By: Emile Shen
The Hamilton Railway Service missed the mark in Oct. To be precise, there were 1,400 to 1,600 hours of missed bus service in October leaving students, McMaster staff and faculty and Hamilton community members late for work, class and appointments. Across campus, students stood in mass crowds waiting for the 5, 51 and 1A.
There was an average of 23 cancelled buses per day in Oct. This problem cannot be blamed on the negligence of the Hamilton Railway Service alone but is symptomatic of more substantial labour relations and workplace burnout complications.
The cancelled bus problem is troubling for both the occupational safety for bus drivers who have to step up and continuously work overtime as well the failure of contract fulfilment between the McMaster Students Union and the HSR.
The issue arose from the high rate of employee absenteeism, 19 per cent, among drivers. In turn, other employees were asked to work up to 68 hours per week voluntarily. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107, which represents all the bus drivers for the HSR says that this short-term solution is only leading to more burnout and illness amongst employees.
The director of transit for the HSR, Debbie Dalle Vedove, explained that the HSR’s troubles did not come to fruition overnight.
“The result of multiple issues that have been building over a long period of time,” she said.
The long-term issue is most accurately highlighted in the statistic that showed overtime costs due to employee absenteeism have doubled since 2012.
It is not surprising that poor service may lead much of the student body to believe that our ever-increasing bus fees are not being efficiently put to use with the HSR. Students voted overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining this level of bus service provision during the January referenda. As of the 2017-2018 academic year, each undergraduate student pays $187.67.
The bus agreement was only $138.65 per student two years ago. But within the next two years, MSU members can expect to pay $255.55 per student.
“It will take some time to address the root causes of the problem, but in the meantime we are implementing short-term actions to address the problem and provide reliable service,” said Dalle Vedove. “Service throughout the main corridor [serving McMaster] is expected to be improved as service hours are approved by council.”
It should be noted that the bus drivers’ union has previously called for Dalle Vedove to be fired.
On the advocacy side of the McMaster Students Union, vice president (Finance) Daniel “Tuba” D’Souza stated that, “We are currently completing our new agreement with the HSR and will be sure to reinforce that students expect reliable, efficient transit.”
The way forward must be sustainable for hard-working bus drivers, with the sizeable budgetary contribution of MSU students, and have a contingency plan if mass amounts of busses are cancelled again.
Given the large budgetary contribution MSU members make every year to the HSR, some of the key issues include creating more sustainable working conditions for drivers and a contingency plan if mass amounts of buses are cancelled again.
“[I would] like to apologize for the recent route cancellations that McMaster students have experienced. This is unacceptable,” said Dalle Vedove.
Hamilton city council voted on Nov. 8 to hire up to 58 more drivers.
HSR users may also attend the Emergency HSR Meeting on Nov. 14, held by Environment Hamilton, to talk about ways to improve the service.