Why is the report, which offers recommendations for improving/enhancing public transportation in the HRM, controversial? Mostly due to the ways it recommends paying for such improvements.
First, a little background: the Metro Transit Five-Year Strategic Operations Plan [ PDF ], an independent report published by IBI group, was commissioned by HRM in September of last year. It was meant to offer a five-year plan to integrate Metro Transit into the Regional Municipality Planning Strategy (MPS) [ PDF ], which was adopted by city council in 2006.
Because Metro Transit had adopted its first five-year Transit Strategy in 2002, it was not integrated into 2006’s MPS. However, Metro Transit saw a significant increase in service levels and ridership during its first five-year plan, and so city council deemed it necessary to work towards a new five-year plan that met those demands, while working public transportation into the MPS.
Hence, the Metro Transit Strategic Plan. Now; on to the controversy.
The report recommends several key components for an updated HRM transit plan, including the adoption of urban express routes (meaning the #1 bus stops stopping every five feet on Spring Garden Road), revamping the Burnside and Dartmouth Crossing terminals, as well as fleet and infrastructure investments.
Pretty vanilla so far. But then!
One way to improve transit travel would be to close sections of Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road to cars, using them exclusively for buses, the report suggests.
It also offers novel approaches to raising the extra millions of dollars that will be needed, with transit costs expected to rise from $54 million to $72 million within five years.
Among the suggestions:
* Increased parking fees.
* A vehicle registration fee for area residents.
* Diverting a portion of bridge tolls.
Slow down, Suzuki. Bus-only corridors downtown? Increasing parking fees in a city which is already infuriating to park in? 25 cents more every time I drive to Celtic Corner?!
Really, most of these suggestions aren’t all that outlandish, but they do require a shift in attitude on the part of commuters. The recommendations, if adopted, would make commuting via vehicles less attractive (increased costs), while making public transportation more attractive (improved service, more routes). Effectively, it’s a double-pronged approach to getting people out of cars and onto buses.
And that’s a good thing, but also a controversial thing. And if some councilors (lookin’ at you, Streatch!) can muster up the courage to approve the recommendations in principal next Tuesday, we’re likely to hear a lot more about the controversy in the days to come.
But that’s a big if.
photos by Hugh Pouliot