Meeting agenda here
Sullivan’s Pond Model Yacht Club: A District 5 specific item was at Council on Tuesday: weed control at Sullivan’s Pond. Over the last couple of years, Sullivan’s Pond has seen the same surge in plant growth that has happened in Lake Banook. The Pond’s weeds cause issues for the Dartmouth and Area Model Yacht Club who race model boats in the Pond throughout the spring, summer and fall. It becomes impossible though to race model boats through densely growing plants! For the last several years, the Club has had to relocate to Lunenburg for a good portion of the season (usually the peak summer months). Besides interfering with their regular activities, this means that the Club can’t bid to host a national championship because they can’t guarantee that the Pond will be usable. Global actually did a news story on the issue back in July 2014. You can watch it at the link below:
A few months ago, I put forward a motion at Harbour East for HRM to look at partnering with the Club to address the persistent plant problem. Besides providing people (mainly seniors) with a recreational opportunity, the Club’s boats add a lot of life to Sullivan’s Pond. They’re part and parcel of the rhythm of the place. Lots of people, particularly kids, like to stop and watch the activity when the Club is out on the water. I’m pleased to share that at Council on Tuesday, my colleagues agreed with me to overturn the staff recommendation to not get involved. Council instead directed the CAO to enter into a partnership agreement to cost-share the $3,000 expense with the Club 50/50. Hopefully this will ensure that this uniquely Dartmouth activity doesn’t have to relocate to the South Shore anymore.
Public Wi-fi: There were two public wi-fi reports before Council; one on expanding the HRM public wi-fi beyond the Halifax and Dartmouth waterfronts and Grand Parade, and another on a pilot to test wi-fi on buses. The new public wi-fi locations will be the Alderney Theatre, the Halifax and Alderney Ferry Terminals, Bridge Terminal, Lacewood Terminal, Horticultural Hall in the Public Gardens, and the Oval. The equipment to expand the wi-fi system to these locations is available because the original wi-fi rollout included the Central and Halifax North libraries. HRM’s wi-fi was never implemented at these locations because the Library opted to retain their own wi-fi system. The libraries mission around freedom of information meant that they weren’t keen about replacing their service with HRM’s because of the relationship with Bell.
There is good value in redistributing the unused wi-fi services to other high-profile public spaces, particularly our transit terminals. One of my big concerns with the original wi-fi proposal was that it was too small in scope, too costly, and really didn’t do much to provide wi-fi to anyone who didn’t already have access. The cost piece is off the table at this point as the project has already been implemented. I’m pleased to see public spaces, such as our transit terminals, included in this rollout. Had the focus been on transit terminals from the getgo, I would likely been more supportive. If we want to help alleviate the digital divide, that’s the sort of spaces we should be focussing on! Better late than never.
I did make one small change to the staff recommendation. The report recommended removing the Library’s recently installed wi-fi from the Alderney Pedway and replacing it with HRM wi-fi. Council instead opted to leave the Library’s wi-fi in place in the Pedway because it’s working fine as is. I didn’t see any reason to spend $50,000 swapping out one public wi-fi system for another public wi-fi system when we have other spaces that don’t have wi-fi at all. With the curtain wall set to come down in the next phase of the Alderney renovations, the line between the library and the rest of Alderney will blur. Better to leave the immediate area around the Library under the Library’s wi-fi service rather than complicating things with two different networks.
Wifi on Transit: The other wi-fi recommendation report was to launch a pilot using the Library’s system to add wi-fi to 20 buses in Transit’s fleet. Transit has 345 buses plus five ferries so the 20 vehicles with wi-fi will be a very small portion of HRM’s overall fleet. Your odds of getting on a bus with wi-fi won’t be all that great. It’s likely that the pilot will focus on Transit’s high-capacity articulated buses, and maybe the ferries so your odds will likely improve if you’re regularly on high-demand routes like the #1.
Right now, several Canadian cities are running pilot programs, but very few have wired their entire fleet. The transit systems that have gone fleet-wide are almost all very small (St. John’s, Charlottetown etc). Size matters here since there is a big difference in cost in equipping Charlottetown’s 12 buses compared to HRM’s 345. Generally, transit agencies have focussed on providing wi-fi in terminals rather than on vehicles, but there is one notable exception to the wi-fi fleet size rule: Vancouver. In December, Translink announced a partnership with Shaw that will equip all 2,000 Translink buses, ferries, and trains with wi-fi over the next five years. Shaw is providing the service to Translink for free in order to access customers. Unfortunately, we already know the free model won’t work here in HRM because it was tried with the original Downtown wi-fi project and no one was interested. We simply don’t have the population or ridership to make it attractive. So for us, going fleet-wide would cost an estimated $345,000 upfront, plus up to $340,000 a year in operating costs (staff resources and data). Starting with a pilot project with 20 buses to gauge interest is a much more manageable $40,000.
Council did have a debate about the merits of wi-fi versus other improvements to transit. Our funds aren’t infinite. I very much take the point that wi-fi is a nice to have and not in the same ballpark as the real drivers of ridership: time, cost, and reliability. Still, it could improve the user experience, particularly for passengers on longer trips. Given the relatively low cost of the pilot and that HRM will use the library’s existing resources, I was fine with allowing this pilot to proceed to see how people react to it. Staff will gather information on usage during the 12 month wi-fi pilot and return to Council with results in the future.
- Declared a small piece of parkland off in Colby Village surplus to allow it to be sold to the adjacent property owner to correct an error that dates back to the subdivisions creation
- Authorized the CAO to fix a property boundary issue with the cemetery at St. Jame’s United on the Old Sambro Road (turns out that a portion of the cemetery is actually on neighbouring Sambro Elementary School property).
- Increased the budget for the St. Andrew’s Community Centre project and awarded the tender to PCL Constructors
- Approved a one-time grant to the Terence Bay Community Hall Association to help the Association pay for upgrades to the hall
- Requested staff reports on expanding weekly green bin collection in the summer to Eastern Passage (only area in the urban service boundary that doesn’t receive weekly pickup in the summer).
- Also requested a report on possibly cooperating with the other orders of government in expanding the dock at Fisherman’s Cove in Eastern Passage