Environment Hamilton has set up an online fundraiser to persuade city councillors voting on important transit-related matters to ride the bus to get a better feel for what the service is like.
With a title of "Throw Council on the Bus," the campaign challenges councillors — who recently voted to remove a downtown transit lane — to commute by bus for a week.
“What would you pay to see your favourite councillor ride the HSR?” asks the website. The donations will be used to buy transit passes for Hamiltonians in need.
'If five days by bus out of 40 is too difficult for our city councillors, this not only reflects poorly on the transit system as a whole, but points to the extent to which some councillors may be disconnected from the daily reality of thousands of Hamiltonians.' - Ned Nolan, Environment Hamilton
The campaign is one day old and has raised about $3,000 by late Wednesday afternoon.
But already, councillors with the most pledges say they can't — or in one case, won't — take the bus for a week.
Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5, who is leading the pledges after moving to kill the downtown transit lane last week, says he can't take the bus every day because of family obligations.
"I drive my kids to school every day," he said.
Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 says he works out of his car, so "that would be like telling me not to go to work."
Environment Hamilton says the five days don't have to be in a row, just five days over a two-month period. Merulla says he'll try to do that, and is donating $350 to the cause.
"I'm a strong supporter of public transit," he said. "I'm not sure why people would want try to convert the converted."
Mayor Fred Eisenberger says he'll do the challenge. Coun. Judi Partridge of Ward 15 in Flamborough can't access transit where she lives. Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 was angry about the campaign, saying he won't bow to pressure from one small group of political activists.
The online campaign uses the hashtag #BusaMove
Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6 wasn't sure either. "My schedule is very hectic at this time of year."
The campaign comes on the heels of a 9-7 vote last week to dismantle a two-kilometre transit-only lane along King Street. Council is also grappling with the notion of a 13-kilometre light rail transit line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. Mayor Fred Eisenberger said Monday that the province has pledged full capital funding for it.
The Environment Hamilton campaign is the latest in a series of community-led pro-transit actions. About 60 transit riders gathered to form a union ahead of the bus lane, and about 150 of them wore yellow as they gathered to hear the vote. The group also started a petition.
So far, Whitehead has garnered the most pledges, followed by Collins.
Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 takes the bus every day. He's fortunate to live near a convenient transit line, he said.
"I couldn't imagine a councillor from Flamborough having to take the trip in, although I can understand why the public would want council to have a lived experience perspective of transit."
Green said he uses the time on the bus to unwind. He doesn't have kids, he added, and that he "completely understands" Collins's explanation.
Ned Nolan of Environment Hamilton says the organization is sensitive to the fact that most councillors rely on cars for their daily routines.
"We’re asking that councillors make an effort to choose just five days in a two-month period to use the bus instead," he said. "That is not a particularly onerous task and we have intentionally allowed for the bus-only days to be non-consecutive and for drop-offs and pick-ups at the nearest stop to their homes.
"If five days by bus out of 40 is too difficult for our city councillors, this not only reflects poorly on the transit system as a whole, but points to the extent to which some councillors may be disconnected from the daily reality of thousands of Hamiltonians."
On Monday, Eisenberger said that Premier Kathleen Wynne, in a meeting with him, pledged full capital funding for LRT. But some councillors worried that Wynne didn’t say that herself, instead using “rapid transit” publicly. Others don’t want LRT even with full capital funding.
The effort is also using the Twitter hashtag #BusaMove.