John Tory is committing to build upon the TTC’s already successful express buses by adding five new routes to the network. These will be offered on Dufferin, Lawrence West. Islington, Weston Road and (the only Scarborough addition) Markham Road. All of these routes are in the inner suburbs, with the partial exception of Dufferin (where much of the proposed route is in the “old city”.) This is significant, as it shows official recognition of what we Scarborough transit riders have known for a long time: inner suburban bus routes are overcrowded and improvements along some of our city’s busiest arterials are needed to alleviate the situation and, in the long term, shift the emphasis of these roads from being hostile “car sewers” to more functional urban streets.
Of course, express routes are a start for this kind of process and we are naturally very happy to see the Mayor put some weight behind the TTC’s plans. However, in many key ways, simply adding express buses is extremely inadequate. To begin with, in Toronto, express bus denotes a limited stop service that only runs during peak hours. Examples in Scarborough would be the 53E Steeles East; providing very good service if one is traveling in the morning or evening rush. However, at any other time, you’re reduced to the regular trunk route. Getting commuters to a 9-5 job is one thing but in a city with an increasingly 24-hour economy (not to mention that to reduce car dependence, good transit cannot just exist in the peak hours) having no alternative to what is rapidly becoming an overcrowded route in a growing area of town is unconscionable. In Toronto, our transit system also runs what are called “Rocket” services, essentially running the same limited stop service, only such buses run outside of peak hours. In our view, these Rockets represent a minimum useful improvement along major roads. For example, the 185 Don Mills Rocket offers much-needed relief to the regular routes along that road and is extremely heavily used at all times of the day. Offering a Rocket instead of just a peak hours express is what we hope the TTC is considering for the new “express” services.
But why stop there? Relieving crowded trunk routes is important but we at STA think the city should dream big and seek to bring dignity to those without cars, hopefully getting more people to dump the SUV in the process! To have this happen, we need to move beyond just reconfiguring bus routes….we need to reconfigure the roads they are on as well. No matter how busy a Rocket bus is, it can still be stuck in traffic or have to wait for right hand turning vehicles when pulling into a stop. Passengers themselves are still standing in small bus shelters during all kinds of weather. Dedicated bus lanes, large stations (similar to what exist on the VIVA BRT in York Region) signal priority, wider sidewalks and bike lanes…..these are all things that would improve the transit experience immesurably on these express corridors. Why is the mayor not doing any of them? We can’t peer into his mind but we could assume that it is just too “hard”. The voices of transit riders are drowned by those of the motorist lobby or folks who could not imagine their streets being anything other than expanses of pavement.
Of course, the logical culmination of these improvements would be LRT. If we are going to put in dedicated lanes, why not tracks? If large stations, why not LRT platforms? In fact, if the Mayor understands enough about transit to know that more express buses are needed, surely he can follow the path from that transit investment to LRT? We don’t doubt he knows this, as do our councillors. What is in doubt is the political will to fight for transit riders and our job is to keep fighting, keep pushing, until our dream of fast, dignified rapid transit in Scarborough is realized.