Council votes to “receive” transit plan

HALIFAX – The Metro Transit Strategic Plan – yes, that strategic plan – was “received” by Halifax Regional Council on Tuesday, but the reception was far from a warm one.

Councillors debated the plan – an independent report commissioned by city hall in 2008 with a $285,000 price tag – for over two hours on Tuesday, before finally voting to “receive” the plan. Receiving the plan means: staff can now seriously get down to work, looking at the various recommendations and figuring out ways and costs of implementing those recommendations.

It also means council is in no way – financially, politically, spiritually – required to take any action once staff returns with that information this coming January. Nor are they bound to the recommendations contained in the report whatsoever.

The debate was a lively one, kicking off with downtown Councillor Dawn Sloane’s lament that a free downtown shuttle was not included in the Strategic Plan. You’ll recall that such a shuttle service – providing free rides across the completely walkable, minuscule Halifax downtown area – was advocated by HRMbyDesign.

Then came Councillor Barry Dalrymple (Waverley-Fall River-Beaverbank) making the perfectly (politically) logical argument that Metro Transit doesn’t even service his constituency, so why should he etc etc etc. He also made a quip about one time when he and his sons drove by five busses on the same route with 2 people or less on them. Where was this route? Nobody seemed to know. His exact words: “I won’t mention the route, but…”

The talking past each other continued for two hours (Watts: “What about LRT?” Staff: “Do you know how expensive that is? A bunch!” McCluskey: “I sure get a lot of fumes from busses at my place!” Staff: “?” Karsten: “Why won’t anybody accept my amendments!?!” Blumenthal: “What about the olds!” Etc.)  before finally coming to a vote.

Then! Councillor Bill Karsten (Portland-East Woodlawn) tabled a motion to accept the service standards (page 47 for you transit junkies) put forward in the Strategic Plan, giving staff even more freedom to start implementing changes to the transit system.

Then we broke for lunch. I had a roast beef sandwich at As You Like It. It was delightful, and very reasonably priced.

All in all, a surprisingly productive day at City Hall. Sure, it doesn’t actually guarantee anything other than a lively (read: excruciating) debate in January. But it at least moved the Strategic Plan, which aims to make Halifax a pedestrian- and transit user-friendly city, one step closer to reality.

photo by Lawrence Plug