Saturday February 7, 2015

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator Ð Saturday February 7, 2015

Radical bus boost pitched as riders left in the cold

Council will mull an ambitious 10-year strategy to expand transit even as overcrowded buses leave more riders at the curb each year.

Complaints about buses whizzing by stranded riders jumped from 174 to 250 between 2011 and 2013, The Spectator learned via a Freedom of Information request. Driver “customer service” complaints also rocketed to 503 in 2013 from 290 the previous year.

The city was on track for 200-plus complaints again based on partial 2014 data, with at least 50 of the “pass-bys” reported on routes along the B-line, including King, University and Delaware Ñ despite a $3-million budget boost in 2011 aimed at the busy corridor.

Transit blogger Jason Nason said only a fraction of bypassed riders register a formal complaint and suggested more and longer buses are desperately needed on several routes. “I would say sarcastically the current strategy seems to be ‘do nothing’ and wait for ridership to drop, which I guess would also solve your overcrowding.”

A new 10-year transit proposal from HSR director Dave Dixon acknowledges the city needs to spend millions of dollars fixing existing “deficiencies” like pass-bys before switching gears to expand the bus network and ramp up rapid transit.

Dixon wouldn’t discuss the strategy before Friday’s budget meeting, but his presentation, posted online, says the city should raise fares, add $6 million to the transit budget, hire 50 new people and buy 25 extra buses by 2016.
Over 10 years, the bus budget could grow by $51 million, add 336 hires and 126 buses. The report outlines several reasons for urgent investment in the bus system.

Ridership in Hamilton is stalled at about 21 million and Dixon’s report says trips per person have fallen slightly since 2006 to 45, meaning the HSR has lost ground on its goal of 80-to-100 trips per person by 2025.

By comparison, municipalitie