Halifax Transit has been making grand promises about how it’s going to change to better serve the needs of its users. “I can tell you one thing, the transit [system] won’t ever be the same and it won’t ever look the same. It’s a big transformation we’re going through,” Eddie Robar, the director of Halifax Transit, told me in January 2014.

Part of Halifax Transit’s plans included a complete system redesign where it would move to a simplified transfer-based network, which would mean that while people might have to take more buses to get to their destination, they would get there sooner.

By August 2014, cracks were showing in this desire to revamp the system. A report for the city’s transportation committee said Halifax’s population needed to be bigger and “the funnel-like nature of the road network” (code words meaning we aren’t on a grid)meant an entirely transfer-based system wasn’t Halifax’s best option.

Shouldn’t transit officials have known this?

This pretty much sums up the transit system: even those running it don’t know what to do with it outside of maintaining the status quo.

Other upgrades are moving forward, but they are largely infrastructure-based. There will be changes to the routes, but not as drastic as once envisioned.

The people running the transit system need to be held more accountable and challenged to do a better job. One way of doing this would be to implement something similar to the Customer Charter used by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the agency overseeing public transit in Toronto.

Since 2013, TTC has come out with an annual list of promises of what it plans to do to improve transit service. The progress of these promises is reported on TTC’s website and it lists what quarter of the year they will be achieved. On a quarterly basis, it reports on what has been accomplished.

The money for these promises comes out of transit’s general budget as these improvements aren’t major ones. Some of this year’s promises include installing bike repair stands at 10 stations to encourage cycling as part of one’s commute, and making all collector booths accept debit and credit payment for a single ride.

The charter is also a motivational tool for TTC employees. With about 13,000 of them, the charter helps ensure the transit authority sticks to its vision. “It keeps us focused on delivering these things,” says Chris Upfold, TTC’s deputy CEO and chief customer officer.

As well, every couple of weeks, TTC holds Meet the Manager sessions where Upfold and other members of the senior management team go out, put up a banner and stand in stations talking to customers for a couple of hours. While people can contact TTC to provide feedback, Upfold says it’s important for transit officials to speak with the users where they are.

These initiatives display a real level of respect for transit users and show off a genuine desire to improve the system for them. It also makes it easier for both transit users and the media to hold TTC accountable.

The charter itself might sound like a politician making election promises, but TTC is actually keeping them. According to a January 23, 2015 CBC News article, for the 2014 charter, there were 39 items on the list. By the end of the year, seven of those weren’t completed. Upfold says promises not kept either get taken care of or put on the next year’s list.

Upfold says he would be worried if TTC kept every promise. “Maybe we weren’t challenging ourselves [enough],” he says.

It’s time for Halifax Transit to start challenging itself.

Halifax Magazine