Saturday, November 22, 2008

Public Transit in Toronto

Historically, this is a Public Transit blog, and we do intend to return to that shortly. Here is a blog entry in that vein.

The TTC has announced that it plans to increase off peak service to now provide service on almost every route, at 30 minute intervals or better, whenever the subway is open. While it is not complete, it does make for a new stronger network that really opens up the entire city to transit service. I work nights. I'm a security guard - IE one of those people who works in the lobby if your office tower who is there when you are not. I head into the downtown core in the late evening and head out during the morning peak when everyone else is rushing the other direction. For me and people like me these service upgrades are a godsend.

The reality is that not everyone works 9-5 at King and Bay. There are hundreds of thousands of us that work off-peak hours throughout the city. Even those who do not will often take transit to go shopping, or to see the doctor, or to visit friends, or to go out with friends for a night on the town. These are all off-peak ventures. If you can easily get to work via transit but cannot use it to go shopping, you are more likely to, when you get money, buy a car. If you have a car, its oh-so-easy to take it to work on a day when you may be running behind, or when it is very cold, or whatever the reason may be. Building a successful transit network is not a quick-fix thing, it is a long term plan for success.

Buses that are empty tomorrow night will, within a few years, fill themselves up, as new arrivals to our city find out they can get around without a car, and therefore do not buy one, and as younger Torontoians who currently take the TTC out of necessity find that they can take it out of convenience as well. This new network literally "opens up" the city. No longer does an off-peak worker have to actively think about where to live, and where he or she can work; this new network opens up all those locations to all sorts of various hours of travel.

The city is almost done. There are a few more steps they could take to make this "perfect". One is to extend this service to every route in the network, 30 minutes or better while the subway is open. This may mean that certain routes need to be 'adjusted'. Take for example the 101 Downsview Park bus. The only passenger I've ever seen on that bus is myself, who took it because I was curious why it's so darn empty. The bus currently runs on a 20 minute headway as its journey only takes 10 minutes each direction. Extending the route and turning it into a loop that reaches Keele and Sheppard, would make it a useful bus for people to use to transfer to the Keele bus. It would, at most, add 10 minutes to the trip making this bus have a 30 minute headway. Another example is the 117 Alness, and the 107 Keele North; not today but in the future. When the YUS subway is extended into the York Region, its almost certain that YRT will take over operations of the 107. Being the biggest money-loser for the TTC, they are wise to cancel the service. While most of the 107 route is close enough to other service for passengers to walk the difference, the service on Chesswood is not. Fortunately, Chesswood is surprisingly close to Alness St and the two routes could be easily combined into one route operating from the new Sheppard West station.

Two is to expand service from 30 minutes at all times into something better. I'm personally a fan of at least 20 minutes to 10pm every day of the week, and at least 15 in the mid-day and peak periods, every day of the week. With this end-goal in mind the TTC could start implementing this service in the busier routes and expand outward. Current dashed-line routes on the map that are "limited service" could be re-designated as routes that run all day ever day but do not follow the 15-20-30 formula.

Three is to make a serious expansion to the Blue Night network. First, the TTC should add more buses to the 300 Bloor and 320 Yonge night routes. These routes should never go below 7:30 service, that means two buses every 15 minutes.

Secondly, service on these routes should be increases when needed, for example a closing-hour for the clubs, and just prior to the opening of the subway, to ensure that true off-peak loading standards (where everyone gets a seat) is maintained. These should be the 'star' routes of the Blue Night Network and should be marketed as such. Next is to increase service on other well-used blue night routes. Perhaps a 20 minute headway on Queen and Eglinton West, if not an outright 15 minute headway on both.

Lastly, the TTC needs to 'fill in the gaps' on the network. This would include a Keele bus, and a Sheppard West bus. While the latter can run the same routing as the daytime, ideally the Keele bus would head into York University, which is a large generator of party-goers at nighttime. Nothing against York, this is true for any University with residence buildings. I also think that bringing night service back to King and Spadina is wise. Money could be saved by keeping Queen at at 30 minute headway but properly scheduling service on King so that arrival time on cross streets like Bathurst or Sherbroune is staggered so that where one streetcar arrives at 3:15am, the other arrives at 3:30am in the same direction. While Queen would make an important connection with the Yonge line, King would make one with Bloor. Additional service on Spadina would also help relieve some of the club crowd. It may even be wise to run a blue night bus into the entertainment district - and I mean into the district itself, not up university and call that the district, I'm talking down Adelaide and Richmond - and then express to various destinations in the city. Beyond this the city should examine bringing service to other routes. Kipling, Kennedy, St.Clair-Kingston-Markham, both Warden and Vic Park separately, and extending Lawrence West to the Airport, and staggering the schedule so that it meshes with Eglinton West's arrivals there.

Once these steps are taken the TTC will find themselves in possession of a seamless network connecting all the corners of the city to one another. While this may be costly, it will build off-peak ridership and help to fill those dreaded "empty buses". Off-peak ridership is important as these services are far less crowded and more comfortable to ride. Peak-heavy systems often leave buses sitting around all day aging by themselves. A successful network needs to run at all times in all places. I can think of no better way to lay the groundwork for the coming Transit City improvements.

For those wishing to read the new service changes for themselves, they are available on the TTC website at

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