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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.

What’s missing

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.

High-frequency routes

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.

Suburbs

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:

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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.

Bus stops

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.

Conclusion

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.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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6 Comments

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  1. Question;

    Did IMTB apply to the tender that was issued by the city to be consultants for the overhaul?

    Whilst many people’s opinions are valid (see, a bus on William’s Lake Road) – did IMTB use actual passenger count numbers; or a guesstimation? I realize that they likely won’t reveal too much information, after all, it’s not been paid for.

    One thing that did somewhat irk me, however, was when IMTB had a ‘pop-up’ at some bus stops in the downtown core. Whilst it was nice being able to see what was being proposed (how a schedule/route map would look) – their stop ‘names’ were confusing.

    As a driver, I hold a time point at Robie and Spring Garden on a Route 18. I say it this way because I am, in fact, situated on Robie for this time point. This stop also serves the 7, 17, 42, and the 90. Spring Garden and Robie is served by the 1, 80, and the 81. The ‘pop-up’ had my stop listed as Spring Garden and Robie. I hope this was just an oversight on the part of the organizers, but I did have some very frantic passengers looking for the last route 80, they were using the Rider’s Guide and used the posters as the guide to where they should stand. Yes; they could have looked at the bus stop sign itself – but I digress. Luckily they still caught it with a minute to spare once I pointed them to the right shelter.

  2. Tim —

    Thanks for the coverage! One crucial correction: the cost I quoted you was that the IMTB proposal would cost 75% of Halifax Transit’s current operating budget — not 75% *less*. (Would that it were so.)

  3. Routes are too long to work without first implementing the transit measures. One of the biggest issues right now is that long routes are more susceptible to traffic issues.

    At best, two years out to do that. Routes can’t change to xfer based before then.

    If they do, we’ll end up with the route 1 effect where the 5:10, 5:20, 5:30, 5:40 all come by at 5:50.

    I’m worried this is premature. If implemented it will fail and MT will turn around and say “you (public) had your chance”

  4. A better low frequency plan is important to bring more passengers to higher frequency transit who really need to be there. For example, people in Purcell’s Cove who want to travel towards South Centre currently have to travel onto the peninsula via the hourly #15 and back towards South Centre on the more frequent #20 . A bus along Williams’ Lake Road between Purcell’s Cove Road and Herring Cove Road would serve the needs of those traveling towards South Centre and commuters wanting a more frequent peninsula-bound bus. No doubt the existing service plan is full of such examples….

  5. How would the IMTB proposal find its way into the bureaucracy? What chances does it have of proceeding? And in how timely a fashion?

  6. Hi Tim. At the ITMB event last night, the presentation indicated that they picked 15 minutes for high frequency but in some instances it might be quicker than that such as on the really major routes or during rush hour. They indicated that their proposed network left 25% of MT’s existing resources on the table that could go into other routes or even better service for some key routes. Hopefully the Bridge and Portland would be sections that would keep 10 min service. It will be interesting to see how MT’s plan compares.