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Halifax Transit plan inches forward, looks into hiring consultant

Halifax Transit buses are seen at the Mumford Terminal. Natasha Pace/Global News

The Moving Forward Together plan was back before Halifax Regional Council Tuesday as councillors reviewed a report on the plan to improve the region’s bus service.

READ MORE: Halifax council punts decision on transit redesign

Councillors passed a motion that called for the plan presented in April to be approved, adopting an amendment to keep existing route numbers the same in North Preston and Cherry Brook communities. It passed 15-2.

Discussion of the report, however, started with District 7 Councillor Waye Mason putting forward another amendment asking for staff to look into hiring an outside consultant. The amendment was passed unanimously by council.

The consultant would look at corridor routes found in the plan and provide advice on what can be modified for the 2018-19 service year.

Mason told reporters the amendment came after hearing from the public.

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“There are some concerns, especially with It’s More Than Buses and some transit advocates, that it’s not sufficiently bold or that it doesn’t have enough transfer-based connectivity. That it’s a little bit too much like the old plan,” Mason said.

District 6 Councillor Tony Mancini was one of several councillors to speak to the amendment and said the consultant could help address his own concerns with the plan. He said the majority of the plan did not focus on routes.

READ MORE: Frustration surrounds new Halifax Transit plan ahead of council review

“Let’s get an independent consultant to come in and look at any gaps,” Mancini said. “This plan has been approved. It is what it is now. Let’s move forward.”

In the plan, there are 10 corridor routes planned due to high ridership. The plan sets out providing expanded services to transport a large number of commuters at the busiest — or peak — times.

During council District 12 Councillor Richard Zurawski questioned why a consultant was needed if staff who prepared the plan were qualified enough and how a consultant would be hired if the amendment passed.

Halifax Transit director Dave Reage explained it would be up to council if a consultant were hired but they had “brought back [their] best professional advice.” He said hiring of the consultant would be through a procurement process, such as a request for proposals, then looking at the credentials and experience of the applicants.
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READ MORE: Halifax transit plan going to council next week

Zurawski added he had concerns over the consultant looking too broadly at the plan which could result in too much information coming back to council, which “bogs down the process.”

The motion put forward by Mason also included asking for the review to include outcomes from Halifax’s Integrated Mobility Plan, bus rapid transit updates, updated ridership data and other transit-related items being considered.

Councillor Stephen Adams of District 11 also made an amendment asking the number 15 route, which services residents of Purcell’s Cove, remain as an all-day service. The plan proposes changing it to one that runs at peak times.

“This isn’t about raising ridership,” Adams told councillors. “This is also an opportunity to look at other options.”

He said he would look at increasing ridership and was given a year to come back with data for the proposal of all-day service to be reassessed.

Other councillors raised concern after voting for Mason’s amendment, why more amendments should be made. Councillor Lisa Blackburn said the change to routes won’t even be taking place yet.

“I don’t see why we’re looking at this today so closely if we’re going to be hiring a consultant and talking about it again anyway,” Blackburn said.

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Mancini agreed and said approving one amendment in the plan meant more would have to be looked at.

“I believe right now if we accept this one, accept the next one, not accept the third one, we’re going in the wrong direction,” Mancini said.

Council voted in favour of Adams’ motion 11-6, while a second amendment requested by Adams to leave the 402 Sambro route in its current state was defeated 12-5.

READ MORE: City asks residents for feedback on Halifax Transit plan

The Moving Forward Together plan itself was already approved as a whole at the April meeting, but councillors had asked for a staff report looking at amendments regarding bus service in their own communities. Only one of those amendments was later recommended by staff for approval.

— With files from Jennifer Grudic, Global News

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