Ride-hailing services will not solve Halifax traffic problems

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the role of ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, and whether or not they will ever come to Halifax.

There are a lot of valid reasons why introducing ride-hailing services could be attractive in Halifax. Currently, the taxi industry holds an effective monopoly on ad-hoc door-to-door trips and ride-hailing can provide competition in a market that has traditionally been dominated by a few companies. Consumer choice here may be a good thing. But, understandably there is some concern, both from the taxi industry and elsewhere, that these services provide ‘unfair’ competition because they are not subject to the same regulations (i.e.: taxi licencing, fare metering, etc….). These are valid concerns as well.

There are also major concerns about accessibility in ride-hailing services. Since these services rely almost exclusively on privately-owned vehicles, there’s no guarantee that they will be accessible to people with mobility challenges.

But the proponents of companies such as Uber and Lyft often like to cite the consumer convenience benefits – in particular, shorter travel times, and reducing traffic congestion – as reasons to introduce these services into new markets.

That is wrong.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Uber, Lyft, or any other ride-hailing service will make travel times shorter or reduce traffic congestion. In reality, planning and designing for these services will make travel times longer, and make traffic worse. Expert public transit consultant Jarrett Walker has gone so far as to call ride-hailing as an existential threat to liveable cities.

That’s because there are two important interrelated variables in people’s travel patterns that ride-hailing services don’t change: geometry and capacity.

Let’s illustrate these:

The shortest distance from any ‘Point A’ to any ‘Point B’ is always a straight line.


‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ along a straight line

However, in an urban transportation network, we don’t have the luxury of drawing straight lines from every single possible ‘Point A’ to every single possible ‘Point B’. Instead, we have road networks that are designed to move numerous people along standardized paths. The geometry of road networks is dictated by a number of factors. Density, landscape, population, etc… all determine how and where roads are laid out.


‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ through a typical grid road network


Because there’s only finite space for roads in a given area, road networks have a limited capacity. Since space is at a premium, a particular focus has to be given to how that space is used. Privately-owned vehicles are a extremely wasteful since they require much more space to move a single person through the road network than a public transit vehicle such as a bus, or streetcar.

Since only a limited number of privately-owned vehicles can move through a road network before it becomes saturated, the capacity of a road network is much lower using privately-owned vehicles than it would be using transit. When we have multiple people trying to get from multiple ‘Point As’ to multiple ‘Point Bs’ all at the same time, these road networks become congested with traffic.


Multiple ‘Point As’ to multiple ‘Point Bs’ causing road network congestion

So, how do ride-hailing services solve this problem?

They don’t.

Ride-hailing services rely on privately-owned vehicles to move people. If every single person who drove to work during the morning rush hour instead used an Uber or Lyft to get there, there would be the exact same number of vehicles on the road.


Planning and designing for ride-sharing is no different that planning and designing for cars. While there may be some consumer conveniences that makes these services seemingly attractive to use, they are fundamentally incompatible with goals of reducing traffic, road network congestion, and numbers of trips in privately-owned vehicles.

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How much do we care about Transit in Halifax?

The way we clear snow should reflect how much we care about our transit system.

These are all photos taken Tuesday morning, approximately 48 hours after receiving 30cm of snow this past weekend.


And then of course….quinpool_road

Halifax currently has a service standard where all bus stops should be clear 48 hours after a weather event and only after sidewalks have been cleared. Clearly there are a number of problems with this service standard. Even though all of these  stops are considered “cleared”, they are not friendly to transit uses.

A typical bus is 40 feet long. Articulated buses in Halifax are 60 feet long with two sets of rear doors. Yet, these stops have maybe 10 feet cleared of snow where riders can board and alight buses. Small snow clearings make the use of rear doors on buses impossible, thereby causing delays for everyone as it now takes twice as long to get everyone off and on a bus.

Each of these stops are also marked as wheelchair accessible, yet snow banks protrude into the road, preventing buses from fully pulling over to the curb and being able to operate their kneeling functions and wheelchair ramps.

These images show that we care enough about transit to clear snow, but we don’t care enough to do it well or consistently.

So what would it take to make user-friendly bus stops?

First, we need high traffic stops clear within 24 hours. That includes terminals, downtown streets, and stops at major intersections. 48 hours after a weather event means two days without access to transit service. That is in addition to the weather events themselves, which in Canada, can last a long time. We can also start by having crews ready, preparing and clearing stops pro-actively during weather events if it is safe to do so.

Second, we need bus stops cleared at the same time as sidewalks. Sooner or later, all transit users are pedestrians and having access to bus stops cleared at the same time as sidewalks ensures that once passengers get off a bus, they have a place to go safely. In practice, many operators do this already, even though it is not in the service standard (and they have our thanks!).

Third, we need 60 feet of ‘to-the-curb’ clearance at all bus stops. 60 feet gives enough room for a full articulated bus to operate all three sets of doors and will maximize efficiency in boarding and alighting passengers. 60 feet of’to-the-curb’ clearance will also ensure that there is plenty of room to operate wheelchair ramps and kneeling functions of buses.

There are examples of well-cleared stops in Halifax. Here’s one:


Ultimately, Halifax Transit is a $100 million system. An easy way to show that we really do care about the system is to make sure that stops are well-cleared, are user-friendly, and are accessible.

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2017 – Will it be a major year for Halifax Transit?

3 JAN 2017 – UPDATE: Halifax transportation advocate Ben Wedge pointed out an important consideration with regard to all-door boarding on transit vehicles. See his comments from an email below.

As 2016 wraps up, we take a look at some of the exciting projects that Halifax Transit is working on that we can look forward to in 2017.

Automated Stop Announcements

Last month, automated stop announcements became “the voice” of Halifax Transit buses. While only a certain number of buses and routes are currently equipped with this feature as part of a pilot project, this year, Halifax Transit plans on equipping all buses and all routes.

Have a look at this video from a Halifax Transit rider:

Automated announcements are a major step toward making transit more accessible and easier to use. For people with visual or hearing impairments, they can now use transit without having to rely on asking for assistance. For newcomers and visitors, they can know which stop they are arriving at without having to guess. A simple, but effective, way of making transit more convenient is to take the guess-work out of it.

Fare-box Management

This year, we could be saying goodbye to tickets, passes, change, and transfers in order to make way for things like smart-cards, and mobile payments. The fare box tends to be a major choke point in transit systems (think of how many times you’ve had to wait as the person getting on the bus in front of you fumbles for change or tickets). Multiply this delay by the number passengers and stops on a given route, and simply paying a fare becomes a major reason why buses are slow.

In 2016, Halifax Transit issued a Request for Proposals for a fare management solution, and a contract will very likely be issued soon. This will open the door to innovations such as swipe cards or tap cards, and preloaded passes, which will speed up the fare payment process and reduce delays along transit routes.

Take a look at Vancouver’s Compass Card:

In addition, it also will allow for all door boarding. Imagine, instead of everyone waiting to get on the bus at the front, both, or all three doors on buses can be used, speeding up the time it takes to get passengers on and off the bus.


2017 also promises to be an exciting year with transit infrastructure. With the Integrated Mobility Plan, which will shape how people move around the region in the coming years, being finalized, a number of interesting opportunities emerge for transit.

Some of the new infrastructure, such as the various transit priority measures, new buses and new terminals, will be very noticeable. There’s also an ongoing discussion on commuter rail, a new refresh of the Halifax Ferry Terminal that will continue throughout 2017.  But something that isn’t as ‘flashy’ that is being developed, is use of real-time vehicle location data in information-technology projects. As more data is gathered, it opens up possibilities to improve the overall usability of transit, including using that data to improve stop spacing, stop-designs and travel time throughout the system.

Network Redesign

The Moving Forward Together Plan was finally adopted by Halifax Regional Council. This year, Halifax will see the first of the changes to transit routes. In addition to that, council requested staff report on bringing in an outside expert to review the corridor routes as more and more of these other projects are completed. Corridor routes are designed to be the ‘backbone’ of the network, so getting these right will be critical to the success of Moving Forward Together.

Corridor routes won’t change until at least 2018. But this year, we can expect to see less duplication as service starts to change.

With so many changes happening, it’s looking like there will be a lot of potential this year. As all of the pieces above start to take shape, we may start to see a major shift in the way transit is thought about in Halifax.

Update from Ben Wedge:

“All door boarding is the policy at many agencies without electronic fare boxes and has been for years. All you need for all door boarding is a team of fare inspectors. Then anyone with a valid pass or transfer can board by the door they want, only those who need to purchase a fare need board at the front. 

With that said, electronic fare boxes can further enhance all door boarding by allowing passengers to purchase a pass at the back of the bus.”

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


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



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.


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


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


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.


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 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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.