While we are looking at major redesigns of the Halifax Transit system there are minor tweaks that can be done to greatly improve transit access for everyone. Getting cars off the road is no easy task but it can be done. For a city of roughly 400,000 people, our transit system does a decent job of getting people around but there is room for improvement. It’s been a long time since we saw a radical redesign of the system and the city has grown up a lot since then. For starters, we’re amalgamated now, and the outlying regions have blossomed and people are no longer just travelling from the ‘burbs’ to downtown and back. Wherever they are going they want to get there in a timely manner. Place like Cole Harbour no longer sit on the edge of the world so why should we continue treating those areas like that?
A few years back Halifax Transit implemented new express bus routes in several parts of the city. Personally, I have found them to be enormously helpful as they have greatly reduced the amount of travel time to and from work. After using them for some time I asked myself a few questions. Why do these routes need only run on weekdays and only during rush hour? Why can’t they run all day or at least for a few hours into the evening. Say until 8:30 pm or so. Why can’t they run on weekends? Being able to get into downtown Halifax in 40 minutes instead of an hour plus would mean I, and I’m sure a great many others, would be willing to travel downtown more often in the evening or on the weekend. If you make it easier for people to do a thing, then they will be more likely to do that thing. The express buses have been a huge advantage for suburban commuters, and the lessons Halifax has learned from them should be embraced. People commuting from suburban areas such as Portland hills should have the option to not make every transit stop on their way downtown for a faster commute. The Metrolink routes are great but they cost extra and don’t run on weekends. I’ll also add a shout out to the calls for a bus to run up Main Street in Dartmouth. The Main Street side of Dartmouth & Cole Harbour doesn’t get enough love, and this route would improve things greatly for the residents who live there. It would also make it easier for people outside of this region to access to many shops and services in that area. Reducing the number of cars on the road is a goal that can achieve tangible results in a timely manner if it is handled properly. And it can begin by just providing more transit options to folks outside of the core.
There are many things we could do differently to improve transit and get people busing instead driving. Give people fast convenient options for transit and they might surprise you. The current system is designed around a much smaller, less diverse city. Our suburban populations have grown over the last several decades. If you want people to leave their cars at home, then you must provide an alternative to a car that is reliable and fast and inexpensive. No one’s going to leave their car at home for a 90 minute bus ride. But if that bus ride turns into 30 minutes then it will be much easier to convince people to go carless.
The one demographic currently underserved by our transit system are the people who live in the suburbs and just want to go downtown without making other stops. The only alternative to a car is public transit that comes only once an hour to many areas outside of rush hour. I would bet real money that suburban drivers make up the bulk of the cars of the road and that many of them do not live near the major corridors and transit hubs that see regular, frequent service. If you can provide these people with a fast, reliable and convenient method of getting downtown then they might start leaving their cars at home. Most transit hubs have lots of parking nearby. This is a great opportunity we should be taking advantage of. Having fewer cars on the road pays off handsomely for all of us in the long run. We could be doing more to convince people to park at one of these transit hubs and bus downtown instead of driving. And if we ran the express bus routes from these transit hubs more frequently than it might go a long way to reduce congestion on our roads. Running more frequent buses to every corner of HRM isn’t feasible. But directing people to more central locations where they can get fast and frequent transit service might be a good place to start.