Council Update: Airport Bus Fare, Halifax Water, Fireworks, Construction Mitigation

Photo: Leading With Transit

Agenda February 25, 2020

Airport Bus Fare: The subject of bus fares was back at Regional Council as staff returned for direction on the last piece of the fare strategy, what to charge for the airport route? When Council accepted the new fares back in the summer, we opted not to implement the proposal to increase the cash fare on the 320 to $6. Rural express routes already pay a premium ($4.25 versus $2.75) and raising the airport fare to $6 would make the airport route the most expensive transit fare in HRM. Council instead asked staff for more information.

On one hand, the 320 is a premium route that travels outside transit’s service boundary and offers frequency far above what is provided for the other rural routes. This makes sense because providing a transit route to the airport is a pretty basic requirement for any city in 2020! Hard to say you have an effective transit system if it doesn’t go to the airport. In many other cities, travel to the airport comes with a premium fare and staff proposed to do the same here.

On the other hand though, the 320 isn’t just for tourists and travellers. It also provides a park and ride connection in Fall River and it delivers employees to the Aerotech Industrial Park. It was initially envisioned as primarily a bus for commuters. Luggage wasn’t even allowed on the 320 on its first voyage back in 2012 (public outcry quickly corrected that mistake). While Council was comfortable charging a premium price to go to the airport, we were less comfortable charging a premium over and above the extra that is already paid for rural express routes because there would be impacts on people who work at the airport and Fall River residents who make the trip into town by transit.

Staff’s recommendation addressed some of the concern since only increasing the cash fare would largely exempt regular users who buy tickets and passes, but there would still be some sort of impact on semi-regular riders. Miss picking up a pass or run out of tickets and the cost would be almost a toonie more. Staff estimated that leaving the 320 cash fare at $4.25 would mean $30,000 – $50,000 in lost revenue. While $50,000 isn’t insignificant, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively small amount. For context, transit’s total estimated fare revenue in 2020 is over $36,000,000. Council voted 15-0 to leave the airport fare at $4.25 like the other rural express routes. Definitely one of the best deals in Town!

Photo Toronto Star

Halifax Water: Halifax Water was before Council to present their 2020 business plan. The presentation of the Utility’s business plan happens once a year and is primarily an opportunity for Councillors to ask questions.

Some of the noteworthy items in the 2020 Business Plan include upgrades to the water plants at both Pockwock and Lake Major. In preparation for HRM’s upcoming Climate Change Plan (coming to Council in March/April), Halifax Water is making greenhouse gas reductions part of their Energy Management Committee’s mandate so that the Utility has the governance in place to do its part. Halifax Water will actually be adding solar to the Halifax Wastewater Treatment Plan and over the longer-term, there are opportunities to capture waste energy at the various treatment plants.

One area that I want to highlight is the work that’s been done on lead lines. Halifax Water is a leader across North America in its approach to lead. The Utility’s approach goes well beyond Health Canada’s guidelines and has been driven through its partnership with researchers at Dalhousie who have been studying how lead sits in pipes. Removing lead lines can be expensive though and not all homeowners are interested or able to shoulder that burden. To try and spur property owners to get the lead out, Halifax Water has offered an incentive program to share the costs since 2017. Unfortunately, the uptake has been less than the Utility hoped for. Halifax Water has, therefore, applied to the UARB for permission to fully cover lead line costs. Lead is a public health issue, so hopefully that request will be approved this year. I’m very pleased with the work and approach that the Utility has taken on lead.

Lastly, there was one District 5 surprise in Halifax Water’s capital budget: sewer separation for the Albro Lake watershed. Right now, Big Albro drains into Little Albro, which then travels through a pipe to Northbrook Park where it briefly reappears above ground, before entering the combined sewer underneath Wyse Road. That perfectly good lake water gets mixed in with sewage and makes its way to the Dartmouth Treatment Plant. Basically we’re paying to treat perfectly good lakewater, wasting capacity and making the Dartmouth plant more vulnerable to overflows during storms. Halifax Water has $800,000 in their capital budget to start separating sewer and lake water so that the Albros can, in future, drain directly to the harbour. I’m hoping to see a similar project for Maynard Lake/Eisener’s Cove in the future (unfortunately the Maynard/Eisener’s system is not as easily separated from the sewer system).

Quiet Fireworks: The item that grabbed the most media attention this week was Councillor Hendsbee’s request for a staff report on using “quieter” fireworks. This is something that has been raised with me from time-to-time by various residents in relation to the stress that fireworks cause for their pets. Council did take some criticism for “wasting time” on this, but it is something that is of concern to many people and is, therefore, worth a look.

Prior to Councillor Hendsbee’s motion, I did spend some time poking around online as to the pros and cons of different types of fireworks. It is possible to have “quieter” fireworks (not silent, quieter), but the decrease in sound comes with some sacrifices in terms of visual impact. Quieter fireworks don’t pack as much punch and can’t get as high up in the sky. That’s not necessarily a big deal for smaller scale celebrations when the audience is close to the fireworks, but I doubt it’s a trade off that would possible in some of our larger scale celebrations. For example, I suspect it will be difficult to make Canada Day or Natal Day quieter given that the goal is to provide a show that is visible and impressive from both sides of the Harbour.

There is probably room for HRM to incorporate quieter fireworks, but I doubt it’ll be a complete replacement of the more traditional version. We’ll see what staff come back with.

Photo: HRM

Construction Mitigation: Council approved changes to HRM’s Construction Mitigation bylaw. A lot of the changes are tweaks to existing requirements such as clarifying details around tree retention, pedestrian detours, hoarding, etc. The main new addition to the construction mitigation requirements is rodent control. The old bylaw didn’t require a rodent control plan be completed prior to demolition of an existing building, which was a source of a lot of complaints from residents living near abandoned buildings. The new bylaw does. Bad news for HRM’s rats.

Council also added a few tweaks of its own thanks to Councillor Mason’s work, the most noteworthy being a requirement to have construction mitigation plans posted on HRM’s website. This seems pretty important to me since it’s hard for residents to report that someone is violating the agreed on construction plan if they have no way of knowing what the plan actually requires. No HRM inspection can compete with the 24/7 nature of resident observation so we should be arming residents with the knowledge of what to expect at each project.

Council also asked for a supplemental report on creating a marketing reserve that is paid into by developers and HRM. The marketing reserve was a second choice solution to the problem of businesses experiencing losses from the inevitable disruptions that accompany construction. The standout example of this are the businesses on Argyle that endured 4 years of construction between the Convention Centre and streetscaping project, but it’s not just a Halifax problem. Many businesses around Ochterloney and Maple were affected during the Sawmill River project. Unfortunately, HRM is prohibited from providing direct compensation because the Charter prohibits the municipality from making grants to businesses (although problematic in this narrow case, it’s generally a great rule).

So what to do? Give up on assisting businesses facing difficulties from construction? Councillor Mason’s proposed marketing fund isn’t a bad plan b. It won’t be as useful as direct compensation, but it’s actually doable because marketing could be carried out by a separate non-profit entity (HRM can provide grants to non-profits). The likely partners would be the various business improvement districts, such as the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission. One of the main potential challenges with the marketing fund approach is that not every commercial area has a Business Improvement District to make use of a fund. In Dartmouth, none of the Centre Plan’s growth areas outside of Downtown Dartmouth (Wyse Road, Grahams Grove, Portland by Maynard Lake, Pleasant Street by the old Sobeys), have a BID which could make utilizing a fund difficult. Staff will return in the future with a report on the proposed marketing fund.

Other:

  • Province presented the QEII Master Plan (no real new news)
  • Initiated the Regional Plan 5 year review process
  • Approved the new park plan for the Eastern Passage Common
  • Reclassified a surplus firehall in Upper Hammonds Plan to allow for its potential sale to a community group
  • Appointed our acting municipal clerk as Chief Returning Officer for the upcoming 2020 municipal election
  • Provided a grant from the Hammonds Plains Area Rate for landscaping at Hammonds Plains Consolidated School
  • Approved a bunch of new park names
  • Requested staff reports on providing municipal assistance for homeowners on wells with inadequate water supply, and on the potential for replacing the so-called drunk tank with a sobering centre

1 Comment

  1. I personally don’t like fireworks. I also don’t like thunderstorms. I can prepare for the fireworks because they are a scheduled event that lasts less than 20 minutes. Thunderstorms can happen anytime. Use the loud shiny most attractive fireworks. If people can’t prepare for a scheduled event they are not prepared for nature. If they can’t separate a planned event from nature being itself…expect them to start asking the council to control storms.

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