Transit Priority on King at Community Council

The King Car will be up for discussion at Toronto & East York Community Council next Monday (September 10), just two days before the TTC itself meets to decide what may happen with fares and service in 2008.  Item TE8.41 on the agenda includes both the TTC’s original request which was met with some considerable opposition by area merchants and some counterproposals that were tabled for discussion (item TE8.41a).

These proposals, viewed jointly with the work I have done analyzing operations in the route, raise a number of questions.

Installation of a temporary right-of-way between Yonge and University during July and August 2008 based on the TTC’s design concept, but implemented in a manner similar to that used in 2006 on Queen’s Quay to test the reconfiguration of that street.

Expansion of the hours of prohibited parking and stopping so that they would end at 10:00 am and 7:00 pm instead of an hour earlier as at present.

Installation of taxi lay-bys between Bay and York Streets.

In fact, although there is demonstrable congestion in this area, this is not the only location where traffic gets blocked up.  Indeed, there are far more serious problems west of University in the evening due to theatre and club district traffic and parking, and this comes at a time when service is less frequent and short turns have dire effects at the extremities of the line.

Congestion in the proposed area is due primarily to illegal parking and delivery as well as major taxi stand operations.  See the proposal below regarding enforcement.  The travel times through the core, and especially the theatre district, start to rise about 20 minutes before the parking restrictions end showing the effect of motorists hunting for potential spaces and the few who park a bit early, chancing a ticket, but taking road space when it is still needed.  Any change in parking and stopping restrictions is meaningless without proper enforcement (see below).

The taxi lay-bys need to be an integral part of the TTC’s design which is intended to block through traffic along parts of King Street.  Either the lay-bys are carved out of the existing curb lanes, or this is a de-facto road widening proposal.  Some clarity is needed for this idea.

The TTC is to report on rear-door loading.

A good chunk of travel along the route (and not just in the core) is consumed with loading passengers.  With overcrowded service, this has a compound effect as the time required to service stops goes up steeply once people cannot move freely through vehicles.  This is an often-overlooked component of calls for “efficiency” — some empty space in a transit vehicle is actually useful for passenger movement and reduced trip times.  Notable by its absence is any request that the TTC report on actual loading conditions and service quality. 

Rear-door loading is already practised at some major stops although this is, to some extent, dependent on the availability of staff to act as fare checkers.  Proof-of-Payment (POP) where all doors are opened whether there is someone to check fares or not, is not implemented on King as it is on Queen.

An integral part of any POP system is enforcement, and it is extremely rare that a POP inspector is actually encountered.  This is a budgetary issue because the POP staff are special constables travelling in pairs.

Refer a motion to the Works & Infrastructure Committee that would direct City Staff to initiate actions with Queen’s Park to expand the use of red light cameras to enforce turn restrictions, stopping and parking violations.

Request the Toronto Police Service to commit resources for continual and ongoing enforcement of all applicable traffic regulations in the King Street Transit Priority Zone.

I will not comment on the ability of a camera, except possibly one with X-ray vision, to read all of the license plates on the illegally parked and stopped vehicles on King Street.

These proposals show how Toronto continues to tip-toe around a very basic issue:  the police should not be handling traffic violations of this nature.  In other jurisdictions this is assigned to a specific corps, and indeed in Vancouver, tow-truck drivers do not require permission from a police officer to remove a car when the rush-hour restrictions come into effect.  If Toronto is serious that its streets should be used to move vehicles rather than to store them, then the enforcement of traffic bylaws is an important business.

This is akin to energy conservation:  the cheapest additional road capacity is the lanes we already have, but use for parking and deliveries.  We can complain about the congestion, or we can enforce the regulations already on the books.

Designate King Street between Dufferin and Parliament as a Transit Priority Zone where fines for traffic and parking violations would be doubled. 

The Transit Priority Zone now extends, needlessly I believe, all the way from Parliament to Dufferin.  If we are going to get tough on violations, we need to be sure we really need the laws now in place.  As an historical note, the original more-modest King Street proposal was from Jarvis to Bathurst, but then-Councillor Layton boldly proposed an expansion that actually undermined the credibility of the zone.  It should be shortened to cover areas where there really is a problem.

Right now, the TTC and Council are pre-occupied with the budget crisis, and we may not see any concrete action on this proposal.  If anything comes of next Monday’s meeting, I will report on it here.

14 thoughts on “Transit Priority on King at Community Council

  1. Taxi laybys will be welcome, but what about taxis that try and stop on King somehow because the layby is full – I walked to the 504 stop at Bay today and on the north side there were several cabs overflowing the taxi rank into the no-stopping zone near the traffic lights. This happens every single day.

    Enforcement is the answer – if the existing road restrictions on King were enforced it would help unblock the streetcar line – the denizens of the downtown towers will just have 12 taxis waiting rather than 15.


  2. Straying a little off the topic here, but it seems that there are too many taxis in the city. With nearly 3,500 regular taxis and nearly 1,500 Ambassador taxis, that’s a lot of cars chasing the same fares.

    The best prospects for business are downtown, so that’s where many of them will wait. For the past couple of years when I worked late into the evening I took a cab home, and my regular long-time cabbie said that the number of late-night cab rides from the downtown towers has been dwindling for various reasons. As a result, the competition for fares is quite ferocious, and with the City increasing the number of cabs in the recent past, it has made it more difficult for each driver to get enough fares.

    Except for specific calls, downtown (ie. King St) has the highest probability of generating decent fares – hence the long line-ups that are there pretty much all day long tying up a valuable lane of road space. Occasionally the parking enforcement will clear them away, knowing full well that they will all circle the block and be back in five minutes. Obviously, the cabs would rather sit and wait, than burn gas by circling the downtown endlessly. Until there is some kind of solution proposed for how to deal with the taxis, (ie. sufficient lay-by spots and/or a reduction in the number of cars, this will always be a problem on King St.


  3. Since I live and work in the corridor from Bay to Bathurst on King I concur that enforcement is the real issue. It’s not only parking and stopping and the “Transit Lane” that isn’t enforced, but (left and U) turn restrictions as well. There is vitually no enforcement during rush hour. I’ve seen traffic turning at every corner there is a restriction from Simcoe to Spadina.

    Delivery trucks are flagrant in their ignorance of the stopping rules, knowing full well that they won’t get towed away.

    As to the taxi stands, they never should’ve been allowed to sit on the road. The taxi stand should be cut into the ample sidewalk at both TD and First Canadian Place complexes. Sadly I think the same problem will exist when the Festival Tower is built at King and John.


  4. It makes sense to me to shrink the “transit priority zone” to something more reasonable. During morning rush, east of Dufferin, west of Bathurst, the line moves pretty fast (this may change as Liberty village continues to grow). Same for between Jarvis and Parliament.

    But double the fines? Why stop there? Why not quadruple them?

    How about not renewing taxi licenses for cars whose drivers commit some magic number of infractions?

    Changing the risk/reward equation will be very effective in cleaning up this mess, especially around the bank towers (and the King Eddy).


  5. Steve you make an interesting comment:
    “Congestion in the proposed area is due primarily to illegal parking and delivery as well as major taxi stand operations. ”

    Are you sure? I was traveling in a cab westbound along King from Yonge to Sudbury St. at about 6 p.m. a couple months ago . (My 15-minute threshold for waiting for a streetcar had passed.) As soon as we hit Simcoe St., traffic slowed to a crawl. By the time we reached Spadina, I had grown three more white whiskers and made a comment to the cab driver along the lines of “eesh, woulda been faster to walk.” He didn’t skip a beat (he was probably thinking about the same thing) when he said it was because the Spadina streetcar short-turning at King backs everything up. There were no streetcars in front of us, there was no streetcar parked on Charlotte St. (And since I was in the cab in the first place, there were obviously none behind us either.)

    A couple of weeks later, I was in another cab, this time going south on Ossington at Dundas during that intersection makeover/track upgrade. Again, I made a comment about traffic in the city. Cabbie’s response? He blamed the streetcar that was turning south on Ossington from Dundas. What he failed to notice was that a taxi was dropping off a couple of chatty, slow-moving passengers with many parcels. And he did so right at the corner — beyond the dotted streetcar turning line in the road, and completely ignoring the unmistakable ding ding ding of the trolley. But it was still the streetcar’s fault.

    I’m sure you could start a whole new thread on the role of taxis in moving people around the city and how much accommodation is necessary. I just wish these folks would get their facts straight before spreading misinformation, especially if you look at how many of them make dangerous, sudden U-turns, stop illegally, take up two lanes for loading, etc.

    It’s a frustrating game: If you’re in a cab on a streetcar route and traffic is slow-going, strike up a conversation about the traffic or ask the cabbie why s/he thinks things are slow and pull out your stopwatch. I’d bet the farm it wouldn’t take longer than 60 seconds for many of them to blame the TTC or streetcars directly or indirectly.


  6. 1) Maybe we need some flexibility for the transit zones. In the centre of the zone the hours would be the longest (i.e. extended to 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.) but the hours could be shorter on the periphery.

    2) Could the TTC Special Constables be put in charge of enforcing the bylaws in the transit Priority Zone?

    Steve: Yes, if there was the political will to take this work away from the police force.

    3) Why does it take require special constables to deal with rear door loading? Couldn’t we bring back conductors to deal with fare collection at major intersections at peak times?

    Steve: Special Constables are used for onboard POP checks because they will issue ticket to violators. For rear door loading, a “conductor” does just fine.


  7. An integral part of any POP system is enforcement, and it is extremely rare that a POP inspector is actually encountered. This is a budgetary issue because the POP staff are special constables travelling in pairs.

    How does GO handle this? Do they simply have individuals patrolling trains?

    Steve: GO has the advantage of a captive audience because stops are far apart, and they can even do exit checks at stations. This is not an option for the TTC.


  8. There are three major “transit only” lanes that I am familiar with. King Street Streetcar, Bay Street urban Clearway and Dundas West Bus Priority Lane (To and from Kipling Station from and to points west). None of these appear to be observed in the slightest by car traffic. There is zero enforcement. One day, when there were two policemen on Bay Street handing out tickets, I asked if they were enforcing the transit lane exclusivity. The office I asked laughed and said “We would never enforce that”. (They were catching illegal turns.)

    I am on the record as asking my Councillor to try and make the City either enforce these zones – with patrols and fines – or else take the signs down. In a variation of the Guiliani “Broken Windows” enforcement theory, I do not believe that clamping down on petty miscreants (sometimes called harrassment) leads to better and safer cities. However, I do believe that when a Council passes Bylaws that it makes no effort to enforce and has no intention of enforcing, it helps create a disrespect for the City and for Council’s wishes.

    It is imperative that either a blitz to enforce transit only lanes begin and continue or else the totally ignored signs should be taken down.


  9. I agree that GO has a better chance to catch and fine the miscreants than the TTC Special Constables who may patrol the Queen POP car patrons. However, I would also suggest that the TTC would have a lower rate of fare evasion if enforcement was at a higher level than ZERO. Even if miscreants were regularly forced to get off at the next stop, there would be an increased level of compliance and awareness. With enforcement, at least some miscreants would be caught and taught a lesson.

    I am tempted (though I haven’t done this to date) to catch the open rear door of congested non POP streetcars and get on into the relatively uncongested rear area. I could wave my MetroPass around to let the “honest citizens” know that I was not stealing a fare. I probably will never get to this level of (technical) miscreance, but I do think that coupled with enforcement there is room for signifcant increase in TTC POP routes. Spadina and King immediately spring to mind. Also many Queen cars do not open rear doors during POP approved periods, increasing front door congestion.


  10. Michael Greason said, “I do believe that when a Council passes Bylaws that it makes no effort to enforce and has no intention of enforcing, it helps create a disrespect for the City and for Council’s wishes.”

    It certainly does, for it makes the City and Council portray themselves as one big joke.

    Fact of life: a rule does not exist if it is not enforced. By definition, a rule consists of instruction and penalty. If you are not willing to impose the penalty when the instruction is not followed, then you are effectively nullifying the rule. How can anyone in the public take the City and Council seriously if they make rules only to nullify them?


  11. I think it’s hard practically to enforce the POP on streetcars – but I think it’s also that council will not support the TTC if it look like they are aggressively enforcing something that might catch more the poor people and minorities. The police don’t go after panhandlers for the same reason – they don’t want to be ‘called onto the carpet’ by the politicians. (Same type of thing is what has happenned in the schools in the north west.) For the TTC, it’s just not worth the trouble.

    Steve: Actually, the reason is far simpler with no racist overtones. The TTC’s management does not believe in POP, fought passes tooth and nail and still takes every chance they get to imply that the system loses money on them. Properly enforcing POP needs staff, but TTC management would rather complain about fare evasion than implement what is needed to control it.

    When smart cards and all door loading come, inevitably, to Toronto, they will have no choice.


  12. The issue of POP for streetcar lines may be resolved in favour of POP in the near future. The designs I have seen so far have the driver in an isolated compartment much like the subway trains. Certainly not in a position to handle fares effectively.


  13. I have always thought that a streetcar running on restored and extended tracks on Richmond/Adelaide could take a load off of King and Queen. A fairly short line running, say, from Parliament to Spadina would do a great deal of good. Some new tracks, or even a wrong-way ROW on Adelaide could be used here, and the line could eventually run all the way to CAMH at Ossington when demand warranted. Has consideration been given simply to removing some or all service to low-demand stops? The proximity between them can be annoyingly small (University to Simcoe?!), and downtown is quite conducive to walking an extra block. This would greatly reduce loading times and increase the average speed.

    Steve: East of downtown, neither the traffic congestion nor the demand warrant a parallel services on Richmond/Adelaide. To the west, the problem remains that the riding originates generally beyond the area you are talking about and there would still remain a need for frequent service. Adelaide west of Bathurst would be a challenge because St. Mary’s church is in the way, and up on Richmond, aside from the wanderings of the street and the absence of track west of York, you completely run out of street at Niagara.

    There is only a handful of very closely spaced stops that might be candidates for elimination such as King & Victoria westbound, Queen & Simcoe westbound. The stops at King & Simcoe serve the theatre district.

    The real problem with loading times is our pay-as-you-enter fare collection system. Get rid of that, use all door loading, and you will pick up time at the busy stops where dwell times are substantial.


  14. Does the TTC ever examine the placement of transit stops as areas change? I fully appreciate the fact that the more stops there are the slower the trip will be but on King Street a stop nearer George Brown College would surely be a good idea. Many GBC students (and staff) take the 504 and they now must get on/off at either Jarvis or Sherbourne. An additional stop at George (which has a traffic signal) might be feasible. Possibly removing the Victoria stop at the same time?


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