A new five-year transit plan came up against some major roadblocks in Halifax Regional Council chambers yesterday.
Metro Transit had hoped the municipality would approve the detailed plan in principle, but council ran out of time and agreed to continue discussing the issue on Nov. 10.
As expected, the plan stirred up fierce debate among the municipality’s 23 councillors – much of it around who would have to pay for the proposed transit overhaul. Among other things, the report suggests increasing bridge tolls and parking fees for motorists to help close a $13.6-million funding gap.
“I resent the fact that some of these proposals are even in here.” said Coun. Steve Streatch. “I am tired, as a driver, of being demonized for driving.”
Some argued, however, transit users shouldn’t end up footing the bill either.
“I have a big problem with the assumption that there will be fare increases for transit users,” said Coun. Jennifer Watts. “We want to be rewarding people for using the bus. They are making an amazing contribution in terms of sustainability.”
Deputy Mayor David Hendsbee made probably the most controversial statement of the day, suggesting bridge tolls could be raised to match bus fares.
“People have to realize that the bridge tolls may have been undervalued for a long time,” Hendsbee said, drawing audible gasps from some in the room. “Bridge fare shock is going to have to happen soon.”
Metro Transit general manager Pat Soanes fielded dozens of questions during the meeting, and said she wasn’t surprised many councillors took the opportunity to raise concerns about individual bus routes in their district.
“It’s understandable that with 23 councillors who represent quite a diverse group of constituents, they would be interested in understanding how the plan would impact their respective areas,” Soanes said.
Coun. Bob Harvey said he hoped council would have the “political courage” to approve the plan in principle at the next meeting.
“It’s not an opportunity lost, it’s an opportunity delayed,” he said.