City report recommends making King St. pilot permanent

The King St. transit pilot could be here to stay.

In a report released Tuesday, city staff recommend council vote to make the project designed to prioritize streetcar operations permanent. Staff concluded that the pilot, which has been in place on a downtown stretch of King for the past 16 months, has achieved its goal of improving streetcar operations on what is the TTC’s busiest surface route.

King St. pilot project data revealed higher ridership and faster commute times.
King St. pilot project data revealed higher ridership and faster commute times.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Among other measurements, the report cited increased ridership on the King route, which jumped 16 per cent to 84,000 daily boardings.

“We’ve seen King St. now moves more people faster and more reliably,” said Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York), whose ward covers much of the study area. He called the pilot “the most comprehensively evaluated transit project in the history of our city.

“It has demonstrated that for minimal cost we can have a significant positive impact when we choose to lead on transit files,” he said.

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The report’s recommendations are expected to be debated at a meeting of Mayor Tory’s executive committee next Tuesday, before going to council later in the month for a final decision.

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Tory said he will support making the pilot permanent, calling it “the right thing to do for our modern and growing city.”

He said the pilot had “essentially created a surface subway” at minimal cost.

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While the pilot appears to have attracted more riders to King, it has also provoked outrage from some local business owners. Last year restaurateurs who claimed the project was driving away customers staged protests that famously included ice sculptures shaped like middle fingers.

The city responded with parking and dining promotions intended to draw more patrons to the area, but some owners said those measures fell short.

The city installed the pilot in November 2017 at a projected cost of $ 1.5 million. It restricts car movements on the 2.6-kilometre stretch of King between Bathurst and Jarvis Sts. by compelling drivers to turn right at most major intersections.

Although the test period was supposed to end at the close of last year, in December council agreed to a request from city staff to extend the pilot into 2019 to allow more time to compile data on its effects.

The city estimates it would cost about $ 500,000 to dismantle the pilot and return King to its previous configuration.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

TORONTO STAR