Time will tell if Halifax Transit can recoup riders as pandemic drags on

·2 min read
The number of people using Halifax Transit is down by about half. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The number of people using Halifax Transit is down by about half. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Halifax Transit is moving ahead with a conversion to electric buses and a modernized fare system that will allow people to pay via smartphone as it waits to see if ridership can rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The projects are included in Halifax Transit's proposed $117.5-million budget for 2021-22, which was debated Wednesday by regional council.

But it's expected to take more than new buses and an upgraded fare system to boost the number of people riding buses and taking ferries.

Dave Reage, the head of Halifax Transit, said it could take several years before ridership rebounds completely and it will depend on the return of office workers post pandemic.

"The federal government is a major source of ridership for us," he said. "Is everyone going to come back?"

Increasing ridership

Reage said the number of people using the transit service is half of what it was before the pandemic. He thinks that number could improve to 60 per cent by the fall.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn suggested an ad campaign to encourage people to start using transit again.

"Just a 'welcome back to transit' type of thing," she said.

Reage said there are plans for ad campaigns, including ones that deal with anti-harassment and anti-racism to make people feel safe using transit.

Councillors had other suggestions to increase ridership, including more park-and-ride locations, more bus shelters and new bus stops.

More bus stops

"There are three businesses on the Hammonds Plains Road with well over 100 employees," said Coun. Pamela Lovelace. "But people have to walk more than a kilometre along a highway from the nearest stop."

Lovelace said the businesses have been there 20 years and have difficulty attracting employees because of the lack of transit.

Regional council endorsed Halifax Transit's budget although three new rural councillors asked transit officials to reconsider adjustments to routes in Waverley, Eastern Passage and Purcell's Cove.

A final vote on the overall budget is scheduled to take place in early May.

Meanwhile, Halifax Transit is awaiting provincial and federal funding to order about 60 electric buses for its Ragged Lake garage.