The Person On The Bus: A Call to Organize Transit Riders and Supporters

I hope the users and riders and supporters of transit in Hamilton can band together, and organize, so that our voice can be better heard.

By Craig Burley
Published January 17, 2015

Two days ago, I called a public meeting for 4pm today, starting at the MacNab Street Terminal, to explore a union of Hamiltonians who use public transit services in our city, and those who support it.

No, it wasn't about the bus lane.

Now it's true that the immediate spur for my call was the comment, raised by Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green and echoed by others, that the voices most missed in the debate over the future of the King Street Transit-Only Lane were those of riders.

I had noticed this too. I, and others I know who are regular users of HSR or GO or DARTS, had contacted councillors and written about our views and tried to make our voices heard. But in the main, the voice of the rider was far more muted than those of the dozens of non-transit-using drivers whose complaints were included in the staff report on the bus lane.

It was certainly more muted than those of the councillors of wards far from the lane itself, most of whom did not address the concerns of transit users in their remarks.

Is this reasonable?

But, as I say, it's not about the bus lane.

Transit riders endure a million small slights. It is part of the bargain of commuting cheaply, greenly, and best of all gloriously free from the dehumanizing rage of city driving and the endless peonage of always working for your car.

Yes, a million tiny slights. Sprays of slush from passing cars while we wait. Stickers covering the bus windows so we can't see the streets outside. The crush of bodies at morning rush hour, or early evening, or even Saturday afternoon. A clock at the MacNab Terminal, where we will meet today, that is broken after a year's service. A Hamilton Street Railway that has deep and systemic problems and dysfunctions.

And, of course, the endlessly patronizing calls to be happy with our (tax-subsidized!) service, which is - as Hamilton's unofficial motto has it - Good Enough For The Likes Of You.

Is this reasonable?

Alone, we are not capable of effecting much. I'm a complainer, an agitator, a mouthy lawyer accustomed to smacking tables and getting my way. But against a city bureaucracy and a remote council and many entrenched interests from those who plaster our downtown with parking lots to those who earn millions repairing our roads, to those who just like to drive through the city unimpeded, I can't make much headway on my own. And neither can you.

I try, of course; I write, I reason, I tweet more than any sane person should. But without organization, I can't take much time to go and delegate to council on transit matters. I can't organize research. I can't go out and speak to all those other riders, around the city, who face transit issues different to mine, often ones I don't even know about.

Political power, it is sometimes said, is apportioned on the basis of who shows up. But one person can't show up for everything. An institution, an organization, a group, can show up for a lot. If your voice is not heard, it can be magnified a dozen times, a thousand times, by organizing a group through which collective action can be taken.

By ourselves? We are told: hey, your voices can't be heard. Even by our allies.

Is this reasonable?

The City of Hamilton has set longterm targets for increasing transit use. It is the only realistic way to reduce the air pollution that threatens our public health, reduce the enormous expenditures on our roads and traffic infrastructure that threaten the city's long-term financial health, and reduce the traffic congestion that seems to threaten drivers' sanity.

But we're not close to hitting those targets, and we're falling further behind in the required pace. Transit use is not, on a longterm per capita basis, growing in Hamilton, yet we aim to grow it significantly.

And this is, I argue, because transit is not seen as an attractive choice. And furthermore, there has been no serious, concerted, collective effort at making it an attractive choice.

Is this reasonable?

There is a concept, in our common law tradition inherited from and shared with England and Wales, for measuring reasonableness. Often in the law, we need to consider what is reasonable for someone to do, or reasonable for them to think.

In a now-famous case (Hall v. Brooklands Auto-Racing Club) the Lord Justice Greer of the Court of King's Bench said, we should find that standard in the acts and thoughts and predilections of the reasonable person.

One person, the standard of reasonable behaviour. Act like that ordinary person, the law says, and the law will consider you to be acting reasonably. It's a good thing to be. The ordinary person's reason and common sense is still a good guide to what we ought to do.

Lord Justice Greer called that person "the man on the Clapham omnibus".

We now recognize, long after 1933, that the reasonable person might not be male. We doubt, at least when talking at Raise The Hammer, that she'll be in Clapham; and we no longer call it (wonderfully quaint, though, isn't it?) an omnibus.

But the reasonable person is still The Person on the Bus.

So no, this meeting, at least for me, is not about the bus lane. It's about The Person on the Bus.

It is not reasonable for us to continue on our current path, with a shrinking and less desirable transit service that takes us further from our stated goals as a city. I hope the users and riders and supporters of transit in Hamilton can band together, and organize, so that our voice can be better heard.

I especially want that voice to express how what we do, our choice to take transit, can be a more attractive choice. For us, and for others, now and in the future.

It's time we heard from The Person on the Bus.

That's reasonable.

See you at 4.

Craig Burley is a tax lawyer in Hamilton. You can follow him on twitter @craig_burley. Comments here are not legal advice.


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By mel (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 14:39:25

Is it feasible to survey the HSR ridership? I am a researcher (sociologist) and polling those who use transit seems logical.

I realise that any survey would likely not be condoned by 'officials' (city council and/or HSR) and therefore would pose a challenge to collecting a representative sample but not insurmountable.

Easy enough to determine how many surveys would be required to be statistically valid (likely around 1,000, more or less) and offering it on multiple platforms (online, paper, in person) would improve the legitimacy of such an undertaking.

It is difficult to determine what transit riders actually think about their transit service without asking them.


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By jason (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 16:54:43

fantastically written piece Craig. Thx for organizing this. Long overdue in the Hammer.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 16:59:27

Scroll down to the transit proposals....interesting to see they were all supported by majority of those who responded. Top item was supported the most strongly, yet here we are attempting to make streets less safe for all users just so cars can go a bit faster.

Conley, Vanderbeek and Duvall all said they "strongly support" pushing province for more $ to expand bus system in Hamilton. Ummm, quick wins money from the province is sitting here waiting to be used to fix the bus lane, which has proven to enhance our bus system.

All 3 also said they support safe streets for all users.

Comment edited by jason on 2015-01-17 17:05:59

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By mel (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 18:00:30

I was at the meeting but noted a number of different sign up sheets being shunted about -- I was only able to add my contact info to one of the lists.

Will there be a posting of a compilation of these various lists somewhere or how will people be able to add their name to an area of interest?

thanks for getting things moving!

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 18:55:25 in reply to Comment 107982

Hi Mel, The lists are being combined into one contact group.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 20:07:28

How well did the event go?

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 21:08:11 in reply to Comment 107984

Brilliantly. We go 59 names to our sheets and there are more who have contacted us. Terrific energy in the room, lots of stories, a fire hose of ideas and desires. Thanks to all who turned out.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 21:48:14 in reply to Comment 107986

I signed the petition but wasn't able to attend. How do I get my name on one of these lists?

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By question (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2015 at 08:02:27

I think the question needs to be put forth to the anti-TOL/ LRT councillors: what would it take for you to support these public transit initiatives? What kind of evidence? What kind of backing from Hamiltonians would convince you of the need to support these changes?

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By Harry (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2015 at 11:51:37 in reply to Comment 107993

Has anyone sent a letter directly to the anti-TOL, anti-LRT councillors directly trying to engage them in a conversation about why they don't support these initiatives in light of the evidence?

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2015 at 09:12:37

I sent a note to Craig Burley.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 18, 2015 at 23:29:20 in reply to Comment 107995

Hope I got your message and, if not, all my contact info is on my website Thanks.

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