The most recent release of Halifax Transit's Moving Forward Together Plan has generated an enormous amount of public discussion around the need for better public transit in the City of Halifax.  With declining annual ridership and local employers refusing to hire workers who rely solely on public transportation, the public is asking Halifax Transit to find new ways to design the city's transit system.  

Last week The Coast published an insightful article by It's More Than Buses outlining a number of challenges with the proposed route structure in the Moving Forward Together plan. In the article, Scott Edgar asks Halifax Transit to provide additional information regarding travel times and job accessibility on the proposed network before the plan is implemented. The article emphasizes the need for additional transportation data to ensure new investments in transit infrastructure will actually reduce commute times in the city. As Edgar explains,

"We know getting this data will be labour-intensive and will take a lot of time. But the stakes for the corridor routes are high. They will be the backbone of HRM’s transit system for decades to come, shaping the system’s growth for at least the next 30 years. Let’s take the time to get them right."

Understanding resident's travel behaviour is essential to designing efficient, reliable, and cost effective transportation systems. The Moving Forward Together plan, as it is currently presented, does not accurately reflect how Halifax residents actually move. The reason being is because Moving Forward Together was formulated using traditional methods of data collection such as: self-reporting surveys, transit pass sales, as well as manual vehicle and pedestrian counts. These methods of data collection are not ideal for transportation designers, as study participants are asked to estimate their daily commute patterns, while traffic counters are unaware of the origin, destination, or purpose of the commuters they are counting. As a result of these shortcomings, larger cities such as Singapore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Toronto have begun to use mobile engagement strategies to better understand how residents actually move. 

Smartphone-based travel surveys are an easy and effective means of engaging residents in making their transit system more efficient.  Users simply download an app that passively collects their daily travel patterns, including their modes of transportation, eliminating the need for inaccurate and labour intensive self-reporting surveys.  In 2016, it is estimated that 68% of Canadians have access to smartphones, which is significant base of users to draw upon for high quality transportation data. Even though, Halifax has missed opportunities in the past to enhance its transportation system, residents are now requesting additional transit data to better understand where transit infrastructure is needed most.

The time has come to do away with the guesswork of traditional transit surveys by asking residents to share how they actually commute, rather than how they think they commute. Without modifications to the way transportation data is collected, unreliable service and declining transit ridership will continue for decades to come.