Are the wheels com­ing off the HSR?

Pas­sen­gers sound off dur­ing fo­rum with driv­ers and man­agers

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF MAHONEY

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.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

The Up­per Welling­ton bus stops on its route to pick up a pas­sen­ger.

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