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TTC wants own lanes for rush hour

Critics say plan would congest city further

Paul Moloney

The Toronto Transit Commission wants exclusive car-free lanes for buses and streetcars on all major city streets during rush hour. That would leave cars and trucks one less lane at the busiest time of the day.

The TTC made the request yesterday in response to a directive from the city that the system show how it could maximize ridership at least cost.

“We’d restrict automobile traffic on those key routes,” TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme told members of city council’s budget committee.

“That would move us very strongly forward in increasing our ridership.”

Ducharme said he wants to introduce the system starting next year on such heavily travelled streets as Finch, Lawrence, Eglinton, Bathurst, Jane and Keele. Some streets already have priority transit lanes, but Ducharme is seeking to extend it across the city.

But Councillor Paul Sutherland, vice-chair of the budget committee, said it appeared transit officials want to snarl traffic so badly that commuters are forced to switch to transit.

Sutherland said suburban areas like his - Ward 33, Don Valley East - are choked with traffic while bus service is spotty.

“This would just put traffic to a standstill. If a bus goes by every 10 minutes and motorists are sitting there looking at an empty lane, where’s the balance?

“Cars are a fundamental part of our lifestyle and our economy. Public transit is very important too, but we need a balanced approach. This doesn’t seem to be balanced.”

The idea also came under fire from the Canadian Automobile Association which warned the policy might lead the city towards gridlock and at the same time do little to increase public transit use.

“If you take half the capacity off a major arterial road such as Bathurst St. or Danforth Ave., you are just going to stretch the gridlock,” said David Leonhardt of the Canadian Automobile Association.

“You don’t increase ridership by creating gridlock, that’s not right,” said Leonhardt.

Leonhardt said it makes more sense to take other measures such as increasing the frequency of GO trains into the city from the suburbs, increasing parking at subway stations and introducing express buses in some parts of the city.

“If the policy is to block cars, that’s stupid,” he said. “You have to look at what’s best for traffic, both cars and buses, not what’s most annoying (for motorists),” he said.

Budget chair, Councillor David Shiner, said while transit would move faster and save the system money, car and truck traffic would be snarled to the detriment of the city’s economy. Shiner wants the TTC to hike fares instead, to reduce the subsidies taxpayers provide to the system.

The sentiment was echoed by Riyaz Manji, owner of the 10-car fleet Arrow Direct Courier, who said the policy would hurt his business, especially because most couriers do their business between 2.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m.

“We should be creating more lanes instead of reducing lanes,” Manji said.

Manji said special bus and commuter-only lanes already in existence in parts of the city such as the one on Don Mills Rd. between Eglinton Ave. W and York Mills Rd. often stand empty, and have done nothing to increase ridership.

“I can understand they want to encourage people to use the TTC,” added Vivienne Dineen of Brothers Courier. “But they should look at it from a lot of different perspectives, not just encouraging TTC use.”

Councillor Shiner said he fears the impact could be so severe as to force businesses to relocate.

“They (TTC) have no idea of the cost to business if they cannot get a delivery. If employees are stuck in gridlock in a single lane on a main street, what’s the cost of that? How much business will then flee the city?”

Ducharme made it clear he was serious.

“I would ask the support of this committee to bring forward to council approval in concept of what we have here so we can move forward and come up with a proper estimate of costs,” he said.

Exclusive rights of way cut transit costs because faster trip times mean you can move the same number of people with fewer vehicles rather than have them stuck in traffic, said TTC operations manager Gary Webster.

“You can reduce your capital costs to buy buses and your operating costs because you have less drivers driving them. From our perspective, for the health of the city, the city would be much better off.”

The issue arose because the cash-strapped city is balking at the TTC’s request for a bigger subsidy from taxpayers.

Last year, the fare box paid 82 per cent of transit operating costs, with property tax providing 18 per cent - a total of $144 million or 35 cents a ride.

This year the TTC is seeking a taxpayer subsidy of 20 per cent, or $163 million, but the budget committee is demanding the system hike fares by 10 cents instead.

TTC officials oppose a fare hike because it would reduce ridership, and they note fares have been hiked by 66.6 per cent over the past 10 years.

It now costs $750 a year to commute to work by transit compared with $450 a decade ago, the budget committee was told.

Webster noted widespread exclusive transit lanes are politically dicey, because they will slow automobile and truck traffic. However, it’s the TTC that’s being inconvenienced now.

“If you’ve got a $3 million streetcar stuck behind traffic, it’s expensive. You can walk faster on King St. in certain sections than the streetcar can go.”