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Spacing exclusive – we have learned that the Toronto Transit Commission will announce a major service increase. Smarting from recent customer service issues including higher fares, sleeping employees, and rush hour service cuts, the TTC will roll out an ambitious plan for rapid transit expansion. New routes will utilize the city’s waterways to link the downtown core with neighbourhoods across Toronto.
The plan – Amphibious City – calls for partially grade-separated waterway routes as the means to quickly move commuters to and from the city’s core. Several new routes will operate as soon as this summer. In mid-March, Spacing lamented minor service cuts by the TTC and GO – despite increased ridership and higher fares. We now learn that the cuts released enough operators for intense training allowing a “quick launch” of new services.
The preliminary fleet of seven-year old “Hippo” buses will operate on three routes by the end of June. Several routes will be added in coming years leading up to the 2015 Pan-American Games.
The news of an upcoming official announcement, barely a week after the Ontario government’s budget delivered a kick in the teeth to Toronto’s LRT plans, is surprising. However, TTC officials explained to us that this is part of a contingency plan for any Transit City delays. Hippo buses will be cheap to implement, require much less money in construction costs, and the first phase can be implemented without going through a lengthy environmental assessment.
The purchased Hippo buses, acquired by the City of Toronto from a defunct private tourism enterprise, will provide service until larger and wheel-chair accessible vessels can be acquired, preferably from a Canadian manufacturer.
Some dredging and remedial work will be required for service on inland waterways such as Highland Creek or the Don River.
Speaking to Spacing insiders, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone called this the “most exciting transit news since Transit City.”
Giambrone notes that Amphibious City will be complementary to Transit City, the planned network of light rail corridors across the city. “People have criticised Transit City for being too focused on east-west travel, and missing many parts of the city. Amphibious City seeks to address those concerns, and it will be a fun way to get around.”
Amphibious City promises to improve the public perception and visibility of the TTC, while providing a service not at the mercy of Toronto’s traffic congestion. This service would also benefit from a quick start-up, requires minimal infrastructure, and give riders alternatives to the overcrowded Yonge Subway and the Scarborough Rapid Transit line as it undergoes a planned conversion to LRT.
This wouldn’t be the first time the TTC planned aquatic transit services. Until 1960, the TTC operated the Toronto Island ferries until they were transferred to the Parks Department. In 2007, Giambrone floated the idea of fast ferries, earning him the moniker “Admiral Adam”, but a year later, the fast ferry plan was torpedoed in a report by noted transit consultant Richard Soberman. Now, the Admiral is back, and with a vengeance.
While not yet confirmed by the TTC, Spacing has obtained a list of planned Hippo BRT (Boat Rapid Transit) routes:
- Queen’s Park/Bluffers: From McCowan and Steeles, via McCowan, Scarborough Town Centre, and Brimley Avenue to Bluffers Park. Express via Lake Ontario, then north from York Quay to Queen’s Park via York and University.
- Ryerson/Humber Bay: From Long Branch, via Lake Shore Boulevard to Palace Pier, then via Lake Ontario to Dundas Square/Ryerson University via York Quay, Queen’s Quay, Yonge and Dundas Square, looping via Gould and Victoria. This route would replace the slow and little-popular 145 Lakeshore Express.
These two routes would likely be ready for the launch of service. Other routes would follow once the necessary infrastructure is ready.
- Don River/Harbourfront – from Don Mills and Steeles, down Don Mills Road to the Don River south of Overlea Boulevard, and via the Don River to York Quay. This later route will be completed upon dredging the Don River.
- Malvern/Highland Creek: From Neilson and McLevin to Queen’s Park via Neilson, Centenary Hospital, Markham Road, Military Trail, University of Toronto-Scarborough, Highland Creek, Lake Ontario, and then downtown via York Quay and University Avenue. A section of Highland Creek will be dredged before service could begin on this route.
- Airport Express: A premium fare, express Hippo service to Pearson Airport, following the Etobicoke Creek until reaching the airport property near Highway 401, then using the existing internal road system to reach each terminal.
Other, express Hippo routes could serve the Toronto Zoo (Giambrone, obviously having some fun, coined the term “see the hippos, take the Hippo”), and the proposed Pickering Airport, via the Rouge River.
Special Hippo services will operate for the Pan Am Games linking the Atheletes’ Village with venues on the Toronto Waterfront, Hamilton and Scarborough Campus.
Naming opportunities for the Hippos will allow the TTC to recoup system costs from the advertising industry. Urgent approval of this plan will be required to circumvent Toronto’s pending Hippo Review Board.
Some transit critics were infuriated by this plan. An advocacy group calling themselves SOS (“Save Our Swan Boats”) immediately blamed transit advocate Steve Munro for Amphibious City, claiming that he was behind the scheme. They pointed to an earlier plan for smaller watercraft utilizing canals across the city that would, in their opinion, create jobs and “put Toronto on the map.”
SOS laughed at the so-called “Airport Express” which would require “passengers to pack a lunch”. SOS praised Metrolinx for funding infrastructure upgrades allowing a private company to operate 1950s rail cars for $22 one way trips using an existing rail line. “This type of public/private partnership will ensure the future of modern transit for our city”, said SOS.
Etobicoke and York Councillors complained that Amphibious City ignored the Humber River and Hippo service through their constituencies, and York University demanded that Hippos run via Black Creek to their main campus.
The Toronto Environmental Alliance cautioned that this plan assumed ice-free conditions in the harbour and rivers, and accused the TTC of depending on Global Warming to ensure uninterrupted service.
Metrolinx CEO Robert Prichard fired a shot across the bow, warning that, once again, Toronto proposed new regional services without regard for Ontario’s plans. He dismissed Hippos as an obsolete technology, completely out of the league of Metrolinx’ own submarine express transit, aka The Deep Move. Prichard himself was about to announce conversion of the underground Taddle Creek to provide direct service to the University of Toronto from Yonge and Queen’s Quay, across the street from the Toronto Star building. “We would have used Captain John’s [Restaurant] as a new mobility hub. It’s for sale. We’d preserve a beloved landmark in the process.”
Giambrone was quick to dismiss these preliminary criticisms, saying that Toronto needs Amphibious City. “It’s exciting, it’s visionary, it’s the wave of the future.”
As for the Airport Express and other longer routes, he reiterated that the TTC would be putting out a detailed request for proposals for new vessels. “We will be looking for a Canadian supplier of Hippos. Bombardier is working on hydrofoil Hippos as we speak.”
Finally, as if to test out a new speaking line, he then changed his tone and said:
We will run buses on the beaches, we will run them in the streets, and we will run them in the sewers and the rivers and in the harbour. And in 1,000 years, men will still say, “This was their finest transit system.”
[With files from Sean Marshall and Steve Munro]