A HSR bus on detour on July 28, 2017. Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

“HSR, Your First Choice” is the new slogan of Hamilton’s beleaguered public transit agency, the Hamilton Street Railway.

The new slogan was announced to HSR employees this week in an internal publication obtained by The Public Record yesterday, and released by the City of Hamilton today.

Along with the new slogan, HSR Director Debbie Dalle Vedove announced three strategic focuses for the HSR: customer service, good repair and service, and collective ownership.

HSR’s new Strategic Direction, note new logo in the top right corner.

Also changing is HSR’s upper management structure, and the HSR logo is redesigned.

The number of upper managers remains the same, with the manager of the eliminated Manager of Accessible Transit Services named to a new Manager of Special Projects position.

Noteworthy in the changes is the moving of HSR social media from Transit Strategy to Customer Service, and the moving of Information Technology to Customer Service.

This reflects a great deal of confidence in the new Acting Manager of Customer Service and Innovation, a renaming of the position from its previous title of Customer Service and Planning.

Transit Planning is moved to Strategy, which is renamed to Manager of Transit Planning and Infrastructure. HSR’s Manager of Maintenance is untouched, while the Manager of Transit Support Services sees some of their responsibilities move to Planning, including the long overdue HSR bus advertising contract tender.

New HSR upper management structure with new logo in top corner

Customer Service and Innovation

The Acting Manager of Customer Service and Innovation is Dennis Guy who has been with the City 15 years in various project management and communications roles. He joined the HSR six months ago. More recently, he was involved with the shelved HSR+ rebranding, the City’s Our Future Hamilton project, and prior to this launched the City’s first Twitter account @hamiltonbbman. He’s won numerous communications awards.

Dennis has held progressive roles in the City over the past four years, for both Public Works and corporately for the City as a whole. He has skills in strategic planning, continuous improvement, change management, and customer service. I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with him for about the past six months, and I am thrilled that he has accepted this role acting as the new Manager of Customer Experience and Innovation.
The new Manager, Customer Experience and Innovation will take a lead role as we shift to a much more customer-centric model. Ultimately, the Manager will need to build relationships with key players in the transit community, develop and implement a comprehensive customer service strategy, and communicate with our customers and find out what they want and need.
– HSR Director Debbie Vedove Dalle in an email response to The Public Record

Transit Planning and Infrastructure

The Acting Manager of Transit Planning and Infrastructure is Jason Vander Heide. Vander Heide was a transit operator for approximately 15 years before being promoted during then-HSR Director David Dixon’s efforts to fix HSR’s middle management.

He was the Acting Operations Manager this spring, during which time he successfully kept the system operating while many drivers refused overtime in protest of the Director’s decision to fire the previous Operations Manager.

Prior to this unexpected acting role, he successfully oversaw the HSR’s Pan Am Games service deployment, and special projects assigned by Dixon.

As a operator, Vander Heide drove most routes in the City, and excelled at customer service. He was one of few that waited for GO Transit connections on the Delaware late at night.

Vander Heide’s position will oversee a rumoured full route review to be completed in the coming year. He’s the right person for the difficult job of fixing HSR’s years overdue projects, and to lead a full review of HSR operations.

The only reason Vander Heide could not succeed in the role is if Council fails to properly resource his section, or political interference disrupts the review of HSR’s scheduling, routes, and operations.

His experience driving routes that service McMaster will be particularly useful in correcting serious service deficiencies and inefficiencies in HSR’s heaviest ridership corridor.

Budget Shortfalls and Crisis Point

The HSR is expecting a $2.5-million budget shortfall in 2017, declining ridership, calls from Council for a “grilling” of the agency, and has been struggling to meet service requirements in the past few weeks as 25-plus years of Council and bureaucratic mismanagement have reached a crisis point.

Last Friday, the HSR failed to put at least 15 buses on the road. Riders looking to get the Ticats game dealt with bus not showing up, and other bus routes saw hour long service gaps as HSR managers failed to communicate and address the situation.

Today alone, the @HSR Twitter account failed to notify passengers of missing buses, and mistakenly stated bus service on the 5C to Meadowlands operates on a 15-minute frequency (it’s 30 minutes at peak), and didn’t inform passengers of 30 minute and 60 minute service gaps during the afternoon rush hour.

First Step in HSR Restructuring

Approaching the one year mark of her tenure as HSR Director, Dalle Vedove faces the challenge of addressing 25 years of mismanagement and neglect, while trying to revitalize the HSR without strong Council support for investments, and responding to a ridership (myself included) increasingly frustrated with missing buses who are abandoning the HSR if they have any other choice of transportation.

Further challenges lay ahead for the HSR.

Sobi is drawing more riders from the HSR, GO Transit is becoming more attractive for travel to leisure activities in Mississauga and Toronto. GO to Square One is 45 minutes, whereas the HSR to either Cineplex on the West or East Mountain is 35 minutes from Downtown.

Aspirations are Good

The new slogan is at best aspirational.

The decision to promote two acting managers with proven records of success, putting a former transit operator in a key planning position, shows Dalle Vedove  setting the board to implement her vision for the future of the HSR.

Clearly, her goal in setting a strong HSR slogan is to point to the future, even in the face of ridicule of a slogan so far from the current reality of the HSR.

Can the HSR change to First from Last Choice? It will be an interesting ride as we wait to find out.

While comments are always welcome below, much conversation occurs on Facebook. Here’s the thread on The Public Record’s page and the thread on Joey Coleman’s page.