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