It’s More than Buses has been thrilled to host Darren Davis over the last three days. Darren is the principal public transit planner in Auckland, New Zealand. Under his direction, Auckland has completely redrawn their bus network. Early results are promising, with ridership up over 30% in some parts of the network. This type of radical re-design is both rare and incredibly inspiring. Auckland’s audacious transit plans hopefully represent emerging best practices for transit networks everywhere.
Darren’s expertise and direct experience with a complex transit network were a perfect fit for Halifax. We were very excited when he added Halifax to his 2016 North American transit tour (San Francisco, Vancouver, Edmonton to date, with more stops to come!).
Some quick thoughts on some things that Darren’s visit has taught us or reminded us are below. We’ll post about these topics in more detail over the next few weeks.
Buses are the foundation of good transit networks. Darren feels Halifax should focus heavily on making sure the current network provides high-quality service. That means working on basics – frequent service on main routes, more opportunities to transfer, faster trips and reliable schedules. As the bus system improves, more people will choose transit and new transit options will become possible. Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together Plan has been approved in principal, but there are still ways to improve this Plan.
Connections are critical. Darren’s motto (paraphrased) is that for a network to function, ‘everything must connect to everything’. Good transit routes must connect together to serve many destinations. Buses, ferries and trains must all connect to each other. If you care about the quality of service in your area, you have to care about the quality of service across the whole transit network.
Requiring (or providing, depending on viewpoint) riders to make a connection, to transfer between routes, sounds like an inconvenience. But a connective network can provide many times more service, to more destinations, at a similar cost to networks that try to give everyone a route to everywhere.
Consider the region. Too often, residents and community groups only think of how transit works in their area. But transit is a network – people need to travel from their homes and jobs to locations all over the region. It’s critical that we work together, even when problems may seem unrelated. Example: there are way too many buses clogging up Downtown Halifax, and too few buses in other areas. Seems like we should be able to work that out, right?
Halifax’s transit infrastructure stinks. Darren visited Mumford Terminal, and has added it to his list of horrific North American transit terminals. While Auckland has added dozens of kilometers of transit lanes in the last few years, Halifax has added perhaps 500 metres of bus lanes in the last decade. Each year Halifax spends nearly $100 million dollars to operate our network, but invests very little on bus stops to keep people out of the rain or on bus lanes and signals to keep buses moving.
Our challenges aren’t unique. Halifax has some challenging road patterns and sometimes some quirky geography, but Darren assured us that Auckland’s geography is much more difficult. Halifax is a huge municipality, but so is Auckland. Their rural and urban areas often work together on common goals, like transit. Auckland has conflicts over how to split road space between people walking, people on bikes, people in transit and people in cars. Yet they’ve given priority to transit, and created good corridors to keep their buses and trains running on time. There are many more similarities, but Darren’s visit is a great reminder that we can learn from other places, even from much bigger cities that are 15,000 kilometers away and drive on the left-hand side of the road.
We’ll spend the next few weeks digging deeper into some of these ideas. Until then, a huge thanks to HRM and Downtown Halifax Business Commission for funding Darren’s trip. Thank you as well to the Halifax Cycling Coalition for help organizing the visit. And of course, thank you to Darren for his time, expertise and inspiration. The last time we had an international transit expert visit Halifax it kicked off our fight to redesign Halifax’s bus network. Let’s see what we can make happen this time.