Despite a Council resolution in 2007, Hamilton enters 2016 as the largest municipality in the Golden Horseshoe to not extend transit on New Year's Eve.
Here's a list of Golden Horseshoe transit agencies linked to their New Year's Eve extended schedules: Barrie, Brampton, Brantford, Burlington, Durham Region, Guelph, Mississauga, Oakville, Peterborough, St Catharines, Toronto, Waterloo Region, York Region.
Only Milton and smaller services in Niagara Region are not extending service.
So why is Hamilton the largest City in Ontario to not extend HSR service?
In the writing of this column, I uncovered a 2007 Council resolution approving the HSR to extend New Year's Eve service following an embarrassing 2006 oversight when the HSR failed to check the calendar and forgot about New Year's Eve.
2006 "Oversight" Leads to 2007 Council Resolution to Extend New Year's Eve Service
As the only major transit agency in Ontario that doesn't plan for New Year's Eve, the HSR gets a surprise once every 6 years or so when New Year's Eve falls on a Sunday.
This last happened in 2006 when HSR buses were planned to shut down at midnight on New Year's Eve. (You can read further about the Sunday oversights at the end of the article.)
After public outrage, City Hall scrambled to extend bus service past midnight, and eventually announced that last buses would depart Downtown at 2:00 a.m.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he would be looking for a permanent fix to the New Year's Eve saga and staff were directed to bring a motion to Council to permanently extend bus service on New Year's Eve.
By 2006/7, the HSR was already the only Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area to not extend service on New Year's Eve.
Council Approves Extended Service, It's Never Implemented
At the June 18, 2007 Public Works Committee, Councillors voted on a staff report to permanently fixed the problem. The HSR's Manager of Planning and Customer Service Jim Dahms was at the meeting as Acting Transit Director.
Moved by Russ Powers and seconded by Tom Jackson, Councillors voted unanimously to direct Dahms and senior project manager Andy McLaughlin to implement New Year's Eve service. The motion was ratified by Council on June 27, 2007.
Mayor Eisenberger keep his promise to get a permanent fix passed by Council.
For some reason, unknown, the HSR never implemented Council's direction.
We're now in 2015, eight years later and the HSR remains the only GTHA transit agency to not extend service.
Not something to be proud of.
Below is some additional background on the HSR's New Year's Eve service from the research I did for the original article. Upon uncovering the 2007 motion, this column was significantly revamped
Once upon a time, in a City that is here, the local transit agency, known to all but Our Voice Our Hamilton as the HSR, offered New Year's Eve extended service.
The Hamilton Spectator's December 30, 1991 edition includes the following:
On New Year's Eve, most bus routes will run on extended hours until 3 a.m., except routes 3 Cannon, 45 Limeridge, 32 Garth, 35 College, 16 Ancaster, 10 Beeline and 51 University.
Pizza Pizza will also offer free transit service on the 1 King route, from King and Hughson streets to Eastgate Square from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m.
At some point in the early 90s, this extended service came to an end. In 1995/96, New Year's Eve fell on a Sunday. This from the TheSpec on December 22, 1995:
Hamilton Street Railway: Special Christmas service on most routes from around 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. A holiday schedule will run on Boxing Day. Extended Sunday service on New Year's Eve until 1 a.m. and holiday service on New Year's Day. Customers wearing First Night buttons will ride free from Dec. 31 to noon on Jan.1.
The big Year 2000 celebrations weren't enough to draw the HSR out to mark the occasion.
When I read a December 30, 1999 Hamilton Spectator story about Burlington Transit extending service until 4 a.m. I could not contain my laughter at the quote from Hamilton's police chief at the end:
While Hamilton's New Year's revellers must worry about getting home after 1.20 a.m. when the buses stop, Burlington's merrymakers can party on, knowing their own city buses are rolling until 4 a.m.
The Hamilton Street Railway quits running its buses at 1.20 a.m.
Hamilton-Wentworth Police Chief Ken Robertson is hoping most people will be partied out by 1 a.m.
Partied out by 1 a.m.? Really?
Hamilton used to have a civic celebration called "First Night" in the Downtown. It peaked in the mid-90s, but once the recession hit, it scaled back until it was just a gathering at City Hall. In 2003, the budget was cut from $40,000 to $20,000 and then the following year it came to a quiet end.
A 15-Year-Old Take on the HSR's Sunday Oversight in 2000/01
A year later, the HSR was caught flat-footed by the calendar as New Year's Eve fell on a Sunday.
It took a 15-year-old to mobilize to get City Hall to extend service, and even then, only after public outcry and media attention.
The HSR initially responded with by saying they couldn't extend service because, according to HSR Supervisor of Planning Andy McLaughlin, they had to be "fiscally responsible to taxpayers".
Here's the key passage from the December 20, 2000 TheSpec article by journalist Carmelina Prete:
But then McLaughlin called 30 minutes later to say things had changed.
"Christmas has come early," he said, with a laugh. "(The change comes) in the spirit of community-mindedness and to help residents safely celebrate the new year."
The 2006 "Oversight"
Fast-forward six years to 2006. HSR managers are the same, and once again, they are caught off guard by the annual New Year's Eve event.
And once again, only after public outcry, media attention, and outrage, the HSR scrambles to extend service.
"It didn't come up on anybody's radar here this might be an issue" was the statement of the City's General Manager of Public Works Scott Stewart.
Here's how Hamilton Spectator journalist Fred Vallance-Jones wrote that part of the story:
The plan would have meant no buses when a Blue Rodeo concert at Copps Coliseum ended at 12:30 a.m., and when bars and clubs disgorged New Year's revellers.
Stewart said the city was following the policy that service is based on the day of the week New Year's falls. That wasn't a big problem last year, because on Saturdays, the last departures leave downtown at 1 a.m. or later. But Sunday service quits just after midnight.
The fact that New Year's Eve falls on a Sunday this year apparently escaped notice.
"It didn't come up on anybody's radar here that this might be an issue."
For his part, Mayor Eisenberger put out a press release which include a promise of a permanent fix to the problem of HSR service on New Year's Eve:
HSR extends Sunday hours for New Year’s Eve – Free transit service for all riders from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Hamilton, ON – December 28, 2006– The Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) will be extending its Sunday service hours for New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2006. Transit service will be available from 6:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. at no charge for all riders. A scheduling oversight originally had the service ending at midnight; however discussions between HSR management and representatives of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107 resulted in the revised schedule.
“Once every seven years the HSR has to accommodate for this change in the Sunday schedule. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, the schedule was not changed for this year,” said Scott Stewart, General Manager, Public Works for the City of Hamilton. “Our drivers have been very accommodating to allow for the last minute change in order that anyone celebrating the New Year can do so knowing that the transit service will be available to them from 6:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. for free.” The HSR will develop a permanent fix to the scheduling conflict in 2007.
“I am pleased we were able to reach a solution in time for this year’s New Years Eve celebrations,” said Mayor Eisenberger. “I’d like to personally thank the members of our Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107 and HSR management for working with us today to ensure residents have a safe and enjoyable celebration on Sunday night.”
The City of Hamilton encourages anyone who has consumed too much alcohol to legally drive, to take public transit, designate a driver or call for a taxi.