Dangerous, Unacceptable Bus Transfer at Longwood and King

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.

Transferring at Longwood and King

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.

Necessary Change

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.

Low-Lying Fruit

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.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 07:39:09

Yes, this is an idiotic system caused by the recent move in stops and general ignorance or outright trolling on the part of the HSR drivers. You're right, someone is going to get hurt.

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 07:40:01

Did you contact HSR? What did they say?

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By HSR police (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 07:48:08

HSR management too stubborn to move stops to common sense locations. As a driver,a can say, than many many of us arte good people, living and working in Hamilton. We have families, kids, parents, grandparents. We want a pleasant respectable work place, just like every other member of the working public. A small percentage of drivers ruin it for many, just as a small% of passengers make life miserable for us.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 08:47:47

This is a city-wide problem. One of the many reasons I almost never use HSR anymore. Most transfer points have their timetables laid out with the connecting buses leaving 1-2 minutes before the arrival of the first buses. And as you accurately describe, 3 buses all back to back with 2 being mostly empty is commonplace on several lower city routes. Then a 10-15 minute wait before the next 3.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2014 at 00:19:30 in reply to Comment 97313

That's called a timed-transfer system- it's a normal design feature in transit systems. The 10/15 minute period you're referring is called the "pulse". The idea is to have buses all arrive at a major node at the same time to allow passengers to make connections. In Hamilton, the major node is King/James and MacNab terminal. If you watch during rush hour, all the mountain routes arrive to MacNab within a 5/10 minute window with most of the mainline and crosstown routes doing the same.

The tradeoff of not doing this is that people coming from another bus route end up having longer transfer times. You can see it at the MacNab terminal in the off-peak where mountain routes arrive on alternating pulses. If one bus arrive late it screws things up for those riders, but it's better for the greater good than the individual.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2014 at 10:27:29 in reply to Comment 97340

I think the clusters Jason is referring to are clusters of three buses on the same route - the first bus stops at every stop to pick passengers up, and the second and third only have to stop when they are dropping people off, so by the time they get from the east end to mcmaster, they've caught up with the lead bus.

The real solution here is to have higher order transit on the king corridor. I have been taking the bus more than usual lately, and the difference in ridership between king and every other route is astronomical. The king buses are a terrible user experience - almost always over capacity. Everything happens slower as large groups shuffle around the bus to let even larger groups on and off. Everything grinds to a halt if someone with a mobility device - whether a scooter or a walker - needs to get on or off... If someone's presto card doesn't work, the driver has to deal with fare issues... all of these problems disappear when you implement level loading light rail, and every connecting route benefits from no more missed connections.

Let's just get on with it already

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 01, 2014 at 11:13:39 in reply to Comment 97341

Yes, that was my point earlier. Thx for clarifying. Barton and the King corridor are famous for this. Why haven't we yet outfitted the entire Barton/King corridor with articulated buses??

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 03, 2014 at 02:28:04 in reply to Comment 97342

Once upon a stuffed bus, the driver was doing an amazing job trying to stuff everyone on, in order not to leave anyone behind. Someone asked why there wasn't an articulated bus on that route. Turns out the articulated buses are indeed assigned to the highest traffic routes, many of them are on king, and college/university routes. They cost ~ $1mil, so they aren't plentiful to go around.

The lack of ambition to complete LRT is confusing, for many reasons. Including that it would level-up the beeline service while freeing up a bunch of buses, articulated and normal.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2014 at 13:18:49 in reply to Comment 97342

Yes to this. And further why not put in a Beeline style route on Barton during the morning and evening rush hours? Seems like a no-brainer although this is the HSR.

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By driver (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2014 at 20:35:39 in reply to Comment 97345

Barton is to crammed and is one lane mostly. A B line style bus would just be stopped at every red light and every stop. There is no room to pass.

Articulated buses can actually be slower in fact. More people = more stops. Also, the majority of bus stops are not designed to handle 3 points of exit. It is almost impossible for the driver to see the very rear door,making it tremendously difficult to safely allow passengers to exit.

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By back to bak (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 09:43:35

Just curious if this would change with LRT?

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By RSH (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 10:15:18

It's almost as if they don't WANT more people to try and take the bus...

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 10:53:59 in reply to Comment 97316

They don't. They view it as a service for the poor, not a legitimate transit option to build a city around.

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 13:01:27 in reply to Comment 97317

I completely agree with this. It's not seen as a legitimate option. I'm on a bus route which takes me to Hamilton GO Centre quickly and conveniently. But there are very few of "me" on this route, and I know people who would never take the bus in Hamilton. The rider experience is depressing rather than being pleasant or unmemorable.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 11:01:32

I agree that this is an issue, but as has been pointed out, this is a citywide problem. The layover situation is worse on the mountain and suburbs, where the yawning headway makes transfers a grind. (Especially on weekends.) At least the main trunk line is serviced by several east-west routes with considerable overlap throughout the lower city. (Even on weekends.)

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2014 at 11:13:49 in reply to Comment 97319

I've noticed that for high-frequency routes in particular the drivers don't give a hoot about meeting their transfer because it's assumed there will be another bus within the next 5 minutes. The 2, for example, runs every 8 minutes at rush-hour.

Of course, this attitude would make sense if it weren't for the whole "20-minute-wait-and-then-three-buses-in-a-row" problem.

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By TheDude (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 11:19:33

My wife takes the bus twice daily to get to the university and home again, from downtown. She works 8:30-4:30, Monday to Friday. She leaves the house about an hour or so before work starts. She grabs the bus at the base of the escarpment and transfers at Jackson Square. She then usually transfers at Longwood, and then on in to work. She sometimes will hop off a stop early to get to a bus with less capacity. She has noticed, htough, that if she leaves anywhere from 5-10 minutes later than normal, the bus at Longwood gets overwhelmed with university students. Same thing when heading home.

Perhaps the HSR needs to review the patterns in the morning, especially near major population areas like Jackson, Longwood, etc? Perhaps look at trying to get something near Longwood where it's more like a bus terminal rather than right on the street? I don't know the answer to that.

As for the drivers "trolling", I don't think that's the case. Most are nice but it's like any customer-facing job: a few bad apples ruin it for all drivers. My wife has lots of stories about drivers bending over backwards for people on board, but just as many about drivers who don't seem to go out of their way even to help an elderly person find a seat. I think another issue that drivers face is the constant "adhere to the schedule" mantra, where they are monitored by supervisors for tardiness, etc.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 12:08:08

Last summer at Hunter and James, where many southbound routes line up and the stop can get a little crowded, a bus with plenty of capacity hurried past the stop and failed to pick up passengers.

It was already a bit tiring transferring daily from train to bus at Aldershot.

Anyway getting left at the side of the road was the final push. While not everyone can do this, in my case, two weeks later I had converted an e-bike. Five months in, I'm up hundreds of dollars in saved Presto payments, but GO + HSR is still there if needed. But it's more convenient door-to-door to just bike.

As for the drivers - I have met all kinds over the years. Some simply wonderful and happy with their job. Others grouchy and immature. One downright childish. Some visibly tired but remaining courteous and professional. As is the case anywhere - many personality types mixed together. Most are good people and do their best in what I'm certain is a challenging environment at this time.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-01-31 12:11:48

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 16:25:03 in reply to Comment 97324

I too find cycling to be faster, easier and more convenient than HSR. And I have a much, much shorter commute than Mike. I live in Durand and work on Parkdale. Taking HSR would involve two transfers. YIKES!!

The new Cannon Street bikes lanes will be a big help.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 15:09:00

Another simple change, that I suggested during the HSR service review a few years ago, would be to limit the number of depressing public service ads running inside the bus and make a better attempt to market the interior space based on the large number of high school, college, and university students who take the bus every day (a prime advertising demographic).

Riding the bus you are forced daily to confront a line-up of worthy, but depressing, social and health problems: various serious chronic diseases, needle exchange programs, zero tolerance for violence, anti-smoking, anti-graffitti, bed bugs, gambling addiction, alcoholism, violence against women and children, lead pipes (leading to grey futures for sad children) etc.

These issues may all be worthy, but it is depressing to be seen as a target audience for every debilitating disease and social problem under the sun. Even worse, many of these ads are deliberately sensational and aim to elicit a strong emotional response.

And, interestingly, these ads only ever appear inside the bus. If these are really such important issues why are we devoting space that advertisers don't want to them, and only reach the small proportion of the population that takes the bus?

Limit the number of public service ads, and either leave the space empty or include poetry or art like other systems do. Passengers are paying customers and should be treated with respect, not as a captive audience for depressing ads that no one else will run.

GO transit doesn't feel the need to fill their vehicles with these ads and I expect, especially with their new emphasis on customer experience, they would refuse to.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-01-31 15:11:37

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By jane panic (anonymous) | Posted January 31, 2014 at 20:10:28

I live in Hamilton but take Burlington Transit to work everyday. I find it strange that Burlington Transit operators can (easily, from my perspective) use their radios to ask other BT bus drivers to wait for people who want to transfer, but the HSR doesn't do this. Something I've been wondering about lately.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2014 at 21:18:34 in reply to Comment 97335

I think the thing is that the transferring mayhem in Downtown Hamilton is so heavy that it's too complicated for them to bother. I studied at Guelph, and it has a simple minimalist approach: every half-hour all the buses rendezvous downtown and they're pretty good about all leaving in sync, so transfer is fine.

Here in Hamilton where we have oodles of routes all out of sync with each other, I assume the HSR just finds it too complicated to figure out. Plus, waiting for one passenger slows down the whole route and slows down all the passengers. Every delay bunches more buses together and leads to the "half-hour-nothing-three-in-a-row" problem.

Bus scheduling is hard. I mean, the HSR isn't successful by any reasonable metric and they need to do a heck of a lot better, but I respect the fact that they have a hard job.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2014 at 00:07:00 in reply to Comment 97337

I'm not sure what you're talking about- the MacNab Terminal has a regular timed-transfer pulse during rush hour where all Mountain Routes arrive to allow for an easy transfer. Mainline and Crosstown routes generally work with it, however the mainline routes specifically aren't meant to it since they have such a higher level of service (this is normal transit network design)

In the off-peak, the MacNab terminal has two pulses where half the buses pulse at the same time (roughly half on each of the West 5th Access and Jolley Cut).

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 01, 2014 at 00:08:15

A couple very simple ideas that would help enormously:

  • Another bus only lane on James from York to Hunter
  • A bus only lane on John from Hunter to King (we don't need left turn lanes at Jackson)
  • King St bus only lane should go from the Delta to Paradise
  • Main St can easily house a bus lane from Cootes to the Delta

It's time for some express routes in Hamilton. I'm sure folks can come up with various options, but here's a few:

  • 403express: via 403 starting at Ancaster Business Park, stop at the Meadowlands (a park and ride should be developed here), exit Aberdeen with stops at MIP and McMaster.
  • QEWexpress: start at above mentioned park&ride in Meadowlands, stop on Upper James (sheltered A-Line stop should be coordinated at Linc), stop at Limeridge Mall (park and ride should be developed), exit Dartnall with stops at Anchor (Carmens), Meadowlands East, head north on RHVP, stop at Queenston (B-line stop), stop at Barton (GO park&ride), QEW to new power centre w/ GO Station, to Eastgate Sq (Centennial has room for widening for bus-only lanes)

Keep in mind that along the 403, Linc and perhaps even Red Hill there is room for buses to have the right shoulder as transit-only lanes. These would be true express routes connecting massive portions of the city, and linking up massive portions of the city with the A and B-Lines.

Before anyone gasps at the cost to implement these ideas, consider we are more than willing to toss $50 million for a completely unnecessary clover-leaf at Hwy 5&6.

Personally I believe that the above mentioned bus lanes, park and rides and express routes would see a massive surge in transit ridership. I know people who live downtown and use transit to trek out to the Ancaster Business Park everyday. What a painful trip that curently is. Yet we have direct freeway access.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-02-01 00:20:15

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted February 04, 2014 at 09:52:16 in reply to Comment 97339

We’ve got that nifty map of the hypothetical BLAST system. Presumably there’s a reason someone put those lines on a map at some point, so why don’t Lines L; S; and T exist as express bus lines?

I like your thoughts. Bus lines on the expressways and the 403 would make a lot of sense. In most cities, this would probably already exist. Middle-class office workers deserve good transit service, too, so it only makes sense that places like Ancaster Business Park and McMaster are connected with subdivisions on the mountain and elsewhere. The fact that they’re not is a symptom of the Hamiltonian mentality that transit is for poor people.

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