I am a Niagara boy who has long had a little crush on the Hammer. Admittedly, it can be a bit of a weird place, but it is oozing with character. Since many a folk refer to the entire fruity, rusty peninsula as Hamilton-Niagara, you would think that these places – the one in which I grew up and the one I like to visit – are well-connected.
Not for transit riders, they’re not.
On our Ontario Bus Map 1.0, Niagara was connected to Hamilton by the thinnest of Megabus lines. As a reminder, our thinnest line was service at least once/week, but less than once/day. After cutting more frequent service a few years ago, Megabus’ Hamilton-Niagara service tied for first place for the “You probably do not even deserve a line” award: one trip in each direction per week. Recently I checked back at the Megabus schedule and could not even find that single weekly trip.
So now that Megabus has abdicated its utility, how could one get from Niagara to Hamilton?
Greyhound and VIA are not worth talking about here, but GO is. A while back I posted an article about the quizzical #12 bus. In the post-Megabus era, GO’s #12 bus is basically THE transit link for Hamilton-Niagara. Except that it doesn’t link.
I should be straight up in saying that I recognize that the travel patterns around Hamilton make network planning complex. Although I am still looking for numbers, there is reason to believe that most people leaving Niagara on public transport are headed to the actually-not-hostile-to-transit areas in (or close to) Toronto. I get it that it makes more sense to run all buses over the short cut that is the Burlington Skyway. A good 98% of my trips follow that pattern and at those times, I love the Skyway.
But there’s a catch: the balance is only 2% because these days I rarely go to Hamilton because it’s hard to get to.
To lay this out, when traveling from the #12 bus (i.e., the lifeline to Niagara) to Hamilton, these are the options that I see:
Option A: 1. Alight (aka, “get off”) at Stoney Creek, 2. take a Hamilton city bus (HSR #2) downtown
Option B: 1. Alight at or before Burlington GO, 2. take Burlington Transit express bus downtown (BT #101)
Option C: 1. Alight at Burlington GO, 2. take the LSW GO train to Aldershot, and then 3. GO bus #18 to downtown
Option D: 1. Alight at “Dundas & 407”, 2. take GO bus #47 (407 West, local) to downtown
As you can see, none of these options are worthy of consideration as connectors of Hamilton-Niagara.
I know that I am not the only one who judges the effectiveness of transit service according to how well it competes with the automobile. In that sense, the current situation is one where transit is a big loser. Using Niagara Falls Bus terminal as the starting point (therefore eliminating the travel to the station and any waiting time), according to GoogleMaps, transit typically takes 2-3 times as long as driving.
But what about the train, won’t that help?
As much as I like to call Niagara’s non-sensical adoration of green trains, this is one case where the train actually will help since the tracks head through the new West Harbour Station on James Street in Hamilton. This being said, my fellow train-obsessed Niagarans need to be able to get their head around this trade-off: when
headed to Toronto, vehicles going through Hamilton lose the benefit of the Skyway short-cut. They will also stop a gazillion times between Niagara and Toronto, which they should, because the Toronto-bound ridership demand is far higher at the major stations in the GTA.
I realize that I have offered no solution in this post; don’t worry, it’s coming. As of today, in 2017, my point is merely this: GO’s operations in Niagara are predominantly buses, yet the agency has not figured out how to link a region of 431 000 people with an essentially neighbouring city of 330 000. I am by no means a transit planner, but I am sufficiently geeked out to know a few principles and bring forth a few points.
Stay tuned, those principles and points are up next
(Update August 16, 2017: the second installment on Hamilton-Niagara is now posted here).
Addendum – 1 August 2017:
My tweet to announce this blog post has generated some traction.
Most of this is discussion about how Route 12 might be modified for improved access.
Some of it included facts that were news to me.
And some of it was predictable.
Thanks to all who care enough about this issue to discuss. By which I mean, contribute more than off-the-shelf answers of the “This is the way we do things because we do them this way” persuasion.