Sahra Soudi's HSR problems aren't just a matter of missed buses or jammed routes. Sometimes, they bring the threat of violence.

People have hurled racial insults at her. Once, someone poured hot coffee on her mom. Soudi says she's seen swastikas and "kill all Muslims" doodled with black Sharpie. She's complained about it, only to get on the same bus later that week and see it still there.

Soudi wants diversity training for drivers to deal with such incidents. She also wants a better complaint system for non-English speakers. For her, and particularly her Somali Muslim mother, HSR is not a safe space.

"When we're talking about fixing the HSR, we should be talking about who is the HSR for?" said Soudi, 20. "How are we supposed to fix a system if it's already failing marginalized people?"

Matthew Green

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, brought his son Langston to the meeting. Transit, Green says, will most impact the next generation. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Soudi was among the roughly 25 HSR riders who spoke up at an Environment Hamilton emergency transit riders meeting at city hall Tuesday.

Complaints ranged from wheelchair users being treated "like second class citizens" to why drivers blast the air conditioning on cool nights.

Environment Hamilton organized the meeting after a city report this month showing 589 buses were cancelled on 28 different routes in October.

That report also showed absenteeism among drivers was 19 per cent during a period in October – most because of short or long-term disabilities. As a result, some drivers are working as much as 68 hours per week.

Last week, city council agreed to hire as many as 58 drivers in the coming months to deal with the problem. But many interviewed Tuesday said it doesn't fix the issue. 

Ian Borsuk

Ian Borsuk of Environment Hamilton looks back at an LRT protestor who held up a sign at the transit riders' meeting Tuesday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"It's a start," said Sheldon Albrecht, executive member with Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107. "It's something.

"Short of me having to drive two buses at the same time, which is impossible, we'll take anything."

​Some of the complaints Tuesday were about specific stops. Arthur Gallant, for example, lives at the base of the Jolley Cut and says the northbound bus often overshoots his stop. He's never sure if the driver will let him off, or if he'll have to continue right up the escarpment.

But Soudi's presentation was most alarming. She doesn't necessarily blame individual drivers, she said. The system needs to improve.

sheldon albrecht

"Short of me having to drive two buses at the same time ... we’ll take anything," says Sheldon Albrecht, an executive member with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"I don't feel safe," she said, "and I don't feel like the bus driver or the HSR would do anything if that were to happen to me."

HSR drivers don't receive specific diversity training, but do receive the same corporate training as other city employees in regards to diversity, harassment, violence in the workplace and other matters, said transit head Debbie Dalle Vedove. There is a protocol in place for dealing with such incidents. It involves the police though, and Soudi said there should also be an option that doesn't.

HSR has installed cameras on 186 of its 251 buses, and Dalle Vedove hopes those help. Those cameras started operating on Friday. The city hopes to install them on the other buses this month. The whole system cost about $1.7 million.

Dalle Vedove said she hasn't heard complaints similar to Soudi's. Her management team is compiling feedback from Tuesday, though, and it will incorporate Soudi's comments.