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How to pick bus routes, use transfers and get to the mall

Whoever thought up the adage “Boys/girls are like buses—another one comes along in 10 minutes” sure as hell didn’t spend any phrase-coining time in Halifax.

The truth is the oft, and deservedly, maligned Metro Transit is the best it’s ever been (and to use it costs the most it’s ever cost). There are 46 bus routes and three ferries, and the majority of them operate on Sundays now. Eleven routes are wheelchair accessible. The brand-new Metro Link buses, when they aren’t tied up in spectacular traffic accidents, are a late-coming smart-ass move that’ll get you to either Dartmouth suburb Portland Hills from Scotia Square in Halifax or to Portland Hills from the Woodside Ferry Terminal in 25 minutes or less. (Sackville is next on the Link list.)

But all is far from perfect in the world of public transportation. You cannot take a city bus to the airport, less than 30 minutes from Halifax. (It takes the 80 an hour to travel from Scotia Square in downtown Halifax to Downsview Mall in Lower Sackville.) Bus fares continue to rise as seats continue to disappear on newer buses with the wider aisles needed for wheelchair accessibility. Every bus seems to have a different set of exit doors, which means learning a complex system of escape motions. These include the old-school handle push; the venerable Step Down to Open Doors; the unfortunate, and mostly discontinued, move where you wave your hand in front of a certain spot on the doors (paralyzing for introverts with low self-esteem) and the newer variation on the handle push, the handle touch—you have three seconds to touch the handle and escape. Coffee—unless in a travel mug—and food are banned, and you can’t guess which driver’s going to let it go, so you must eat before commuting.

Don’t bother grumbling that the transit systems in Toronto/Montreal/Chicago/New York/London are amazing. These are places with subways. Halifax does not have a subway and it never will, so get over it. If you choose to live here without a car and want to expand your HRM horizons, you will have to get to know Metro Transit. And that’s where we come in.

It costs $2 to take a bus (or the Dartmouth and Woodside ferries; the new Metro Link buses cost $2.50) one way. You can also buy a book of 20 one-way tickets for $32. If you have a connection, ask for a transfer when you get on, or you will regret it when your face catches fire from the heat of the driver’s glare.

The schedule is online with individual, downloadable PDFs of schedules and maps for each route at

Riders guides—a long, thin schedule of routes perfect for side pockets—are available on the buses and any place that sells bus tickets and passes, which includes kiosks at most malls, drugstores and university student centres. They’re free and are updated four times a year.

There are 10 bus terminals in the sys tem. Use them to help navigate the bus schedule: the Bridge terminal (Sportsplex) in Dartmouth, Mumford in west end Halifax, Scotia Square in downtown Halifax (Barrington & Duke in the schedule), Mic Mac and Penhorn at the respective malls in Dartmouth, Highfield Park, Lacewood in Clayton Park, Cobequid and Downsview in Sackville and the new, gorgeous Portland Hills on the outskirts of Dartmouth. There are ferry terminals on the Halifax, Dartmouth and Woodside waterfronts.

The Halifax-Dartmouth ferry takes 12 minutes. You can transfer from and to buses on either side of the Halifax Harbour.

The best route in the system is the number 1. It says Spring Garden/Dartmouth no matter which way it’s going. It runs the most often (10 minutes apart during the busiest times of day) and the latest. On Sundays it drops to every half-hour, which is the best Sunday schedule you’ll find. Running from the biggest clusterfuck of parking lot design in the whole of the HRM—the Mumford Terminal at West End Mall—to the scariest terminal in the whole of Metro Transit’s terminal collection—the Dartmouth Sportsplex—it hits five neighbourhoods (north, south, downtown and west end Halifax and downtown Dartmouth). That means it will take you to Barrington, Spring Garden, Dalhousie, four malls (Scotia Square, Park Lane, Halifax Shopping Centre and West End), The Oxford (and Quinpool Road) and across the Macdonald Bridge. Construction a few years back changed the routes a bit—a lot of the buses that cross the bridge from Halifax to Dartmouth do it via Gottingen Street, but you have to go down two blocks to Barrington to get buses coming from Dartmouth into the city.

The number 10 is the Dal-SMU connec tor, starting at the Dal SUB, winding through the south end along Inglis and then downtown to Dartmouth. In the afternoons and on Saturdays it is generally serviced by an articulated (AKA accordion) bus to handle the influx. It will also take you to Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth.

The 46 routes are grouped by neigh bourhoods. Buses 1 through 35 service Halifax and surrounding areas like Clayton Park and Fairview (2, 4, 17, 18, among others), Purcell’s Cove (15—the only bus to the Theatre Arts Guild and a bunch of lakes, including Chocolate and Williams), Herring Cove (20) and Timberlea (21). 50s and 60s service Dartmouth and its burbs, e.g., 58 (Woodlawn), 59 (Colby), 60 (Eastern Passage), 61 (Auburn/North Preston), 63 (Woodside) and 68 (Cherrybrook). These run from downtown Halifax during rush hour (usually between 3 and 6pm), so if you’re just looking to get over the bridge you can always grab one on Barrington. The 80s are Bedford/Sackville and you better give yourself plenty of time to travel because they are among the longest routes out there, except for the excellent 87, which runs from the Sportsplex to the Cobequid Terminal in Sackville in 25 minutes or less.

There are no 40s and one 70, a new route to Portland Hills (72) on the outskirts of Dartmouth.

The 52 is the crosstown bus. It’s only a couple of years old, but it lives up to its name, hitting four terminals (Lacewood, Bridge, Highfield and Mumford) along the way. It will get you out to the BLIP and Empire Bayers Lake, not to mention the Metro Transit parking garage.

Bus stops are marked by white signs with wide blue bus icons on them. Stickers bearing numerals denote which routes stop there. A seemingly random four-digit number is printed in red on every sign. If you’re not sure when the next bus is coming, dial 465 and that number, and an automated voice will tell you. You’re given the scheduled time the bus is supposed to arrive, not the actual time, and you have no way of knowing if the bus is ahead or behind, but it’s a decent approximation.

If you see a white or yellow laminated sign slapped on a bus stop, read it. It means the stop has either temporarily moved or is out of service completely. Construction on Gottingen and near the Oxford Theatre confused a lot of people this summer. Pay attention.

There are three community transit buses, which also provide some of the best scenery in the province if you’re looking for a cheap day trip. The Beaver Bank bus operates out of the Downsview Terminal in Sackville. The Fall River bus (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) goes from Downsview to the Sobeys in Fall River. Porter’s Lake leaves from the Mic Mac Terminal and travels to communities including Preston, Lake Echo and Grand Desert. These schedules are very limited and are $1.50 (except for Porter’s Lake which is $2.50). You cannot use transfers to get from community transit to Metro Transit. (That means two fares.) You can, however, use Metro Transit tickets on community transit buses (a 50-cent savings on the Porter’s Lake run).

After 6pm, you have the option to request a stop. If it’s dark or you have a bum foot or a bunch of groceries or it’s otherwise scary, you can ask the driver to stop in between official bus stops to get closer to where you need to be. As long as there’s a safe place to pull over, the driver will comply.

Originally published September 1, 2005.


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