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Halifax falling behind in providing bus information

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
The Mumford Terminal has this boggling sign that lists possible routes. (Photo: Natascia Lypny)
The Mumford Terminal has this boggling sign that lists possible routes. (Photo: Natascia Lypny)

 

Ben Wedge is onto something.

“Metro Transit has a map in their headquarters that shows where every bus is,” says the 23-year-old Dalhousie University industrial engineering student. “They can watch the buses move down the line at headquarters, but they won’t release that information to you and I.”

Instead, you venture by bus to Halifax’s north end for the first time in search of an elusive vintage shop. It’s the most frigid of January days and you discover several of Metro Transit’s fleet travel north on Gottingen Street but won’t take you back south. You curse the snow-plastered GoTime sign that lists meaningless route numbers. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the headquarters’ Star Trek-esque display at your disposal?

If you’re lucky, like Wedge, you’ll have a smartphone and can use Google Maps to plot your North End escape or attempt to decipher the headache-inducing rainbow of overlapping lines Metro Transit provides as an enormous PDF map on its website.

But why should you have to? Why doesn’t Metro Transit, the public service that transports thousands of riders around Atlantic Canada’s largest city, have route maps and schedules at individual bus stops?

“Essentially, at this point, it’s a resource issue: both money and personnel,” says Metro Transit spokesperson Tiffany Chase. The installation of schedules and maps at all stops, she says, would be “resource intensive.” They already exist at 15 or so of the city’s major terminals.

Sure, slapping up signs at Halifax’s 2,500-plus bus stops isn’t a weekend project. Neither is keeping the information up-to-date, considering Metro Transit changes at least one schedule every three months.

Chase estimates the signs could cost $50 each, plus the salaries of two full-time employees to maintain them.

But a total cost of under $200,000 — most of it a one-time expense — is pennies when taking into account Metro Transit’s $100 million annual budget, says Wedge.

More puzzling is why Metro Transit has existed since 1979 without this basic infrastructure. GoTime’s telephone schedule service is no doubt useful but only came into effect in the mid-1980s. During the years in between, riders had to depend on paper booklets that can be picked up at ticket retail spots or on some buses. And they, too, go out of date quickly.

Meanwhile, cities across the country have had simple route maps and schedules posted at stops for decades. Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver — for them it has never been a resource issue.

Halifax is trying to play catch-up. “I would say at this point the focus is not going to be on putting printed material at individual bus stops but rather look at significantly improving our technology access to information,” says Chase.

Metro Transit is evaluating a variety of ways to provide schedule and route information through mobile phones and smartphones, she explains. Text messaging and web-based formats are two examples.

But this won’t work for everyone.

“I don’t use mobile phones, so that really puts me at a disadvantage,” says Stephen Archibald, a 65-year-old from Ferguson’s Cove. The No. 15 bus is his ticket home, but when he arrives at the Mumford Terminal to trek downtown he’s faced with 19 route options and left wondering which will be quickest.

He says the map in the Metro Transit guidebook he carries is awkward to follow. Without a smartphone, Archibald may be part of a growing minority of technology-less riders. But Metro Transit’s existing electronic systems — GoTime and Google Maps — are a little more reliable than paper, as Chase argues.

When the completion of the Dartmouth Bridge Terminal was delayed earlier this fall, Google Maps and GoTime had already adjusted their schedules for the new location. That left riders dependent on following scheduled — as opposed to real — arrival times for three weeks.

And GoTime faced a disruption on municipal election day last month, leaving voters with an error message when they called to find out when their bus to the polling station would arrive.

Maybe Metro Transit’s technology has had a bad streak as of late. Still, the improvements Chase speaks of are not included in Metro Transit’s five-year plan to improve the system; they are figments of could-be’s whose fruition has yet to be ironed out.

The “availability of schedule information on website, at stations/stops, and by phone/mail,” however, is in that plan. Why not provide something so obvious and overdue — maps for public transportation — in the meantime?

Originally published by the Halifax Commoner.


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Comments

Every time I ride Metro

Every time I ride Metro Transit I'm baffled by the fact that schedule information is not available at stops.  The last time I was at the Mumford terminal (a few weeks ago) they didn't even have a route map posted in the small building there. In fact, the small space was a vacant, derelict wasteland.  

So naturally this makes me question the wisdom of the design of the new Dartmouth terminal. What are the buildings for?  To frustrate future transit riders when they go in to seek a schedule or route map, which won't be there?

 

Award-winning Halifax bus map & signage redesign from 2005

Just thought I'd share this... a NSCAD design student cracked the problem of how to make bus maps and signs work in Halifax, way back in 2005. 

http://www.segd.org/design-awards/2005-design-awards/halifax-transit-bus...

Metro Transit didn't take advantage then... but it's not too late!!  Let's get this woman back in Halifax to make our bus system navigable and accessible to all (even those with the audacity not to own a smartphone!)

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