Are the wheels coming off the HSR?
Passengers sound off during forum with drivers and managers
Environment Hamilton hosted an often spirited sound-off session at City Hall during which HSR management, union representatives and council alike got an earful.
About what? About driver rudeness, management apathy, systems failure, anti-Muslim racism, rough rides for the disabled and disaffected university students.
Among other issues. But not so much absenteeism and missed buses, the most pressing on most people’s minds, because those issues are “between employee and employer” and not the purpose of the meeting on Tuesday night to address, said Environment Hamilton’s Ian Borsuk.
One answer that kept getting applied in common to a great many of the issues raised was ... driver fatigue and stress.
Many among the 70 or 80 people in the gallery, most of them riders, told of their experiences. Being yelled at by drivers; a group of five or six Somali Muslims passed over by a non-full bus or harassed on the bus by someone with swastikas and getting no help; the disabled not getting help with walkers and wheelchairs; passengers missed or rushed because a bus doesn’t stop at the stop but beyond to avoid backups.
The consistent (because incontrovertible) answer from ATU Local 107 rep Sheldon Albrecht, a driver himself, was impossible-to-keep scheduling.
“The system is stressed,” Albrecht said. “A driver doesn’t have time to
think,” later adding, “It is not uncommon for me to go up to 10 hours and not get out of my seat (he has suffered bladder infections, he told The Spectator later).
“Sixty-eight hours (68-hour week) isn’t a solution. You cannot run transit based on overtime. To deplete employees is not a way to improve.”
He said transit has to “grow” and return to the 10-year plan.
Through it all, what shaped the flow of the exchanges at the meeting seemed not so much rising tempers, though they were there, as a weariness with the colossal scope of the problems and the threatening drift into a feeling of insolubility, even futility.
The meeting was perhaps a bit like a bad bus ride itself. Not everyone got on the queue to put their questions before the meeting was over, and perhaps the answers didn’t always brake at the right stops for the people who asked them.
Sahra Soudi, who complained of the anti-Muslim discrimination, said, “Who is the HSR for? There is a huge amount of hate and crime on the buses and there is no way for racialized people to complain (to the HSR) without going to the police.”
Dennis Guy, in HSR management, noted that cameras went operative a few days ago — the hope is that will help — and he urged her and anyone to “call it in” when anything like that happens.
Albrecht also mentioned the cameras but said in an interview later that drivers are discouraged from leaving their seats to intervene when tensions rise among passengers.
At one point, while Guy delivered his opening comments (several speakers prefaced the questionand-answer session with overview statements at the beginning), a visibly upset Valerie Byron shouted from the gallery, “When are you going to address driver rudeness and absenteeism?” and then recounted episodes of almost being run over.
But mostly the mood was respectful, and several got up to praise drivers. Will Rosart, in a wheelchair, said most drivers were great but some do not handle the disabled fairly. Two McMaster Student Union reps complained that students are like second class and when buses are cancelled due to absenteeism it’s often student routes sacrificed.
Don McLean of Environment Hamilton said there’s a problem with the transit tax system whereby neighbours on Grays Road between old Hamilton and Stoney Creek can live almost side by side but the one on the Stoney Creek side of the border pays three times the transit tax.
He also noted that several years ago councillors were given an incentive to ride the buses for a month and only six of 16 jumped at it.
The Upper Wellington bus stops on its route to pick up a passenger.