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Faster service would attract more TTC riders

Commuter Corner
Joseph Hall

Some 80 per cent of all daily transit trips in the Greater Toronto Area are provided by the TTC.

But shunning small, inefficient municipal transit systems and overcrowded GO Transit services, some 72 per cent of the GTA’s 905-dwellers make their daily treks solely by automobile.

This ratio must change if the region is to avoid transportation congestion and deteriorating air quality as it welcomes 2 million more residents over the next two decades - most of whom will settle in the suburban regions.

The question is, how do you get people out of their cars and on to buses and trains?

Well, a good first step is to ask them what it would take.

Transit experts can voice their theories and municipal planners plot their strategies. But choosing to make the switch from a car to a bus or train is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

Determining the desires of daily commuters - asking what would encourage them to use transit - is an important first step toward the creation of a less-congested transportation future.

And the Toronto Transit Commission - assuming its role as a regional transit advocate - did just that in a recent and extensive poll of more than 2,200 residents of the 905 areas who make at least two trips a week into Toronto.

The poll’s most important finding was that people care far more about quick, convenient, frequent and reliable service than they do about the price of transit.

Indeed, some 44 per cent of 905 commuters who now travel exclusively by car identified improved service as the most important adjustment that could be made to wrench them from behind the wheel.

Only 5 per cent of those car addicts, on the other hand, said reducing fares might prompt them to take transit.

Of the service improvements cited, the most important was providing more buses and trains on existing regional routes, says TTC market research director Bob Hughes.

Simply put, people in sprawling suburbia want their transit vehicles to run more often.

Secondly, poll respondents wanted those vehicles to get them where they’re going faster.

“The basic gist here is just: `Get me from point A to point B quicker,’ ” Hughes says.

“This is the type of thing where you could get into transit priorities like reserved bus lanes, diamond lanes or even exclusive (transit) lanes in the centre of the road.”

Next in order of improved service importance was expanding transit’s reach.

“In Toronto, we obviously have intensive service and we try to minimize the walking distance to the bus or streetcar,” Hughes says.

“In the 905, that doesn’t exist now … and people there say that service needs to be expanded to cover more areas.”

More reliable service - having buses arrive at stops when they’re scheduled to - and better service co-ordination between the GTA’s myriad transit agencies also ranked high on prospective riders’ wish lists.

Unfortunately, the potential for these improvements relies on long-term planning shifts to higher-density development in the sprawling regions.

The vast, single family home projects that are popping up in the 905 areas provide too few people spread over too large an area to make true transit intensification affordable.

But one item on the poll respondents’ wish list is do-able right now and could entice as many as 55 per cent of car drivers to switch, at least occasionally, to transit.

That is providing more and bigger parking lots along transit lines, where cars could stop and a new flowering of GTA transit use could begin.

Readers can contact Joseph Hall by phone at (416) 869-4390 or e-mail at