Hamilton is the major population node in the southwest GTA (Greater Toronto Area). Most transit services in this quadrant of the GTA have stops somewhere in, or near, Hamilton, but there is a problem: these services often do not connect with each other.
I have long sorta’ known about the disconnect in services, but the multi-nodal aspect of the problem never jumped out at me until working on the post about the disconnect between Hamilton and Niagara. Then, as I was creating a schematic map of the services in the area, the situation became obvious.
Essentially, the intercity transit arrangement around Hamilton is a collection of hubs. With the exception of Downtown Hamilton,* these are GO stations that are shared with other services.
*I opted to represent the downtown area as a single hub for simplicity. Most services use the Hamilton GO Centre, but otherwise express buses usually make frequent stops along King or Main. Also, some GO services use West Harbour Station instead of/in addition to the GO Centre.
Despite the convergence of multiple services in the Hamilton area, it is common for these services to call in to only one or two of the hubs. Given that the hubs are generally busy, it is certainly possible to access each hub from each other hub. This is not a You cannot get there from here issue. Instead, it is a Getting there from here is annoying and arduous issue. While some movements are facilitated, others are hampered by the need for multiple connections with unfortunate timing.
In the last post, I identified that it was needlessly complicated to get from Niagara to downtown Hamilton. This is also true of a trip from Niagara to McMaster University. More painfully, not being able to easily get to these places is a problem that compounds. This initial design flaw then complicates travel between Niagara and 1. Pearson Airport, 2. Cambridge-Kitchener-Waterloo, and 3. Brantford.
Remember this example – we’ll come back to it.
I could also add Guelph to this list, but with the loss of direct travel between Guelph and anywhere in the Hamilton area, this is a trip that could effectively be seen as impossible. (Unless one travels into downtown Toronto and then heads back out again – imagine if our road network forced drivers to take such circuitous paths!?!).
Briefly, if we were to try and make any of the three complicated trips above using only regional/inter-city public transport, they would all begin with a trip on the #12 to a station in Burlington, either Burlington GO (train) station or Dundas/Highway 407 Park & Ride. From there, an additional 1-2 vehicles are needed to even get to one of the hubs that serves as a departure point (i.e., downtown Hamilton, Aldershot, or McMaster). Making these connections is not only an issue of number of transfers, but also the wait involved with each transfer. Since the #12 is timed according to the Lakeshore West (LSW) trains to/from Toronto in the east, transfers in other directions are often randomly timed.
An example of travel between Niagara Falls and Hamilton GO
With the new “12B” express buses, traveling between Niagara Falls and Burlington GO station has improved significantly. As to be expected with an express bus, travel times now rival the automobile, scheduled at roughly 1 hour to cover these 74km.
Despite this speedy first leg of the trip, things fall apart on the final 16km.
From a first glance at GoogleMaps, the trip on GO between Burlington and Hamilton is *only* 32 minutes – possibly twice as long as driving. We will return to those 32 in a moment, but first, notice the timing: riders arriving on that express bus from Niagara Falls are waiting 22 minutes at Burlington GO before they even move.
Now let’s take a look at those 32 minutes. Of these, a quarter is again spent waiting, since the trip from Burlington to Hamilton GO typically involves 1) taking an LSW train to Aldershot, 2) transferring and waiting at Aldershot, and 3) taking the #18 bus to Hamilton.
Even though we are headed to a major transit hub, we need to pass (and transfer at) two nearby hubs before arriving. The total travel time is therefore stretched out to two hours.
So why am I harping on this Niagara to Hamilton travel again? Let’s go back to that Niagara to Kitchener trip and focus on one part of it to see why.
From an initial bird’s eye view of the map, the most circuitous part of this trip is the detour via Mississauga. When instead counting time, and focusing more clearly on the segment around Burlington and Hamilton, we can see the inconvenience of traveling between these two.
Note that Google suggests taking Burlington Transit instead of GO, a move that gets the rider to Hamilton quickly enough to take the #40 express bus at 1:21 pm. As an irregular rider in this area, I feel uneasy with this option (especially with the flag “Use caution – may involve errors or sections unsuited to walking”). If it were me making this trip a first time, that transfer would be even longer than shown here because I would use GO.
What I instead want to focus upon is the way that the #12B and #40 buses pass each other within a few km, yet they do not connect. In the case of the all-stops #12 bus, it misses the #40 by even less – metres – with its terminus at the Dundas & 407 Park & Ride.
Viewed individually, the isolated hubs used by each route might make sense – by stopping somewhere in Burlington, the #40 would be slowed from its mission of connecting Hamilton & Pearson – but when seen from the angle of trips that GO does not support, the status quo is absurd.
Access to information is also holding us back
As my exemplar of the absurd – or at least painful – fall-out of the disconnected transit hubs in the Hamilton area, I drew primarily upon a Niagara Falls to Kitchener trip. When I started to build the example, I thought that Google would at least provide me with itineraries where the final leg between Hamilton and Kitchener was direct. It seems that for whatever reason, Google’s algorithms do not pick up on these.
Since I know that Megabus makes that run (having crafted a southern Ontario bus map, n’ all), I work backwards, looking for the departures from Hamilton GO Centre and McMaster.
Assembling the bits and pieces, shows that using either downtown Hamilton or McMaster leads to the same conclusion: departure from Niagara Falls at 1:43 (or 1:08, or 12:16) and arrival in Kitchener at 5:05pm. At 3 hours, 22 minutes, this is a full half hour faster than the fastest itinerary provided by Google Maps.
In addition to the complicated hub structure in the Hamilton area, things go poorly when a rider has to be a full-on transit nerd to devise an effective itinerary.
Is one central terminal in Hamilton the best answer to this problem?
To be honest, I do not know. And I have no intention of pulling out my crayons to fantasy map a silver bullet.
Nonetheless, I can see a few potential options, and a central terminal is one of them. Another is the creation of additional through routes which would increase connectivity and frequency. An additional alternative would be better municipal rapid transit as a connector; a point that I sidestepped in this post because of space. A final option – and this is one that would have a notable impact on us from Niagara – would be to have direct service to the hubs on the west side (i.e., downtown Hamilton and McMaster).
Meanwhile, Metrolinx seems to be passing off the notion that the Hamilton GO Centre is the Anchor Hub. This claim seems a bit confusing since it emphasizes GO rail service when much of this will use Hamilton’s other station at West Harbour, and both stations are forecast to have rather low ridership (see pages 26-29, here). This confusing mix of messages does not leave me optimistic that this is a problem that is in the process of being solved.