The importance of accessible transportation for McMaster students living in Hamilton

Unless we have political leadership on the issue of transit, Hamilton will continue to lag in building municipal sustainability and creating liveable communities. Economic prosperity will not settle where people can't go.” - Margaret Shkimba, The Hamilton Spectator.

Hamilton has many different regions, mainly being split by the east, west and the escarpment. There is a large population of McMaster students living in these areas that rely on the Hamilton Street Railway services (HSR) for their daily commutes to and from McMaster University. Over the past 3 years of being a student at McMaster, it has been difficult to ignore the outcries, complaints, and frustration let out by other students with regards to the HSR. Despite the many complaints, I will be focusing on the lack of buses and routes available for those residing within Hamilton but not within the student housing community.

On a good day with little traffic and no bus delays, a McMaster student living on the Hamilton escarpment or in Stoney Creek commutes on average, more than 3 hours and takes 4+ buses a day. When comparing this with the commute time of a student traveling to Mississauga, it is surprisingly the same. It seems unacceptable that someone commuting within their own city should experience the same travel time as someone commuting outside the city. Creating express routes to and from these main areas is a reasonable method for ensuring faster transportation.

Students living within Ancaster face many struggles when traveling to and from McMaster as well. Although it is only a 12 minute drive, taking a bus involves walking for up to 15-30 minutes to the nearest bus stop and proceeding to take the only bus available that goes straight down to McMaster (about 20 minutes). Ancaster has only two roads with public transportation. How reasonable does this seem for an entire residential area with 3+ middle schools and a high school? A bus route travelling the surrounding roads and taking riders to those two main roads, is needed for better access to these schools. A problem I face everyday is the reality of having the one bus that does exist – the 5C - drive past me while waiting for it on campus. It has happened many times before due to the excessive amount of students occupying the space. The bus holds many students who exit within the next 5-10 minutes. These students have 3 other bus options to take, all of which come 5 minutes after each other. Meanwhile, Ancaster students have to wait 30-45 minutes for their next opportunity to get home. Assigning a bigger bus for the 5C route ensures that all students get home on time. 

The issue with the HSR goes far beyond convenience. It branches into sustainability and the livelihood of Hamilton. Driving is obviously the more convenient way to commute but that is not a luxury many students can afford. The price of parking and maintaining a car is hard to juggle with other student payments. Getting rid of car use and implementing better public transportation is just one way to contribute to the positive movement to sustainability by reducing carbon emissions. According to the Hamilton spectator, ridership in Hamilton has risen only 3.4%, whilst neighbouring municipalities have risen 11-68%. Creating better public transportation ensures that this rate will increase, and will reduce the negative experiences and stigma surrounding the HSR. Hamilton has high ambitions when it comes to Light Rail Transit, but the HSR remains the same – with the addition of shiny new ad monitors and separate front seats.

The city of Hamilton’s public works department transit division uses the “triple bottom line” method to evaluate proposals and changes. Changes are made that create value across all three bottom lines of community, environment, and economical implications. They ask the following questions when conducting an evaluation; is the community, environment, and economical well being enhanced? Does the option being suggested make Hamilton a city of choice for high performance public servants? Creating more bus routes through Ancaster and increasing the capacity for the 5C seems to check all 5 conditions as being met. By creating easier and better methods of transportation, it will benefit individuals commuting to and from areas within Hamilton, maintain McMaster and Hamilton’s promise for creating a greener world, and increase urbanization and ranking of the city.