Keep it, maybe tweak it but definitely don’t delete it — that’s the advice several regular bus riders would like to pass along to city council.
The King St. bus lane, a pilot project identified as a precursor to light rapid transit (LRT), survived after a six-hour debate at city hall this week, but councillors are still considering scrapping it due to complaints from drivers and business owners.
One key voice missing from the debate, something pointed out on Twitter by Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Green, was the people who actually ride the bus. So we asked.
"I don’t see why they should get rid of it," McMaster student Tiyana Estick said as she waited for the bus near Jackson Square.
Estick said because she just moved to the city it’s hard to tell how much faster the bus lane makes her trip — for comparison, CBC Hamilton staged a race between bus and car — but she does think the dedicated lane is a good idea. "It is a busy area," she said.
Two other westbound bus riders who make daily trips between the core and Dundas and Ancaster said the city should absolutely keep the lanes. Both said the lane works especially well at rush hour.
Surprisingly, not all bus riders were 100 per cent behind having their own lane.
"I’d say no, as much as I like it," said a bus rider named Moe when asked if the city should keep the lane.
"There’s a whole thing about parking … right now I understand people are a little bit pissed off."
Moe said he thinks the bus lane is a progressive move by the city, but that ultimately the city needs to tweak the plan to make it work better for everyone.
Does Hamilton need a bus rider's union?
While riders have valuable insight into HSR’s service and transit infrastructure in general, there is no organized group of public transit supporters. Hamilton lawyer Craig Burley is hoping to change that.
"The bus lane debate has really crystalised the need for transit users to organize," said Burley.
This Saturday at 4 p.m. at the McNab Terminal, Burley will hold an informal meeting of what he’s hoping will become a "union of transit users and supporters."
Burley, a lawyer who considers himself a multi-modal commuter who takes HSR Route 5 daily, says without a unified group, it may be harder for transit users to get heard.
Most councillors are drivers, he said, creating a natural "commonality of experience" with constituents who also drive. And, because there are more drivers than transit users, it’s tempting to cater to the majority.
'We have a choice'
What the city needs, Burley said, is for the city to make transit a "desireable choice for people."
'Hamilton was built for cars, fundamentally, so it was nice to have something for the other people that didn’t have a car to drive around in.' - Omar Boursalie, bus rider
He also says the bus lane debate is about more than just some lines on King St.
"We have a choice here as a city. We’ve got a choice to seize the open hand from the province," Burley said, referring to the $15 billion Ontario has earmarked for transit development.
"We can either seize it and work with them, or we can choose to back away and say 'we’re not ready'."
Burley’s attempt to team transit users up may be coming at the right time. The LRT debate was frequently discussed during last fall’s general election and is still on the mind of some people at the bus stop.
"I’ve been following the LRT debate for a while," said Omar Boursalie as he waited for a westbound bus.
Boursalie said he likes the bus lane, and while drivers may complain about it: "they have four lanes already."
"Hamilton was built for cars, fundamentally, so it was nice to have something for the other people that didn’t have a car to drive around in," he said.