The venerable route 10, from
The venerable route 10.  Image from
The venerable route 10.  Image from

They’ve gone and done it. Yesterday, regional council approved Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together plan, revamping the city’s bus routes in an effort to increase efficiency and ridership.

No need to brace yourselves for change right away, though. The plan will be implemented over five years, with major route changes happening in the last three.

And, despite the overall approval, the discussion over tweeks and changes to the new transit plan is far from over. Councillors included an amendment requesting a supplementary report from transit staff “outlining options, financial and operational implications” for 23 different items, from saving the Sambro loop service to reversing the route numbers for Cherry Brook and North Preston.

We should be thankful, I guess, that council wasn’t willy-nilly passing amendments to alter routes and add service without first getting the details on financial and operational impacts of what they were doing.  But this does mean that the real work of council, actually making the call on the trade-offs needed for a more efficient, high ridership transit system will be delayed until we hear back from transit staff, probably months from now.

Want to check out the full list of 23 requests from councillors? Scroll down below.

As expected, councillors were asking to keep service that had been slated for the chopping block. They were also asking for tweaks to routes, such as having the airport bus venture into Fall River (whereas now it stops at their park and ride facility), or maintaining routing of the #10 in the south end to include Inglis and Beaufort. There were also more substantial requests.

Peter Mancini put forward a proposal by the Main Street Business Improvement District to bring a series of routes along Main Street in Dartmouth, and also asked for a new Dartmouth corridor route running north to south, from Burnside all the way to Woodside. Jennifer Watts asked for enhancements to east-west routes on the north end of the peninsula, helping connect Bayers Road and Mumford to northern Barrington Street.

Lorelei Nicholl was the only councillor to question the timeline of the plan. She asked what it would take to get the proposed link in Cole Harbour operational before 2021. It’s a shame that her request was specifically focussed on moving up one particular route, and not speeding up the entire implementation schedule.

Of course, faster implementation would mean not only more buses, earlier than planned, but also more staff to do the work of scheduling the new system. But we may not find out how much this will cost unless staff have a generous interpretation of Nicholl’s request, and actually explore the options for faster implementation of the plan overall.

Stephen Adams alone tried to buck the pattern of councillors asking for further information by attempting a manoeuvre to have the Route 15 Purcell’s Cove separated from the main plan and defeated, thereby reverting it to its status quo of hourly, all day service. But the plan being a massively complex and interconnected system, the play didn’t work, and so route 15 simply got added to the list.

Adam’s also asked for immediate reconsideration of the Route 402 to Sambro, but eventually conceded to add it to the list, along with the rest of council’s items.

Right now 10 buses a day head out the Sambro loop, in a single direction, winding up at the South Centre Mall in Spryfied. It’s a poor service, by any standard. But according to Steve Adams, it’s better than nothing.

Adams presented a financial analysis positing that the 402 actually breaks even, once you consider the revenue it brings in from local area transit tax rates. (In case you didn’t know: if you’re within one kilometre of a transit route, you pay for it.) Since Adams’ raw numbers came from Halifax Transit staff, this one threw me for a loop, especially since Halifax Transit reports that with an average 25 boardings per day, the cost of the 402 is currently $64.42 per person.

One issue with Adams’ analysis, as transit staff pointed out to me, is that transit area rates don’t buy a route, they buy access to a system. So it’s not really as simple as adding up the costs of one route to determine if it “breaks even.”

Another, possibly more important issue is this: why is Adams advising his residents to pay $303,000 in taxes for a bus that runs one-way past their houses 10 times a day? It seems like horrible value for their money.

With $303,000 to work with (that’s $830 a day, 365 days a year), I’m pretty sure the community of Sambro and environs could figure out better ways to get people where they need to go and back again. Maybe start handing out taxi chits? Or more practically, have a look at a community transit model like MusGo Rider, for example.

Perhaps the city should be leading the way on finding these different, better ways for rural communities to get connected, instead of relying on communities themselves to get organized and apply to the Rural Transit Funding Program. Maybe a transition period is in order, where the city collects an extra year of transit taxes from Sambro in order to bankroll a community-owned transit cooperative.

But in terms of regularly scheduled transit service like what’s currently offered by Halifax Transit, it seems Adams’ own numbers prove that model is not working here.

Of course, staff will still be reporting on the Route 402 Sambro, and the discussion will come back to council at some point in the future, as it will for all 23 items on the list.

Noone was willing to hazard a guess on how long it might take for the report to come back, though several months at a minimum seems like a good bet.

For a little more detail, here’s the list of items put forward by councillors:

CouncillorDistrictItem requested for supplemental report
MASON, on behalf of KARSTENDartmouth South – Eastern PassageOptions providing the residents of Eastern Passage/Cow Bay transit service to
Cole Harbour and possibly continuing to Portland Hills terminal
ADAMSSpryfield – Sambro Loop- Prospect RoadPurcell’s Cove bus route 15 be considered to leave the service as is.
DALRYMPLEWaverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit ValleyOn extending one small portion of the airport route (320), to come into the community of Fall River as part of its regular route.
NICHOLLCole Harbour – WestphalThe proposed link into Cole Harbour be implemented prior to 2021.
HENDSBEEPreston–Chezzetcook–Eastern ShoreThat the route numbers associated with the bus routes in North Preston and Cherry Brook remain as is.
HENDSBEEPreston–Chezzetcook–Eastern ShoreConsider the proposed alternate Route 370 (Porters Lake) as identified in the map distributed by Councillor Hendsbee at the Committee of the Whole meeting on April 12, 2016.
DALRYMPLEWaverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit ValleyRoute 55 be considered to be extended and that the following options be evaluated:
i) extend Route 55 to the community of Waverly and return.
ii) extend Route 55 through Waverly to the Fall River Park and Ride.
iii) extend Route 55 through Waverly to Sackville Terminal on Cobequid Road.
MOSHERHalifax West ArmdaleExisting 6 Quinpool be retained as is.
WHITMANHammonds PlainsSt. MargaretsExtend Hammonds Plains buses to Tantallon and Tantallon buses to
Hammonds Plains, Peggy’s Cove and Hubbards.
OUTHITBedford – WentworthProposed Route 93, (Bedford), which goes through the Nottingham community, determine how it could be expanded to service residents in the area surrounding the Sunnyside Mall and Bedford Place Mall.
ADAMSSpryfield – Sambro Loop- Prospect RoadDetermine whether the Sambro Community Transit Route 402 could be removed.
MASONHalifax South DowntownContinuing with proposed #10 on the current route #10 on Inglis and Beaufort.
MASONHalifax South DowntownExtending local bus service, such as proposed route 24, to provide service to the Joseph Howe Manor, the seniors residence located at 5515 Victoria Road.
MANCINIHarbourview – Burnside – Dartmouth EastConsider the detailed report submitted by the Main Street BID as distributed at the COW meeting of April 12, 2016, with respect to adopting its recommendation for Route 63, 68, Route 55, and Route 401.
MANCINIHarbourview – Burnside – Dartmouth EastConsider the Greater Burnside Business Association communication April 8,
2016 to not locate the bus terminal at Wright Avenue and Akerley Blvd. and
locate it at or near the Dartmouth 4 Pad.
MANCINIHarbourview – Burnside – Dartmouth EastDirect staff to amend (or add) so there is a corridor route running North South in Dartmouth connecting Burnside, Highfield Terminal, Bridge Terminal, Downtown Dartmouth and Woodside, to improve regional connections to these locations and also make it easier to travel within Dartmouth.
MCCLUSKEYDartmouth CentreThat staff consider extending service for routes associated with the service
industry (downtown areas – Scotia Square/Alderney Gate) and Dartmouth
Crossing to coincide with working hours.
MOSHERHalifax West ArmdaleExisting Route 5 which becomes 26 Springvale Avenue continue to travel past
Mumford to downtown and not terminate at the Mumford terminal.
JOHNSMiddle/Upper Sackville – Beaver Bank – LucasvilleProvide a history of transit services (planned and actual) to the community of
Lucasville, including past budget commitments and changes to the transit
boundaries, including options on how to extend conventional service to the
community, present options to provide a peak time service to Lucasville
community and include any financial commitments Halifax Transit could commit to provide the alternate service.
WHITMANHammonds PlainsSt. MargaretsIdentify other local routes in the proposed plan that through improved service
levels or extensions may in the future provide crosstown service as part of a grid
network high frequency grid [Potentials include the 29, the 72, the 84 from
Sackville and the 32 – all numbers in the new plan].
WATTSHalifax Peninsula NorthImplications of the proposed Roslyn Rd route for #1 bus during afternoon peak
hours that included rationale for this route, alternatives considered, options for
peak hour service, options for identifying traffic calming and how this proposal
relates to the Integrated Mobility Plan.
MOSHERHalifax West ArmdaleRoute 32 Cowie Hill Express which becomes the Route 124 Leiblin link continue
to travel on Summer Street and not Robie Street.
WATTSHalifax Peninsula NorthEnabling East-West routes to run across north end peninsula including identifying physical improvements to roads and installation of enhanced shelters at key transfer points in order to allow more riders convenient connections from Bayers Road and Mumford terminals to Barrington Street.

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  1. Thank you for this, Erica Butler!

    I believe that staff are to provide analysis of the sum of financial implications of cutting and adding services as well as a route-by-route analysis. In other words, will the total local transit tax revenue to be lost by eliminating or reducing some services be greater than that to be gained (along with possible additional fare revenue) from increasing others? The lack of this basic information alone should have been enough for Council to delay its decision on the plan. Apropos, of this, are local transit taxes increased with increased service and decreased with decreased service or is the local transit tax based solely on presence or absence of any service at all?

    On the Sambro route, I believe the community fought long and hard for this. It is unlikely that Adams has advised them one way or another. However, the fact that those living in a community are willing to contribute through their taxes to keeping a service that may be essential to the most vulnerable of its members is surely worthy of praise. Your comment on this is, like some of the proposed changes, too broad brushed. The needs of each community should be carefully considered on their own as well as the needs of the overall system.

  2. These are both routes I use, so I hope it doesn’t make me seem like a NIMBY type, but the route 5 from Mumford to Downtown is a zippy ride that serves Citadel High and avoids heavier transit routes like North Street. If service were to be cut between Mumford and Downtown on routes coming from Clayton Park, etc, I’d say the 2 or 4 would be better candidates, as the 52 still serves North Street for people going that way. Anyway, It’s a tough job for the people making these decisions – I’m just still not convinced they’ve ever used the system.

  3. Adams is an excellent example of parochialism at its worst. Something this council seems exceedingly adept at.

    Big picture is not what these honoured individuals are about. They just need to please the 25% of people who actually turnout come election day.

    That’s a poor way to run a democracy.

    Vote in October!