Bus Lanes Are Only A First Step To Better Transit

Today, July 21, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a report from Barbara Gray, the City’s General Manager, Transportation Services recommending that:

City Council authorize the implementation of Reserved Bus Lanes on the Eglinton East corridor, in the following sections:

a. Eglinton Avenue East from Brimley Road to Cedar Drive;

b. Kingston Road from Eglinton Avenue East to Morningside Avenue; and

c. Morningside Avenue from Kingston Road to Ellesmere Road.

Reports on other proposed bus corridors will come to Council later this year with Jane Street being the first out aiming at implementation in April 2021.

Advocates for better transit and for improved services to neighbourhoods dependent on bus service champion these proposals including an opinion piece in yesterday’s Star by Stephen Farber and Matthew Palm.

These moves are long overdue. For decades the transit debates swirled around who would get the next subway line and which technology was most appropriate. The many riders whose trips will not be served by the future subway network were lost in the shuffle.

The political temptation will be to approve today’s report, smile for the cameras and pat our collective selves on the back for a great transit victory. If only it were that easy.

Toronto needs a much more aggressive plan to improve bus service, and the City must recognize that there are several aspects to doing this, far more than throwing some red paint down on a few roads. For its part, the TTC must lose its timidity and advocate for much improved transit even in the face of calls to contain costs and limit budget growth.

Experience going back to the 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy shows that when a “shopping list” of potential improvements is available, there is better understanding of what might be done. Improvements might be fought for one-by-one, but as part of a sustained strategy. The simplistic “we can’t afford it” arguments fail when confronted with specific proposals, clear benefits and costs that might well be within the City’s capability.

What should a program for the City, the TTC and the many advocates for better transit look like?

  1. Treat reserved lanes primarily to improve service reliability with travel time savings as an add-on benefit.
  2. Exploit reduced travel times as a way to improve service capacity, not as a way to save money on transit budgets.
  3. Recognize that much of the benefit has already been achieved, post-covid, through temporarily lower overall traffic volumes, and that bus lanes can prevent a return of the worst of the traffic that ensnares transit riders.
  4. Accept that transit priority will mean a reduction in road capacity for other users, notably motorists, and be prepared to enforce priority schemes through a combination of policing and physical barriers.
  5. Integrate bus lanes plans with overall Vision Zero street redesign so that transit riders, who are also pedestrians, can safely and easily access transit service.
  6. Manage transit service to provide reliable vehicle spacing so that a “five minute service” really is a bus every five minutes, not two buses every ten, or three buses every fifteen.
  7. Set standards for crowding and service quality and report regularly, in public and in detail including cases where budgetary or other constraints prevent achieving these goals.
  8. Design a fleet plan that aims for service growth, including not just vehicles, but also maintenance facilities, and integrate this with Council’s desire to move to a “green” transit fleet.
  9. Treat the surface transit network with the same respect and attention lavished on rapid transit plans.

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