HALIFAX TRANSIT

Last Updated March 8, 2016

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Information on this page is based on a combination of official published information, plus years of monitoring by various listeners, with as well some speculation, identified as such.   I myself do not normally listen to transit other than in times of bad weather when it can be interesting to hear first hand about road conditions and detours.

The Halifax Regional Municipality transit system, known today as Halifax Transit, is a department of HRM.   It began operations in 1981 when the separate Dartmouth and Halifax bus systems that had long histories of their own were taken over and re-born as the Metro Transit Authority.  This body was one of the early precursors of regional government in the Halifax area. From its inception to 2015 the system was known as "Metro Transit" but in a general rebranding process its label changed to "Halifax Transit".

In 1994 the cross-harbour ferry system, previously operated by the City of Dartmouth, was taken over by the transit

In 1996 the four local municipalities were amalgamated to become the Halifax Regional Municipality and at that point the Metro Transit Authority was converted into a department of the new municipality. 

This page is intended to be a basic description of the radio communications of Halifax Transit, rather than an outline of the bus and ferry system itself.   For a description of the current bus fleet, and the historic and current ferries, go to this interesting Wiki page. For schedules and other information go to the official website:   www.halifax.ca/transit

Here is an Historical website outlining previous transit systems in the Halifax area.

 

Halifax transit uses two distinct radio systems:

1. Communications with the buses on UHF

Halifax Transit has a headquarters and main garage in the Burnside Industrial Park.  This is the location of its primary transmitter tower, but there is a secondary site in the Ragged Lake Industrial Park.  It is thought that the vast majority of communications from the control centre are being transmitted via the Burnside tower, but that some when necessary go via the Ragged Lake tower.   This would be the case when talking with a bus located in the western fringes of the municipality.

The Operations Centre talks with the buses on a 400 MHz duplex or "taxi-style" radio system.   As with many taxi operations the base station transmits on one frequency and the mobiles (buses) transmit on another.  This is not the same as a repeater system in which all users transmit on an input frequency and listen on the repeater output frequency and therefore can hear each other.  In a duplex system only the base radio is receiving the mobile units and therefore the individual drivers cannot hear each other but they can hear the base side of all conversations, if their radio is tuned to that channel.  The base will hear all the bus transmissions.   This is in effect a two frequency simplex system and there is no central repeater.   One drawback to this type of system is that all transmissions are direct between mobile and base, without the benefit of a high-ground repeater tower, and therefore there could be areas of poor radio conditions.  Fortunately the base tower in Burnside is at a good elevation and problems are minimal, and the Ragged Lake tower is also available for use.

 

What is described above relates only to the regular bus system. The Access-a-Bus system on the other hand uses a repeater system, in which the base and mobile transmit on the high frequency to the repeater which transmits on the low frequency of the pair, and all listen on this frequency and therefore can hear each other.   Frequencies are as follows:

Base transmitter Mobile transmitter Usage
411.0375 416.0375 "Fallback Channel"
410.1125 415.1125 Channel A
413.9875 418.9875 Channel B
412.8875  417.8875 Channel C
410.1625 (rptr output) 415.1625 (mobile and control) Access-a-Bus

The channel designators A, B and C are my own designations in order to allow the description below.  It is not known how they are officially labelled.

In the current configuration the bus radio is normally set to the Fallback Channel.   This is the channel on which the Ops Centre makes fleet announcements regarding detours or for other purposes, and on which it calls individual buses.     A bus operator ("driver") who wishes to initiate a conversation with the Ops Centre will press an RTT (Request to Talk) button on the microphone.  This places the operator into a queue or waiting list at the Centre.    When a dispatch operator at the centre replies the interchange will go out on either Channel A or Channel B.   The radio on the bus automatically switches to the appropriate channel and the driver will have the conversation with the centre.   Due to the fact that the other buses remain on the Fallback Channel the conversation on Channel A or B is basically a private one, at least within the transit system.    Assuming that there are at least two Ops Centre dispatch operators on duty there could be conversations taking place on both Channels A and B at the same time, and possibly fleet announcements as well on the Fallback Channel.

It is possible for drivers to communicate with the Ops Centre directly on the Fallback Channel by simply pressing the PTT and speaking.  This bypasses the queue for Channels A and B and supposedly would be for urgent traffic, but could of course be used by drivers who are simply impatient or not sure that their RTT is operating.   On busy days this can be problematic as one driver cannot hear if another is already transmitting, leading in some cases to lost transmissions.

The channel listed as Channel C in the table is thought to be still licenced to the transit system, and a listener has reported a test transmission on it.    While the purpose of Channel C is not known, it is speculated that this could be an emergency frequency.  

It is also known that control can activate the microphone and transmitter in individual buses in order to monitor situations.  

As in many other organizations there is a GPS-based automatic vehicle tracking system that constantly sends location and speed information to the ops centre computer.   This is not part of the UHF radio system.   It is thought that the RTT mentioned above is on the vehicle location system.    

As noted above the Access-a-Bus system is a subdivision of Halifax Transit and operates on its own repeater channel.  As in other repeater systems all the users hear each other on the repeater output frequency.

 

2. Communications with supervisors and with maintenance.

These communications all take place on TMR2.   Most conversations are on Ops 1 but there are other talk groups including Ops 2 and Ferry Operations.  You could check at RadioReference and on ScanMaritimes for a list of talk groups.  They are not listed on this site in accordance with my TMR2 policy.    Typical traffic will be with supervisors regarding problems with passengers, MVA's, and detour planning.   Supervisors drive SUV's or sedans and identify with numbers in the 20's range. There is also commonly traffic with fleet maintenance staff re mechanical problems.   Additionally the ferries do check in here daily and out in the evening, and may be heard at times during the work day.

3. Ferry Communications

The ferries check in and out of duty with Operations on the TMR2 Ferry Ops talk group.  You may on occasion hear the ferry crews talking intership or with a terminal on that talk group.   For the most part however the ferries go about their business all day using the regular VHF Marine Band.  Due to their routes within the harbour they will almost always be on Channel 12 (156.6 MHz), reporting to Halifax Traffic as they leave each terminal and arrive at the other side, or when coordinating with other vessels for navigation safety.