Part 2: Building on the Principles

Disclaimer: Legacy Content

The information on this page is derived from Moving Forward Together Plan, approved by Halifax Regional Council in 2016. Minor adjustments to route numbering and route planning have since been made and approved in Halifax Transit Annual Service Plans. 

2    Navigating the Route Ahead – Building on the Principles

The Moving Forward Together Plan is consistent with the Halifax Transit Mission Statement, as described in section 1 above, and guided by the four Moving Forward Principles. The four principles are at the heart of the plan, and are the foundation upon which all objectives, network changes, and policies found within were created. Furthermore, they are intended to provide guidance to decision making over the life of the plan.

Based on a comprehensive review of existing transit service and of current and expected travel needs, these Principles were used to develop an improved transit network that will better serve today’s demands and that will more effectively accommodate the Region’s growth.

So how do the Moving Forward Principles translate into real change in the Halifax Transit network? This section describes how the Moving Forward Together Plan puts into practice the intent of the Moving Forward Principles.

2.1    Principle  1:  Increase the Proportion of Resources Allocated Towards High Ridership Services

This principle speaks to the role of public transit in building a more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable community. Increasing the proportion of resources allocated to high ridership services will help to reduce congestion, pollution, and the need to build, expand and maintain additional roadway and parking infrastructure, while also making the service more cost effective.

High ridership services are those that transport a large number of passengers relative to the level of resources that are invested in the service. In this plan, when routes are carrying more than thirty passengers per hour, they are considered high ridership. Low ridership services, or coverage services, are those that typically carry fewer passengers, or require a higher level of resources to provide, and as a result use resources less efficiently.

To achieve this Principle, resources must be reallocated towards services that have the highest potential demand, and these services must be increased and improved to support higher ridership. This means that areas or services with low demand may have minimal service, or no service at all.

The support for an increased focus on higher ridership services is consistent with the findings of the Office of the Auditor General’s Report entitled A Systems-Level Performance Review of Metro Transit’s Service Delivery. Completed in July 2013, this report states: “It is the view of the [Office of the Auditor General that] the definition of success for Halifax Transit should [be] amended to focus on increased ridership which would result in additional revenue.”

Although this principle emphasizes the importance of high ridership services and requires a shift in resources towards high ridership services, some low ridership services will continue to have an important role in the Halifax Transit network. Often, high ridership services or routes have periods of time during the day, or on weekends, when ridership is low. It is important to the overall success of these services that they operate throughout the day and evening and in some instances, high quality service will still be maintained during lower ridership periods. Additionally, some routes have lower ridership, but serve an important purpose by acting as “feeder routes” for higher ridership services. These routes are important as they allow riders to circulate within their local communities, and facilitate access to the rest of the network.

2.1.1    Achieving Principle 1: Increasing the Proportion of Resources Allocated Towards High Ridership Services

Urban Transit Service Boundary

Urban Transit Service Boundary by the numbers:

• Population of HRM: 390,328
• Population within Urban Transit Service Boundary (UTSB): 290,376 or 74.4% of the population of HRM
• Nearly 99% of residents within the UTSB are within 500 metres of a bus stop as outlined in this plan

A significant step has already been taken to direct resources to high ridership areas by creating the Urban Transit Service Boundary. The highest potential transit ridership exists within urban areas, rather than rural communities where development is spread out over a larger area. Policy T-7 of the 2014 Regional Plan establishes an Urban Transit Service Boundary, within which resources and improvements to transit service will be focused. The Urban Transit Service Boundary includes all contiguous communities in Halifax which currently have both municipal water and municipal sewer, where homes are generally closer together. Policy T-7 helps to focus investment in  the areas where transit  service can operate most efficiently, and also to  set clear expectations for residents and businesses as to where new transit services will be added in the future.

As a result, there will be no new or increased Halifax Transit services outside the Urban Transit Service Boundary, with the exception of Regional Express services (identified as rural commuter express service in the Regional Municipal Planning Strategy).

In rural areas, development densities are not sufficiently high to warrant municipally operated fixed route transit service. Policy T-10 of the Regional Plan states that Council may consider programs to encourage and assist communities with developing their own community based transit services in the areas outside the Urban Transit Service Boundary. In August 2014, Regional Council adopted Administrative Order 2014-012-ADM to support provision of the Rural Transit Funding Program. Halifax Transit will support the development of community based transit services in rural areas that are tailored to meet the specific needs of the community through the Rural Transit Funding Program.

The Moving Forward Together Plan increases the proportion of resources allocated towards high ridership services in four key ways:

1. Establishing Corridor Routes: Corridor Routes are high ridership transit routes that travel along major corridors and form the spine of the transit network. This plan proposes ten Corridor Routes, which account for almost  50% of Halifax Transit’s resources. They connect multiple neighbourhoods with employment, educational centres, and shopping areas, and approximately 171,000 residents are within walking distance to these routes.

2. Expanded Express Service: This plan proposes to  build  on  the  success of the  previous MetroLink and Urban Express services and introduce a new service type. Express service is a commuter focused service that is intended to move large volumes of passengers during peak commuting periods, when transit can have the largest impact on congestion.

3. Providing Coverage Service in off-peak Periods: Although transit service is most efficient during peak commuting periods when demand is highest and most directional, not all travel takes place during these periods. To support Corridor and Express Routes, service must also be operated during time periods when demand is lower to accommodate trips which do not take place during traditional rush hour periods like trips to appointments, university classes, shopping destinations, and social visits. It is important that residents are able to make these trips by bus in order to live a car-free lifestyle.

Providing trips in off-peak periods can also increase ridership during peak periods, because passengers know that they can rely on the service regardless of when they decide to make their trip. This plan proposes to expand midday, evening, and weekend service on many routes to meet this objective.

4. Reducing Low Ridership Services: In addition to reducing service levels on low ridership routes, this plan proposes to eliminate existing underperforming routes, or segments of routes that have consistently low ridership. It also outlines the removal of service during some periods of the day on routes which do not sustain ridership during the off peak periods (evenings, weekends, midday). The Plan proposes to remove service from:

• Prospect Road between Ragged Lake Boulevard and Exhibition Park (currently serviced by Route 22);
• Some School Special Routes;
• Waverley Road north of Charles Keating Drive (currently serviced by the Route 55);
• Beaver Bank Road north of Kinsac Road (currently serviced by the Route 400);
• Highway 207 beyond Porters Lake, to Seaforth and Back Road (currently serviced by the Route 401);
• Purcells Cove and Fergusons Cove during the off-peak period (currently serviced by Route 15);
• Portland Estates Boulevard & Portland Hills Drive during the off-peak period (currently serviced by Route 57); and
• Sambro (currently serviced by the Route 402).
The following table summarizes the existing ridership and the current cost of providing transit service on the routes or portions of routes where service is to be discontinued:

Urban Transit Service Boundary (Map 7, Regional Municipal Planning Strategy)

Urban Transit Service Boundary (Map 7, Regional Municipal Planning Strategy)

Ridership and Cost of Low Ridership Routes

Ridership and Cost of Low Ridership Routes

2 Ridership based on 2015 manual passenger counting program, unless otherwise noted
3 Costs calculated based on length of trip and overall average speed.
4 Based on February 2016 counts


2.2    Principle 2: Build a Simplified Transfer Based Network

A network design with increased reliance on transfers can simplify the network and make it easier for existing and potential transit riders to understand. It also can reduce the average length of routes in the network, which can improve service reliability.

Transfers work best at locations where a number of routes can connect with each other to accommodate travel made from a diverse set of passenger trip origins to a diverse set of passenger destinations. They are also commonly used to provide connections between low demand areas and high ridership services in major transportation corridors.

Where there is a high demand between one part of the network and a particular destination, on the other hand, a direct service without transfer offering “single seat” trips can be provided. Such services, for example downtown-oriented trips during weekday peak periods, are attractive to passengers and make efficient use of bus and driver resources.

The Moving Forward Together Plan strikes a balance by providing direct trips without transfers within major transportation corridors and to/from areas of high demand, and by employing transfer connections to accommodate more dispersed travel patterns and travel during periods of lower transit demand.

2.2.1    Achieving Principle 2: Building a Simplified Transfer Based Network

The Moving Forward Together Plan works toward building a simplified transfer based network in three key ways:

1.    Facilitating Transfers: In order to meet the conditions of support for transfers identified through the first round of public consultation, the redesigned transit network is built on a model of having regular, frequent Corridor Routes along major transportation corridors that passengers can transfer onto to reach their destination. All Local Routes outlined in this plan travel to transit terminals that provide connections with Corridor Routes and provide weather-protected waiting facilities. As part of the plan, Express Routes and Regional Express Routes will stop at key transfer locations to facilitate connections with other routes.

During peak commuting periods when there is the highest demand on our road network, and on our transit service, Express Routes will exist to move large volumes of passengers to major employment areas without requiring transferring. However, Express Routes will stop at terminals and major destinations to allow passengers with different travel needs to transfer.

2.    Making the Network Easier to Understand: Completing a comprehensive review and making network wide changes allows the opportunity to re-schedule service with more consistency. In some cases, routes have evolved over time to have uneven frequencies, and a variety of different routing patterns depending on the time of day. This plan proposes that routes have regular, more predictable frequencies, with less variation at different times of the day.

This plan also provides an opportunity to plan the network cohesively, with service types, levels of service, and route numbers and names that are applied consistently, but still recognizing the unique needs of different communities. Where variations of routes do exist, for clarity, letters will be used in addition to the route number.
Although many routes proposed in this plan resemble in part a route that existed previously, most have been simplified. The complexity of routes was reduced by straightening out circuitous routing where possible, eliminating one way service where possible, or removing portions of routes that did not have high ridership.

In addition, the number of routes that overlap has been reduced, particularly during the off-peak period. On major transportation corridors, rather than providing a large number of routes, Corridor Routes will be provided. These Corridor Routes will connect with Local Routes at terminals, so that passengers can transfer to reach their destination. The geography and road network in Halifax make it impossible to remove all overlap and redundant service while still providing a convenient transit trip, but a balance has been struck that greatly reduces the complexity of the system, and makes the network easier to understand.

3.    Improving Passenger Amenities: This plan introduces a new classification system to measure and improve the level of amenities at bus stops and terminals, with the intention of creating safe, comfortable transfer locations throughout the network.

In addition, the planning process has identified the need for two new transit terminals to facilitate transferring: the first at Wrights Cove in Burnside, and the second in West Bedford.

2.3   Principle 3: Invest in Service Quality and Reliability

Investing in service quality and reliability means dedicating resources to maintain existing service in good condition by addressing schedule adherence issues and overloads on an ongoing basis, as opposed to prioritizing the introduction of new services.

Throughout all public consultation activities, participants consistently indicated that both the maintenance of existing service and the introduction of new service were important, although most agreed that in the short term, Halifax Transit should focus on improving the reliability of the existing service.

2.3.1    Achieving Principle 3: Investing in Service Quality and Reliability

The Moving Forward Together Plan invests in service quality and reliability in five key ways:

1.    Addressing capacity, demand, frequency, and service span issues on existing routes: As noted above, survey respondents wanted a larger percentage of resources spent on maintaining the quality of existing routes, rather than service increases. With the implementation of new Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and Automatic Passenger Count (APC)units on all Halifax Transit vehicles, more data will be available than ever before to improve the scheduling and resource allocation to ensure a higher quality of service on established routes.

The implementation of this plan focuses on phased restructuring of the existing transit network, prior to the provision of service in newly developing areas. Through the implementation period of this plan, each route will be scheduled using accurate running times obtained using the AVL data, in order to ensure high levels of reliability for passengers. Running times will be will be adjusted as needed in the future to accommodate for changes in traffic patterns and variations in running time.

2.    Use Route Structures which Support Schedule Adherence and Shorter Travel Times: This plan outlines a network which makes use of shorter Local Routes in suburban or rural areas, which are not tied to service running towards the more congested urban centre. The exception to this is during peak hours, when some Local Routes become Express Routes, providing a direct trip into Downtown in order to carry passengers as directly and efficiently as possible. Where longer routes exist, this plan has streamlined service to eliminate portions of routes with lower ridership demand.

3.    Balance Fleet Recapitalization and Fleet Expansion: High quality of service, especially schedule adherence, depends on the availability of reliable transit vehicles. As the Halifax Transit fleet ages, it is important to continue to replace the oldest vehicles to ensure that they are safe and reliable for passengers.. Halifax Transit will gradually be moving from an 18 year replacement cycle for transit buses to a 14 year replacement cycle. Although this transition will take time and resources, this shorter lifecycle for vehicles reduces lifetime maintenance costs and allows Halifax Transit to provide customers with more reliable service. The plan acknowledges the need for the timely replacement of aging vehicles and service increases are based on the resources remaining only after all necessary replacement vehicles are accounted for.

4.    Replace existing Regional Express (currently known as “MetroX”) vehicles with standard 40 foot vehicles: The smaller vehicles currently in use on some MetroX routes do not provide the capacity required on some trips, and upon reaching their expected lifespan, they will be replaced by standard forty foot vehicles. Replacing the shorter Regional Express vehicles will increase capacity for passengers, and will also provide opportunities for scheduling efficiencies.

5.    Apply Quality of Service Guidelines: This plan includes a number of quality of service guidelines which Halifax Transit will strive to meet in order to improve the customer experience and the efficiency and reliability of the transit network.

 2.4    Principle 4: Give Transit Increased Priority in the Transportation Network

Making transit faster and more reliable is important to make transit attractive to new riders, to increase ridership, and to control operating costs. One of the best means do this is by reducing the impact that traffic congestion and traffic signals have on transit vehicles.

Transit Priority Measures (TPMs) are tools that municipalities and transit agencies can use to reduce these delays, improve reliability and reduce the average travel time of transit vehicles. There are many different types of TPMs, and in many cases they are used together to create a city-wide network. Some of the most common TPMs include:

-    Traffic Signal Priority
-    Queue Jumps
-    Bus lanes
-    Transit corridors that are separated from traffic

Regional Plan Policy T-8 reads “Transit priority measures, such as designated transit lanes, transit signal priority, and queue jump lanes may be made to improve the reliability and travel time of public transit vehicles.”

Overall, public consultation indicated strong support for the implementation of TPMs, with both regular transit users and non-transit users agreeing that TPMs play a key role in increasing the reliability of transit, and in making it more attractive and user-friendly. However, many participants recognized that TPMs are not a “one size fits all” solution, and that each situation must be carefully considered to ensure that the right measure is implemented in the right location.

Today, Halifax Transit vehicles make use of a network of 17 TPMs throughout the city, many of which were introduced as part of MetroLink service in the 2005/2006 fiscal year.

2.4.1    Achieving Principle 4: Giving Transit Increased Priority in the Transportation Network

The Moving Forward Together Plan works to give transit increased priority in the transportation network in five key ways:

1.    Supporting implementation of TPM projects in the short term: A roster of possible TPMs was compiled and evaluated to determine their potential impact on all road users and payback period. Halifax Transit will work with other municipal departments to advance implementation of these measures.

2.    Creating a comprehensive TPM plan: A broad, comprehensive plan is required to inventory and prioritize all opportunities for TPMs in the new transit network. This plan should build on the short term plan currently being completed. This plan will establish a long term vision for TPMs in the Halifax Transit network.

3.    Prioritizing TPMs in key corridors: In the past, TPMs in the Halifax Transit network have largely been introduced on transportation corridors frequented by peak only Urban Express Routes or MetroLink routes. This focus will be shifted towards implementing TPMs for Corridor Routes, which carry many transit vehicles throughout the entire day. This will provide transit riders with a faster and more reliable trip all day, not just at rush hour. In the future, the Corridor Routes proposed in this network could be candidates for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors. The potential for introducing higher order transit service such as BRT, light rail or new ferry routes are not considered as part of this plan, but will be explored through the Integrated Mobility Plan.

4.    Seeking opportunities for low cost TPMs: Not all TPMs are costly and require significant capital investment to build. In some cases it is possible to seize an opportunity presented by other municipal work, for example a road realignment. Halifax Transit staff will engage with the Transportation & Public Works and Planning & Development Municipal Business Units to identify potential opportunities to integrate the construction of TPMs into larger ongoing projects.

5.    Modifying routes to take advantage of existing and future TPMs: Within the Regional Centre, where TPMs are of highest value, narrow road rights-of-way are common and space is often unavailable for new infrastructure. In some cases it will be important to modify routes to travel on streets where priority measures are achievable rather than struggling to implement measures on routes that buses currently operate on. As TPMs are implemented, consideration must be given to the realignment of existing routes in order to provide as many routes as possible with the benefits provided by the faster and more reliable travel time.