Halifax Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit Proposal
We’re pleased to see the city make progress on its bus rapid transit plan. Many of the measures in the proposal have been discussed for years, such as the transit priority corridor on Bayers Road. The proposal includes lots of changes that IMTB has been advocating for since 2011, including all-door boarding, off-board fare collection, comfortable waiting areas, 15-minute headways, and a transfer-based network. Overall, we like the direction of this proposal, though we have some reservations – particularly the integration with local service and the routing proposed in this draft.
Transit Priority Corridors
Continuing to plan and investment in transit priority corridors is fundamental to the success of this plan. We think the plan prioritizes the right corridors, and we hope work on building the necessary transit priority measures happens as soon as possible.
Off-board fare collection
We’re really excited about the proposal for off-board fare collection. Making drivers collect fares is one of the big reasons why buses are slow, so giving people the chance to pay for their fare before they get on the bus helps speed up everyone’s trip.
All-door boarding is also key for speed. In fact, we like this idea so much, we think it shouldn’t have to wait for the BRT network, and should be restricted to that network when its built. Halifax Transit should be working to make all-door boarding work the whole bus network as soon as possible.
The design options for the transfer stations are all great. We believe that high-quality shelters at every point where two BRT corridors cross are critical to making the network successful, by providing a warm, dry area for passengers to wait.
More discussion needed
Halifax Transit is considering a different fare structure for the BRT network than for the regular bus network. We think they should decide against it. If the BRT system charges extra fare within the Urban Transit Service Boundary, it won’t have the same impact for people from all socioeconomic groups. We support a BRT system only where the fare for a given trip is the same whether the user is on BRT or local bus service.
Retention of local service
Our understanding is that Halifax Transit plans to keep local bus service on the same routes as BRT, with BRT and local buses running in parallel. Presumably, this will mean a reduced frequency for the local service, compared with that envisioned in the Moving Forward Together Plan. We think a better idea would be to reduce the stop spacing on the BRT system to 400m to meet the MFTP access goal, replacing local service with BRT for all BRT corridors. The local service can be redeployed to feed the BRT network, make for better frequency outside of the urban core.
We have a similar concern about coverage. The proposed BRT network has far less coverage of 15-minute frequencies than the Moving Forward Together Plan. As many of the benefits will be accrued simply through off-board fare collection and all-door boarding, it would be better to focus efforts on implementing the proposed TPMs and refining the 15-minute network (corridors and other high-frequency services such as the 29) to optimize the routes and increase stop spacing, rather than switching to the proposed BRT network.
You can see for yourself in the map above. Far more people would have access to 15-minute service if we stick with tweaks to the Moving Forward Together Plan.
We don’t support a unique brand for the BRT network. New brands introduce confusion for passengers – especially those with low socioeconomic status, unsure whether their transfer is valid for every bus in the network. Any branding should be through the route numbering and naming conventions, if at all. BRT should be the backbone of the Halifax Transit network, not a niche service.
The proposed network retains Halifax Transit’s preference for meandering routes. There’s no obvious reason for a bus from Herring Cove Road to go to Bayers Road prior to heading downtown (via Spring Garden Road). This is just one example where a “rapid” bus is detoured far beyond its desire line.
Without guarantees on the service span and off-peak frequency, it is difficult to support this proposal. True BRT needs 15-minute service from 6am-2am, seven days per week. The MFTP comes close to this mark on the corridors and would require comparably minimal investment to achieve the standard. BRT needs to be the backbone of the network, all day, every day.
In summary, we want to see Halifax Transit continue to work on BRT. The proposal they have put forward sets the right tone and direction for continued analysis and investment in transit priority corridors. While they work on the detailed design of the transit priority corridors, it will be important to sit down and re-do the routing and fine-tune the integration with the existing MFTP bus service.