An early morning truck fire on a key commuter highway seemed tailor-made to put Toronto's Pan Am Games traffic plan to the test.
The semi hauling limes caught fire on the inbound Highway 401 about 6 a.m. It was just in time to catch commuters back on the road after the weekend and had the potential to create huge headaches as the Games began to hit their stride, with events in 18 disciplines scheduled for Monday.
Instead of keeping closed a big chunk of the highway – with the risk of a ripple effect that would bring just the sort of traffic chaos Pan Am critics had been predicting – the response teams took an approach that averted the worst of the delays.
"They got that truck off on the shoulder and they reopened all lanes of traffic," OPP Sergeant Kerry Schmidt explained.
"Instead of cleaning up through the morning rush and tying up traffic, they held off until [late morning], when traffic is lighter, to do the clean-up and then staged the closures properly, using all resources that we have … to assist in getting that done."
London set a notorious example for major sporting events in 2012 when a collision on the same day the city opened its Olympic-related dedicated lanes sparked a 51-kilometre traffic jam. Desperate to avoid a similar scenario, the officials behind the Pan Am traffic plan are pulling out all the stops to keep people moving.
Commuters have been urged to carpool and employers to allow staff to change schedules or work from home. Games spectators and commuters are being encouraged to take transit, with extra service added. And temporary high-occupancy vehicle lanes have been installed on 235 kilometres of area roads, mostly highways.
Vel Krish said he found the roads unusually quiet Monday morning, cutting his usual two-hour commute into Toronto from Uxbridge nearly in half. The restaurant worker speculated that people were staying home or taking transit.
"I think most of the people didn't use their car," said Mr. Krish, who put an ad on Kijiji to carpool, but had no takers Monday. "There's nobody – it's much better than before [the Pan Am Games]."
Alex Soutsos, a financial services specialist, said his GO train route is noticeably more crowded, and delayed, since the Games began. "It puts extra pressure on me because I can't rely on a service to be there when it's supposed to," he said.
The overall impact of the traffic efforts cannot be known yet. Transit ridership numbers were not immediately available and the Ministry of Transportation was reluctant to release road data so early in the Games.
Andrew Posluns, who is leading the province's Games traffic plan, said he wanted a bigger sample of traffic data and needed to verify the results and weed out anomalies before going public with the numbers. But he said there were positive signs from the roadways.
"The sense here is that, you know, many of our highways are moving very well," he said. "We're definitely moving those travel times in the right direction."
Also in time for the Games, the private firm Uber has ramped up its offerings, launching a pilot of its carpooling service UberPool. This is billed as a way to link up people going in the same direction, lowering their cost and allowing use of the temporary HOV lanes.
"We thought the Pan Am Games would be a perfect time to introduce this product," said Uber general manager Ian Black.