Transit improvement projects on the way for Halifax

Click to play video: 'New buses and ferries on horizon with Nova Scotia transit improvement projects' New buses and ferries on horizon with Nova Scotia transit improvement projects
WATCH ABOVE: Federal funding is boosting Halifax’s public transportation plans but some experts say funding should go towards network expansion – Feb 24, 2017

Halifax Regional Council has officially signed off on 15 transit projects aimed at improving public transportation in the region.

READ MORE: Advocacy group calls for designated bus lanes, accessible transit in Halifax

Groundwork for the investment was laid out in spring 2016 after Ottawa announced it would be contributing money from its “Public Transit Infrastructure Fund” to all provincially-led initiatives.

“The federal investment, the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, is a really exciting investment for us. It does mean that we’re able to do a lot more than we could have before,” said Patricia Hughes, Halifax Transit’s planning and scheduling manager.

In total, the 15 projects will cost around $58 million, $30 million of which will be spent on conventional transit bus replacement.

“We had hoped to replace about 30 this year, but with the federal funding we’re up to about 59,” Hughes said.

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While new buses are needed, some transit advocates believe more money should be invested in bus rapid transit – a service said to perform with higher frequency and reliability than conventional services.

READ MORE: Halifax Transit plan inches forward, looks into hiring consultant

“A lot of routes right now run at 30-minute or sometimes even 60-minute frequency, if we really want to see an increase in ridership that has to get down to about 15 minutes or better,” said Jeffrey Blair, a member of “It’s More Than Buses”, a citizen-led transit advocacy group in Halifax.

Hughes said bus rapid transit is on the radar and $200,000 is being invested into studying its feasibility.

“[There’s] a number of projects relating to transit priority measures. So, actually implementing transit queue jump lanes and also studying them, looking for other opportunities for bus rapid transit and ways to make transit more reliable and move ahead of the congestion,” she said.

The latest census shows the fastest growing communities are outside the peninsula but Councillor Matt Whitman says transit expansion isn’t growing to meet the needs of the population boom.

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“Hammonds Plains, Tantallon is growing very quickly. We have very limited transit; we have commuter transit in the morning. Our express route to downtown is standing room only, it’s overflowing,” Whitman said.

READ MORE: Halifax suburbs see fast growth from development boom: planner

The majority of the projects focus on fleet replacement and infrastructure upgrades, but planning expert Ahsan Habib believes that money would be better spent on expanding the transit network.

READ MORE: Halifax seeks public input surrounding transportation priorities

“We need bold action, more faster, reliable service, service expansion, for example bus rapid transit or the rail corridor, Bedford to Halifax or Fall River to Halifax.

“So, we haven’t see that type of transformative transit for Halifax planned or implemented yet.”

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