March 26, 2018
Business owners have launched another salvo of criticism at the King St. streetcar priority project, this time backed by a transit expert who says the pilot isn’t working as well as advertised.
A review authored by Ryerson University professor Murtaza Haider and released Monday by the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) contends the project’s effect on streetcar travel times has been minimal, and the ridership increase observed on the route may have been achievable without reconfiguring King.
“I believe leadership needs to look at it and make decisions accordingly,” ORHMA president Tony Elenis said of Haider’s analysis.
“(The pilot’s) not working, and that’s coming from an expert.”
In a statement, the TTC stood by its assessment that the pilot appears to be achieving its goals.
“We have both the numbers — improved travel times and reliability, and increased ridership — and the anecdotal feedback from our customers to call the pilot a success to this point,” the transit agency said.
The city launched the one-year pilot in November with the aim of improving transit service on King, the TTC’s busiest surface route. The project restricts the movement of private automobiles on King between Bathurst and Jarvis Sts. All on-street parking spaces have been removed, and traffic restrictions direct drivers to turn right off King at most major intersections.
Since it went into effect some businesses, particularly restaurants in the theatre district, have complained it’s driving away customers.
In his 11-page review, Haider analyzed data published by the city about the pilot’s performance in January and February. He noted during the morning rush hour, average eastbound streetcar travel times in the pilot area have actually increased slightly, to 15.9 minutes from 15.3 minutes.
In the afternoon and evening rush hour, travel times have decreased by more than two minutes.
“We conclude that the average transit travel time savings are modest at best,” Haider wrote. “Furthermore, one fails to see any meaningful improvement... in the morning peak hours.”
According to city data, all-day weekday ridership on King has increased by 16 per cent, and during some periods it’s risen by as much as 27 per cent. Roughly 84,000 people a day now take transit on the street.
Haider’s review argues the higher numbers of people taking streetcars on King isn’t necessarily attributable to the pilot, because the TTC has added vehicles to the route since the project began. He asserts the transit agency should have added vehicles before the pilot started to determine whether that alone could have attracted more riders.
The TTC dismissed Haider’s contention as “speculative at best.”
In the early days of the project, streetcars “were crowded and there were lines at many stops,” the agency said. “Vehicles were added so that the increased demand we saw almost immediately could be addressed.”
Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), who represents the King theatre district, conceded the improvements to streetcar travel times “are not yet where we want them to be,” but argued they would get better as the TTC brings more of its new larger streetcars onto the route.
Cressy also pointed out streetcar service on King has become more reliable. According to the city data, 85 per cent of westbound streetcars during the morning rush hour arrive within four minutes. Before the pilot only 77 per cent arrived in that time. The duration of the longest trips, which take place in the afternoon peak, have been slashed by between four and five minutes.
“Adding streetcars in a congested street doesn’t improve reliability. Improving the flow of the street, by virtue of the pilot, improves reliability,” said Cressy, who has been a vocal supporter of the pilot.
In a release accompanying the review, more than 50 businesses reiterated calls for the city to make significant changes to the pilot, including lifting its traffic restrictions between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and exempting taxis from the new turning rules at all times.
The city’s general manager for transportation, Barbara Gray, said the city has no plans to loosen the restrictions, but the city is monitoring the pilot and will make smaller modifications over time.