Halifax Transit: Too Hard to Understand

Halifax Transit: Too Hard to Understand

Why does Halifax Transit provide so little information?

Halifax Transit has a big problem: it is way too hard to understand.

Look at the bus stop above:

  • It’s on Barrington Street, near Duke Street
  • Most of the routes are heading northbound, out of downtown
  • Routes 1,7,9, and 10 run frequently from late morning to late night
  • The routes in red run only in rush-hour, in the peak direction

The sign tells you none of that critical information. It doesn’t say where the routes go or what direction they are travelling. It doesn’t say when the buses run or how frequently they come. The sign is also a mess visually, a mish-mash of different font sizes and crooked numbers. The routes aren’t even in numeric order! Inexplicably it has the 182 listed twice. But hey this isn’t a major stop … oh wait, it’s across the street from City Hall.

But, Halifax Transit provides more info about their buses. How about the full route map?

Wow! Not much help. The map was redesigned around 2016 at a cost of $150,000. Right away, people pointed out that the map was hard to read. Leadership at Halifax Transit responded: “Even now, I use Google Transit most often if I want to figure out where I’m going,” says Dave Reage. The acting director of Halifax Transit calls paper maps somewhat of a dinosaur. “The digital tools are far more powerful than a map would ever be.”

Wow. Halifax Transit spent a lot of money on a new map and then describe print maps as ‘somewhat of a dinosaur’. That isn’t true, but if it was, what a waste of cash and effort! When asked about the maps’ poor quality leadership came back with an excuse: it doesn’t really matter, check Google. No smartphone? No data? You’re out of luck, I guess.

The same article also quotes leadership, saying: ““I would wager too, though, that probably most of your regular riders don’t ever use a map because they know where they’re going”. Again, wow. Notice that Halifax Transit doesn’t defend their map – they actually argue that the map quality doesn’t really matter.

Let’s be super clear: every rider benefits from clear and accessible information about how to use transit. Let’s also be clear: it is literally Halifax Transit’s job to provide riders with useful information on transit service. It’s not Google’s job. It’s not the job of app developers.

We’d also wager that Transit leadership is wrong: lots of riders don’t actually know where they are going. For new riders info is critical to figure out how to use the bus. Full stop. But every other rider benefits from clear and accessible transit info. Regular riders use the bus for lots of different trips during the day: work, school, medical appointments, child care, visiting friends, running errands. Sure, some trips are routine. Other trips mean going to new parts of the city, where riders don’t know exactly where the stops are, what routes are best, and when those routes run. Every trip that’s not routine means figuring out something new about Halifax Transit’s schedule. Sure, Google maps helps. So do transit apps. But getting on a bus means finding the right stop, the stop going in the right direction. Halifax Transit’s info does BARELY ANYTHING to help. Missing street signs add another level of confusion.

Regular bus riders have probably experienced the following: helping somebody find the stop they want, maybe somebody with Google maps open on their smartphone! This is all very stressful to new riders or anyone using the bus for a new trip. It is a huge deterrent to trying the bus our using it casually. It’s also a big insult to people who can’t afford a smartphone or don’t have data.

Compare our map with Montreal’s redesigned metro map, which looks great. This map is everywhere in the network – in stations and on trains. This map is brand new: despite smartphones and transit apps, Montreal’s transit planners put great care into making clear, useful information available to everyone. You might argue that the Metro needs or deserves a great map – it’s important! Ok, but consider that the Metro map is complimented by nice bus maps at shelters throughout Montreal’s network. Even in 2023, clear, accessible information is critical.

Halifax Transit does a poor job at helping riders understand and use their network. “Use Google” is simply not a good enough answer. With so many people moving to Halifax, there’s a pressing need to make our bus network easier to understand. To start, Halifax Transit should:

  • Add the route name and direction of travel to all signs (1 Spring Garden to Bridge Terminal)
  • Prominently show the name of the stop (Barrington Street before Duke Street)
  • Prominently show when the first and last bus depart from every stop
  • Provide a schedule for all routes that serve a stop
  • Provide a map of each route that serves a stop (the existing single-route maps would do in a pinch, but a good schematic diagram would probably be better)

That should be the minimum. Busier stops should also have full network maps and real-time clocks showing when the next bus comes.

If we are going to improve transit in Halifax, we have to make sure people know how to ride. A simple, cost-effective step would be to improve our maps and provide clear information at stops. The existing mess is confusing. Regular riders deserve better. Potential riders and new riders deserve better. And the bus drivers deserve better – they’re the ones stuck trying to expain things to confused riders.

Halifax Transit has a big problem: it is way too confusing to ride. Will leadership step up and make things better?