Do transit riders in Hamilton need a union?

A crowd gathered at the MacNab Transit Terminal Saturday afternoon to discuss the "big issues" facing transit riders in Hamilton, notably the threat of the end of the contentious bus-only lane through a stretch of downtown.

Meeting to organize union of transit riders and supporters draws 60 on Saturday afternoon

Hamilton lawyer Craig Burley put out a call for transit riders and supporters to meet Saturday to discuss forming a union of riders, and to discuss "big issues" facing transit riders including the potential end of a bus-only lane downtown. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

At the end of a big week in Hamilton for alternative transportation, about 60 people gathered in the MacNab Transit Terminal on Saturday afternoon to talk about the "big issues" facing transit riders in Hamilton and how to make sure the needs of transit users are considered.. 

Hamilton transit riders and supporters met Saturday to discuss the "big issues" facing transit riders and to rally support for the city's downtown bus-only lane. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
Attendees discussed the way transit is perceived by suburban residents in Hamilton, long waits or gaps in service especially on evenings and weekends, transit fares and funding disparities between the centre city and the outer rings. 

But the most urgent issue for many who came was the city's test of a bus-only lane on King Street East, a pilot project identified as a precursor to light rapid transit (LRT). The lane has drawn complaints from some business owners and drivers who say it clogs up traffic.

Adding to calls for people who support the bus lane to attend the council meeting on Wednesday at 5 p.m., some attendees posted a petition in support of the bus lane, and recommended others sign it and use the page to send emails to the councillors, copies of whose voting records on transit issues were circulated at the meeting. 

The Saturday meeting, organized mainly using social media, came after a week of discussions over the city's downtown bus-only lane pilot project, the roll-out of the first bikes in its bike share program and a popular and controversial ride-sharing company testing the waters to see if it will open in Hamilton.

Hamilton's bus lane survived a six-hour council debate earlier this week, but at least one councillor said there wasn't enough representation at city hall from people who actually take public transit. (John Rieti/CBC)
That two city councillors attended and arrived by bus marked a point of celebration for attorney Craig Burley, who considers himself a multi-modal commuter who takes HSR Route 5 daily.

Burley said it's important for transit riders to share their experiences and the reasons for their decision to take transit with city leaders — "to help not just ourselves but the community meet the goals it has set for itself." 

Ward 3 councillor Matthew Green and Ward 1 councillor Aidan Johnson attended the meeting and implored the people there to call other councillors and come to Wednesday's meeting to be part of the city's discussion of its bus lane. Last week, Green said advocacy from people who take transit has been absent from the discussion. 

'Strong class distinctions in Hamilton'

If the motion to kill the bus lane passes next week, staff will remove the signs, stop enforcing the lane and eventually repaint the street, which the city says will cost about $100,000. It has spent $160,000 on the project so far using part of a $30-million Metrolinx grant.

Johnson said Saturday he hopes to see the city instead pay to improve the bus lane, rather than pay to remove it.

Shawn Selway, a North End resident, rode his bike to the meeting. He said the contentious discussion about the bus lane speaks to remaining "strong class distinctions in Hamilton." 

"The councillors [against the bus lane] believe that if you could have a car, you would. And if you don't have a car, you're probably not worth listening to," Selway said. 

He said that misses the mark for people like himself, and for Stoney Creek's Don McLean, a longtime city hall activist who gave up his car in 2004 and rode the bus from Stoney Creek for the meeting.

Selway said a focus on transit and walkability is vital for "getting the lower city going again." 

With files from Samantha Craggs


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