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Private bus service opens door to `the other way'

Is two-tier transit coming to Toronto?

Mar. 25, 2006. 01:00 AM

Is two-tier transit coming to Toronto?

A private company plans to begin selling tickets today for a bus that would take people to Union Station from the condominiums along Lake Shore Blvd. west of the Humber River.

The bus will be an alternative, the company says, to overcrowded streetcars that can’t keep up with the demands of a booming lakefront condo population.

The service is pegged to cost $199.99 for a month’s pass.

There’s just one potential problem with the proposed Humber Bay Express: The Toronto Transit Commission thinks it’s illegal and one official says a move will be made to shut it down.

“The City of Toronto Act says the only people who can run public transit is the TTC,” Vince Rodo, the TTC’s general secretary, said this week.

And Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Mark Grimes thinks it should stay that way.

Grimes, a TTC commissioner, has been working with the Humber Bay Shores Condominium Association to try to persuade the TTC to add express bus service to an area that has seen condominiums springing up. He said the commission will consider adding a route if he and the condo group can sell 70 monthly Metropasses in the area. So far, that hasn’t happened.

But when told about the Humber Bay Express, Grimes was unequivocal.

“I wouldn’t be in favour of it,” he said.

Howard Moscoe, who chairs the TTC, said: “The TTC has a monopoly on public transit. If people start creaming off lucrative public routes, it would do irreparable damage to the system.”

Rodo said services like the Humber Bay Express have been proposed before and most of the time prospective owners drop their plans when they find out about the law. Jim Lord, head of the Humber Bay Shores Condominium Association, said the bus plan highlights the need for transit service in the area.

For Anna Chakina, a resident of 2088 Lake Shore Blvd. W., the decision is easy. She would use the private bus to get to her waitressing job at Yonge and Queen Sts. “The streetcar is too busy and the seats are uncomfortable.”

The latest proposal comes when the TTC appears to be a victim of its own success. For 2006, ridership is expected to top 437 million � well on its way back to its 1988 peak of 463 million. But fuel costs are also on the rise, its fleet is aging and funding is limited. There is also pressure to service growing neighbourhoods like the Humber Bay area. And this week’s provincial budget will have little immediate impact.

The TTC’s monopoly doesn’t mean all alternative forms of transit are banned.

The city prohibits corporations from charging a direct fee, or fare, for transportation, but makes a wide range of exceptions, including for tour buses, charters that charge a group fee and free shuttle services. Furniture giant Ikea, for example, runs a free shuttle to its store on The Queensway in Etobicoke from the Kipling subway station.

And many condos, including several in the Humber Bay area, offer residents shuttle-bus services as part of their amenity fees, a practice that is allowed. The oldest condo in the area, the Palace Pier, has offered shuttle services to Union Station since 1979.

Promotional material on the Humber Bay Express website describes the bus as a solution to “the rising cost of the TTC; the slow, crowded Queen St. streetcar; difficult access to the subway; expensive taxi fares (an average ride downtown is $25); the cost of gas; limited and expensive downtown parking; environmental concerns � The ultimate carpool.”

The express is scheduled to run along the same stretch of Lake Shore Blvd. W. where the TTC has a stop for its busy Queen St. streetcar line. The bus would pick up residents from six waterfront condos, making four weekday morning runs to Union Station beginning at 6:45 a.m., with the last evening bus returning at 6:55 p.m.

The service’s proposed launch date, April 1, coincides with a TTC fare increase. The company plans promotional runs Thursday and Friday for $2 a ride.

Attempts to reach Humber Bay Express president Daniel Tatomyr were unsuccessful this week and calls to the company’s sales office, set to open today at 2067 Lake Shore Blvd. W., weren’t answered. As of yesterday, a letter from Tatomyr to potential clients had been removed from the company’s website along with other references to him.

But there is support for the service in the neighbourhood. “Is it going to stop in front of my restaurant?” said Joseph Muscatello, proprietor of Baroli Caffe, at 2083 Lake Shore Blvd. W.

Muscatello drives to work from his home north of the city in Caledon every day. Still, he said, with such a high concentration of first-time homeowners in the area, the Humber Bay Express might appeal to people looking to save on parking and car payments. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Others say TTC service suits them fine. Scott Knox lives in the Waterford condominium and drives to his job at a Mississauga golf course every day. His live-in girlfriend, meanwhile, takes the streetcar to work downtown at the Hospital for Sick Children. “She has no problem with it,” Knox said.

In the meantime, Jim Lord of the condo association is hoping to meet with the TTC again to find another solution to selling 70 passes.

“It’s hard to get someone to buy a pass for a bus that’s not going.”