At the final public session of a transportation consultation organized by the City of Toronto, residents made clear improving travel experiences for commuters should be an official priority for improving transit.
The group of approximately 50 individuals participating in the city’s Feeling Congested? public consultations, which were organized by the city and chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, were asked to give their opinions on what Toronto’s transportations priorities should be and what revenue funding tools will be needed to pay for future expansion.
Divided into mini-groups, many of the participants felt the key issue for the city was addressing overcrowding on the TTC, which is at record capacity.
Rishi Lukka said his greatest issue with TTC service was the tendency for “bunching” of vehicles on busy routes, which result in service gaps.
“You get four or five buses in a row which screws up the gaps,” said Lukka. “That’s the biggest problem today with managing the system.
Lukka, an engineer by training, said he preferred a regional sales tax to pay for new transit. “I feel that a sales tax would allow for the greatest choice of how you spend your money,” said Lukka following the session. “I feel that it allows for the greatest fairness of choice on how you fund transit.
Lukka said he commutes from downtown to Milton every day and given the opportunity would take transit.
“I have no option but to drive out because there is no train service that goes out to Milton in the morning and comes back in the evening,” said Lukka. “I park my car on Thursday nights and take transit three days straight for the rest of the week.” Erika Ivanic, who also took part in a similar transit consulting session hosted by Metrolinx, said she preferred the city’s approach because of its specific mandate.
“Metrolinx did well in generally getting the conversation going,” said Ivanic, an urban planner. “The city was more concerned in getting us to make decisions based on what we value.”
Ivanic, who also volunteers for the TTCriders advocacy group, said Toronto’s size should be considered by Metrolinx when it makes it final recommendations to the premier on funding this June.
“The population and transit system Toronto has should mean it has more of an influence than some of the other jurisdictions,” she said. “Obviously, I’m biased being a Toronto resident.”
Greg Spence, a sometime transit advocate, said the TTC could improve existing service by adding more buses to its routes rather than commit to more expensive and lengthier measures.
“Hard fixed rail lines are years in the distance,” said Spence. “Buses are flexible and you can have as many on the road as you need.”
But Brad Ross from the TTC disagreed, saying more buses on the street would mean increased costs.
Ross also said that smaller buses would not be an advantage.
“Smaller buses...are of no benefit,” said Ross in a tweet. “No savings to be had - in fact maintenance costs would rise.” Ross, the TTC’s executive director of communications said larger buses such as the articulated or “bendy” buses the TTC plans to introduce in the fall, would be better off improving service reliability.
Keesmaat said the findings of the participants reflected a common theme for all of the sessions, which also took place in York, North York and Scarborough, that it was imperative for the city to address capacity issues now and find a way to pay for new transit in an equitable manner.
The city must report its findings from the commission to Metrolinx in time for the transit planning agency’s report to the premier on an investment strategy to pay for its long-term Big Move transportation plan.
Keesmaat also announced the city will hold a special experts panel in March as part of the first phase of its transit consultations. The entire consultation process will last for nine months.