Photo: Zane Woodford

Eight years into a five-year plan, Halifax Transit still doesn’t know when it will be done upgrading its technology.

That’s one of the findings of a report from municipal Auditor General Evangeline Colman-Sadd, who presented her office’s Transit Technology Project Management Audit during a virtual meeting of council’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee on Thursday.

Halifax Transit developed a Transit Technology Program in 2012, recommending 33 projects at a cost of up to $51.5 million to be completed between 2013-2014 and 2017-2018. The projects were broken down into nine categories, including automated vehicle location, fixed route planning, and fare management.

To date, two of the nine are complete (automated vehicle location and a driving simulator), four are ongoing, including the delayed fare management strategy, and three are on hold.

Colman-Sadd’s office launched an audit last year to consider whether the project has been effectively managed and whether the procurement processes have followed the rules and considered “value-for-money.” The auditors interviewed Halifax Transit management, reviewed its policies and procedures and examined documentation.

Overall, the audit found that “Halifax Transit is effectively managing the day-to-day completion of its Transit Technology projects but project budgeting needs significant improvement.”

We found project cost, scope and timelines are regularly monitored; steering committees oversee project completion,” the report says.

But Halifax Transit can’t back up its numbers. It couldn’t provide the auditors with documented support for the overall program budget or the annual changes. And while the program followed HRM’s procurement rules, “management did not analyze the cost versus benefit of the decision to  use external project management resources.”

Halifax contracted the process out to a consultant, Barrington Consulting, and council just extended that contract for $1.5 million.

Colman-Sadd said the municipality could have saved at least $1.6 million doing the work in house.

“No business case was completed to compare the costs and benefits of external resources over HRM’s project management office,” the report said.

“There may be other factors that could require HRM to contract external resources, such as  experience in the subject matter, or the availability of internal resources. A comprehensive business case should have examined these areas to determine the most cost effective and beneficial solution.” 

And then there are the delays. Recall that this is the project that brought us a proposal for comically huge bus tickets, which was then abandoned two years later in favour of smartphone display tickets that still aren’t here.

“The Transit Technology program began in 2012 and was expected to take five years. It has been ongoing for eight years and management has not established a revised completion date,” the AG report says.

“Transit management told us the original five-year plan was unrealistic; they believe it underestimated the complexity.”

Halifax Transit told the auditors the delays are caused by factors including “expanded project scope, HRM staff  and management turnover, and steering committee turnover.” There are new timelines attached to some of the projects.

“We expected management to have a realistic, planned completion date for the program, to allow effective project coordination and evaluation,” the report says.

There are four public recommendations, all accepted by Halifax Transit management:

  1. “Halifax Transit should develop Transit Technology project forecasts that support annual capital project budget requests and ensure overall Transit Technology program budget estimates have adequate supporting documentation.”
  2. HRM should establish processes to track individual project capital accounts in its financial  system for large, distinct projects.”
  3. “Halifax Transit should establish reasonable timelines for all outstanding Transit Technology  project milestones.”
  4. “HRM should establish a cost-benefit analysis process that considers relevant costs and  qualitative factors when deciding between internal and external project management resources  for capital projects.”

There’s also an in camera portion of the report with its own recommendations. The committee spent about half an hour in camera discussing those.

Colman-Sadd also tabled a report Thursday looking at the municipality’s management of accounts payable.

The auditors looked at samples of invoices and travel claims, reviewed policies, analyzed data, and interviewed managers. They found that, “Most accounts payable functions were effectively managed,” but there was room for improvement around the use of one-time vendor accounts, issues with duplicate payments, and a lack of performance targets.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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