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TTC able to carry 2008 Games' crowds: Report

But ‘modest’ plan has potential for gridlock, councillor warns

By Joseph Hall
Toronto Star Transportation Reporter

The TTC will be able to handle teeming Olympic crowds with only modest alterations to the city’s transit system, commission staff reported yesterday.

But one commission member is warning of potential gridlock and says he won’t approve Toronto’s bid for the 2008 Olympics on Feb. 29 unless he’s sure the transit system can handle the load.

At a commission meeting yesterday, system officials said that with some strategic early purchases of buses and subway cars, a Union Station expansion and the temporary addition of about 800 buses, the system could nearly double its daily loads during the two-week Games.

“This is a bread-and-butter plan,” TTC chair Howard Moscoe said in praising the staff report.

“It’s not sexy … the proposals are modest and they are practical and they will leave the city with the legacy of a better transit system after the Olympics have passed through.”

The TTC, however, would carry the extra load largely by using improvements already called for in the system’s 10-year capital plans.

Those plans call for a $58 million upgrade to Union Station, including the construction of a second platform for trains heading north on the University line.

The 10-year plan, released in November, calls for the purchase of 212 subway cars next year, allowing the system to cut $200 million off the price they would have to pay when the vehicles are needed, around 2006.

TO-Bid officials have talked about the need for a publicly funded LRT line from Union Station to the port lands, where they’d like to build the Olympic stadium as well as the athletes village and other sports facilities.

But TTC member and Councillor Brian Ashton (Scarborough Bluffs) said an LRT couldn’t begin to handle the enormous crowds that would pour in and out of the port lands daily.

“It’s a serious issue of potential gridlock,” he said after yesterday’s TTC session. “We have a much better transit system than Atlanta (host of the 1996 Summer Games), but we’re at a disadvantage because of the lake. We only have a 180-degree service area.”

Ashton said he’ll vote against the bid at council unless he has “a very good, solid understanding” of the Olympic transportation plan.

A public hearing before the city’s economic development committee is slated for next Thursday.

As for the TTC, service planner Bill Dawson said the commission doesn’t see the need “to go out and build anything new … Other than selected and specific projects we’ve identified for other reasons, I think we’d be in pretty good shape.”

Dawson, who visited to Atlanta to learn from that city’s disastrous Olympic transportation experience, says Toronto’s transit situation is substantially better.

The TTC carries about 1.3 million passengers a day - about twice as many daily riders as the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority - and has 500 more buses and 200 more subway cars at its disposal.

Atlanta also lacks streetcar lines and has no commuter rail system like the GTA’s GO transit.

Most of the problems experienced in Atlanta were the result of an insufficient number of vehicles and the poor buses and drivers recruited at the last minute by Games officials.

Dawson, however, says that with GO Transit and a larger TTC bus fleet, Toronto would need far fewer buses to carry extra games crowds.

Dawson says the $176 million budgeted for TTC operating expenses by the city’s TO-Bid committee would likely be sufficient to pay for the system’s extra costs.

But the advance vehicle purchases and Union Station improvements would require both federal and provincial funding.

The city is now solely responsible for transit funding in Toronto.