HALIFAX – On Wednesday January 8th, HRM Council approved a complete overhaul of Metro Transit’s confusing network and set bold, transformative principles to guide the overhaul. I thought Council had a good discussion about transit and the purpose of the redesign. A few common themes emerged from the Council discussion, including:
- How do we find out what will get drivers onto transit?
- What areas will gain and lose service?
- How will we balance the social needs of transit users with a focus on higher ridership routes?
- What will the network look like?
These are very important questions, which have different answers depending on what you value. I’m going to write about these four questions in the next few columns. I hope people will join the conversation by posting comments, or by commenting on Twitter with me, @SeanPlans, and @SpacingAtlantic.
So first up: how do we get drivers using transit?
There are two big assumptions in this question. The first is that getting drivers out of their cars and onto transit is a worthy goal. I won’t argue with that; however, attracting drivers onto the bus often conflicts with meeting social service needs. It’s a big topic – let’s save it for another article.
The second assumption is that drivers have different needs than transit users. I think this is false. Whether you travel by bus, by bike, on foot or by car there is one important question: does this trip make good use of my time and my money? Or as transit writer Jarrett Walker puts it: does a travel option go where I want to go, in a reasonable time, for a reasonable price? There are certainly other factors that come into play, but if a travel option is too slow or too expensive, people will use an alternative, or not make the trip.
Owning a car is expensive. According to CAA, it costs over $9,000 a year to drive a new compact car in Nova Scotia. Transit passes costs $78 a month – or $936 a year. Clearly, motorists could save a lot of money by ditching their cars and riding the bus. Even keeping the car, but leaving it at home for the daily commute, can save money. But many people choose to own a car and drive it every day, suggesting extra mobility is worth the cost.
So how does transit compete? Wi-fi? Trains? Free coffee? Better terminals? Friendly drivers? Better route maps? Comfy chairs? These things do matter, but if transit service doesn’t make good use of people’s limited time and money, they’ll use an alternative if they can. So what do motorists value? The same thing that transit users do: fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable service. Metro Transit provides some very useful services – the Route #1, the Metro Link and the ferries being good examples. Metro Transit’s Moving Forward Principles suggest in the future, Halifax will get more high quality service. That’s the kind of service that appeals to lots of travellers.
Next column: What areas get service? How much service?
Metro Transit’s Moving Forward Principles:
- Increase the proportion of resources dedicated to high ridership services.
- Build a simplified, transfer based system.
- Invest in service quality and reliability.
- Give transit increased priority in the transportation network.