Nav­i­gat­ing the HSR can be as clear as mud

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - SHERYL NADLER Sheryl@sh­eryl­nadler.com

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.

JOHN RENNISON, HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

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.

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