Halifax's transportation committee was presented Thursday with a rejigged five-year plan proposed for public transit in the city, just as a new report from staff shows ridership and revenue are down this year on conventional routes.

"It tells you that something is broken, or something needs to be improved or fixed," said Coun. Tim Outhit, who chair's the committee.

Over the past year, people took 310,000 fewer trips using the bus system compared to the year before, a drop of about two per cent, according to a third quarter ridership report. Over the same period, bus revenues decreased by $460,000.

Q3

A slight ridership and revenue drop, when comparing Q3, is attributed by transit staff to the Big Lift. (Halifax Transit)

However, ferry ridership and revenues are up. People took 270,000 more ferry trips year-over-year (a jump of 26 per cent), increasing ferry revenue by $480,000. 

A new transit report points to economic conditions and the Big Lift project on the Macdonald Bridge as possible causes, but Outhit has other concerns.

"People are looking for transit, but they are looking for express buses," he said."Some lanes will have to be built or turned into priority bus routes."

The 5-year plan

Moving Ahead, a new five-year transit plan, focuses on improving service on high frequency routes. It was presented to the transportation committee Thursday. 

The proposal increases the number of express buses from 13 to 21. It would also provide bus service to four new areas, including Washmill Lake Drive.

"It does look at today's travel patterns and also plans for changes in the future based on projected residential and commerical development," said transit manager Patricia Hughes.

Three new transit hubs would also be constructed in Wrights Cove, West Bedford and Margeson Drive in Sackville. The new hubs will support what transit officials are calling a transfer-based system.  

"So this is really an opportunity to simplify a lot of the routes, remove a lot of redundancy, reduce deviation in routes that twist and turn a lot, straighten things out," Hughes said. 

'It looks like a bowl of spaghetti'

But the proposal would also eliminate or shorten routes where the number of passengers do not meet minimum ridership guidelines. The 402 Sambro route is on the chopping block, for example. Routes on Waverley Road and Beaver Bank Road could be shortened.

Some are not convinced the changes will be improvements.

"It looks identical to the old plan," said Ken Wilson, head of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union. "I have the present plan on my wall. I looks like a bowl of spagetti."

Wilson also points out that eliminating or shortening conventional routes affect the areas that qualify for Access-a-Bus.

"If that service is done, Access-a-Bus is done," said Wilson. "So what's that going to do to access a bus clients?" 

Members of the transportation committee did not discuss the proposal since it affects every district. The new plan has been sent to council for debate and approval.

The CBC's Pam Berman live blogged from the transportation committee meeting at Halifax City Hall.