Route 1 will become a Bus Rapid Transit high frequency service. These buses will be bigger and get riders downtown faster. Photo: Sunni Vann

Transit plan gets green light from council

Council gives approval, but only in principle, to Metro Transit’s plan. Upcoming budget meetings will determine what parts of the plan are actually followed through.

Metro Transit can now plan to revamp HRM's bus and ferry services, thanks to city council's Feb. 9 approval of their Five-Year Strategic Operations Plan.

But Nova Scotia Community College students will be waiting a while for an extra Woodside ferry. The fourth ferry, a new proposal added to the plan, is aimed at increasing service by 33 per cent. It won't be in service until 2013, if not 2014.

Councillor Dawn Sloane of the downtown Halifax district spoke up for these students at the council meeting. She wants Metro Transit to work with NSCC on joining the UPass program, so they can get the ferry going sooner with the extra money generated by the passes.

Pat Soanes, general manager of Metro Transit, says they're already in UPass talks with NSCC, and that isn't what's slowing down the acquisition. New ferry blueprints have to be drawn up, because the old ones from 25 years ago don't meet the changes in regulation.

"It's an incredibly complex undertaking to get a design that's going to go through the Transport Canada approval process," said Soanes. That process itself can take more than a year.

The transit report was first presented to council in October. Tuesday's report was a revised version, to clarify questions about rural transit, accessibility and overall costs.

The plan, depending on funding, will aim to get more people to take public transit by making it more sustainable and easier to use.

Some of the changes include urban express routes, extra service to rural areas, parking management and the replacement of a handful of transit terminals. There will be more buses running, more often, and on more routes.

The Route 1 Spring Garden bus will be changed to a Bus Rapid Transit high-frequency service. Buses will be bigger and get priority, especially in traffic. They will also have limited stops, come more often and go faster.

Council approved the revised report Tuesday in principle only. The details will be hashed out when budget discussions get underway, and council sees what transit changes they can afford to support.

The $93-million plan will be in the works from 2010 until 2015. There's still the problem of the $3-million funding gap for this year's initiatives, and at least double that for following years.

Right now, regional council has few options for raising the extra money. Advertising revenue is static and only earns $650,000 annually. The only other options so far are fare hikes or raising property taxes.

"Although we may not want to increase fares, and may not want to increase taxes, if we can't get it from other levels of government, then our hands are fairly tied," said Mayor Peter Kelly.



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