Review of Halifax Transit’s "Moving Forward Together" Plan

April 12/16
Review of Halifax Transit’s "Moving Forward Together" Plan

Dear Mayor Mike Savage and HRM Councillors:

The movement of people in a city is a fundamental responsibility of municipal government and a significant ingredient that goes into the recipe that is quality of life. We would like to congratulate you and the staff of Halifax Transit for working hard to get to a place where a robust discussion about transit in our municipality is taking place.

On behalf of our 1,600 business members, we have reviewed Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together Plan. As you deliberate and choose a direction, there are a number of aspects of the plan we wish to bring to your attention, for consideration. These might inform amendments to the plan, or might more appropriately frame future conversations in the Integrated Mobility Plan, or future HRM budgets:

There is no significant change to the ferry service. The ferry, particularly the route connecting Downtown Halifax with Downtown Dartmouth, is the key connection between these two halves of the urban core. With residential and commercial growth now happening in both Downtown Dartmouth and Downtown Halifax, we expect to see an even greater need for easy commuting and connection options across the harbor. In fact, there is a case to be made that the ferry should not even be seen primarily as a means of transit, but as that key pedestrian access, like a sidewalk or bridge. It could be argued that the funding requirements for the ferry be removed from regular transit consideration, and that it be maintained as a frequent, and always available, option. This would, in a significant way, knit the fabric of our downtowns together and serve to use the harbour to connect rather than divide us. This would be a big idea for our city.

The entire system sees Downtown Halifax as a destination, but not an area that also requires connections within it. In the Transit Plan, Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street continue to work as a spine for the system, and as routes for corridors. However, those streets are not just overlapping transit corridors – they are our key retail and main streets. For years, the loudness, smell, and sheer volume of bus traffic has been a deterrent to successful ground floor operations and pedestrian experience. This challenge can be solved in several ways, including using smaller intra-modal vehicles, and also end-destinations for the corridors from which one can transfer to these smaller buses. While the goal of Halifax Transit is to achieve a better commuting modal split, a key element to attracting high density, urban dwellers is to provide them with great non-car options. If Halifax Transit is not responsible for considering this, and they are not, who is?

Little mention is made of the upcoming opportunities being presented by the Cogswell Interchange. The Interchange is envisioned to serve some significant transit purpose, among others. This is not well articulated, and one hopes there is flexibility in this plan to use the Cogswell Interchange to address the issue of buses on Barrington Street.

Little mention is made of the Peninsula Rail Cut. It is acknowledged that ownership of the rail cut is not in municipal control. But so great an asset with real transit potential (either bus or rail) cannot be ignored. Hopefully this can finally be looked at in a holistic way in the Integrated Mobility Plan. This could also hold the key to providing a truly effective Transit Priority Measure (TPM), a potential solution for trucks on Hollis and Lower Water, light rail, transit hub, etc. It is time HRM comes up with a plan for how the rail cut could best serve the needs of our citizens.

Moving Forward Together has a long phase-in period, but a sufficient explanation is not given as to why it needs to be so. Each regular commuter will experience their own change in an overnight fashion, and it is hard to imagine how the system will work if it is not changed together. Obviously, there are logistical and cost issues, but it seems unnecessarily long.

There is a lack of detail about the Automatic Vehicle Location technology. Knowing where a bus is at any given time would be the top convenience improvement for riders. Given the prevalence of GPS information for cars, phones, taxis, etc, this is something that is simply expected by transit riders. More clarity on how it will work and when it will be available is important.

We share the concern of It’s More Than Buses, that there appears to be a lack of information regarding how the new system will compare to the current system for the riders who use it. While the analysis of the corridor system seems sound, metrics to back it up seem to be lacking. If this analysis has been done, it should be made available, to build confidence that the system is going in a positive direction.

Thank you for working to implement a new transit plan. As you work to improve transit, as well as overall transportation in the Integrated Mobility Plan, we believe these are important aspects to consider and address.

Paul MacKinnon, Executive Director, Downtown Halifax Business Commission