An LRT car on display at Supercrawl in 2015. - Cathie Coward, The Hamilton Spectator

An LRT car on display at Supercrawl in 2015. – Cathie Coward, The Hamilton Spectator

Will unreliable HSR bus service kill the city’s bid to operate light rail transit?

It’s a popular question in the face of a dramatic spike in no-show buses — about 23 a day last month — unprecedented driver absenteeism and escalating tensions between the transit union and management.

Two months ago, city council got on board with a vocal local union campaign to ask the province to reconsider its plan to contract out operations and maintenance of a $1-billion, 14-kilometre LRT line proposed for Hamilton.

The province and transit agency Metrolinx, which had planned to solicit private bids to design, build and operate the LRT, say they are mulling the request.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said Thursday he expects an answer “in the next week or so,” but added he didn’t know if AWOL buses would factor into the provincial decision.

Coun. Arlene Vanderbeek, however, publicly pointed out the especially poor timing of the no-show bus crisis. “We’ve asked the province to let us run the LRT … all of a sudden, we can’t run the HSR,” she said during a meeting on the issue at City Hall.

Residents were quick to weigh in online, too.

“Wonder how this debacle is playing down at Metrolinx HQ as they ponder council request to have @hsr operate the #LRT,” tweeted Ward 8 resident Paul Seczek.

Brad Clark, the former Ward 9 councillor and a Tory transportation minister, also pointed to a “very problematic” open letter from the transit union that labels HSR management “incompetent.” “Province could seize on this letter as a reason to reject local operation or even stall LRT,” he said on Twitter.

Hamilton Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin acknowledged in a brief message he has spoken to the mayor about the HSR. “No doubt their current situation does not reflect well. Let’s hope it’s an anomaly.”

Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Bob Nichols didn’t address the HSR performance question, instead reiterating the province is still “working collaboratively with the city to deliver the project within the committed timelines.”

Jamie Robinson, communications head for rapid transit projects at Metrolinx, said the agency is aware of the HSR’s “recent issues,” but declined to say if they factor into LRT discussions.

Eric Tuck, president of the local transit union, said it’s possible the province might use the suddenly public HSR turmoil “as an excuse” to reject public operation of the LRT.

But he argued the debate over problems at the HSR represents “a perfect example of why you want transit to be publicly operated and maintained.”

Tuck argued residents and riders have the ability to “publicly and politically call out and hold accountable those who are not maintaining the standards or meeting your expectations.”

Under a privately run system, he said, “they answer to the shareholders, not the people.”

Source: The Hamilton Spectator