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Revisiting the HSR after 8 years — what’s changed? Eight years after the initial critique, the Hamilton Street Railway still has a long way to go

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By: Rob Hardy

Eight years ago, as a rookie contributor to The Silhouette, I wrote one of my very first pieces on the sorry state of the Hamilton Street Railway. It still survives online under the title of “Public Transit Blues”. So what’s changed since for McMaster University students and the city itself? Not much.

Some things are a bit better and some have gotten worse, but overall I would say the HSR is the same miserable experience it’s always been.

There do seem to be more student buses during peak times on campus so it’s not as packed as it used to be. We also have been able to negotiate year-round bus passes for Mac students, which previously only gave us an eight-month deal.

While I believe the HSR functions as best as it can within its limitations, the truth is that this is often not even remotely good enough.

In my case, coming in from Stoney Creek, the time spent commuting is brutal. If I take the B-Line, it still takes roughly 50 minutes. Trapped in a compartment full of stale air, at times too overheated, and shaking like hell as it travels our streets, the experience can be uncomfortable.

What’s worse is that unlike previously, where the B-Line used to come right onto campus, it now stops on Main Street. Having to then walk all the way down to Togo Salmon Hall, in often unpleasant conditions, is ridiculous.

Moreover, the B-Line still ends around 7:00 p.m. This results in having to make two connections, which significantly adds to the trials of an already long day. While I can understand that express buses may terminate service at night, it would greatly help if a consecutive route ran from at least University Plaza to Eastgate, even with regular stops.

I use the B-Line as merely one example. Anyone living on the mountain, who also has to first get downtown before progressing into Westdale, suffers similarly.

Part of this dilemma is that Hamilton has unique geography to contend with. Our city layout is not a simple grid like you would find in Edmonton, for example, with nothing other than a river to divide us.

But much of the fault lies with the HSR itself. My biggest issue is with buses that arrive early, causing them to leave many people behind. Sometimes I have been able to trace this to drivers who began their route early, because there is no other way, logistically-speaking, they could have already arrived at that stop.

This is notable given that the HSR has been trying very hard to rebuild ridership — somewhat of a fool’s errand considering their target market is people who take the bus out of necessity.

What’s more striking is that even intra-city travel within Hamilton becomes “a commute” if one were to cross the length of the city twice a day. The current system as it stands is simply too broken and not meant for people in Stoney Creek to travel by bus all the way to Ancaster mountain.

During this decade, the light rail transit promised to offer innovation, as we moved from the planning stages to acquired funding to implementation. After all, Canadian cities of comparable size can now reasonably be expected to have an alternative public transit option on their most travelled route.

But as things stand, the latest news is that certain council members are now weary of paying additional costs should the project go over-budget, a reasonable possibility considering its timeline has been continually delayed due to endless council motions on the subject.  But why should the province keep footing the entire bill anyway, especially for a city whose factions are still so divided on this issue?

While the HSR is a crucial part of Hamilton, their monopoly on public transit leaves bewildered riders powerless to really express their concerns. When we are caused to be late for school or work, an apology is pretty useless, and most people don’t even bother to complain.

What some have done is stop riding. Yes, the HSR wants to regain their numbers. But many previous and potential transit users are waiting for more than a hollow marketing campaign to be convinced.

 

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