different route choices.

We hope to work with Council and Halifax Transit to improve the network. The first step is to get the right info and present it clearly. Halifax Transit started this redesign process by talking about values and tradeoffs: ridership or coverage; transfers or single seat; new service or improved service. This redesign is a chance to continue those exciting conversations, and to use those conversations to build a better transit network. With the right information and smart choices, we can find win-wins that provide everyone with more travel choices.

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3 thoughts on “Halifax Transit Plan – what trips are possible?

  1. […] The Chronicle Herald headline: “Citizens oppose Halifax’s new public transit plan“. How many citizens? According to the Herald: “several members of the public stood to offer criticisms of [the plan]. Fact: five residents spoke, including Sean Gillis representing It’s More than Buses. We had a mixture of concerns and positives, but our main concern is a lack of clear information to evaluate the plan. […]

    • We don’t think that is what happened at all. Halifax Transit staff is extremely busy dealing with internal changes, such as finding a new director. They are also rolling out a new fare system (tap cards) and a new system to actually track delays and bus location in real time. Both systems will have big benefits for riders. On top of that there’s a mobility plan and the Big Lift to deal with. Staff has a thankless job, but we talk to them regularly and they are very passionate about building a better network.

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