Blame Halifax Transit for low bus ridership

Poor service standards cause car-dependent communities.

Blame Halifax Transit for low bus ridership
via Peter Kralik
Michelle Elrick is a member of the Purcell’s Cove Neighbourhood Committee. She lives, writes and rides the bus in Purcell’s Cove.

I was pleased to read Scott Edgar’s “The route of the problem,” published last week in The Coast. He appeals to mayor Mike Savage and city council to not vote on Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together proposal until more detailed information can be gathered on the impact of the proposed changes. Speaking on behalf of It’s More Than Buses, Edgar advocates for a transfer-based network that would improve connectivity for non-central neighbourhoods within HRM, reduce congestion on key corridor routes and increase the efficiency of passenger travel.

Purcell’s Cove is one community that could potentially benefit from a transfer-based network, rather than the “peak service only” being offered on the proposed 415 express route. If Transit’s proposal is accepted, the new 415 would replace the existing route 15, effectively reducing service to Boulderwood, Purcell’s Cove and Ferguson’s Cove by 60 percent overall.

As a resident of Purcell’s Cove and a member of the Purcell’s Cove Neighbourhood Committee (PCNC), I live only 10 kilometres from downtown Halifax—the same distance from City Hall as Clayton Park. My community has no essential services and access to only one bus; the 15. That bus suffered a reduction in service several years ago and currently operates daily, once per hour, until 8pm.

At present, the connections for this route are so poor that it takes me an hour and a half to get from Purcell’s Cove to Quinpool Road for a 1pm appointment. The driving time by car is only 12 minutes. So, I drive, as do many of my bus-loving neighbours. We drive because we have no other viable option. 

Transit has cited low ridership as the key reason for the proposed changes, yet poor service has promoted low ridership and created car-dependent communities along this route. 

At an event hosted by the PCNC last December in support of the number 15 bus, guest speaker Andy Fillmore summed it up well when he said, “an empty bus isn’t the failure of a community to ride the bus, it’s the failure of the service provider to provide a service that is needed by, or is useful to, the community it is serving.”

The residents of Purcell’s Cove have met Transit’s ridership criteria as a challenge, and have increased ridership by 25 percent over the last two years. That according to Transit’s own numbers.

Moreover, the endangered portion of the route more than pays for itself. In fact, it generates a surplus of $36,810 annually, subsidizing other Transit services.

Beyond the fiscal, route 15 is a lifeline for many low-income residents for whom car ownership is not an option. The residential demographic is diverse, and simply not a bedroom community of nine-to-fivers.

For greater HRM, the bus provides access to York Redoubt National Historic Site, freshwater swimming at William’s Lake, the Purcell’s Cove Conservation Lands and the bustling Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, enabling the RNSYS’s celebrated para-sailing program. Weekday “peak service only” will drastically limit the accessibility of this region.

We want the bus. Moreover, we want a bus that is a viable alternative to driving. A transfer-based system of shorter, more connected routes may be the answer. Until Transit puts forward a proposal that can be shown to improve service for this unique demographic, I join Edgar’s plea to mayor Savage and city council to vote “no” on this proposal.


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