Hamilton council should rethink some of its HSR cuts, says transit union

Councillors voted to reduce service on some routes to save $800,000 as they try to keep taxes low. The union representing drivers has some suggestions.

Councillors voted to reduce service on some routes to save $800K in an effort to avoid a big tax hike

Councillors voted to reduce service on some routes to save $800,000 this year, and $1.7 million next year. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The head of Hamilton's transit union says he hopes city council changes its mind about cutting nearly 20,000 hours of HSR service, including one route where he says the cuts will "[put] people at risk."

Eric Tuck, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107, says councillors should have consulted the public and the union before voting for about $800,000 in cuts to underperforming routes.

Those routes include scrapping weekday service on the 42 route that goes to the Mohawk 4 Ice Centre, reducing the frequency on some routes and eliminating service on the 3 Cannon route after 10 p.m., among other changes.

Tuck said he supports some of the cuts. The 42 route has fewer than five riders per hour at peak periods, he said, so the numbers don't support the weekday service.

The Cannon route, he said, is used by people who travel alone and come home from late shifts downtown and walk neighbourhoods in the dark.

"By cutting this service," he said, "you're putting people at risk."

He'd rather see the city charge a nominal fee for the Winona Peach Festival shuttle, or monetize the summertime 99 waterfront trolley that travels James Street, both of which councillors turned down Wednesday.

The city is also doing a "(Re)envision HSR" project to learn what would encourage more people to ride the bus, and that report is due in June. Council should wait for the results of that, Tuck said.

"The timing is way off," he said. "I don't think a lot of thought has been put into this."

Council is in the midst of trimming its operating budget, which has a draft increase of about three per cent for the average household. The budget is due to be finalized on April 1.

Councillors voted in late February to get a list of underperforming routes, which staff brought back Wednesday with a list of suggested cuts. That included getting rid of the free summertime trolley that goes from downtown to the waterfront, and charging a small fee for the Winona Peach Festival.

Dan McKinnon, general manager of public works, said Wednesday's changes won't have much impact on riders, but "the timing is terrible" given the timing of re-envisioning project.

Tuck says they also won't result in job losses.

The 2020 operating budget already includes $4.23 million in service improvements over two years, primarily on the Mountain, with projected fare revenue of $3.55 million.

Tom Jackson (Ward 6, east Mountain) said given the minimal impact of the cuts, he supports them in order to keep taxes low. He was willing to offer up the 42 route, he said, as a "Ward 6 contribution" to make that happen.

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12, Ancaster) agreed with Jackson.

"We simply have to start making some moves," he said. When fully implemented, these changes will save $1,716,000 in 2021. "It's time to make a tough call."

Councillors Maureen Wilson (Ward 1) and Nrinder Nann (Ward 3) voted against the cuts.

Tuck says he knows there are savings to be had. He just wants councillors to take another look at how they're finding them. And he'd like the drivers to be consulted.

"I'm all about data, but it can't be the be all and end all," he said. "Some of these, I do not see as a wise decision."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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