Speed is everywhere in our modern culture. Fast phones, fast food, fast cars. Like it or not, in our culture, fast is good and slow is bad. Even Disney movies push the message that fast wins. Lighnting McQueen, the superstar racer in the Cars movies starts every race with the mantra, “I am speed.”
If there’s ever a Halifax Transit bus in a Cars movie, the mantra will be, “I am slow”. Our buses travel slowly, stop too often, get caught in traffic, run windy routes and don’t come often enough. All of this adds up to slow travel times and unattractive transit. Not too many people choose the slow alternative. We need your help: please contact Halifax’s Mayor and Councillors and let them know our city requires fast, frequent and reliable transit. We must improve our transit network, and improve it quickly.
Including time at stops and in traffic, some of Halifax’s busiest routes travel at 15 to 20 km per hour. Making transit even less appealing, the above speeds only consider the time spent on the bus. Wait times often add 5 to 10 minutes to travel time, but waits can be much longer when routes only run every 30 minutes, like most Halifax Transit routes. Transit consultant Jarrett Walker talks about this in more detail at his site Human Transit.
Wait times matter when considering transit speed. For short trips, people riding transit might spend more time waiting and transferring than they spend on the bus. It doesn’t matter how fast the vehicle travels, if it doesn’t come often, riders are stuck with long travel times.
But it’s not just long wait times that make trips on Halifax Transit so painfully slow. Our buses stop often, on some routes every 200 metres. This means people have short walks to stops, but the stops slow travel down dramatically. Once people are on the bus, their trips are often slowed down by windy routes. The fastest routes travel in straight lines, only turning when they need to.
Worst of all, transit is stuck in traffic, along with thousands of cars that are usually each carrying just one person. Buses caught on Bayers Road, the Bridges or near the Armdale Rotary are certainly not fast. Transit caught in traffic is slow, unreliable and expensive to operate.
If Halifax is to dramatically increase transit ridership, we will have to provide high-quality, on-street transit service on many important corridors. High-quality transit service is fast, frequent and reliable. That means fewer routes, running more often. It means routes that run in straight lines on major corridors. It means fewer stops and more chances for transit to by-pass traffic jams.
The Moving Forward Plan, the new proposal to improve Halifax Transit’s routes, only provides some of these things. It will improve frequency on some routes, straighten other routes and provide new limited stop rush hour services. This is all good. The big problem, however, is that there are currently no big plans to massively increase speed and reliability for most routes. Stop spacing, as far as we know, will stay the same and there are currently no big plans to make reliable transit corridors. So many riders will have shorter waits and better routes, but most of those routes will be the same slow, unreliable service currently offered. Slow and unreliable transit simply won’t attract many new riders.
We have a chance to create fast, frequent and reliable transit options in Halifax. A revised Moving Forward Plan will be presented to Council sometime this winter. We need your voice. We need you to let Councillors and the Mayor know how important it is to improve the Plan and implement it, now. Please contact your Councillors today to tell them that our city needs fast, frequent and reliable transit.