Bus service changes were part of President David Campbell’s platform during the election race last January, and now he’s set to make good on those promises.
“The [Hamilton Street Railway] bus pass fee is triannual, so every three years we renew it with the HSR,” said Campbell. “Our current agreement is expiring in April, so it was already going to come to referendum in January. That’s what inspired me as part of my platform to say ‘there are a lot of improvements to service we could think about here.’”
The improvements Campbell is seeking give this year’s negotiations a different level of importance.
“In the past, when it was getting renewed, it was a lot of ‘let’s just renegotiate the cost for similar levels of service.’ But now we’ve taken a more aggressive approach in the sense of early on in the year we wanted to make contact with the HSR and say ‘we obviously want to renegotiate our current agreement, and where can we make some improvements,’” said Jeff Doucet, VP Finance.
The McMaster Students Union has prioritized what it hopes to accomplish, and an agreement regarding bus service for summer students tops that list. A Facebook poll found that students, too, overwhelmingly regard it as a chief concern. Thousands of students remain on campus in the summer taking classes or working, but currently the bus pass included in tuition expires at the end of April. Students taking classes can purchase a slightly discounted summer pass at Compass, but the rate it is significantly more expensive at $72 per month than the $63.08 students pay per semester in the Fall and Winter.
Also among the MSU’s priorities is extending bus service later into the night. That’s a concern that the HSR says it has heard from other groups in the community.
“We were surprised,” said Doucet. “We’re not the only people saying the buses aren’t running late enough. One o’clock, 1:20 a.m. is pretty early to stop the buses in a major city.”
“It’s a safety thing, too, right? It’s adequate provision of service,” added Campbell. “It’s not just drunk people getting home, it’s people getting home safely from the bars, from work, from wherever they might be.”
In addition to adding more bus service at night, the MSU would like to see current bus times changed to better service the university. Currently, the HSR increases the amount of buses through campus at busy times, but the increase is spread evenly throughout the hour rather than clustered around times when classes start or finish.
“Let’s look at the University 51 and say ‘this has been identified as a line for the university […] maybe this is the one we can play around with,’” said Doucet.
They are looking to other municipalities, such as Doucet’s hometown of Ottawa, as a guide for what service may be appropriate. However, they’re also keeping their expectations measured.
“[Changing the bus schedules] is a major change. That’s the one that sort of ranks lower in our priorities because we recognize how difficult it would be for the HSR to do,” said Campbell.
Still, a positive aura surrounds the discussions as a whole. “We’re getting along well and we’re really optimistic about what can happen. There’s been a lot of give and take,” said Campbell.
Hopefully come January, students will see some of these options on the ballot.