Special Report: Light Rail

I Am a Lifelong Transit User, and I Support Light Rail

The overwhelming majority of students who would ever consider staying here after their studies are the ones who have explored the city - and the way they do that right now is by riding on packed-like-sardines buses.

By Eric Gillis
Published October 26, 2016

The following is the text of my delegation to the October 25, 2016 General Issues Committee meeting on Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) project.

Councillors, Mr. Mayor, I come before you today to give you the perspective of someone who has spent over two decades using and relying upon our transit system.

Let me be clear: I'm not a traffic engineer, and I'm certainly not a City Planner, and I'm not intending on coming up here and pretending otherwise. I'm just a born-and-raised resident of Hamilton whose used our public transit system extensively.

In fact, coming from a working-class single-parent family, I've relied on our public transit system for the better part of my life.

Growing up, my family didn't own a car - we couldn't afford one. That meant when I was an infant and my mom took me out to one of our city's many beautiful parks, stroller and all were loaded onto an HSR bus. When I was a child and my mom needed to drop me off at daycare, she took me there on an HSR bus.

When we went to get groceries, it was on an HSR bus. A few years down the road, when I was a little older, I got to my local highschool, St. Jean de Brebeuf - on, you guessed it - an HSR bus.

During my time at Brebeuf I got my first job, and I got there on an HSR bus. It took awhile, given that it was in Burlington, but I depended and relied on our transit system to make it happen.

When I graduated from Brebeuf, I decided to attend McMaster University so that I could stay in the city I had been born in and love. And I got there, again, on an HSR bus.

Given this, I think it's fair to say that I know all-too-well what it means to live, work and play in Hamilton when you depend and rely upon our public transit system. And let me tell you, Councillors and Mr. Mayor, it's not great.

I've seen firsthand the good that our public transit system can do for Hamilton's community as a whole, but I've also seen what a transit system that is left to falter and put by the wayside can do to it too. And frankly, relying upon our city's transit system is frustrating.

Examples of this frustration include:

These experiences are frustrating, but more frustrating is that still, today, we hear from some City Councillors - many of which who don't use public transit - that we don't need LRT. That we can just throw more buses at the problem and it will go away.

That's simply not grounded in reality.

I said before I'm not a traffic engineer, but I am someone who was elected repeatedly as a member of the McMaster Students Union - and this organization, as I'm sure you all know, has a contract with the HSR, in which they receive additional buses on top of the regular service levels.

In terms of alleviating overcapacity buses, it does not work. Rather than having rapid service with buses arriving at their set schedules, we see buses stacking behind each other all at once despite being purposefully scheduled not to do so and leaving several passengers behind because of it. It is inefficient and entirely avoidable by building the LRT.

Speaking of McMaster, this City makes a point of trying to market to McMaster undergraduates that they should consider staying after their studies and make a life for themselves here in Hamilton. It's a smart strategy, but words need to be backed up by actions.

The overwhelming majority of students who would ever consider staying here after their studies are the ones who have explored the city - and the way they do that right now is by riding on packed-like-sardines buses.

It's not a pleasant experience, in fact it's off-putting, and if this city isn't willing to invest in them, why on earth would they invest in us?

At my current place of employment, a local web design agency that actively recruits exactly the young professionals we're trying to keep here in Hamilton, the overwhelming majority of us don't drive to work.

A lot of us don't even own cars. Most of us either walk or get there on public transit. And every single one of us wants to see the LRT built. Because we know it's the right kind of development that puts the experience of riding public transit, and the people who use it, as a priority.

Right now, the city fails to do that. And in doing so, it fails it's residents, fails to believe in itself and its own potential, and fails to move forward.

Let's put an end to that. Hamiltonians deserve better. Let's move Hamilton forward. Let's stop treating public transit users like second-class citizens, and let's build this LRT.

Eric Gillis is a born-and-raised Hamiltonian, and a student at McMaster University who is very passionate about politics.


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