Halifax Transit’s not-so-public response to its own public consultation

In 2013, Metro Transit began a series of public consultations to figure out how our public transportation system should look five years from now.

The company was seeking answers to four basic questions: should the system focus on routes providing the biggest passenger bang for the buck, or offer service to as many local neighbourhoods as possible; should it focus on improving routes it already serves or developing new ones; should it push forward with bus lanes and other policies to put public transit first; and should it emphasize a single, one-bum-one-seat-one-route for the entire trip, or develop a new, transfer-based network to get people around?

Let’s stick with that last, which is the first one Halifax Transit — the newly rebranded Metro Transit — has clearly responded to.

During last fall’s consultations, the public — in the words of Halifax Transit itself —“expressed strong support for a transfer-based transit system,” which is to say for constructing a route map delivering suburban and rural commuters close to the city so they could then transfer to other, more frequent buses to take them efficiently to their final destinations.

But last week, Halifax Transit quietly — and without any additional consultation — backed away from the idea. “Following conceptual testing of a transfer-based system here in Halifax,” a statement on the company’s web site says, it concluded an entirely transfer-based network would “not be ideal based on existing travel patterns, the way our streets are laid out and the system’s resource capacity.”

That may turn out to be true. But the lack of further public consultation and the off-handed, report-to-council, non-way in which the news was not delivered to the public, who had taken the time to consult, does not speak well to Halifax Transit’s commitment to the process, or to its rebranding promise to “be bold.”

Halifax Transit’s 300 buses and four ferries carry over100,000 passengers every day but the cost of providing those services has tripled in the last decade while the percentage of the cost covered by passenger fares has dropped from 70 per cent to 40.

We need more people taking public transit.

But to accomplish that, we clearly need something more than more of the same from Metro… er, Halifax Transit.

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