By Zein Mari Alsaka

When Dave Reage (MURP’04) was just a child building and designing virtual neighbourhoods in SIM City, he had no idea that one day, he would end up planning real transportation systems.

Reage has always been fascinated by transportation systems. Growing up in Toronto, some of his greatest childhood memories involved commuting by GO Trains, the Subway system and streetcars to go watch baseball games.

While completing his Bachelor of Commerce at Saint Mary’s University, Reage found himself trying to figure out what he wanted to do next. At the same time, he was riding the Halifax Transit System to and from university every day. He began noticing all the things that he could improve in the system if he ever had the chance. This reignited his childhood interests; Reage started researching planning as a career and a profession and then decided to enroll in Dalhousie University’s Master of Urban and Rural Planning program.

“The more I read about planning, the more interesting I found it,” he says. “It sounded like a really flexible profession that could take me in a whole bunch of different directions. I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living.”

After graduating from Dalhousie, Reage went back to Toronto to start his career, where he worked on various transportation projects for a national consulting firm. He then came back to Halifax and joined Halifax Transit as a Project Manager.

“When I was still a student, I commuted regularly through the old Bridge Terminal, and that was a very poor experience,” Reage says. “I ended up writing a scathing e-mail to Halifax Transit complaining about the state of that terminal. When I got hired by Halifax Transit, my new boss approached me. He had found that e-mail, dropped a copy of it on my desk and said OK, guess what your first project is. Go fix the Bridge Terminal!” Reage says, “I was lucky to get that opportunity, it’s a great facility now.”

Reage, who has been with Halifax Transit for 15 years, is currently their Executive Director. He manages the planning and operations of both bus and ferry services within Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) and leads over 1,000 staff members. He is also the Vice Chair of Finance for the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA).

Riding through the pandemic

The past few years have been exceptionally challenging. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reage noted that ridership was down to approximately 15 per cent of what it was before. Even though people were encouraged to stay home, the transit system never stopped operating. Many still relied on buses and ferries to go buy their groceries and get to their medical appointments, and essential workers still needed to reach their destinations. Working from home wasn’t an option for many on Reage’s team including operators, supervisors and maintenance staff who were all on the front lines, working to ensure public safety.

“We were making decisions in hours that might have normally taken weeks and we were making changes to the operation in days that would have normally taken months” he says. “But everybody pulled together to make sure that service was there for the people that needed it most.”

A greener transportation system

The Halifax Regional Council has already declared a climate emergency and Reage mentions that Halifax Transit has a significant role to play in achieving the climate goals set by the municipality. Reage oversees several projects that aim to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.

Halifax Transit is currently working on the electrification of their fleet, this transition to a zero-emission fleet will begin by incorporating electric buses into the fleet. Reage mentions that with 60 electric buses expected to arrive within the next two years, HRM is committed to a greener system, and he expects the future fleet to be a mixture of battery – electric buses and hydrogen fuel – cell buses. His team is also looking at the possibility of adding new electric ferries to the transportation system. The technology used in these types of ferries is relatively new with only a few currently operational worldwide, but according to Reage “we are certainly on the leading edge.”

Halifax Transit has a lot of plans for mitigating the effects of climate change, including building higher ferry terminals to allow for higher sea levels. The Woodside Terminal in Dartmouth has also been completely retrofitted and has become the first net zero building in Halifax Transit’s infrastructure.

Advice for future planners

Reage believes that one of the keys to success in the public sector is having a good sense of humor. Between the political and public demands, and the necessity to maintain a balance, the job can get tough. He says, “If you go to work with your sense of humor intact and leave at the end of the day with your sense of humor still intact, then you’re doing something right.”

“Be open to the fact that, you know a lot, but there’s a lot you don’t know as well,” Reage advises. “Be open to the complexity of learning which doesn’t end when you graduate.”

For more information on Halifax Transit and their current projects visit: Halifax Transit | Bus | Schedules | Routes | Ferries | Halifax