District 2 councillor David Hendsbee says the Black community of East Preston once had weekend bus service.

“There was weekend service in the past when the bus route was operated under the former ‘Halifax County Beaver Bank Transit Service’; a holdover service prior to HRM Amalgamation,” Hendsbee said in an e-mail. “The weekend service was running initially during the summer months to have transportation options available for youth for summer job opportunities.”

But that weekend service was cut due to low ridership.

Hendsbee’s comments come in response to an Examiner story last week about the current bus service in East Preston following a recent overhaul to the Halifax Transit system.

Hendsbee said that the #401 bus that serves East Preston travels between Cole Harbour to Porters Lake via Highway #7 gives more service to the communities of Westphal, Lake Echo, and Porters Lake, in addition to East Preston, and that recent changes to the route came at the expense of transit service to West Chezzetcook, Grand Desert, and Seaforth; there’s now no transit service at all in those communities.

Still, as Marshall Williams, an East Preston resident who uses the 401 to get to and from work noted in last week’s story, that the increased frequency along the Highway 7 corridor means that, now, each bus comes earlier than it did prior to last week’s changes. This means that the final bus out of East Preston on weeknights leaves just before 8:30pm — an entire hour earlier than it did just prior to last week’s changes.

“Even when they get it half right, they get it wrong,” Williams said.

To recap, here’s the current bus service in East Preston:

  • On weekdays, there are only seven buses per day; four in the morning, three in the evening.
  • On weekdays, there is a six-hour gap where the service doesn’t operate between 11am and 5pm.
  • On weekdays, buses arrive over an hour and a half apart (not including the six-hour midday gap).
  • As of last week, on weekdays, the last morning bus leaves 40 minutes earlier than it did prior to recent changes
  • As of last week, on weekdays, the last nighttime bus leaves just prior to 8:30pm — an hour earlier than it did before the recent changes.
  • Though newly implemented, on weekends, only three buses operate per day, each of them five hours apart.
Old bus schedule (left) vs new bus schedule for the number 401 that services East Preston. Red highlights: Discontinued portion of the route. Yellow highlights: old and new East Preston departure times. Green highlights: Newly launched weekend schedule.
Old bus schedule (left) versu new bus schedule for the number 401 that services East Preston. Red highlights: Discontinued portion of the route. Yellow highlights: old and new East Preston departure times. Green highlights: Newly launched weekend schedule.

Anti-Black Racism, marginalization, and employment

Hendsbee agreed that employment opportunities are linked to the availability of transit.

Sketchy transit service can be “an obstacle problem for all rural youth,” he said, but that’s the case “regardless of race; the same can be said elsewhere.”

It is true that people in surrounding predominately-white rural communities and other rural communities have the same transportation options and limitations when it comes to public transit service as East Preston. As Hendsbee noted, some rural communities close to Preston or across HRM have less or no public transit service at all; the historical Black community of Lucasville outside of Halifax has been fighting for years to get transit.

But what sets the residents of East Preston apart from their white neighbouring communities is why its residents live and have longstanding family ties to this particular geographic area of the municipality in the first place: anti-Black racism dating back to the late 1700s.

Simply put: The people of Cherrybrook, North Preston and East Preston were discriminated against for being Black; placed on the outskirts in places like Preston because they were Black.

Over centuries, Preston developed a stigma for being a community full of Black people. And today, even when people from the Prestons are able to overcome obstacles faced by all people living in rural communities with respect transportation, they tend to face additional obstacles when seeking employment by mere virtue of the fact that they’re Black and/or from the Prestons.

Even Black people who don’t live in the Prestons face discrimination by virtue of mere assumption that they are or may be from the Prestons.

A cruel, kinetic, anti-Black racist cycle.

Improving service and the anti-Black racism framework

Hendsbee noted that “The lack of transit service or frequency of trips during the day or into later evenings depends on ridership and population density.”

“Communities such as Lake Echo and Porters Lake have higher population density than East Preston but are still hindered from getting more service due to distance away from metro,” he said.

A white and blue map of Halifax Transit bus # 401, Porters Lake Route Map
Halifax Transit bus # 401, Porters Lake Route Map

In June, Halifax city council voted unanimously to endorse an “anti-Black racism framework” — an action plan to deal with anti-Black racism related to municipal services, such as transit.

Prior to the vote, Coun. Hendsbee was an active contributor to a council discussion about the initiative along with the city’s managing director of the office of diversity and inclusion, Tracey Jones-Grant.

“It’s not going to solve everything and it’s not going fix everything, and developing a framework and an action plan isn’t going to erase 400 years of oppression,” Jones-Grant said to me in an interview with Global in the days following the vote.

“If the recent HRM anti-Black racism strategy can address some of these availability to service, then it ought to help,” Hendsbee said of the current bus situation in East Preston.

That’s an aspirational “if” — there are no specific directions to improve transit service to Black communities as a result of the anti-Black racism framework.

Left Photo: Halifax Councillor David Hendsbee at City Hall. Right Photo: Marshall Willams, from east Preston, sits at a window seat on a Transit bus.
Left Photo: Coun. David Hendsbee. Right Photo: East Preston resident, Marshall Williams.

Hendsbee noted that East Preston is outside the municipality road maintenance territory. Currently, the province maintains rural roads, although Hendsbee said that will be changing in 2022.

“Perhaps when HRM takes over the rural roads in East Preston, Lake Echo, Mineville and the western portion of Lawrencetown (that happens to be totally void of any transit service with the exception of MusGo Rider ) then perhaps a more universal solution can be sought to address this problem of connectivity for all within this area,” he wrote.

In the meanwhile, Hendsbee deflects the transit responsibility onto the province.

“The province talks about creating a Rural Transit Strategy. Hopefully, they will create it soon. And it ought to make certain conditions attached to some of the funding that they currently provide. Perhaps the province should dictate that the provincial contribution should be directed at extending transit to serve rural communities by establishing Rural Express Park & Ride terminals to serve Musquodoboit Harbour, Mineville/Lake Echo/East Preston at Hwy 107 Exit 18 and at Ross Road / Main Street.”

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Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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