The plan was simple – a free downtown shuttle service, similar to Metro Transit’s FRED (Free Rides Everywhere Downtown) service, which would run year-long for city residents. Two buses would begin at the ferry terminal on the waterfront; one would go north, the other south. And public transit users would rejoice.
Ah, plans. We sure make a lot of them! But this particular one was not included in the Metro Transit Strategic Plan, the suggested five-year strategy aiming to improve public transit in the HRM.
This surprised downtown councillor Dawn Sloane. “I’m quite upset … quite furious, actually,” she told the Chronicle Herald.
She should be – the service has been talked about for years. According to the Herald, Sloane’s been telling constituents the shuttle was a go, and that the province has already committed two buses.
Why was the shuttle service not included in the Strategic Plan? And why did this surprise councillor Sloane? It may have something to do with Metro Transit’s Five Year Capital Plan. Released last year, the capital plan read like a wish list for city councillors – pretty much every city councillor – including such items as the $27-million fast ferry (italics to emphasize speed), massive service expansion, rural express routes, and yes, a free downtown shuttle.
The list was so extensive, it caused one Halifax-based journalist to suggest it had been written by three guys in a pub, on a bar napkin – “they basically just threw whatever any politician was talking about into the plan.”
Unsurprisingly, council loved the Capital Plan and voted in its favour. It’s hard to vote against something for everyone, assuming you want to get re-elected.
But then! Another plan, the Strategic Plan, was commissioned by City Hall to determine some policy alternatives to actually upgrade transit. The problem with this plan was that it recommended paying for better public transit on the backs of vehicular commuters, causing one courageous city councillor to stand up and say that he is tired of being demonized for driving.
Another problem with the Strategic Plan, for Sloane and residents and visitors of the downtown, is that the free shuttle plan got scrapped.
The best laid plans… But where does that leave us, the people?
Paying for downtown public transit, that’s where. Or pounding the pavement with our worn out, transit-less shoes. Whatever catchy rejoinder you want to hear, No-Bus.
Sloane has said she isn’t abandoning her quest – a petition to have the shuttle reinstated in the Strategic Plan has been circulated on the internet, and she told the Herald that she was attempting to garner support for the idea.
But with 113 signatures on the petition, and City Hall voting to accept or reject the Strategic Plan on Tuesday, the free downtown shuttle seems to be idling, for now.
photo by Lawrence Plug