In the grand scheme of things, it isn't much---the $105,000 Transport Canada awarded the Halifax Regional Municipality this month through its ecoMOBILITY program, plus $140,000 from the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission and Conserve Nova Scotia, could only buy half a bus.
But it'll help.
The ecoMOBILITY program gives money to cities and towns that have what are known as transportation demand management (TDM) projects---projects that aim to shift people out of one-person-per-car travelling and into more eco-friendly transportation methods like mass transit, bike riding and walking.
The city of Halifax has a TDM project. It applied for funding from the feds back in May and the $155,000 award is the half-bus-equivalent reward.
The ecoMOBILITY grant gives $50,000 to the city to launch a pilot Guaranteed Ride Home program---free taxi rides home for workers who need flexible hours---and $55,000 for what Roxanne MacInnis, TDM planner for the city, calls the "migration fund"---money that will be used to research how the city can get funding to put towards sustainable transportation. MacInnis says these smaller programs were chosen by the city because there's barely been any research into either and the funding gave them the opportunity to start.
Laena Garrison, TRAX co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, thinks putting the money towards a Guaranteed Ride Home program is "fantastic."
"Often, not having a guaranteed ride home is a major impediment to people using public transit or carpooling because they think, 'Oh my gosh, well what if an emergency happened? Or what if I had to stay late at work---how am I going to get home?'"
It's not clear how often such emergencies or late nights at work actually happen, but it's peoples' perception that matters.
Garrison adds that about 10 years ago, when TRAX was just beginning, the EAC did surveys to find out how employees were getting to and from work. They discovered the lack of a guaranteed ride home was significantly deterring people from using public transportation or carpooling.
"So I'm really glad to see that they're doing a pilot program," says Garrison. She says it's a nice complement to the HRM SmartTrip program (hrmsmarttrip.ca), a ride-sharing website for carpooling in the city.
But Garrison's quick to add the city needs an integrated, sustainable transportation plan in order to seriously address the issue of transportation within the city.
"And to go along with that, we need dedicated funding for public and active transportation---annually," she says, with an exasperated laugh.
Garrison points out that, in the press release announcing the ecoMOBILITY money for the city, mayor Peter Kelly said "aggressive measures must be taken to encourage other commuting methods," which she fully agrees with, but says actions like cutting the bicycling budget don't sing the same tune.
MacInnis says the "aggressive measures" refer to the migration fund and the different ways it can possibly get money for the city's sustainable transportation. And who can make that money for a city? Its citizens.
"A good example is the bridges, with their tolls," says MacInnis. "People are required to pay to use the bridges. But there's a bunch of different things you can do---we don't know what this will involve at this point; we have no idea how this fund will be funded."
MacInnis isn't necessarily saying increased bridge funds will pay for transit, but she's saying something has to get the money---increased bridge or transit fares, or more provincial or federal funding.
The only thing that seems certain is that, when the city does find a way to bring in the money, it will be used for sustainable transportation projects---maybe even the bicycling budget.
But the research into how to get this money hasn't started yet, so asking what the city may use the money for is pointless.
It's the same deal for the Guaranteed Ride Home program---MacInnis says she doesn't know exactly who it will target within the workforce, when it will begin or how it will run. And no one's been hired to start the research for either program.