Each morning, passengers risk running across King Street on a red light in an attempt to catch the bus on King before it pulls away. Eventually, someone will be injured or killed.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published January 31, 2014
this article has been updated
Earlier this week, Margaret Shkimba wrote a column in the Spectator calling on the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) to provide better service. She focused on the prevalence of 'drive-bys' - over-stuffed buses that cannot stop to pick up more passengers - along the busy east-west corridor that the city's planned light rail transit (LRT) will serve.
Shkimba also noted with alarm that ridership growth in Hamilton has been anemic - just 3.4 percent between 2006 and 2011, while other cities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area saw large double-digit increases.
I would like to raise another perennial issue with the quality of service on the HSR: the unacceptably poor and often dangerous connectivity at transfer points.
During the winter, I have been taking the #6 bus toward work and then transfering to the 1/5/51 bus at Longwood Road and King Street.
Each morning, I have been frustrated by the fact that most drivers of the 1/5/51 buses refuse to wait for passengers who are clearly attempting to cross King and Longwood to transfer from the #6 into McMaster (the #6 bus is scheduled to arrive at 8:57 AM).
Sometimes the driver of the #6 will honk or signal to their colleagues, who usually ignore the request to wait for transferring passengers.
Most mornings this is a minor inconvenience for the five to ten transferring passengers, because another bus is usually along in a few minutes.
However, yesterday morning it was completely unacceptable: ten passengers were attempting to transfer, which involves crossing both Longwood and King and walking half a block since both stops have been moved.
As the passengers were waiting to cross King Street, three buses, one after another, pulled up to the stop. Two of the buses had plenty of room for more passengers and the transferring passengers waved and shouted to try to get the driver's attention. It was in vain.
Eventually, the King Street light changed and the ten passengers ran to try to get the third bus, which pulled away just as the first passenger reached the stop.
These passengers then waited ten more minutes until another bus arrived. It was so packed that it could not take on more than a few transferring passengers.
Some passengers ended up waiting 15 minutes to make a transfer that could have been direct if just one of the three drivers had been considerate enough to allow the transfer.
The HSR needs to make the following change immediately:
This is easy to do, as the #6 bus is usually still there when the 1/5/51 buses pull in, and there is a big group of passengers waiting to cross King. If there are passengers waiting, the driver should wait for the passengers to cross the street safely.
Since this is such a heavily-used transfer point, the HSR needs to make sure that there is a reliable transfer. Waiting 20 seconds for transferring passengers to cross the street should not significantly impact the service times of the buses.
In the medium term, the #6 stop should be moved North to the other side of King Street. The current setup is very dangerous, as transferring passengers need to cross two busy streets during rush hour instead of the direct transfer that used to be possible when both stops were on the same corner.
This situation is made worse by the fact that the King Street crossing has an advanced left turn light, during which pedestrians cannot cross.
Each morning, passengers risk running across King Street on a red light in an attempt to catch the bus on King before it pulls away. Eventually, someone will be injured or killed and the HSR will bear some responsibility for an unsafe transfer design.
The fact that the HSR gets these basic service measures wrong is a significant part of why ridership in Hamilton remains stagnant.
I am exactly the sort of passenger the HSR needs to attract if they want ridership to grow significantly: I have several options in how to get to work and would very much like to use the HSR, as long as it does not actively impede my efforts to get to work in a timely and reasonably convenient way.
I don't even mind standing on a crowded bus, but having a dangerous, inconvenient and frankly rude transfer procedure every morning is just not acceptable.
And this is before we even consider basic improvements like: putting route numbers and timetables on each stop (instead of a sign that says "HSR" and a phone number with no other indication); sharing the real-time arrival information the HSR is already producing; and ensuring there is sufficient capacity and frequency on the busiest routes so that would-be passengers are not left cooling their heels at the stop while crowded bus after crowded bus passes them by.
Update: Edited to add the following:
After the three buses left before we could transfer, I took advantage of my long wait for the next bus to call the number on the bus stop to report the shockingly poor service. After a long wait ("we are experiencing a high volume of calls"), I eventually got through to an operator.
He listened to my story and then told me I should be speaking to customer service and transferred me. I left a message on the answering machine, with my office number, and was pleasantly surprised to get a call back soon after I arrived at work.
The customer service agent was very polite and considerate, but I'm not sure he really understood the specific problem.
He quickly decided that it wasn't the fault of any of the three drivers who failed to wait for transferring passengers because they "can only be one minute early or three minutes late and can't wait for the #6 bus".
He also looked at the schedule and noted that out of the 1/5/51 buses serving that stop only one could be the "official" transfer bus that was supposed to connect with the #6. He said he would ask for a "visual inspection" of the transfer location.
But this was not the point. Of course, I didn't expect the 1/5/51 buses to wait at the stop until the #6 arrived. However, the usual situation is that the #6 arrives before the 1/5/51, passengers have already alighted and are just waiting to cross the street. The maximum wait time would be the time for the light to change, which is pretty brief.
If the passengers were transferring at the same stop, or adjacent stops (as was the case before both stops were moved) there would be no problem. A driver would never take off before passengers waiting at a stop to transfer could get on!
The basic problem is the location of the stops. But until the #6 stop is moved, the simple solution is for drivers to glance to the left to see if the #6 bus is letting off passengers, or if there is a group of people waiting to cross (perhaps frantically shouting or waving to get the driver's attention).
Many drivers are considerate, signalling their colleagues that there are passengers wishing to transfer, and even letting passengers off on the other side of King Street because they know that everyone alighting wants to transfer.
Unfortunately, in most cases the 1/5/51 drivers ignore the transferring passengers, which encourages the passengers to jaywalk across a red light because they know the bus will take off as soon as it can.
Simple problems with simple solutions like this should be fixed quickly.
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