Let’s Talk About Transit Trade-Offs

Last week, we saw Halifax Regional Council vote to implement the Moving Forward Together Plan, which will shape Halifax Transit’s network for the next five years.

One of the major decisions that came from Council was to request a staff report on bringing in an outside consultant to review the corridor routes after the first year of implementation- a move that we strongly advocated for. While the move doesn’t completely redesign Moving Forward Together, it does give Staff and Council options for the future.

One of the reasons we strongly advocated for having an outside expert is the way in which discussions around transit in the region has taken place. When the first Moving Forward Together draft plan was released over 18 months ago, four principles were identified as the pillars to shaping the future transit network. These principles are:

  1. Increase resources allocated to high ridership services
  2. Build a simplified transfer based system
  3. Invest in service quality and reliability
  4. Give transit increased priority in the transportation network

These are good, sound principles. However, much of the public discourse that took place when they were presented in 2014 was centred on individual routes rather than on these fundamental principles. Effectively, public concerns (“I’m losing my bus stop” or “My route is being changed”), though legitimate, tanked what was a good starting point of transit discussion. What was unfortunate was that we were left without any justification of how the draft network, the proposed changes, or the status quo would actually make transit better and ultimately Council, staff and the public opted to push for maintaining the status-quo, which is the system they knew.

When the final plan was presented to regional council earlier this year, it was clear that the proposed new network resembled minor tweaks to the current system rather than a substantial change to the transit network. Council had an opportunity to correct this in April, except it too chose to engage in a route by route debate when it requested staff to report on 23 proposed changes to the plan. Again, most of these requests dealt with individual routes rather than the values and principles of the plan. Even though the majority of those were rejected, what was left was a plan with routes that have been tinkered and tweaked so much, that it’s more reflective of a fear of losing the status quo than the actual principles of Moving Forward Together.

Instead of focusing on individual routes, what can drastically alter the discourse of public transit in Halifax is talking about trade-offs. Good transit planning is always about understanding and accepting that there are trade-offs. With limited resources, there are only so many people and only so many places can be served effectively and efficiently by public transit. But, before discussing which route goes where, what we first should be focusing on is how much of the limited resources do we want dedicated to doing one thing over another.

With that in mind, here are some major transit trade-offs:

Coverage Services vs. Ridership Services

  • Coverage service is designed to provide a basic level of service to as many neighbourhoods as possible.
  • Ridership service is designed to attract a large number of riders.

Transfer Based Network vs. Direct (Single Seat) Network

  • Transfer based networks are able to move people to and from places more efficiently, but require transfers to do so, which can be inconvenient depending on distance travelled and route frequency.
  • Direct (Single Seat) networks are able to move people to and from places without having to get on and off different vehicles.

Route Length vs. Route Frequency

  • Longer routes can serve more people along the line, but require more resources to remain frequent. Double the route length, double the number of vehicles required to keep the frequency the same.
  • Shorter routes are more frequent and are not as prone to delays, but will require transfers to go longer distances.

Peak Service vs. All Day Service

  • Peak service can handle large influxes of riders at the same time. But vehicles cannot be used throughout the day in other places.
  • All day service is more consistent and easier to understand, but vehicles may have capacity issues at peak times.

Each of these trade-offs form the major choices as to how resources are allocated across a transit system. They are mutually exclusive, but not mutually incompatible. For example, it’s possible to have a transit network with 70% ridership service and 30% coverage service, with a mix of transfer-based, high-frequency, all day service routes and peak-hour only, direct service routes. But the parameters of this system must first be clearly defined and then must be adhered to.

Ultimately, the Moving Forward Together Plan didn’t do that. Which is why we’re optimistic to see that Halifax Regional Council will have the opportunity to correct the process when staff reports back by having the conversation on trade-offs before the plan is fully implemented.

MEDIA RELEASE: Transit advocates call for immediate ‘stop and rethink’ to Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

HALIFAX, NS – It’s More than Buses (IMTB), a public transit advocacy group in Halifax, is calling for an immediate ‘stop and rethink’ to Halifax Transit’s network redesign plan. The group has serious concerns that the plan, as designed, will not meet the needs of residents and visitors in the region.

“This is a plan that disregards the key principles that Halifax Transit itself identified through years of public engagement and consultation,” the group said in a statement. “These are the same principles that were presented to and approved by Regional Council,” the statement continued.

IMTB proposes that, at the upcoming meeting on Tuesday, November 22, Halifax Regional Council pause the current plan and direct Halifax Transit to seek an external expert in transit network design to advise, assist, and review the network redesign process.

The current plan, called Moving Forward Together, identifies four key principles for the future of Halifax Transit: (1) increase resources allocated to high ridership services, (2) build a simplified transfer based system, (3) invest in service quality and reliability, and (4) give transit increased priority in the transportation network.

IMTB says the new routes that are proposed in Moving Forward Together are “largely a variation of the status quo and will not provide any significant increase in travel choices over the existing transit network.”  In addition, they noted that “many of the routes overlap, thereby rendering them redundant, and do not run with enough frequency or speed to attract new riders.”

The group raised concerns about the lack of information and justification in the Moving Forward Together Plan, claiming that Halifax Transit has not provided enough evidence, such as travel time mapping and resource allocation figures, to justify how these changes could impact regional travel choices. Also noted was that the proposed five-year implementation of Moving Forward Together will make taking transit highly unpredictable as routes will constantly be changing.

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.

Media Contacts

 

Jeff Blair

Daytime Telephone: 902-441-2531

Email: jbblair@outlook.com

 

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Mapping Travel Choices

Halifax Transit just released their newest report on their five year network review: Moving Forward Together. Its More Than Buses is recommending that Council reject this report as inadequate, and bring in an international expert to review Moving Forward Together. We continue to advocate for a connective network, a more efficient design that would provide thousands of people riding the bus with faster travel times to more destinations.

We are sharing some maps and analysis that our team members Kyle Miller and Paul Dec have developed. The analysis shows two things:

  1. Using crosstown routes and convenient connections provides more travel choice; and
  2. Travel time mapping (isochrones) is a superior way to evaluate different transit network options.

Several months ago, Its More than Buses sent Halifax Transit proposed route changes that would create more crosstown travel options (e.g. routes that don’t run just to downtown Halifax or Dartmouth). These changes were based on several amendments that Council proposed to Moving Forward Together. Our proposed routing would – with a transfer – provide more access to Mulgrave Park, Downtown Dartmouth, the Irving Shipyard, the Naval Dockyard and Woodside. It would also reduce the number of buses that overlap on Spring Garden Rd., Barrington St., and Gottingen St. The extreme number of buses on these streets is a long-standing problem, resulting in noise and diesel fumes.

Here’s what we proposed, as mapped below: 1) Run Routes #8 and #9 straight across the Halifax peninsula; and 2) terminate Route #3 at Bridge Terminal and extend Route #6 from Bridge Terminal north into Dartmouth. Note: we only mapped the corridor routes for this exercise. Kyle and Paul are brilliant at mapping, but don’t have the time to map and analyze the entire Moving Forward network, which has dozens of routes.

rte-8-comparison

Proposed changes to corridor route 8. Solid line is proposed by Its More Than Buses, with dashed line as proposed in Moving Forward Together.

rte-9-comparison

Proposed changes to corridor route 9. Solid line is proposed by Its More than Buses, with dashed line as proposed in Moving Forward Together.

rte-3-comparison

Proposed changes to Corridor Route 3. Solid line is proposed by Its More than Buses, which terminates the route at Bridge Terminal. The dashed line shows the route continuing north into Dartmouth from Bridge Terminal, as per Moving Forward.

rte-6-comparison

Proposed changes to Corridor Route 6. Dashed line shows Moving Forwards routing (without branching sections to Eastern Passage), and the solid line shows the extension north from Bridge Terminal proposed by Its More than Buses.

all-corridor-routes

All 10 corridor routes, as proposed by Its More than Buses. Note, there are several overlapping routes that are difficult to show. The branches on routes are not shown. All maps above: Kyle Miller.

So, there are two proposals. Which one lets more people get to important locations,easily? Which one helps different neighbourhoods? Paul and Kyle used two independent methods to try and answer those questions, but their methods produced similar responses that supported each other. For example, Paul found that people riding the Route 8 from Bedford would reach Scotia Square 4 minutes quicker under our proposal, but they would reach the corner of Robie and Spring Garden 4 minutes slower (with our proposal they would need to transfer to get to Robie). These are both important destinations, so we called it a draw. But, our proposal also lets people riding the Route 8 get to the naval dockyard and Irving Shipyard much faster than the corridor routes of Moving Forward. Residents near the Hydrostone and Mulgrave Park would also gain access to a corridor route, providing solid all day and evening service. Sounds like a win for Its More than Buses.

Writing out the travel time differences for each location we looked at would take a big spreadsheet (like the one Paul produced!). A better way to show that data is to create maps that show how far, with a short walk and a transfer, people could travel by transit, starting at different locations in a city. This is the method that international consultant Jarrett Walker uses to communicate how a new network will change where people can travel. Walker describes his work as “leading cities and transit agencies through public processes where the outcomes produces by transit networks based on different choices are explicitly compared.” We need that kind of comparison in the Halifax region. Halifax Transit has chosen to run many corridor routes and many peak-hour routes to Downtown Halifax. This means they have chosen lower frequency on those routes, fewer connections and less access to many destinations. That is an enormous trade-off that Halifax Transit has not made explicit. Another way to put it: with different choices, our network could provide way more service, to more destinations, with the same resources.

Here is what we found, mapped below. We compared our network ideas (described above) with the Moving Forward Network.

scotia_sq_60_mins_mftp

Projected travel time to and from Scotia Square, using corridor routes, for the Moving Forward Plan.

scotia_sq_60_mins_imtb

Projected travel time to and from Scotia Square, using corridor routes, for Its More than Buses proposal.

scotia_sq_30_mins

The distance riders could travel from Scotia Square in half an hour, compared for both Moving Forward Together and Its More than Buses.

irving_60_mins_mftp

Projected travel time to and from the Irving Shipyard, using corridor routes, for the Moving Forward Plan.

irving_60_mins_imtb

Projected travel time to and from Scotia Square, using corridor routes, for Its More than Buses proposal.

irving_30_mins

The distance riders could travel from the Irving Shipyard in half an hour, compared for both Moving Forward Together and Its More than Buses.

alderney_60_mins_mftp

Projected travel time to and from Alderney Landing, using corridor routes, for Moving Forward Together.

alderney_60_mins_imtb

Projected travel time to and from Alderney Landing, using corridor routes, for Moving Forward Together. All travel time mapping, Kyle Miller.

So what conclusions can we draw from these maps? Our proposed Route 8 is dramatically superior – a huge area of Fairview and Clayton Park becomes accessible from the Irving Shipyard. Under our changes to the Route 8, fourteen thousand more people would have a half hour or less trip to the north end of Barrington: Mulgrave Park, Irving Shipyard and the Naval Dockyard. That’s impressive, especially considering the tradeoff is just a 4 minute increase in trip time for people busing from Bedford to the south end of Robie Street. Transit design is about tradeoffs, and this one seems pretty good. Halifax Transit’s report does not adequately address these tradeoffs.

Our change to the Route 6 is also a winner, giving over seven thousand more people half hour or less trips to Pleasant Street and Woodside, the location of NSCC, Dartmouth General, Nova Scotia Hospital and the Woodside Ferry. These are all important, all day destinations for lots of people.

We thought ending the Route 3 (Crosstown) at Bridge Terminal would be more than offset by extending the Route 6. The data, however, shows that isn’t the case. While the Route 6 extension is a good idea, it doesn’t nearly make up for the loss of access from cutting the Route 3. Kyle’s map below shows the problem pretty clearly. The Its More than Buses (IMTB) proposal means over twenty-one thousand fewer people can get to North End Darmouth in half an hour. That’s a poor adjustment.

imtb_maps_2016-11-11

The area in purple can be reached in 30 minutes to or from the start point by both the Its More than Buses (IMTB) and Moving Forward (MFTP) options. The area in blue can only be accessed in 30 minutes by the IMTB option, while the area in red can only be accessed in 30 minutes from the MFTP proposal. Clearly the Moving Forward proposal is superior: terminating the Route 3 at Bridge Terminal is not a good option.

A few final thoughts. The travel time mapping helps us understand what areas gain and lose from different travel choices. It shows what destinations can be easily reached. There are clear limitations to our mapping: we only used corridor routes; and we only mapped important destinations. But, it helps clearly show the tradeoffs involved in transit design.

We kept service levels (e.g. how often the buses come) as proposed by Moving Forward for both proposals, which is a mix of 10 and 15 minute frequencies in rush hour. Our changes were also limited to what we considered to be the “low-hanging fruit” needed to cut overlap and put in place critical cross-towns. With higher frequencies, and more crosstown routes, our connective model would have done even better relative to the Moving Forward option.

Why? Moving Forward uses many buses to do similar things, like running multiple routes down Robie, the Bedford Highway, Portland Street, across the MacDonald Bridge and of course on Barrington, Spring Garden and Robie. Every additional bus on those streets provides very few new travel choices – if you’ve got 6 routes already, is a 7th similar route really that much better? The law of diminishing returns. But, if you move some of those routes from streets with too many routes, to streets with no routes you open up lots of new trip options. When buses come often and people can quickly change between routes – connection! – you open up further travel choices. It’s not about adding more routes or more buses, it’s about putting them in more useful places.

Kyle Miller and Paul Dec, two professional planners and Its More than Buses volunteers, have created the maps and travel time analysis presented in this blog. Our hope is that it shows the public, Mayor and Council just how much stronger analysis is needed to truly understand the massive impacts of a complicated transit network. There are huge negative trade-offs baked into Halifax Transit’s approach – we want Council to understand how much service is available if a connective network. We fully believe that if presented with the facts, the dramatic advantages of a connective network will become obvious. Once again, Its More Than Buses is recommending that Council reject this report as inadequate, and bring in an international expert to review Moving Forward Together. Residents, transit riders and all who pay taxes deserve to see the cost of preserving the status-quo.

 

 

Open Letter to Council – Halt Moving Forward, Bring in an Expert (updated)

Halifax Transit released their latest report on the Moving Forward Plan. It’s More than Buses advice to Council is simple: this report is inadequate, does not solve dramatic problems in the network and should be rejected. The report only recommends one change out of 23 potential changes, and that is simply renumbering a route. The Plan needs much, much more work. We recommend that Council halts the process and brings in an international caliber expert in transit network redesign, immediately.  For several years, we have attempted to work with Council and Halifax Transit to provide a frequent, connected network in Halifax. It is now clear that Halifax Transit is not planning to create such a network.

It’s More than Buses has identified several key shortcomings of Moving Forward Together. In particular, there are four major shortcomings:

  1. The lack of a connective network which will result in dramatically less travel choice for transit users
  2. Inefficient and redundant route design that will cause ridership to remain low
  3. Missing data and analysis making it difficult to have good, evidence-based discussion
  4. A five-year implementation, which will cause unpredictability for riders as routes continuously change

Our primary concern is that this is a plan that disregards the key principles that Halifax Transit identified through years of public engagement and consultation. These are the same principles that Regional Council approved. In 2013, Halifax Transit began the process of soliciting public opinion on a network redesign. The four key principles developed from this initial round of consultation include: (1) increase resources allocated to high ridership services, (2) build a simplified transfer based system, (3) invest in service quality and reliability, and (4) give transit increased priority in the transportation network.The Moving Forward Plan does not deliver on those principles.

Halifax Transit has repeatedly failed to provide Council with basic information on how their proposed network functions. This includes

  • Travel time mapping to show where people can travel.
  • The amount of resources dedicated to coverage services and ridership services.

International transit experts we have worked with, including Darren Davis and Jarrett Walker, believe it is impossible to have a good transit debate without this information. Halifax Transit continues to ignore international best practice in network design, and essentially asks Council and the public to trust them. There is, however, a dramatically better approach for Halifax then what Halifax Transit is proposing. It is a connective network, which provides many more travel opportunities for the same amount of service.

It is time for a new approach to transit planning, which helps Council understand the benefits and trade-offs for different network options.

Buses Matter

It’s More than Buses was thrilled to host Darren Davis in September. 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 name a few).

A simple point made by Darren, that is often overlooked is just that buses matter. They are the foundation of most transit systems. In Halifax, buses are the major mode of public transit. Almost 100,000 trips are made by bus everyday in Halifax, and the annual transit budget is over $100 million. But, our bus network is not nearly good enough. It operates well below its potential. Dramatically improving our bus system would accomplish so much. A better bus network would:

  1. Connect riders with many more services and jobs;
  2. Speed up trips to work and to school;
  3. Make transit a more attractive choice, thereby increasing ridership;
  4. Bring in more fare revenue as ridership increases, thereby lowering subsidies;
  5. Reduce the number of people travelling by car;
  6. Reduce the demand from cars for road space and for parking spaces;
  7. Reduce greenhouse gas and particulate emissions from cars;
  8. Encourage more people to walk for more trips (most transit trips start on foot);
  9. Support higher density development and many HRM planning goals;
  10. Help attract residents and businesses who value good transit.

Good transit clearly has huge benefits, but those benefits only happen if lots of people ride transit. The more people that ride transit, the more Halifax benefits. This is one reason buses, yes boring buses, are so important. Since buses run on existing roads, there are limited upfront costs to creating new bus routes – you need some buses and some stops. The upfront costs of streetcars, light rail or commuter rail is high. Even dense cities with massive subway and rail networks (London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Moscow) can’t afford to build rail everywhere. Buses have a big role to play in big transit networks. Consider this tweet from Jennifer Keesmat, chief planner in Toronto: 60% of all people using transit are on a bus for at least part of their trip.

transit-toronto

Any city that wants to provide transit service to many neighbourhoods, needs to use buses. Any city that wants to build up transit ridership to a point where rail becomes attractive, needs to use buses. And cities like Halifax – small, moderate density – likely only have a handful of routes where there may be enough people riding transit to even look at rail. Because rail is expensive to build, and often expensive to operate, it is easiest to justify on busy transit corridors, usually where peak transit demand is over two thousand people per hour, per direction.

In Halifax, the MacDonald Bridge meets that threshold, but few other corridors are even close to that busy. Many neighbourhoods have strong transit demand, but not enough demand to look at laying new rail lines: Spryfield; Fairview; Clayton Park West; Sackville and North and Central Dartmouth. In addition, many key destinations aren’t close to the water or rail lines, including: the Halifax Infirmary; the IWK and VG; the naval dockyard and shipyard; Mic Mac Mall; Dartmouth Crossing,  plus NSCC campuses and high schools across the region. These are all places that many people want to travel to, and the bus is the most likely option to serve most trips across HRM for the foreseeable future.

We already have buses, and they already go to all these locations. The problem is that the existing bus service is not good enough. Neither is the service proposed under Halifax Transit’s network redesign, the Moving Forward Plan. Our buses need to be faster, come more frequently and be more reliable. Buses need to quickly and easily connect more people to more destinations. Building a radically better bus system will help people who already use the bus, it will encourage more people to take the bus, and it will build ridership to support other transit projects.

Whatever other transit we need or choose in the future, our city will be much better off with better buses.

The Advantage of Connective Networks

It’s More than Buses was thrilled to host Darren Davis at the end of September. 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. Over the next few weeks we’ll look more closely at some of the lessons from Auckland that apply to Halifax. Today: connective networks.

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, compared to networks that try to give everyone a route to everywhere.

Darren uses the diagrams below to show how a connective network works. Both diagrams are from Jarrett Walker’s blog Human Transit.

single-ride-network

connective-network

The first diagram shows a network that tries to give everyone a ‘single-seat ride’ to many destinations. There are many routes, but they don’t run very often. Every residential area has a bus going to each major activity area. This is very similar to how Halifax Transit’s network currently works, with the major activity areas being Downtown Halifax, hospitals and universities.

The bottom diagram shows a connective network, using the same amount of service. Every residential area has a high frequency route running to one activity area. To travel somewhere else, you’ll have to change bus routes (or streetcar routes, or subway lines, or rail lines. Regardless of the vehicles, the network principles apply). While this sounds like a huge pain, remember that we’re using three routes instead of nine. Having only a third the number of routes lets us triple the frequency in our connective network! So if buses in the single-seat network arrive every 30 minutes, in the connective network buses arrive every 10 minutes.

Frequent service is critical. It means you’ll spend less time waiting for the bus. In the single-seat network, people riding the bus wait on average fifteen minutes for a bus (average wait time is half of the 30 minute frequency). So even if you have a direct trip, you have long wait times on a single-seat network. In the connective network, people’s average wait time for a bus is five minutes (half of the 10 minute frequency). So for the one direct trip you can make (say taking the red line from Residential 1 to Activity Area 3 in the diagrams above), you’ve cut 10 minutes off the average trip, because the frequency is so much higher, and people spend less time waiting for the bus. For trips with a transfer (say Residential 1 to Activity Area 1), an average rider will spend five minutes waiting for the red line, and another five minutes waiting for the blue line when transferring. That’s 10 minutes of wait time in the connective network, versus 15 minutes of wait time in the single-seat network. Even though the distance people travel in the bus (or streetcar, or subway …) may be a bit longer in the connective network, the higher frequency in a connective network means less waiting. Less waiting time means that travel times in connective networks are comparable or better than single-seat networks. Connective networks offer access to many more destinations. Plus they offer much higher frequency, which is critical to making transit more appealing.

How else can we look at this? As both Darren Davis and Jarrett Walker note, connective networks offer many time more access than single seat networks: they provide more departures and access to more destinations! And they do that for the same price.

But, Halifax Transit isn’t building a connective network

Halifax Transit is undertaking a redesign of their network, called the Moving Forward Together Plan. This redesign started in 2013. The second draft of the Plan was approved in principal at the HRM Council meeting on April 12, 2016.

One principle of the Moving Forward Plan is to build a simplified, transfer based system (a connective network!). Unfortunately, Halifax Transit walked back that principle in an August 2014 report, when they reported to Council that a transfer-based (i.e. connective) network was not possible. Let’s just say we disagree. Completely.

The latest Moving Forward Draft is shown below. There are many routes heading to Downtown Halifax and universities: lots of core routes overlap in these same areas. This is certainly not a network that provides useful connections. It is a very complex network that poorly serves people travelling crosstown, and clogs up major streets with too many buses, each with too few riders. The network is too complex to properly map. Thin blue lines show over a half dozen routes on the same stretch of road, but its difficult to say where each route ends and begins.

all-day-moving-forward

The above map doesn’t even include all of the Halifax Transit routes! There are also rush-hour only routes, shown on the map below.

peak-hour-moving-forward

Notice how little area the rush hour buses cover. Going to the Dartmouth General? These routes aren’t. Halifas Shopping Centre and Mumford Terminal. Nope. But, all these routes overlap in a few places – the MacDonald Bridge, Gottingen, Barrington, Spring Garden and Morris. 19 separate routes rush hour routes go to Scotia Square, in addition to 10 all-day routes.

Our best guess is that in rush hour, there will be somewhere between 60 and 85 buses per hour stopping at Scotia Square. Between 120 and 170 buses every morning and afternoon rush! This is a bus sewer – a funnel of buses that provide little useful service but overwhelm a street. This is a problem that Downtown Halifax, Spring Garden Road and the North End business districts have been complaining about for years. The proposed Moving Forward Plan does not solve this problem. It doesn’t even take this problem seriously.

This is a major design flaw in the proposed Moving Forward network: a huge number of buses converging on one location. We already know what this looks like: buses running in clumps instead of providing useful frequency; the first two or three buses fairly full and the next four mostly empty (people understandably hop on the first express bus that they see at Bridge Terminal or Main Avenue); buses in line to get to a bus stop; and wall to wall noise and diesel fumes on Barrington Street; Spring Garden Road and Gottingen Street.

In a connective network, different routes are arranged to provide many travel options. In a single-seat network, routes inevitably overlap, wasting resources and providing no extra travel options.

Halifax Transit insists that the Moving Forward network provides the best of a single-seat network and a transfer based network. A close look at the horrendous overlap proposed for Downtown Halifax, and the terrible connections elsewhere in the region, suggest that Moving Forward is really the worst parts of a single-seat network, with hardly any of the immense benefits of a connective network.

This needs to change. Council must step up and demand a better solution from Halifax Transit. We’ll share our proposed changes to the Moving Forward Plan in the next post.

 

 

Darren Davis: Expert transit advice and inspiration from Auckland, NZ.

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.