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The Miracle on King Street



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TTC Flexity 4404, eastbound on King at Bay in 514 CHERRY service, June 22, 2017. Photo by James Bow.

The King Street transit priority pilot project is now in force. The responses to it have been considerably varied but also partisan. Some of the local media have pounced on pronouncements that the experiment has been a “disaster”. They cite the fact that drivers were confused on Sunday, and many drivers broke the law on Monday morning, driving through intersections rather than turning right. Police are out educating and warning miscreants, and tickets will be written for second offences.

However, on Twitter, the response from TTC riders paints a very different picture. Commute times have been halved in a number of cases. Transit columnist Edward Keenan writes to counter the car-oriented doomsayers by calling the King Street transit priority project “a miracle”.

From a seat on the 504 King streetcar Monday on the first weekday morning of the transit-priority pilot project, it sure felt like a streetcar miracle.

The car kept moving, first of all. Through the front window, you could see the streetcar a few blocks ahead. Through the back window, you could see the one a few blocks behind. It was standing-room only, but not the overcapacity mosh pit Torontonians have come to expect. And the trip I took, from Dundas West station to Yonge St., was fully 10 minutes faster than when I timed the same trip three years ago.

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It’s quite common for a major change such as this to face initial confusion and frustration, but the experience of the morning commute clearly shows that for the overwhelming majority of people using King — the 65,000 daily riders who outnumber King Street drivers by more than 4-to-1 — the experiment has substantially improved their commute.

This has great implications for all Torontonians. King Street can now move more people more efficiently than it has in the past. The 504 KING streetcar can take on more passengers while utilizing the same number of streetcars. This means the cost-effectiveness of the TTC’s streetcar operations here have been increased. The TTC is likely making a significant accounting profit on the line’s operations, which will help subsidize more and better transit throughout the city.

There is room for improvement, but the City of Toronto should commit to maintain and expand its pilot project, making it permanent, possibly expanding it west to Dufferin and east to Parliament, and finding ways to further encourage drivers to obey the law. The benefits for all Torontonians are clear.