Public transit blues
I am seriously pissed off.
It’s probably a sentiment shared by droves of McMaster students, but becomes the bane of our existence upon hearing the words “Move back, please.” And if that doesn’t send your blood boiling, it might be the overcrowding, the missed connections or the waiting outside for insanely long periods of time. I am talking about the HSR.
The McMaster Students Union and the HSR have had an intimate relationship for years because as Mac students, we pay a portion of our union fees towards an eight-month bus pass, which we get at a significant discount. Since many students never, or rarely, ride the bus, this is a huge revenue boost for the HSR, which only increases each year as our student population dramatically rises.
For those people who ride the bus regularly, this perk is a huge cost savings, though one has to wonder, as one student in last week’s Feedback did, if the HSR is even readily available anymore? I’ve wondered the same thing, and have concluded that it has become a total disgrace.
I really began to see the full scope of this problem on the last Friday of September. It was rainy and I was staying late on campus. The phone service had stated a bus was coming at 10:38 p.m. near Mills, and as I got there, many people were already waiting. No bus came, and that hasn’t been the first error I have noticed on the phone system.
I decided to come back later as two more busses were due at 11:01 and 11:02 p.m. The first one came, but was extremely full. The second one didn’t come at all. I walked to Main and Emerson to wait for the 11:25 p.m. 5C bus. By now, it was really raining hard and we all had to squeeze into the shelter. Wondering where the bus could be, it finally passed us by at 11:33, eight minutes late, without stopping. There were seven of us there and we were incredulous. Did it seriously just fly right by because it was too full to stop? Does the HSR think that people are willing to wait forty minutes for the next one?
I decided to run to the stop near the Health Sciences Centre, which was arriving at 11:43, and it came a couple minutes late. By this time, I had already waited for over an hour just to leave campus. After picking up more people down the road, I wound up standing on an actual seat while I counted 35 other people who had to stand in the aisle (and this was not even one of the longer busses).
The problem with buses arriving late is that there are even more people to pick up once they get to their stops, it makes the bus travel more slowly by weighing it down, and the time need to get people on and off is increased.
So by the time we got downtown at 12:05, I had missed my next connection because we had taken several extra minutes to get to the core. To make matters worse, busses for that route had now also switched to running every forty minutes, instead of thirty. I had no choice but to grab a bite while I waited. The next bus wound up also coming late, and with no final connection waiting for me after that, I was forced to walk the rest of the way. Unreal.
Two and a half hours to get where you need to go is not cool. Neither is being forced to stand when you have paid fare for a seat. The riding patterns are well-known, or should be well-known, so it’s not a “surprise” that more than thirty people often need to get on at a single stop. People want to take transit that is safe and comfortable, not cattle cars that pack us in. It is a sad state of affairs when the HSR is claiming they have budget shortfalls, even as they have two full busses worth of passengers crammed into one car. And so much for being able to read when you have someone’s back pack three inches from your face.
What’s most irritating to me is the way this city trumpets itself as being so progressive, yet cannot even keep up with the current demand for public transit. This is no longer 1985, and the HSR has to recognize that people need to get where they are going quickly. Buses every fifteen or twenty minutes, for a city this size (and with its challenging geography), is by no means unreasonable. The urban professional demographic that Hamilton seeks to attract is simply not going to relocate here in significant numbers without reliable and innovative transit.
You could say that LRT is expensive, but that won’t change the fact that most people without cars are simply not going to put up with this crap if they could live in places which already have, or are in the process of building, much better transit networks. And having been abroad, I know that places like Japan, Shanghai and parts of Europe are light years ahead of even Toronto transit.
I’ve also really been wondering why more riders don’t seem to be as upset about this, and thought that maybe Canadians are just way too polite. But probably, they too have written off any hope of the HSR improving prior to them driving on a permanent basis. The standard is totally unacceptable, but it’s clear that by the time anything significant changes, I also will have long abandoned this unreliable system.