Transit opportunity | Opinion | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Transit opportunity

Halifax council can step in and save Metro Transit from its own worst enemy: inept management.

To their great credit, Halifax councillors have over the last few years made the hard political choices needed to fund an ambitious expansion of Metro Transit, resulting in the growing Link system, establishing rural routes, building bigger terminals and, most importantly, bringing 15 new articulated buses into service over each of three years, starting this year.

Now there's another opportunity. Just one year into the job, Metro Transit's manager Pat Soanes has left the position to return to her native British Columbia. This gives council the chance to get to the core issue preventing Metro Transit from becoming the efficient and reliable transit system it needs to be---its inept management.

In its day-to-day operations, Metro Transit behaves like a system that is run by people who don't ride the bus, which is in fact the case. Managers don't understand the fundamental needs of riders, and so they instead operate the system to fit into senseless bureaucratic dictates.

For instance, Halifax buses run on what I call "California scheduling." In California, it's always warm and sunny, and never rains. People don't mind standing on the side of the road for a good while---they can watch the palm trees sway in the gentle breeze, they can check out the scantily clad surfer dudes and starlets passing by. Life's good, waiting at a California bus stop.

In California, what transit riders don't want to do is sit in a grimy bus terminal to wait for their connecting buses, so transit managers schedule all the buses to arrive at the terminals at the exact same time. Riders hop from one bus to the next, never worrying about the inside of a terminal.

But when you apply California scheduling to Halifax's geography you get the ridiculous situation of having every bus to or from Dartmouth---routes 1, 10, 14, 41, 53, 58, 59, 61, 68 and 87---travelling essentially the same Spring Garden Road-Barrington Street-Gottingen Street corridor at the exact same time so they all reach the Bridge Terminal at the same time. Riders regularly wait 25 minutes for a bus on the corridor, only to have six buses arrive all at once. It's absurd.

We need Nova Scotia bus scheduling. Here, it really sucks to stand on the side of the road, often in a snowbank, waiting for bus in rain/freezing rain/snow that is falling horizontally thanks to 80-kilometre winds. What Nova Scotians want is to get the hell out of the elements---they'd rather wait for a connecting bus in a warm, dry terminal. So, managers should be spreading those six buses out, having one arrive every five minutes.

Once they break out of California scheduling mindset, managers would see they don't need to run all those buses along the same route at all. Instead, the #1 should be the only route on the corridor, running every five minutes, with all the other routes connecting to it, feeding it. And they could then turn the #1 into a signature route---say, a retro electric trolley---with a short-period shuttle bus connecting the hospitals, universities, port and ferry terminal.

Management's California scheduling mindset is epitomized by the GO Time fiasco. The idea seems to be that you don't have to wait on the side of the road if you know when the bus is coming. But, at least four years into the effort, GO Time still doesn't provide real-time bus info. Even the scheduled info it does provide is relayed by screens at the terminals that are usually broken, and when not broken are unreadable.

Four years and untold fortunes have been spent on GO Time, but GPS isn't on buses, and that information isn't relayed through a website and cell phone apps that riders can easily use to locate their bus. Make no mistake: the GO Time failure is due entirely to management incompetence. Whatever vendor issues there are should have been sorted out long ago, and would have been had management not been insular and navel-gazing.

Council cannot---must not---let the bureaucratic staff at City Hall decide on Soane's replacement. Instead, council should step in and see that a visionary leader is placed atop Metro Transit and charged with breaking its inept management culture.

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