Improving the Transit Plan: more frequency and transit priority
It’s More than Buses supports the concept of ten key corridor routes. As proposed they provide straighter, faster service with less overlap. Many of them have much better frequency, which will make trips quicker and convenient for thousands of people riding the bus.
We want to see this plan happen, but we feel there are key changes that could provide better service to more people.
The corridor routes warrant more resources and better frequency throughout the day. The corridor routes would be within a quick walk of 60% of the urban population, yet will only receive 50% of resources. A stronger focus on high ridership – one of the principles behind Halifax Transit’s plan – should mean more resources on these critical corridor routes.
This plan must also be much bolder about transit priority. A dramatic way to improve commutes for people riding transit is to get buses moving past traffic. The current system is bogged down in traffic. Most people won’t choose a bus that is slow or chronically late. A guiding principle of Halifax Transit’s plan is to provide more ways to move buses past traffic, more transit priority measures. There are few concrete ideas in the plan, and no corridors or choke points are identified for improvement.
Council and municipal staff must move much faster to provide transit priority. Attracting new riders means buses have to move quickly and on time. More riders means more revenue, less strain on roads and less pollution. On top of that, bus service is needlessly wasted as buses sit idly in traffic. It costs a lot of money to run transit, but transit isn’t very useful parked in traffic on Bayers Road, Joseph Howe or on the Bedford Highway. Transit priority must become Halifax’s priority.
Finally, this plan must be rolled out faster. Better service needs to happen now, not in two to five years.
The centerpiece of Halifax Transit’s new proposal is ten corridor routes. They are regional routes that run along main streets, connecting many neighbourhoods to important destinations, like downtowns, hospitals, universities and Burnside Industrial Park. The plan currently devotes 50% of resources to these corridors. Over 175,000 people live within 500 metres of a corridor, which is almost 60% of Halifax’s urban population.
The corridors are a solid improvement over the many routes they replace. In general, the corridors:
- Have much less overlap
- Are straighter, and therefore faster
- Provide more frequent service
- Simplify transferring
The following corridors will run fifteen minutes or better, all day:
Route 1 – Spring Garden
Route 5 – Portland
Route 6 – Woodside
Route 7 – Peninsula
Route 9 – Herring Cove
Route 10 – MicMac
Currently, only the 1 and 7 have all day, frequent service. This change will give thousands more riders frequent, all day service. The new frequent corridors are all routes that originate outside the peninsula of Halifax. Spryfield, Central Dartmouth, Downtown Dartmouth and Woodside will all gain high quality service, all day. This will cut wait times and make transfers easier. It will be a huge gain for students and people working in retail or sales. Many people need to ride the bus in the middle of the day, and better frequency helps people travel easily.
More frequency and better service should also attract new riders to these already busy routes. Less wait time means a more attractive service, and less need to check a schedule: more people will ride choose the bus on these new corridors.
The routes these corridors replace move almost 65% of the people now using Halifax Transit. These corridors have people travelling on them all day. Even though these corridors are already busy, there is a chance to attract even more people to ride the bus. Increasing mid-day service on the current route 7, for example, resulted in a 21% ridership increase. The route 7 was already one of the busiest routes in the network. Similarly, lots more people started riding the route 1 when frequency was increased.
Are the corridors perfect? No, but the routing is pretty good. We feel there is still some overlap that can be removed, in particular near the Portland Corridor, which still has a large number of routes and along Lacewood Drive, which has two corridor route.
We also feel that the absence of a transit corridor on Bayers Road is one major hole in an otherwise strong network. While this can be fixed in the future, this gap underlines the need for more transit priority. High quality routes are being removed from Bayers Road in the short term because traffic makes them unreliable and slow.
Service Levels and Frequency
IMTB believes these corridors still need more service. They are within a 5-7 minute walk of almost 60% of the urban population, but only receive 50% of resources. The routes these corridors replace already serve 65% of all riders. One of the four Moving Forward Principles guiding this network redesign is to focus resources on high ridership services. The corridors are the most important routes in the system, but do not even receive their share of resources, either per capita or per rider. More service would allow more frequency, which would make the routes more attractive and make transferring easier.
The 2 Main, 3 Crosstown, 4 Lacewood and 8 Sackville would not provide 15 minute service all day, every day. To function as true frequent corridors, these routes need more resources. Frequent service makes transfers easier, because the wait between buses heading in any direction is short. When two fifteen minute routes cross paths, people riding those routes have a relatively painless transfer in any direction. A connected network of routes with fifteen minute (or better!) frequency allows people to easily travel from any point on any frequent line to any point on another frequent line.
These anywhere to anywhere connections would transform how people can ride transit in Halifax. Frequent service on all the corridors would mean that 175,000 people could reach almost any major destination with a short walk and one transfer. Crosstown trips to major hospitals, schools, universities, retail areas and office parks would be dramatically easier. Thousands of current transit riders would have much shorter waits, and thousands of people near main corridors would have easier access to tens of thousands of jobs. Frequent service, all day, is nothing short of liberating for people riding transit.
One of the four Moving Forward Principles guiding this plan is to give transit more priority in the roadway network. Transit Priority Measures (TPMs for the transit geeks) are any infrastructure that gives transit a way ahead of cars and past traffic. This plan promised to give transit more priority in the transportation network, but fails to provide a plan to get there. Instead the goals are to support short-term TPM implementation (which is already ongoing), to create a long-term TPM plan, and to try and integrate low-cost TPMs with other capital projects. This falls well short of the dramatic, pressing need for quality transit corridors.
Transit priority is needed to make transit an attractive choice. It makes trips faster and more reliable. Speed and reliability are two critical features of good transit. Sadly, other than the Metro Link routes, buses that each carry dozens of people are given the same level of priority as cars in our road network. This has to change – there is simply too little road space to move everyone by private car. Halifax’s Road Network Functional Plan suggests the cost and disruption of road widenings would not be worth the additional car capacity: as a result, any road upgrades should focus on adding capacity for people using transit or people in carpools. There are a range of options that can help buses run on time. They range from short queue-jump lanes at lights, through reversible transit lanes and on to full transit lanes in both directions. This will cost money, and could be disruptive, but we need to make investments in the right infrastructure. This plan was a chance to start building that infrastructure, but is a huge missed opportunity.
We have to start by targeting the chokepoints. Buses predictably fall off schedule on Bayers Road, the Bridges, the Bedford Highway, the Fairview Overpass, Joe Howe and the Rotary. Many times, buses are late running in both directions, since the same vehicle has to do several runs and falls behind. Buses running late – in both directions – is such a problem on Bayers Road that this plan proposes no corridor routes running on Bayers Road, a critical regional road.
There is simply no way to provide quality transit to areas like Fairview, Clayton Park, Spryfield and Dartmouth without getting buses quickly through these chokepoints. Outside the rail cut, there is no obvious, cost-effective corridor that transit can use. To connect most of our suburbs to most of the jobs and services, we will have to use the roads we have.
The current delays that people riding transit face are unacceptable. Transit priority is the way to fix this issue. We need to spend more money, on more corridors to benefit the thousands upon thousands of riders trying to make it past a small number of chokepoints. A modest investment of money and road space would transform transit’s speed and reliability.