City will add 58 more HSR drivers to curb absenteeism and bus no-shows

Hamilton city council will cast an emergency vote Wednesday to hire 58 more bus drivers after news that some current drivers are working 68-hour weeks.

The city will also turn Queen Street into a two-way street from Aberdeen to Main

Hamilton city council voted to add the full-time equivalent of 58 more HSR drivers in light of high overtime costs and hundreds of missed routes. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton will hire 58 more HSR drivers in the coming months to prevent the hundreds of bus no-shows every month, and current drivers from working 68-hour work weeks.

City council voted to hire the full-time equivalent of 58 HSR drivers, increasing the number of drivers on the road by 12 per cent. That will increase the complement to as much as 542.3 drivers, up from the current 484.3.

"Let's not allow any regression in customer service," said Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6. "Let's try to do what we can collectively to move this department forward and provide the regular consistent running times that our riders expect."

The move comes after news HSR's absentee rate in October was about 19 per cent. That means existing drivers are working long hours of overtime to make up for it. In October, HSR cancelled 589 buses on 28 routes because of driver absences.

City managers and the president of the drivers' union — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 — say this should help fix that problem.

​It will cost about $3,947,942, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who moved the motion. But that's $786,624 less than what the city is currently spending on overtime.

News of the missed routes was just the latest in what transit advocates are calling a growing crisis. Some say city council has caused it by years of chronic underfunding. Other councillors point to falling ridership numbers, which makes them hesitant to invest in transit.

Environment Hamilton will hold an emergency riders meeting on Nov. 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. at city hall council chambers.

In a statement Wednesday, transit director Debbie Dalle Vedove apologized to riders for recent no-shows.

"I'd like to apologize to our customers for the service cancellations they have experienced recently," she said. "Please know that ensuring our transit system is reliable for our customers is my top priority. We are taking immediate steps to restore full service and also to plan better to ensure we don't experience these types of cancellations again in the future."

Here's what else happened during the meeting:

  • The city will convert Queen Street to two way between Aberdeen and Main streets. "Hallelujah!" called out Coun. Aidan Johnson of Ward 1 when it passed. 
  • Terry Whitehead (Ward 8) has deferred his motion to look at what it would cost for the city to restore the Cross of Lorraine, a red cross that sits atop the escarpment, to "its former glory." The cross, formerly glowing, has been dark for years. Whitehead wants to consult with Inuit leaders first, since Inuit people were brought to Hamilton for tuberculosis treatment. 
  • Council approved Whitehead's motion to look at turning the Garth reservoir into "a winter destination." He'll spend as much as $200,000 from his area rating fund to look at options.

Who voted in favour of hiring more drivers

Aidan Johnson (Ward 1), Jason Farr (2), Matthew Green (3), Sam Merulla (4), Chad Collins (5), Tom Jackson (6), Terry Whitehead (8), Doug Conley (9), Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), Arlene VanderBeek (13), Robert Pasuta (14)

Who was opposed

Lloyd Ferguson (12)

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About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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