Halifax Transit Crisis: Split Shifts and Peak Hour Service
Halifax Transit has a staffing crisis. There aren’t enough drivers. Trips and routes are being cut. Sometimes buses just don’t show up. People trying to get to school, work, child care, and medical appointments are left in the lurch. The staffing crisis demands a rethink of how Halifax Transit operates, not management’s magical thinking that somehow we will turn a corner and hire enough drivers.
The Union has made it clear the work environment is brutal, so drivers quit. One big problem is split shifts. Halifax Transit runs lots of buses just in rush hour. There are way more drivers on the road in the morning and afternoon peaks than in the middle of the day. Hence shifts are split in half with many drivers working in the afternoon and evening with unpaid time in the middle. The drivers hate split shifts, and it’s easy to see why.
To cut down on split shifts we have to cut down on peak-hour service, including express routes. These routes might be politically popular, but they’re not efficient. They demand lots of driver resources, but they aren’t very busy. All but three routes average less than twenty riders per trip (target ridership indicated by Halifax Transit). That means the best peak hour express routes average just over half a seated load on a 40-foot bus.
The express routes as they are, require us to hoard staffing/fleet that will only be used for at best, 6 hours of the nearly 20 hour service day. Worse, the routes overlap! Every route from Clayton Park goes down Gottingen Street. Every route from Sackville goes over Magazine Hill. Every route from Cole Harbour goes down Portland Street. This was bad enough before COVID, but with work from home and a driver shortage we can’t waste resources like this.
Additionally many routes have increased frequency service in peak hours but less service the rest of the day. This means again -even more drivers and buses are needed in rush hour, so more split shifts (while more resources go unused mid-day and evenings). Unless extra capacity is really needed, peak hour frequency should closely match mid-day frequency.
Diagrams pulled from Halifax Transit’s 2022/23 Q2 Quarterly Report
Above are the All-Day and AM Peak ridership densities by district. You’ve probably noticed they look quite similar. That’s because rush-hour ridership isn’t what it used to be. Yes, it’s still busy, but more and more people are taking the bus mid-day/late evening. Many riders would understandably be upset if their convenient express was cut, however well designed routes with an emphasis on providing all-day reliable service is much more efficient for staffing/scheduling, and can be just as good an experience for riders -if not allow for more travel options!
It’s past time to fix these routing and scheduling problems. It’s clear that split shifts are a problem, made worse by too many peak hour routes. It’s even clearer that Halifax Transit is unable to recruit and retain drivers. It’s time for management to step up and make real changes before the staffing crisis gets worse.