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Amid a rising tide of concern that scofflaw drivers have been ignoring rules designed to speed up the King streetcar, Toronto police on Friday released tallies showing that they have written around $500,000 worth of tickets there in the past five months.

Police have also assigned a dedicated officer to the area, at least in the short term, and will be working with the city to figure out where best to target their efforts.

“It is 100 per cent [of drivers] that’s following the rules? No, definitely not,” said police traffic spokesman Constable Clint Stibbe. “We know we are getting compliance. To what percentage? I don’t think we can measure that.”

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The King Street transit pilot project was intended to clear space for the streetcar, the most heavily used surface route in Toronto. The new rules restricted through movement by private vehicles at most major intersections on King between Bathurst and Jarvis, with the change indicated by signs, pavement paint and concrete barriers. Taxis were exempted during the late evening and overnight.

Data from the first five months suggest that the new approach has allowed the streetcar to operate more quickly and with more predictable timing, helping attract customers. Travel times for people driving on nearby roads have not gone up significantly.

Since the pilot began in mid-November, officers have written 4,619 tickets on that part of King, according to police figures. Tickets for breaking the King Street rules carry two demerit points and cost $110.

The overall tally averages out to about 30 tickets per day, though enforcement has varied over those months and some periods saw a much heavier police presence. A single week early in the pilot resulted in 560 tickets.

According to observers, the level of rule-breaking has gone up as enforcement has tapered off.

Local councillor Joe Cressy, a strong advocate of the transit project, said police vigilance is needed because the kinds of major changes to the street that would help drivers understand how to behave weren’t possible for a pilot project designed to last only one year.

“The design of King is oriented towards cars,” he said. “This street was designed to move cars. We’ve made [only] small adjustments, and thus enforcement is still critical.”

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Previous experience in Toronto and elsewhere, though, is a reminder of how limited the impact of police ticketing can be. In 2000, the Toronto Transit Commission hired police officers to enforce an earlier version of traffic restrictions on King, giving up in defeat after 7,200 tickets were written in 10 weeks.

“Enforcement, by itself is not a sufficient deterrent to motorists in Toronto who regularly and blatantly disregard traffic regulations in this area,” states a TTC report from 2007, when the agency was again trying to find ways to speed up its streetcars.

Constable Stibbe agreed that the behaviour of Toronto drivers, including around King, can be less than exemplary. He recalls repeated instances of stopping drivers to explain how they should proceed, only to watch them break the rules.

“The human element that’s inherent in the day-to-day commute can’t be accounted for,” he said.

Toronto is tackling traffic with a year-long pilot project that bans motorists from driving through a busy downtown section of King Street. One commuter says her lunch-time streetcar ride is almost three times faster. The Canadian Press
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