Overcrowding – Some Options

Overcrowding – Some Options

In our last post, we laid out a big problem for Halifax Transit – overcrowded buses. This has been a problem for years, but nothing is being done about it. Routes 1,3,4,8,9 and 90 are often overcrowded. Sometimes the buses are so full that no one else can fit.

At a high level, sorting out overcrowding is easy: add more buses, add bigger buses, or add both. But Halifax Transit is short on drivers and short on 60-foot articulated buses. Drivers, money, or buses will always be limited. But, that doesn’t mean we have to accept overcrowding and overloaded buses. There are drivers and buses that should be put to better use.

Halifax Transit should take buses from duplicate routes that don’t usually run full. They should put those buses on routes that are overflowing. Which routes run a lot of buses that aren’t full? Peak-hour express routes. Here’s a list below from the May quarterly report, showing the average number of riders per trip.

Halifax Transit’s own standard is that the buses in the 100-series should average at least 20 riders per trip. The 178 and 179 have been discountinued. But as of May, only seven of these 100-series routes met the service standard. 20 riders per trip = about 2/3 of a seated load on a 40-foot bus.

Worse, lots of these routes duplicate each other for long stretches. The 183, 185, and 186 run the same route all the way from Spring Garden Road to the Sackville Terminal, before branching off. The same route all the way from Spring Garden Road to Sackville! Plus, the 84 does a similar route to Sackville Terminal, running every fifteen minutes in peak hours.

Collectively, the 183, 185, 186 and the 84 run 32 trips from Scotia Square to Sackville Terminal outbound in the PM peak (3pm-6pm, using the MacDonald Bridge). None of the express buses meet the minimum standard for riders, and most of those buses don’t even fill 3/4 of their seats. The 84 averages 16 riders per hour across the whole service day: the standard is a minimum of 15 riders per hour off-peak. Four routes, all duplicating each other and at best one just clears the minimum standard for ridership.

It’s a similar story in the PM peak betwen Scotia Square and Portland Hills Terminal: the peak hour 150-series, plus the Route 5 Portland combine for 41 depatures over 3 hours. That is an average of a bus about every 4.5 minutes!! Some of these buses don’t have enough people to meet the service standard. The busiest bus route on that corridor averages 24 people in rush hour – not even a full seated load. Halifax Transit reported no overloads on any of the 180- or 150-series buses. And in November, Halifax Transit will be reinstating trips on several of these routes. We’re adding buses to duplicate routes that aren’t full, while other buses are so full they leave people behind.

This situation is a clear misuse of resources. It’s unfair to riders on overcrowded routes. In addition, moving buses to crowded routes would match two of the Moving Forward Principles guiding our network design and service delivery:

  • Increase the proportion of resources allocated towards high ridership services
  • Invest in service quality and reliability

When pressed on overcrowding, Halifax Transit will likely suggest they lack buses and drivers to try and fix overcrowding and overloads. That’s true – if they keep wasting buses. But a short term fix for overcrowding is straight forward – take buses from routes with too few riders and put those buses onto the routes with too many riders. There’s more to do long term – hire drivers, fix the bunching and bad schedules, buy bigger buses, get buses past traffic. But for now, the answer is simple: put the buses and drivers we do have where they are needed most.