Go bus workers plan to strike starting Monday, Nov. 7 if they do not reach an agreement with Metrolinx

McMaster University commuters could find themselves forced to hop on a Go train or carpool to campus if a new offer is not presented by Metrolinx by Monday Nov. 7. A vote held by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1587, which encompasses all Go bus drivers, revealed that 93% of workers were in favour of going on strike.  

Go Transit is a division of Metrolinx, and the two parties had been in negotiations since Apr. 2022. Union workers had been working without a contract since Jun. 1

The strike was initially set to start at midnight on Oct. 31 if an agreement was not reached by that time, applying pressure on Metrolinx to come to an agreement. The strike was averted when Metrolinx presented an offer, which union workers took to a vote on Nov. 2 and 3. ATU Local 1587 said they wouldn’t encourage their members to either accept or reject. 

On Nov. 4, it was announced that the union declined the offer in an 81% vote in favour of rejection. Bargaining has continued over the weekend of Nov. 5 and 6. 

ATU Local 1587 has set the new strike date for Nov. 7. If Metrolinx has not presented a counteroffer by midnight Nov. 6, all Go bus drivers and attendants will be walking off the job, leaving many commuters stranded or forced to commute via Go train.  

ATU Local 1587 has set the new strike date for Nov. 7. If Metrolinx has not presented a counteroffer by midnight Nov. 6, all Go bus drivers and attendants will be walking off the job, leaving many commuters stranded or forced to commute via Go train.

This strike would call for cancellation of all Go bus services, due to a walk off of bus drivers, station attendants, office workers, maintenance workers and safety officers. The strike would be indefinite, until Metrolinx presents an offer that workers vote in majority to accept.  

McMaster students that commute may need to prepare an alternate route to school, due to the cancellation of Go buses that could start Monday Nov. 7. Updates on the strike can be found on ATU Local 1587’s page where they post vote outcomes and strike mandates. 

This is an ongoing story. 

Graphic by Elisabetta Paiano / Production Editor

On Dec. 16, 2019, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney informed Fred Eisenberger, the mayor of Hamilton, that the provincial government had decided to cancel plans for Hamilton’s light-rail transit system, which was set to begin construction in 2020. After Mulroney called for a press conference to deliver the cancellation news in Hamilton, she cancelled it due to safety concerns linked to the large crowd that had gathered for her announcement. Instead, Mulroney issued a statement and cited impractical costs as the reason for the LRT’s cancellation. 

“. . . The [LRT] project will actually cost five times more than the previous [provincial] government led us all to believe,” said Mulroney in her statement.

The proposed corridor was set to extend from McMaster to Eastgate Square, amounting to a new 14 km system.

 

THE MEETING

Prior to this termination, Eisenberger says that the provincial government had given no indication that the project would be cancelled or that a press conference was to be called [on Dec. 16, 2019]. He also claims that on April 10, 2019, Premier Doug Ford had sent Jeff Yurek, the previous Minister of Transportation, to Hamilton to confirm that the provincial government would support the LRT’s construction. 

Eisenberger considers Ford’s failure to follow through a betrayal.

You said Nov. 28, 2018: ‘When people democratically elect someone, if he wants an LRT, he’s gonna get an LRT,’ adding ‘that’s democracy,’” said Eisenberger in an open letter to the office of the Premier.

 

THE COST

In May 2015, Premier Wynne promised the city of Hamilton $1 billion to fund capital costs of the LRT project. In September 2019, a meeting between the Ministry of Transportation and Hamilton revealed that the preliminary project budget for the LRT, including both capital and non-capital costs, ranged from $4.6 billion to $6.5 billion. The provincial government sent a new estimate to Eisenberger days before the Dec. 16 press conference; this new estimate puts project costs at $5.5 billion

Eisenberger and his team had questions regarding the new Dec. 12 estimate, which they never had a chance to raise. 

According to Mulroney’s Dec. 16 statement, the $5.5 billion estimate came from a report by an “expert third party”

Kris Jacobson, director of the LRT project office, broke down the difference between capital and non-capital costs. Hamilton has a memorandum of agreement with the provincial agency Metrolinx, where the province is responsible for upfront capital costs. This includes lifecycle costs for the LRT system, such as from construction, purchasing trains and replacing tracks. On the other hand, Hamilton would have been responsible for non-capital costs, such as day-to-day operations and general maintenance of the corridor and stations.

Jacobson noted that without any context, the provincial government’s $5.5 billion estimate is impossible to interpret and verify.

“There’s a lot of options and methodology that are used to develop these numbers that we don’t know . . . so to us, they’re just numbers,” said Jacobson.

 

THE REACTION

Andrea Horwath, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Hamilton-Centre and leader of the official opposition, held a press conference at Redchurch Café + Gallery, a business along the proposed LRT route. She called on Premier Ford to come forward with the third-party’s detailed cost estimate. 

“The bottom line is Mr. Ford’s making up the numbers to justify this cut. So, show us the numbers, show us the report and give us an apples to apples comparison with the other projects that are ongoing right now in our province,” said Horwath.

The Hamilton LRT was estimated to cost $5.5 billion for the 14 kilometre corridor. Similar projects in other jurisdictions include the Hurontario LRT in Mississauga, which is estimated to cost $1.6 billion for an 18 kilometer corridor; the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is estimated to cost $12 billion for a 19 kilometre corridor, 10 kilometres of which are underground; and the ION LRT expansion in Cambridge, which is estimated to cost $1.4 billion with an 18 kilometre corridor. All of these projects have gone over their original cost estimates. Yet they continue to receive provincial funding.

Horwath highlighted that Metrolinx has spent taxpayer money buying land and creating documents necessary for the procurement process. Metrolinx is now in possession of the stretch of land that would have been the LRT.  

Horwath also publicly criticized Donna Skelly, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Flamborough-Glanbrook and the only Progressive Conservative elected in Hamilton.

“There’s no doubt [Skelly] didn’t support [the LRT] as a city councillor, but as I said that’s not the will of the people of [Hamilton]. They voted for a pro-LRT mayor and Ms. Skelly . . . Mr. Ford should respect the right of our municipality to plan its own future and to determine what transportation infrastructure is the best for Hamilton,” said Horwath.

On. Dec. 18, Horwath sent a letter to the Auditor General of Ontario, Bonnie Lysyk requesting the office investigates the rationale behind the LRT cost estimates provided to the public under the Liberal and Provincial Conservative governments.

“The public deserves to receive honest and reasonable cost estimates when assessing the value of public transit projects that cost billions of dollars,” wrote Horwath.

In her reply, Lysyk stated that, as part of an ongoing audit, her office is currently examining Metrolinx. She also declared that she would examine cost estimates for projects such as the LRT. 

According to Skelly, the Auditor General’s report will likely be released by the end of 2020.

 

THE REASONING

For Skelly and her government, the cost was too prohibitive, not only for the province but also for municipal taxpayers. Evidence for this claim is limited to Mulroney’s Dec. 16 statement, in which she claims that, over the 30 year lifespan of the LRT project, taxpayers would have paid $1 billion.

According to Skelly, the provincial government believes the previous Wynne Liberal government was aware that the LRT could not be built for the $1 billion promise, but had informed neither the mayor nor city council. 

“I see it as a smart and responsible decision because my priority, and the priority of our government, is to ensure that we respect taxpayers and their hard earned dollars, and money was being spent on a project that should never ever have seen the light of day,” said Skelly in response to the Mayor calling the LRT cancellation a “personal betrayal.”

 

THE OUTLOOK

The provincial government’s initial $1 billion commitment to the LRT project will be diverted towards Hamilton’s transportation infrastructure.

Skelly believes the commitment provides an incredible opportunity towards the city, specifically when examining the Hamilton Street Railway bus system.

 

While $1 billion is not enough to finish the LRT, it will be up to the Hamilton Transportation Task Force to determine where this funding should be allocated. 

This task force will be comprised of five non-politically affiliated community members, four of which will be decided by the province and one by the city of Hamilton. Their primary role will be to create a list of transportation projects for the Ministry to consider as viable alternatives to the LRT, due by the end of February 2020

It has been suggested that the Laborers International Union of North America, a pro-LRT labour union, will be involved in some capacity.

Mayor Eisenberger remains committed to the LRT and continues to urge the provincial government to reconsider their decision. 

“I’m hopeful but not confident that [the project will be reinstated], but we’ll do everything we can to try to set that kind of change,” said Eisenberger.

Jacobson and his team leading the LRT project also do not see this as the end. 

“Who knows what the future holds for LRT in Hamilton . . . here is a commitment to funding transportation and transit improvements in Hamilton, which is a positive. So there is something that’s going to come from this. What is it? That still needs to be determined,” said Jacobson.

The state of transportation in Hamilton will remain in the air until the task force reports to the Minister of Transportation. 

The Silhouette reached out to Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney for an interview about the Hamilton LRT project being cancelled, but the Minister declined our request.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

As of Jan. 5, Metrolinx has cancelled service to the York University Keele campus and Keele Street stops for multiple Go Bus routes, including the highway 407 47 route, which stops at the McMaster Go station.

Instead, the bus routes will end at the highway 407 Toronto Transit Commission subway station.

In a written statement, Metrolinx spokesperson and senior media manager Anne Marie Aikins said the change is part of a larger plan to move service to the highway 407 stop, which was implemented as part of Toronto’s line one subway extension in December.

“By focusing direct access on Highway 407 and TTC Line 1 Subway, customers can expect improved service reliability in the Keele Street and York University area, which can incur additional 20 minutes of travel time in peak hours due to traffic congestion,” said Aikins.

[spacer height="20px"]Aikins added that the decision was made in collaboration with York University, which has plans to turn the old Go bus loop into a pedestrian area.

McMaster students will now need to leave the 47 bus at the highway 407 subway station and take the subway two stops south to the York University station to arrive at the old bus loop.

Students will also have to pay TTC fare if they transfer, though they will receive a $1.50 discount transferring between the Go bus and the subway if they use their Presto card to pay.

Some McMaster students who rely on the York University stop have expressed concern that their commutes will be negatively affected by the change.

The 47 Go route was the only Toronto-Hamilton route that stopped at the McMaster campus.

Second-year arts and sciences student Daniella Mikanovsky frequently takes the 47 route to York before getting picked up or transferring to a TTC bus. However, with the service change, Mikanovsky says she will now likely have to take a different GO bus route all together.

“I like the 47 because it has a stop on campus. The 40 stop is at [King Street West and Dundurn Street North], so I need to take the Hamilton Street Railway before [Go transit], but with the new change, the 40 drop off is closer to my house than the 47,” said Mikanovsky.

This may pose a problem as the HSR is not known as being a particularly reliable transit system. For instance, last year, a spike in driver absenteeism resulted in thousands of bus cancellations, missed pickups and underserviced routes.

[spacer height="20px"]York University students also see Metrolinx’s decision as problematic. For instance, the York Federation of Students’  Yu Ride petition, which calls for the return of GO bus service to the Keele campus, has already gathered over 17,000 signatures.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 at York University notes that the return of the stop would save users over $1,000 in additional transit fees. As such, the change may create serious financial pressure for users who cannot afford to pay extra transit fares.

McMaster University’s CUPE 3906 adds that Metrolinx’s decision also affects sessional faculty members who routinely teach at multiple campuses across the province.

For a workforce that is already precarious, the additional three dollars per day in TTC costs and the additional 10 minutes in commuting time will make life even harder,” reads part of a statement from CUPE 3906.

In addition, CUPE 3906 suggests that universities continue to lobby the provincial government for direct and affordable inter-campus transit.

 

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Over the last few months, planning for the development of the Hamilton light rail transit has been underway, with construction expected to kick off next year and wrap up in 2024. However, Doug Ford’s promise to abandon his predecessor’s funding plan may put the project in jeopardy.

The 1.3 billion dollar LRT, which was introduced by former premier Kathleen Wynne in 2015, is expected to span 14 kilometers, running from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, through downtown Hamilton and making 17 stops along Main Street, King Street and Queenston Road Corridor.

The McMaster University stop will be located on the north side of Main Street West at the intersection of Cootes Drive.

According to Kris Jacobson, the director of the LRT project office for the City of Hamilton, the university’s stop will consist of two passenger platforms separated by LRT stops, one for each direction.

“Metrolinx and McMaster are also proposing to construct a joint transit terminal and parking garage on an existing surface parking lot adjacent to the LRT stop,” said Jacobson.

The proposed parking addition would likely require an agreement between Metrolinx and McMaster. Discussions for which are afoot.

It’s also worth noting that the Longwood Road Bridge, a sixty-two-year-old bridge atop Highway 403, will be reconstructed to support the LRT tracks to the storage facility, which will sit in the Longwood Road South, Frid Street and Chatham Street area.

“The new bridge will be widened to accommodate sidewalks on both sides and the addition of a bi-directional cycle-track on the east side of the road will connect and extend the existing cycle-track and multi-use past south of Frid Street,” said Jacobson.

#HamOnt is growing, with 780,000 expected in population by 2041. #DYK @HamiltonLRT is a key part of preparing for that growth, and will be one of many types of transit moving more people across the city pic.twitter.com/BMqd55Yce4

— Crosstown (@CrosstownTO) August 16, 2018

While LRT planning has continued apace, the project is being threatened by Ford’s April 2018 promise to quash Wynne’s LRT-only investment plan. Alternatively, Ford has proposed giving Hamilton City Council the ability to decide what the one billion gets used for.

In the wake of Ford’s decision and against the backdrop of a looming Hamilton municipal election, LRT debates have resurfaced.

According to Joey Coleman, a municipal affairs journalist in Hamilton, the LRT issue may define the mayoral race.

“Hamilton has a tradition of single-issue elections for the past three decades,” said Coleman. "Ultimately, Premier Doug Ford will decide. If he offers Council no-strings-attached funding in exchange for cancelling LRT, in many wards, all the candidates are saying they'd take that deal over building LRT.”

In these renewed discussions, the McMaster Students Union will take a pro-LRT stance.

“As the MSU is meeting with Ward One candidates, we are highlighting our pro-LRT stance and explaining the benefits of the project to students,” said Stephanie Bertolo, MSU vice president (Education). “After the new council is elected, if there is a vote that could potentially stop the LRT project from progressing, we will run another #YesLRT campaign where we will have students voice to Council the importance of the project.”

Doug Ford’s recently implemented hiring and discretionary spending freeze has put a pause on Metrolinx’s land purchases for LRT in Hamilton. Nevertheless, Jacobson says LRT planning will continue amid the freeze and the growing concerns that the new Council will scrap the transit project.

“The Hamilton LRT project continues to move forward per our Council’s direction,” said Jacobson.

Submissions for proposals to design, build and finance the LRT will be evaluated in the summer of 2019 and construction will commence quickly thereafter.

Something green comes this way, as the McMaster Students Union rolls out their new Hamilton Transit Railway bus pass for the 2017-2018 school year. Starting this year, the new bus pass will be a Metrolinx Presto card, a green card that gives users access to multiple public transit systems scattered throughout Ontario.

The new Presto card comes with free usage of the HSR and comes pre-loaded with the other student discounts Presto offers. As of Sept.1 , students may use use their Presto card to tap onto any HSR bus, free of charge.

Presto cards work in Brampton, Burlington, the Durham region,  Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Toronto and the York region. They may also be used on GO transit and the Union Pearson express.

To use a Presto card, users must add money to their card’s balance, and each time they ‘tap’ their card onto a Presto card machine on a bus, their balance will be deducted the price of a Presto ticket.

Users may add money to their card either in person and instantly have it added to their card, or online which will be added within the next 24 hours.

The new Presto card comes with free usage of the HSR and comes pre-loaded with the other student discounts Presto offers. 

To use the Presto card as an HSR bus pass, tap the card onto the Presto machine and flash your student card to the bus driver.

The exact charge depends on the transit system, but generally speaking the Presto charge will be lower than the price of an individual ticket. Presto cards automatically discount all GO transit rides by 11.5 per cent.

In the last major MSU election period, students voted to maintain the extended levels of service of past years despite the pay increase this would entail.Students now pay $187.67 for their HSR bus pass, an increase from last year’s $150.80. The HSR bus pass will also increase next year to $206.16 and then $225.55.

While an increase, the bus pass is still below the Ontario average of $230 for university bus passes. The HSR bus pass must be negotiated and voted on every three years as per the contract between the MSU and the HSR.

If a student loses their bus pass and have registered their Presto card on their website, they may buy another one for $6 from any GO transit centre and can add the card to their account online, assuring they have access to the HSR discounts. This is a significant decrease in cost from last year’s replacement fee, which was $25.

If a student loses their bus pass they may buy another one for $6 This is a significant decrease in cost from last year’s replacement fee, which was $25

Otherwise, students who lose their passes and have not registered it must go to the MSU Compass centre in the McMaster University Student Centre, where they will receive the correct information to register the lost card. After registering the lost card, a new card will be issued and the student will have to pay $25.

If a student already owns a Presto card, they can transfer the funds from their old card to the new one by visiting a GO transit centre. Students may also visit the MSU Compass centre and receive a refund form, and receive a cheque in the mail within two to four weeks.

The introduction of the Presto card as a bus pass marks a new age in the continually changing negotiations between the MSU and HSR, and any questions about the process should be directed to either Metrolinx or the MSU Compass Centre.

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HHS_web1-03On Feb. 3, Hamilton Health Sciences, a billion-dollar consortium of hospitals and health care providers, got a new boss.

Rob MacIsaac left Mohawk College, after five years as the school’s President, to take the helm of Ontario’s second-largest healthcare system.

MacIsaac came into the role with considerable experience as a leader in public service and a history of successful management but no healthcare experience.

“It’s a big learning curve for me but I’m enjoying it. There is lots of great support here,” he said. “In the early going, the best strategy is to listen and learn, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

He continued “The board obviously didn’t hire me because of medical expertise. They hired me to lead the organization and those [leadership] are skills I’ve been working on for a long long time.”

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MacIsaac also notes that his experience in public service will be valuable.

“I’ve been working in public service for about 20 years. I have a lot of skills that I bring from those other public service jobs into this job,” he said. “I enjoy policy and I enjoy trying to make my community a better place—that’s what brought me here.”

Before becoming the President of Mohawk, he also served as the Chair of GO Transit and Presto operator Metrolinx. Before that, he was a City Councillor and then Mayor of Burlington.

Depending on performance, MacIsaac will earn between $540,000 and $650,000 annually. This is not, at all, far off from the salary of outgoing CEO Murray Martin who took home $647,465 in 2012.

The job will not be without its challenges. MacIsaac identifies two major issues that he, and the rest of the healthcare industry, will have to deal with in the coming years.

“We have the emergence of two mega-trends…we have a rapidly aging population and at the same time the provincial government is running a deficit,” he said.

Meeting the needs of an older population on a potentially smaller budget will be the biggest test for the industry, according to MacIsaac.

Despite the challenges, and still learning the ebbs and flows of healthcare world, MacIsaac is optimistic about his tenure as CEO.

“I’m really excited about the job. I think it’s going to be a challenge. It’s a wonderful opportunity,” MacIsaac told the Spectator.

 

A new bike share program seeks to make cycling around Hamilton and McMaster a more accessible option for commuters.

On Feb. 25, Peter Topalovic, with the City’s transportation demand management department, presented an implementation plan for a public bike share program to Hamilton City Council.

The plan proposes that 350 bikes be stationed at 30 points along the A-line and B-line transit routes. Users would pay a nominal fee to use a bike for a short period of time. As part of the “fourth-generation model,” the program is intended to integrate with rapid and public transit systems already in place.

Bike share would target Hamilton’s downtown core and west end. It would cost $1.6 million, to be covered by private stakeholders and Metrolinx, subject to funding approval.

Vivek Govardhanam, an SRA engineering representative, wants the SRA to endorse bike share in Hamilton. He will present a motion at the Assembly’s meeting this Sunday.

“We want to bring the idea of bike share to the mainstream,” said Govardhanam. “I think it would add a lot of symbolism if the MSU goes out and says, ‘we think it’s a very good idea to have this in Hamilton.’”

Govardhanam has been working with McMaster students Colin Delsey, Jason Yeng and Raheel Syed to raise awareness about bike share. The group has also been in consultation with the Office of Sustainability.

“McMaster is not going to have bike share for now, or for the next two or three years at least. But in the future we want to have bike share on campus. We want to encourage bike culture on campus,” said Govardhanam, who would like to see an ad hoc committee established by next year’s SRA.

Conversations about a possible bike share program in Hamilton first started in 2009. A feasibility study was conducted by two Arts & Science students, and a market analysis was conducted by MBA students.

“I think McMaster has been with us from day one,” said Topalovic.

According to Topalovic, the program would help to eliminate the ‘first and last mile barriers’ faced by commuters.

“A number of medium-sized cities are doing bike share, too,” he said. “It’s not just for the big cities like Toronto and New York.”

At the Feb. 25 transit budget meeting, Topalovic asked to move forward to the ‘request for proposal’ stage. Councillors have asked for more clarification about the experiences of other cities in terms of funding and infrastructure. The bike share plan will be revisited in the next budget approval meeting on March 27.

On Sept. 21, students could lounge in muskoka chairs and play a round of bocce ball - in the middle of the MUSC parking lot.

Although the single parking spot was only temporarily converted for a few hours, it was meant to catch students attention and get them to talk about the issue of commuting. Run by SmartCommute, in partnership with MetroLinx,The City of Hamilton and the Office of Sustainability at McMaster, this initiative intended to spark conversation about how students, faculty and staff get to campus.

SmartCommute hopes to educate the community about different commuting options, whether it be walking, biking, carpooling or using public transit. They have converted parking spots into grassy areas at various offices and malls around Hamilton and the GTA.

 

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