The It’s More Than Buses group has released its proposal for revamping Halifax bus routes and scheduling.
At the heart of the proposal are high-frequency routes that connect at transfer points. The buses would run along these routes so often—at least every 15 minutes, with some at 10 minutes—that it reduces the need for time-consuming and ultimately unreliable schedule planning.
Here are my observations.
When I first looked at the proposal, I didn’t know that I was looking at just the high-frequency routes (pictured above) and not the entire proposal. The low-frequency routes are not shown. Also, there’s no attempt to quantify costs. I wondered if this was a “dream” proposal of what could be done in the far future, or simply a re-allocation of existing buses within the existing transit budget.
Turns out, it’s the latter. Ashley Morton told me this morning on Twitter that the group left out the low-frequency routes because they didn’t want to “get into the weeds” about specific coverage, but rather wanted to concentrate on the high-frequency “backbone” of their proposed system. Fair enough. I do think, however, that this sort of thing is going to bring out the transit geeks and enthusiasts, who will want all the details.
Morton told me, and this was reiterated by group member Scott Edgar via email, that they feel total costs of their proposed system would be 75 percent less than the existing system. This is good, but again, I would’ve like to have seen the details, or at least to have seen that claim made right on their proposal, even without details. As it is, it left me guessing.
The high-frequency routes on their proposal make great sense.
The heart of the existing routing problem in Halifax is the Gottingen-Barrington-Spring Garden Road corridor, now travelled by 10 different bus routes. As I wrote back in 2010:
For instance, Halifax buses run on what I call “California scheduling.” In California, it’s always warm and sunny, and never rains. People don’t mind standing on the side of the road for a good while—they can watch the palm trees sway in the gentle breeze, they can check out the scantily clad surfer dudes and starlets passing by. Life’s good, waiting at a California bus stop.
In California, what transit riders don’t want to do is sit in a grimy bus terminal to wait for their connecting buses, so transit managers schedule all the buses to arrive at the terminals at the exact same time. Riders hop from one bus to the next, never worrying about the inside of a terminal.
But when you apply California scheduling to Halifax’s geography you get the ridiculous situation of having every bus to or from Dartmouth—routes 1, 10, 14, 41, 53, 58, 59, 61, 68 and 87—travelling essentially the same Spring Garden Road-Barrington Street-Gottingen Street corridor at the exact same time so they all reach the Bridge Terminal at the same time. Riders regularly wait 25 minutes for a bus on the corridor, only to have six buses arrive all at once. It’s absurd.
We need Nova Scotia bus scheduling. Here, it really sucks to stand on the side of the road, often in a snowbank, waiting for bus in rain/freezing rain/snow that is falling horizontally thanks to 80-kilometre winds. What Nova Scotians want is to get the hell out of the elements—they’d rather wait for a connecting bus in a warm, dry terminal. So, managers should be spreading those six buses out, having one arrive every five minutes.
Once they break out of California scheduling mindset, managers would see they don’t need to run all those buses along the same route at all. Instead, the #1 should be the only route on the corridor, running every five minutes, with all the other routes connecting to it, feeding it.
It’s More Than Buses’ proposal looks a lot like what I was proposing back then, and so good on them.
I’d quibble around the edges, but these are very minor points. I worry that Dartmouth is getting the short end of the stick. Service across the bridge is currently every 10 minutes at rush hour, but the IMTB plan appears to reduce that to 15 minutes. One of the things Metro Transit has done right recently is provide 10-minute service during rush hour on the Portland Street corridor; IMTB appears to reduce that to 15 minutes.
I was worried that the IMTB proposal would concentrate on urban routing by cutting suburban service. That would’ve been a political non-starter, and bad policy besides. Happily, IMTB gets the suburbs right. For instance, service on the Bedford Highway is increased substantially. A general sense of suburban service is relayed by this chart:
Again, more detail may have helped IMTB’s cause. By not showing the low-frequency suburban routes, suburbanites may mistakenly think the proposal leaves them out completely. In fact, having discussed their proposal with members of the group, it may be that just the opposite is proposed: reducing duplicate service on urban routes frees up buses to feed the system from the suburbs.
The IMTB proposal map doesn’t give enough detail, but it speeds up service on urban routes by spreading out bus stops. Put less delicately, it means removing existing bus stops. This is a mine field, so it makes sense that IMTB would mostly sidestep the issue at this high-level stage. Still, those are the kind of details that will matter to riders.
In the end, given Halifax Transit’s intransigence, it’s probably a good thing that IMTB didn’t give a lot of detail or, as Morton put it, “get into the weeds.” The battle at this point is political, not wonky. With a bit more explanation about their intent, IMTB can budge the politicians—councillors—into taking meaningful action.
The It’s More Than Buses proposal is a great starting point.