Moving Forward Together Plan: Check-In

Moving Forward Together Plan: Check-In

In an earlier post, we reviewd the lengthy delays rolling out Halifax Transit’s new electronic fare options. Sadly, that’s not the only delayed Halifax Transit project. In this post, we look at the Moving Forward Together Plan, the strategic plan to rework the Halifax Transit network. Like the electronic fare project, it is also delayed and remains unfinished.

February 2013 – Regional Council approved a process to create a five-year strategic plan for Halifax Transit. Following this direction, Halifax Transit undertook public engagement throughout 2013.

January 2014 – The scope of the five-year strategic plan was expanded: Regional Council approved an overall review of Halifax Transit’s network, based on four Moving Forward Principles. The new plan was renamed the Moving Forward Together Plan (MFTP)

September 2014 – Halifax Transit informed the Transportation Standing Committee that MFTP will not actually be a full network review, but instead a reworking of the existing transit network. The release of the draft network and public engagement was pushed back a few months, with the first draft scheduled to be released in January 2015.

February 2015 – Halifax Transit released the first draft of the Moving Forward Together Plan.

February and March 2015 – Public Engagement on the first draft of MFTP.

April 2016 – Regional Council debated and approved a new draft of the MFTP as the strategic direction for the Halifax Transit network. They approved the 2016/2017 Halifax Transit service plan, which included some of the earliest changes to the bus network based on MFTP. 

Council also directed transit to undertake a review of the draft MFTP network and included a list of 22 potential changes to MFTP.

December 2016 – Halifax Transit presented their supplemental report on potential changes to MFTP. Staff recommended proceeding with just one change out of twenty-two potential changes. It’s More than Buses had massive concerns with both MFTP and the supplemental report, specifically that the Moving Forward Together Plan:

  • did not create  a connective transit network,
  • had inefficient and redundant route design,
  • did not provide enough data and analysis, and
  • included a long, five-year implementation.

In response to the supplemental report, Regional Council directed Halifax Transit to hire a consultant to review the MFTP corridor routes, the 10 routes forming the backbone of MFTP. The Council motion read “staff [will] engage a consultant to review the Corridor Routes in the Moving Forward Together Plan and provide advice for modifications that may be warranted …”

June 2017 – Halifax Transit presented a baffling report that suggests that no consultant is needed to review MFTP.  Regional Council instead directed Halifax Transit to hire a consultant and undertake a review of the MFTP Corridor Routes.

2017 Onward: Halifax Transit started implementing MFTP network changes in phases. The original plan was to finish by 2020/2021. Three new terminals were expected to be delivered by 2021: West Bedford, Margeson Drive and Wrights Cove. Halifax Transit proposed to rebuild other terminals, including Mumford, Cobequid, and Penhorn.

September 2019 – Halifax Transit presented the Corridor Route review. The outside review proposed seven major changes to the Corridor routes. Halifax Transit suggested that only one change should be made: “truncate Corridor Route 5 at the Bridge Terminal, requiring a transfer for those wishing to travel over the Macdonald Bridge to downtown Halifax. This change will reduce redundancy in the network and is consistent with the Moving Forward principles.”

The report also recommended that Halifax Transit develop performance measures for trip time variation (reliability and bunching), net cost per boarding, and passenger comfort.

2020 – COVID. Halifax Transit rapidly introduced changes to the network, dramatically reducing service in response to the pandemic. Tough times for transit staff and riders.

2021-2022 – The Annual Service Plan included changes to routes in Dartmouth, including the new Route 5. Instead of ending the Route 5 at Bridge Terminal, as promised during the Corridor Review, the new Route 5 ended at Scotia Square. So the end result of Council requests, a supplemental report, and an outside review of MFTP Corridor routes – zero revisions to the draft plan as was presented in April 2016.

July  2022 – Halifax Transit cut departures on an interim basis in response to an acute shortage of bus drivers. HRM did not provide an estimate, but the Transit Union estimated that Halifax Transit was 30 to 40 drivers short of what’s needed to run full service.

February 2023 – Halifax Transit cuts three routes on an interim basis due to staffing shortage. Halifax Transit estimated that full service would return by late summer 2023.

June 2023 – Halifax Transit announces that service reductions will continue indefinitely. 42 driver positions were vacant. There was no timeline to return to full service: “Based on staffing levels, efforts to increase service capacity will be re-evaluated over the coming months as we look to return to full service.”

Late August 2023 – Full service had not resumed. Recruitment had turned around, and 17 more drivers were working in August than five months before. Outstanding changes from MFTP would not be completed in November 2023 as hoped. This included routing and scheduling improvements to Routes 1 and Route 10, two of the busiest routes in the system: “Routes 1 and 10 are part of the postponed Moving Forward Together Plan service adjustments. These routes will have new schedules once staffing levels are sufficient and they are able to be implemented.”

November 2023 – Halifax Transit reinstated some trips that were cut in July 2022, despite persistent overcrowding on other routes. New service was also introduced to Burnside as part of the MFTP. Halifax Transit made no changes to routes 1 and 10, the final changes needed to finish MFTP.

The MFTP plan is late and still not finished. So, quite a long rollout. 2023 is coming to an end and Halifax Transit has not finished the Moving Forward Together Plan. There are still some big outstanding questions:

It has been almost nine years since the first draft of MFTP. It has been seven and a half years since Council approved MFTP, but Halifax Transit has not finished the MFTP route and schedule changes. Halifax Transit has built one out of three planned terminals. It hasn’t rebuilt other terminals, as hoped. There is no plan to deal with overcrowding and staffing levels are improving slowly.

Clearly, COVID was a big problem stalling this plan. Delays happened to transit projects everywhere. But we are now over two years behind schedule, with no end in sight. Halifax Transit is struggling to finish a plan that is about eight years old, which doesn’t address major problems in the current network. MFTP didn’t consider or predict the driver shortage or the big changes in communiting caused by COVID (who did?!). Is finishing up MFTP still the right move? Or do we need to shift gears to increase reliability and add capacity to croweded routes? It’s unclear what the best move is here.

Until MFTP is finished, riders are stuck in limbo, hoping Halifax Transit can finish quickly and move on to address the massive reliability and crowding problems. One thing is clear, though – Moving Forward Together is delayed. Like too many other Halifax Transit projects. Council and Halifax Transit have to figure out next steps and start finishing major projects. Long suffering transit riders are waiting on improvements that don’t seem to be coming.