Toronto's transit agency is tweaking its rules to allow faster service on the city's busiest streetcar, but Mayor John Tory poured cold water on more drastic options for getting people moving.
The TTC confirmed Monday that it would go to all-door boarding on the King streetcar next month, a move that is being billed as a bonus for both riders and motorists. Streetcars will be able to spend less time at stops, shortening journey times and reducing delays for drivers who must wait while the transit vehicles load and unload.
"The 504 streetcar carries 60,000 people every day. Starting January 1, their commute will be shorter and easier," Mr. Tory said Monday morning. "The King streetcar will spend 50 per cent less time stopped so people can board. And that's also 50 per cent less time … impeding traffic."
The change amounts to an effective but relatively small operational tweak. Other options are politically more difficult.
Dedicated lanes for streetcars, which carry many more people on King than private vehicles, was floated during the last term of council and then disappeared. An even more drastic way to tackle gridlock would be a charge for driving into the city core – traffic in downtown London, England, is down about 10 per cent since a congestion charge began in 2003.
Mr. Tory was non-committal about transit-only lanes and offered an unequivocal "no" when asked if he would ever consider a congestion charge.
Also Monday, Police Chief Bill Blair announced that the force will place a greater focus on traffic enforcement, beginning in January.
"Under the previous city administration, parking enforcement primary focus was revenue generation," he told reporters. "And under Mayor Tory, he's been very, very clear that he wants that enforcement to include an initiative to make our roadways move more efficiently."
The King streetcar is a workhorse of the TTC network, one that has become increasingly crowded as the Liberty Village area filled in. It carries about 57,000 passengers each weekday, according to 2012 figures from the transit agency, more than the Sheppard subway.
According to figures from the TTC, end-to-end journeys on the King car could be five to six minutes faster with all-door boarding. It's unclear, though, how much real-world effect the change will have. Few passengers ride the entire length of the route. And operators often already allow passengers on through the rear doors during peak times.
Andy Byford, the CEO of the transit agency, said that "there will be an improvement" once that system is formalized. And downtown Councillor Mike Layton said it was worth doing if the time saved was only a few minutes.
"That's at least doing whatever we can," the councillor said after Monday's announcement. "Anything we can do to make the trip more reliable, get people on the vehicles faster, get the system moving faster."
Although all-door boarding raises the prospect of more fare-jumpers, the TTC plans to hire more inspection officers. These people will have batons and handcuffs, which TTC spokesman Brad Ross said will be "purely and only used in defence."
Mr. Byford said the TTC would seek an additional $8-million for fare inspectors next year, boosting the squad from 20 to 100 officers, though he could not say how much of that would be necessary for King specifically. The cost of hiring those personnel would be expected to be offset by lower rates of fare evasion – which costs the transit agency an estimated $20-million per year – and through fines.
New TTC chair Josh Colle reminded riders paying with tokens or cash that they will need to get a transfer when boarding the King car under the new system, even if they don't plan to change to another vehicle. The transfer will be the proof that they paid. Riders with passes – about 60 per cent of the total – can use them to prove payment.