So, how do we evaluate a big, complicated transit 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.
Halifax’s Transit’s new plan doesn’t answer the key question: where can people easily travel to using transit? We ask that Halifax Transit provide information about how many people can access key regional destinations on the proposed transit network and to provide estimates of travel times and increases in ridership. Until we have that type of information, the plan is just not ready, yet.
The backbone of the plan is Halifax Transit’s proposed ten corridor routes. They go to Sackville, Bedford, Spryfield, Halifax, Eastern Passage, Burnside, and Dartmouth. Ideally, these routes should form a frequent, transfer-based network, where short wait times make it easy to transfer from one route to another in several directions.
That route structure would give many people easy access to jobs, schools, shops, and services all over the region, which is why in the fall of 2013 the public asked Halifax Transit for a transfer-based network. Residents want quicker trips to major destinations across the region on much simpler routes.
However, Moving Forward proposes tradeoffs that pull back from a strong transfer-based network. It would give many areas a no-transfer ride to Downtown Halifax during rush hour. This could be useful, but there are downsides to consider. First, the new plan has too many routes focused on Downtown Halifax; overlapping routes are buses that could be used elsewhere. Second, there are few crosstown routes, which would help people from across HRM quickly reach key destinations like Bayers Lake, Burnside, Mainstreet Dartmouth, Downtown Dartmouth and Woodside. Crosstown routes are especially important for people working part time or working shifts. Third, the northern end of Barrington Street has been left off the corridors entirely, limiting access to Mulgrave Park, CFB Halifax, and the Irving Shipyards.
Maybe Halifax Transit chose the right trade-offs. But without more information, neither you nor the public can know. We need to know the answers to questions like these: On the new network, about how long will people take to get from Spryfield to Bayers Lake at 7:45 in the morning? How long will people take to get from Mic Mac Mall back to Eastern Passage at 9:00 at night? From Mill Cove, how many locations can a bus rider get to in less than 45 minutes?
So we are asking Regional Council not to vote on the Moving Forward Together plan — at least not yet. It’s just not ready yet. Instead, please direct Halifax Transit to provide clear information on estimated travel times and access to jobs on the proposed network. We know getting this data will be labour-intensive and may take a lot of time. But the stakes for the corridor routes are high. They will be the backbone of HRM’s transit system and will shape the system’s growth for decades. Let’s take the time to get the network right.