Residents of a neighbourhood off Waverley Road are continuing their fight against a Halifax Transit routing change.
Route 55 Port Wallace used to run between the Bridge Terminal in Dartmouth and a gravel parking lot at the Highway 118 underpass on Waverley Road. As the Halifax Examiner reported in April 2021, Halifax Transit proposed to change the route as part of the Moving Forward Together Plan:
Citing low ridership, Halifax Transit is proposing to stop the route 3 km short at Charles Keating Drive, rather than continuing down Waverley Road to the Highway 118 underpass, where it turned around in a gravel parking lot.
The new route will use Charles Keating Drive and a portion of Craigburn Drive to create a loop at the end, and that had Coun. Cathy Deagle-Gammon, who represents District 1–Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley, asking questions.
Deagle-Gammon has heard from residents on Craigburn Drive who don’t want the bus running through their neighbourhood.
“There was a community meeting, a petition was given to council, but unfortunately COVID was ramping up and the election came and so there was no specific ask to council when the petition was given,” Deagle-Gammon said.
“The community would really like to see another option and consideration done.”
Some of the residents spoke during council’s budget committee deliberations last year,
“I feel like the demographics of the neighbourhood are either families with young kids or older individuals and there’s lots of families and we are just concerned about the safety aspect with the bus coming through,” Kate Ryan told councillors.
Parents in the neighbourhood feel comfortable sending their children to play at the playground on Craigburn Drive, Ryan said, and that wouldn’t be safe any more.
“I also don’t love the fact of the stranger danger risk of buses coming through and seeing small children playing independently because that is important to us, to allow our children to do that,” Ryan said.
The new routing was implemented in November 2021, and according to an information report to council’s Transportation Standing Committee, there haven’t been any problems.
“Although there were considerable concerns raised by residents in advance of the introduction of transit service on Craigburn Drive, since implementation, there have been no operational or safety issues,” Dave Espeseth, acting supervisor of service design and projects, wrote in the report.
Espeseth’s report looks at other options for turning Route 55 around, like using other streets or buying land, but none of them worked as well as Craigburn Drive.
“Any potential options other than the existing routing on the local streets would require capital investments as well as the potential for ongoing operating costs for maintenance,” Espeseth wrote.
Deagle-Gammon said residents are still opposed to the change. Though not a member of the Transportation Standing Committee, she joined its virtual meeting on Thursday as a guest to discuss the report.
“They believe that the Moving Forward Together Plan is based on a set of core principles aimed at making transit better, more efficient, and an attractive service. They don’t feel that this loop meets that objective at all. They think that the change is not better, more efficient, or attractive,” Deagle-Gammon said.
The residents argue the change doesn’t make the system more efficient because the time the bus used to spend driving to and from Waverley is now spent idling on Charles Keating Drive.
“If we wanted to save time, and if we wanted to save money, we’re not saving time if the bus is idling,” Deagle-Gammon said.
Patricia Hughes, director of planning and customer engagement at Halifax Transit, told councillors the idling is built-in time at the end of the line.
“Even though it might feel like that bus could make it out and back every time, that kind of is a built in layover recoup time as part of the transit system,” Hughes said.
“If it was so tight that there was never any delay at the end of the line, it would be late a lot of the time.”
Hughes said there isn’t enough data yet to determine whether the new route is a success.
“But over the next year, we’ll definitely be looking at all of the changes that happened in November 2021: what’s working, what we continue to get feedback on, what the ridership looks like, what the schedule adherence looks like. All of that will be continuously reviewed, moving forward,” Hughes said.
Deagle-Gammon argued Halifax Transit should revert to the old routing, but to revert back to the status quo would be in contravention of a policy in the municipality’s regional plan establishing the urban transit service boundary, according to Espeseth’s report.
Coun. Waye Mason, chair of the committee, said there are residents in the district he represents, downtown and the south end, that don’t want buses on their streets. Sometimes residents are just wrong, he said.
“Children are not threatened by buses. That just doesn’t happen. We have no record of that, no history of that in Halifax in my lifetime,” he said.
“I really question the idea that this is causing significant harm to those residents. I don’t think it is.”
Mason said route changes like this need to be based in policy and in system-wide goals. He suggested a motion asking for the route to be reconsidered in the ongoing regional plan review. Coun. Paul Russell made that motion, and it passed.
But external forces could necessitate a routing change anyway.
Espeseth’s report also gets into what the Port Wallace development means for the route. The proposed development is one of the provincial government’s new special planning areas, meaning it’s being fast tracked for special approval by Housing Minister John Lohr without the usual public scrutiny.
The development will mean significant improvements to the intersection of Waverley Road and Montague Road, and will require more transit service, potentially meaning changes to Route 55.
“We can’t say anything with any high level of certainty because there’s no final approved development plan,” Hughes said. “But certainly it’s looking, from our perspective right now, like an area we would definitely want to service and make adjustments to this route so that we could service.”