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People have to want to take transit

HSR buses are bumpy and cramped. How about a modern rail system along King Street?

By Margaret Shkimba

Published in the Hamilton Spectator on May 02, 2008.


Transit can be a tough sell these days. With the disruptions caused by last Friday's midnight strike by Toronto transit workers, the arguments against a publicly funded and fully accessible transit system gained support among those looking for another reason to buy a new car.

However, in this time of rising gas and food prices, heightened health concerns over air quality, and, last but not least, global warming, our reluctance to embrace more responsible, economic and environmental methods of transportation will leave us all ill-prepared for the future.

This is an exciting time for transit advocates. Governments at all levels are recognizing the need to invest in and support the use of public transit.

In Hamilton, the situation is enough to make one positively giddy. It couldn't have come at a better time.

The Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) is desperately in need of a major rethink and overhaul of all services. Much more is needed in order to create a system effective and efficient enough to lure people away from car dependency. But it's a start.

I take the bus every day. To say the route I ride is popular with students would be an understatement. The stop I get on at services four different routes, yet some mornings buses go by too full to take on more passengers. Crammed to the door, passengers are pushed up against the front window, well past the yellow caution line. Buses leapfrog one over the other as they make their way along King Street toward the west end.

When passengers do get on, they are jammed and jostled against each other as the driver negotiates busy traffic on bumpy roads. Add a stroller, scooter or wheelchair during peak hours and there's an accident waiting to happen. I'd be interested to know what the HSR pays out in accident claims each year for passenger injuries.

At present, the City of Hamilton is considering adopting either a bus rapid transit (BRT) or light-rail transit (LRT) system to take us forward into the 21st century.

The transportation needs across Hamilton are varied; the system has to take into account how people use it now, how they could use it more, and how to use it better. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that a major east-west rail line is sorely needed; as is a quick and convenient way up the hill and down to the harbour. To continue with buses on some routes, whether rapid or not, is to replicate what we already have.

To be frank, the buses alone can't cut it. Not for the needs of our community. They may work in terms of moving people from neighbourhoods to main lines, as short-run feeder routes, but they're not big enough, they can't accommodate enough people and most importantly, they are not designed for passenger comfort or safety.

Imagine the King line with a train. It's a long line. It would go all the way between west of Dundas and east of Eastgate Square, out to the ends of the municipality.

There could be a car just for strollers and scooters, one that can accommodate bicycles, other cars could be added or subtracted as needed.

Close your eyes and envision the ride. Smooth, seamless. No jostling, bumping, slipping. Quiet.

The car doors open, people get off, on, there's lots of room to sit or stand. The trip's quick, done in half the time it would take a bus. And if we're wise in our planning, the trip will be free.

This past Sunday afternoon, I took the King bus from downtown to Eastgate Square. The bus was packed both going and coming. The ride was bumpy, a quick touch to the brakes sent us all jerking forward.

The trip took almost 40 minutes and it cost $9.60 for two people to get there and back.

No wonder no one wants to take the bus.

Hamilton has the potential to become a world-class city, but that demands an investment in the future; an investment in a vision of what makes a people-friendly, environment-friendly, business-friendly community. It demands that we consider the needs of the entire community when we spend public funds.

Public transit should be baseline transportation in Hamilton. Public transit should be an essential service, with transit workers compensated accordingly.

Public transit should be publicly funded.

This issue is all about choice. In order to increase transit use, riders need to choose public transit, they need to want to take transit.

At present it's not that attractive a choice.

A system that is flexible, fast and free, a combination of both bus and rail would bring together the best of both worlds.

I think the people of Hamilton deserve the best.