After several lengthy detours, HRM’s new five-year transit plan finally got the green light from regional council yesterday.
Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting the plan in principal, bringing an end to months of debate and controversy surrounding the 358-page road map for future transit planning in the municipality.
“What we’re trying to do is create a plan that is deliverable,” Metro Transit general manager Pat Soanes told council. “The last thing I want to do is over-promise and under-deliver.”
Back in October, municipal councillors debated the transit plan for several hours before sending it back to staff and asking for a supplementary report to answer some of their more pressing questions.
The result was a much shorter document, distributed to councillors on Friday, which clarified Metro Transit’s position on several issues, including rural transit, accessibility for the disabled and how much all of these changes would cost.
“We’ve spent a lot of time since October meeting with the councillors … and I think that it was reflected in today’s discussion,” Soanes said after the meeting. “There was a greater degree of understanding amongst councillors about what this plan is designed to do.”
According to Soanes, while the plan will help guide transit development, any actual changes or improvements to the system will still need to be approved in HRM’s yearly budgets.
That may be a challenge, as council still has to figure out how to close a cumulative funding gap that could grow to $20 million within five years. Suggestions have included increasing transit fees, upping property taxes or seeking new advertising revenue — none of which have proven very popular in council chambers.