Navigating the HSR can be as clear as mud
On Friday evening, three women stepped out of Lake Road Restaurant on James North into the surprisingly chilly air.
We raved about the meal, vowed to return soon and as we said our goodbyes, my friends offered me a ride home. But being that they were headed to the highway and I was headed out of their way to Dundas, I waved them away, saying I’d just hop on a bus and be home in 20 minutes. Which I really believed to be true.
Since moving to Dundas from downtown nearly two years ago, I’ve made use of the HSR more times than in my previous 18 years living in Hamilton combined. I have a car and I like to walk so when I lived downtown, I hoofed it almost everywhere. But it’s a REALLY long trek on foot from my current home to James Street North and just not practical when you’re rushing to make an appointment or a dinner reservation or are wearing fancy pointy loafers.
And occasionally on a Friday or Saturday night, I might like to have that second glass of wine and not worry about having to drive home. And because I can sometimes be a cheapskate, I would often rather not spend extra money on a cab or an Uber. And even if I did opt to call an Uber, I’d most likely have to breathe in stale cigarette smoke. It happens about half the time I take them (I dock one star on the rating for that).
And because the bus stop is a five-minute walk from my home and one bus takes me right downtown, it’s kind of easy-peasy to go HSR. Except when it’s not. Easy peasy, that is.
Have you ever tried to use the HSR’s Trip Planner? It’s an interactive tool that allows you to punch in your start and end points and will spit out three possible bus routes to get you there. At one specific time of day.
So let’s say you’re going to meet friends for dinner downtown at 7:30. And the bus ride is 20 to 25 minutes from your starting point. Knowing there’s most likely not a bus at exactly 7 p.m. (it might be 6:58 or 7:02 or whatever), you might punch in 7 p.m. as your departure time, expecting to be shown a few departure times around 7 p.m.
But it doesn’t work like that. If you tell the Trip Planner you want to leave at 7 p.m., it will only tell you the next bus time after 7 p.m., so maybe 7:23. Even if there was a bus at 6:58.
The 7:23 bus isn’t going to work so you have to go back to the first page, re-input your start and end points, this time asking for buses leaving at 6:30. You will only get the next one leaving after 6:30, even if there are two departure times between 6:30 and 7 p.m.
Interacting with the HSR’s clunky Trip Planner throws me back to my days wrestling with MS-DOS in school (really dating myself here). As a matter of fact, MS-DOS made learning about computers about as inviting as the HSR’s Trip Planner does taking the bus. In an era when my phone alerts me to appointments and events I have not even put in my calendar (thanks for being so creepy, Google), I shouldn’t have to play guessing games and re-input information three times into the most inelegant program I’ve used in recent memory.
So I thought my bus was on its way, but it turned out that even though a bus with the correct route number did arrive at the time I expected, it wasn’t mine.
My bus had the same route number but with an added letter. It would drop me off in downtown Dundas, from where I could walk the half-hour home. Got it? Clear as a glass of water from Bayfront Park, right?
I had a 45-minute wait. At almost 10 p.m. on a Friday night in a proper city. At this point you might think I live on a farm out in the country, where there is no big need for public transit. And hey, maybe there’s not, for all I know.
But I do live in a pretty densely populated community in Dundas, which is part of the City of Hamilton. And I can’t even take a SoBi bike out this way because, for some reason, the cut-off in Dundas is the downtown core. Because if you live in the suburbs, you don’t need good access to public transportation?
So I walked, not in fancy pointy loafers but not in sneakers, either, for 45 minutes until I got to Westdale, where I caught my bus to take me the rest of the way.
So I’m glad the LRT is moving ahead. But we have a whole lot of work to do in our existing public transit access and communication, as well. Please don’t forget about that.
I thought my bus was on its way, but it turned out that even though a bus with the correct route number did arrive at the time I expected, it wasn’t mine.