Following a month marked by hundreds of missed hours of Hamilton Street Railway service, Environment Hamilton, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for environmental protection, held a meeting at Hamilton City Hall.
Environment Hamilton’s Emergency HSR Riders Meeting, which took place on Nov. 14, called for HSR users to voice their concerns about the transit system.
The meeting included presentations from a number of relevant speakers and a question and answer period.
Sara Mayo, a social planner from the Social Planning Research Council of Hamilton, spoke about the need for increased HSR funding in Hamilton.
While she noted that, between 2013 and 2016, there was a 15.1 per cent increase in municipal HSR funding, Mayo acknowledged that there are still areas to improve.
Ryan Deshpande, McMaster Students Union vice president (Education) and Stephanie Bertolo, MSU associate vice president (Municipal Affairs), spoke about McMaster students’ persisting problems with the HSR.
“For many of us — low-income students, international students, working students — the HSR is our only option for transportation.”
MSU associate vice president
“A commute from the mountain to McMaster can be anywhere from 40 minutes to over 1.5 hours.… Our students on the mountain and amalgamated parts of Hamilton are not properly served by the HSR,” said Bertolo. “For many of us — low-income students, international students, working students — the HSR is our only option for transportation.”
Deshpande proposed that Hamilton City Council make substantial investments into transit, arguing that the hiring of 58 additional bus drivers is only a short-term solution with the lack of funding being the core problem.
“We would like our contribution to the HSR system to be valued. More than that, we want every rider to get the HSR service they deserve from every part of this city,” said Deshpande.
Two other speakers included Don McLean, co-founder of Environment Hamilton, and Dennis Guy, the Manager of Customer Experience and Innovation at the HSR.
McLean talked about the nuances and expressed concerns of the HSR funding system and how residents who live in suburbs pay increasingly less compared to residents who live in the City of Hamilton.
Guy spoke about the 10-year local transit strategy and where the HSR sits under the status quo.
During the question and answer period, HSR users voiced a number of concerns with Hamilton transit.
One commonly highlighted issue was the inconsistency of wheelchair accessibility on the HSR.
Another critique concerned the HSR’s lack of accountability when it comes to racism and islamophobia within the HSR, particularly against Syrian and Somali newcomers.
Most of the complaints, however, stemmed from the fact that HSR drivers continue to be overworked.
During the question and answer period, Sheldon Albricht from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 stated that it is not uncommon for HSR drivers to work 10 hours without leaving their seat.
In addition to criticizing the HSR on a number of grounds, many attendees proposed ways to improve it.
One attendee, for instance, encouraged all councillors and HSR employees ride the HSR to and from work for a month.
Another attendee emphasized the need for drivers to receive more robust accessibility training.
Others suggested that the HSR schedule more breaks for drivers and encourage drivers to ensure that all seats are occupied before deeming their buses full.
The HSR’s most pressing problems won’t evaporate anytime soon. Nevertheless, users and MSU representatives are voicing their concerns and working to improve the transit system.