There might be a way of eliminating the bus lane controversy in Hamilton—simply enforce existing legislation giving buses the right of way. If you spend any time in traffic behind a city bus you will no doubt have noticed a decal on the left rear corner of every HSR bus—it’s a 12 by 14 inch sign urging motorists to yield to the bus when it is pulling out of a bus stop. It turns out the decal is more than a plea for cooperation—it is provincial law which has been in force since 2004. Section 142.1 of the Highway Traffic Act states: “ The driver of a vehicle in an adjacent lane of traffic to one lane bus stop gives way to the driver of a bus that has signaled its intention, as prescribed, to leave from the bus stop way to re-engage in the adjacent lane. In other words if you are overtaking a bus that has stopped at a bus stop and is now signaling that it wishes to pull out of the curb lane, the law says you must yield to the bus.
“If people did that, we probably wouldn’t need bus lanes,” said Eric Tuck, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107, representing HSR drivers. “The trouble is, that rule is not enforced.” But Hamilton Director of Transit David Dixon is not as sure that giving buses the right of way would eliminate altogether the need for dedicated bus lanes. “I believe these are two different, but complementary concepts”, he told the Bay Observer. Yield legislation was really introduced to permit buses to merge back into traffic unimpeded. It is one of a number of tools that can be used to enhance the movement (speed) of buses in the same class as signal priority, queue jump lanes, etc. Transit Only Lanes separate transit from other traffic in order to permit unimpeded movement throughout the entire customer journey, not just at stops”.
The Hamilton Police Service has issued 50 tickets for bus lane incursions in the roughly 15 months they have been in operation. While no accurate figures are available it is understood that few, if any citations have been issued for failure to yield to a bus, partly because there is some confusion around what constitutes an infraction. “What it really comes down to,” a Police spokesperson told the Bay Observer, “is trying to get some cooperation between pedestrians, cars, buses and cyclists. If everybody respected everyone else, we would have a lot less congestion.”