Transit has changed 'potentially forever' in Hamilton, new COVID-19 document warns

More city services offered online. More people working from home. Masks to enter arenas and recreation centres, and a transit system that's changed "potentially forever."

The document seems to forecast reductions to HSR

A new city document about how Hamilton will recover from COVID-19 warns of potential drastic changes to HSR. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

More city services offered online. More people working from home. Masks to enter arenas and recreation centres, and a transit system that's changed "potentially forever."

This will be the new COVID-19 reality in the city of Hamilton, says Paul Johnson, head of the city's emergency operations centre. And it will be like that for a while.

Johnson's team released a 58-page document Friday, "Hamilton Reopens: A Roadmap to Our New Reality," that outlines what city services will look like in the near future. Services are divided into three categories: the early stages, gradual recovery, and "our new reality." It's possible, he said, that the city will bounce back and forth between them depending on the spread of COVID-19.

Right now, the city is in "the early stages." Municipal buildings, including libraries and rec centres, are closed. City programs are cancelled. Next week, the city will return to weekly leaf and yard waste pickup after cancelling and then staggering it during March and April.

New openings as of today: skate parks, tennis courts, pickleball courts and municipal golf courses — as long as people stay two metres away from each other. Anyone who's paid for a summer camp will be refunded, Johnson said.

Police and bylaw are enforcing physical distancing through a city bylaw, and a provincial emergency order restricts gatherings of more than five people.

When facilities do reopen, there will be signs, floor stickers and arrows on the floor directing the flow of traffic, Johnson said. More services will be available online. More city workers will be wearing masks, and the city is discouraging them from sharing desks, phones, chairs or keyboards. 

As for transit, the "new reality" stage opens up the service for travel that isn't essential. Bus drivers will have masks, and riders will be encouraged to wear masks when they can't keep a two-metre distance, the document says. The maximum number of people who can ride a bus right now is 10, but the document says that will change as public health guidelines do.

The document also seems to forecast transit cuts, and a transit system that has changed "potentially forever." Ridership has dropped dramatically since the start of the pandemic, and riders haven't paid fares since late March. 

"The delivery of public transit will be fundamentally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic," the document says. "Many of the measures put in place to help keep customers and operators safe during the emergency, and to ensure physical distancing on buses, has dramatically decreased the capacity of our transit system.

"A reduced level of service and significantly lower ridership, combined with customers choosing different ways to move around our city without having to be close to others, means public transit has been changed – potentially forever. As we look to the future, our service plans and strategies for delivering public transit will need to be adjusted to the demands of customers and our community."

At a media briefing Friday, Johnson said the city's waterfalls, including Crooks Hollow, Spencer Gorge, Dundas Peak, Spencer Adventure Trail, Tew Falls, Webster Falls, Tiffany Falls and Devil's Punchbowl, are closed because it's too hard to keep a physical distance at them. Anyone who visits them will be trespassing, he said, and bylaw officers will lay a $250 fine for that.

Public Health Services officials also started recommending that people wear face masks in public this week. 

COVID-19 cases, meanwhile, are taking more than a month to double in Hamilton. Since Thursday, six more people have tested positive for the virus.

Overall, the city has 613 cases of COVID-19, of which 606 are confirmed and seven are probable. Thirty people have died and 415 have recovered.


Two more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Brant/Brantford, bringing the area to 105 cases after sitting at 103 for days. Ninety-three people have recovered, four are in hospital and three have died.


One more person has tested positive for COVID-19 in Haldimand and Norfolk counties, for a total of 208. Of those, 89 people have recovered and 31 have died. 


There are 680 COVID-19 cases (606 confirmed, 74 probable) in Halton, an increase of 10 since Thursday. Of those, 503 people have recovered and 25 have died. There are still 133 cases in Burlington (117 confirmed, 16 probable), the same as Thursday, and seven deaths. 


One more person has tested positive for COVID-19 in Niagara since Thursday, for a total of 624 cases. Of those, 470 people have recovered and 58 have died. There are 96 active cases right now. 


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca