Halifax Transit’s latest report to council’s Transportation Standing Committee can be summed up in a word: No.
Six months ago Halifax Regional Council unanimously requested a report on hiring a consultant to review the corridor routes of Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together (MFT) plan. You may remember reading about it here.
On Wednesday, June 7, that report will come to the Transportation Standing Committee with a recommendation that existing Halifax Transit staff be responsible for reviewing their own work in the Moving Forward Together plan (which incidentally, the report notes, they were planning to do anyway).
The report outlines a weak case on why Halifax Transit staff would be preferable to an outside consultant to conduct a review of MFT: Halifax Transit staff are good, qualified people who know the system better, the report offers, as if there were no value in a fresh perspective, and as if our transit staffers, with all their knowledge and expertise, wouldn’t be involved in the process at all.
This is clearly a report written by a transit agency that is hostile to the idea of outside help, and as much as I hate to say it, that’s a clear red flag for problematic leadership. Does Halifax Transit head Dave Reage understand how defensive it sounds to refuse input from an outside expert? It’s almost as if Reage isn’t confident in what he’s created with Moving Forward Together, and so is unwilling to hear any potential criticism of it, which an outside perspective might bring.
But MFT is just too important to be left to suffer under whatever sad psychology is at work in this report. We need the best possible outcome for our transit system, and a second set of eyes on route redesign will only help inform the decisions to get there. Councillors on the Transportation Standing Committee should ignore the recommendation in the report, and force Reage to figure out how to benefit from constructive criticism, instead of avoiding it at the expense of our transit network.
I asked Scott Edgar of It’s More Than Buses (IMTB), the transit advocacy group that has long pushed for an outside expert review of MFT, for the group’s reaction. “Frankly baffling” sums up his emailed response, but since it’s so concise, here’s the whole thing:
IMTB could not be more disappointed with this report. There are network design experts who have proven track records of success doing exactly the job the Moving Forward Together plan would do for HRM. But at almost every step of the process going back for years now, Halifax Transit has refused to consult with experts who have done this kind of redesign successfully. When it has received expert advice, it has ignored it. This staff report continues that pattern. Even when Council has explicitly directed Halifax Transit to look into consulting with professionals with relevant experience, Halifax Transit refuses to do so. It is frankly baffling. One question is whether Council will hold Halifax Transit to the directions they have given previously, or if they will allow Halifax Transit to refuse to carry out those directions as asked?
Perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of this story is that there is nearly zero new information in the report, despite a six-month turnaround time. Had Halifax Transit jumped at the chance to make MFT better, a consultant could have been hired by now. But instead we waited six months to read that it might cost between $85,000 and $100,000 to hire someone, numbers which don’t seem like the product of a half-year long enquiry.
In the report’s “alternatives” section, Halifax Transit has essentially spit back the exact wording of the original council motion (passed unanimously six months ago) with an estimated price tag tacked on at the end:
The Committee may recommend that Regional Council direct staff to engage a consultant to prepare a report in 18/19 that outlines any recommended modifications to Corridor Routes, as shown in the Moving Forward Together Plan. The report would take into account new or updated data, specifically including ridership data, as well as the findings of the following studies/projects: the Integrated Mobility Plan, the Bus Rapid Transit Feasibility Study, the Mumford Terminal Replacement Opportunities Assessment, and the Transit Priorities Corridor Study, and also to complete travel time mapping. It is estimated that the cost for this exercise would be $85,000 – $100,000.
What’s truly sad here is that even if councillors decide to choose this alternative, they will be in the position of forcing this on Dave Reage and Halifax Transit. In a better world, Reage would have happily taken up the opportunity offered by council to add an expert to his team for a few months. Instead we have this small-minded and protectionist recommendation. Baffling, indeed.
The report is on the agenda for Transportation Standing Committee on Wednesday, June 7 at 1pm.