Every day thousands of Haligonians take their cars to work, all by themselves. The cars they drive can usually seat at least three others comfortably. Yet this lonely form of commuting remains the standard way to get from point A to point B. This inefficient form of transportation comes at a high cost for many reasons.
In terms of health, we are spewing millions of tonnes of pollution into the air, choking our lungs and our atmosphere. It’s no wonder respiratory diseases such as asthma are on the rise. Car accidents are also one of the largest contributors to death and injury every year.
For those more concerned with dollars and cents, this type of travel also makes no sense. The wear and tear on our asphalt requires millions of dollars of taxpayer money to maintain. Also---cars are expensive, insurance rates should be considered criminal and the price of gasoline? Well, it’s not going to get any cheaper.
Of course, smog from our cars contains gases such as C02, which contributes to an enhanced greenhouse effect, hence global warming. Not to mention oil spills, toxic materials which are hard to recycle and the need to pave more roads requires demolishing wildlife natural habitats.
It’s a bleak picture, but we can do something about it. In fact, there are a lot of things we can do about it.
There are ways of moving people around that are sustainable, saving us money in the long run and don’t lead to anti-social behaviour. And there are people in HRM trying to make it happen. Capital District Health District Authority is one example of a major employer in the city trying out lots of different ways to get their staff to work.
Brian Rankine is the director of business development at Capital Health, and he says getting employees to the job site through alternative methods isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity. “We have significant parking challenges at our sites and less than three percent of our staff have parking privileges,” Rankine says. “That’s because patients who come here typically have a mobility challenge or may be elderly. So obviously our priority for parking goes to patients.”
One of their strategies includes a bicycle program where staff can sign out a bike to take to one of the other Health Science Centre locations, instead of using their car or taking a cab. It’s a way to both utilize zero-emission transit and promote healthy living.
“We also have a dedicated space at our VG site for Car Share,” Rankine says. “That creates an opportunity for some of our health care providers to go off site. Instead of bringing their own car, they use the Car Share, and that reduces the need to bring your car in to go to meetings or elsewhere.”
A Car Share is a network of cars spread out all over the city, serving as an alternative to renting or owning. If you are a registered user, you can book the car for a couple of hours to a couple of days, depending on what you need it for.
CarShareHFX is the only communal automobile company in the HRM. Co-owner Pam Cooley says it has become a new way to move people in an eco-friendly, cost-effective way.
“We realize that cars are required to some extent,” Cooley says. “But we want people to spend that $10,000”---the average annual cost of car ownership---“on other things. Why not spend that money on paying down your mortgage, or things we value?”
Cooley says that she doesn’t see Metro Transit, taxis or bikes as competition, but rather as mobility partners.
“The role of the car now is that everyone has to have one in their driveway, but that’s not true,” Cooley says. “Most people can get around Halifax now without a car pretty well. And as Transit increases their routes, and more bike lanes and walking trails are made, we could have this city just zipping along.”
HRM planners have also realized the need to innovate as the city continues to grow. Some strategies include integrating more bike lanes into the road system, planning communities around transit---and not the other way around---and building a network of walking trails.
“We’ve done surveys and people have said that they would bike more if there was more infrastructure to bike on,” says Hanita Koblents with HRM Planning Services. “There is a certain percentage of people who will bike no matter what, but to get another group of people on their bikes who live within a reasonable biking distance, they need more infrastructure, so we’ve been trying to increase biking infrastructure on roads, and off-road as well.”
Potential carpoolers can also connect via hrmsmarttrip.ca. David McCusker is a manager for regional transportation with HRM and says that the carpooling website is a way for like-minded Haligonians to save money and catch up on gossip.
“We’ve got 1,500 people on the website,” says McCusker. “Compared to other cities that do it ours, numbers are actually quite high, relatively. As far as people coming up with other carpooling networks such as on Kijiji, anything that creates matches is a good thing, and if that’s an avenue then that’s great. But we need to make sure we have the resources available to people at the municipal level.”