After pressure from the public, the TTC decided on Tuesday to look at introducing designated bus lanes along busy corridors sooner than it had planned. This fall, the transit agency plans to introduce bus-only lanes on Eglinton Avenue East. Next spring, there are plans to introduce bus-only lanes on Jane Street.
Those plans will be submitted to Mayor John Tory's executive committee for approval next week and council at its meeting later this month. At its July meeting on Tuesday, the TTC board of commissioners voted to ask staff to report back on the possibility of introducing dedicated bus lanes on Finch Avenue East, Steeles Avenue West and Dufferin Street next year.
These three routes were not slated to have dedicated bus lanes until at least 2022 or later. More than a dozen people at the meeting, however, asked the TTC to accelerate its plans to reduce crowding amid COVID-19.
Austin Jafri, a low-income, full-time post-secondary student who works two part-time jobs and lives in Scarborough, urged the board to reconsider its "slow" timeline for dedicated bus lanes and said the current timeline is "problematic" for Scarborough residents.
"I am asking that you reprioritize Finch East so the lane can be implemented much earlier. Waiting two more years or beyond is ridiculous," he told the meeting.
"And if you don't push your way on the bus, you will have to wait much longer for the next bus. I have seen this happen so many times."
Jafri said the timeline is a question of equity. "Your current plan is too slow. You know that Scarborough has been neglected for years for decent transit ... Start to fix this by speeding up the bus lane timeline and get it done faster. Vulnerable transit users cannot wait while you have the privilege of using your car."
Shelagh Pizey-Allen, spokesperson for TTCriders, a group of transit users, said the Eglinton Avenue East bus lane is very welcome, but she thinks the TTC should fast track plans for the other bus lanes.
"We are really happy that Eglinton East is going to be forwarded onto the executive committee, then city council, for installation this fall," Pizey-Allen said after the meeting.
"It's a really big win for all the transit users in Scarborough who have been calling for rapid transit along Eglinton from Kennedy station to the University of Toronto Scarborough, but we know that Jane has been one of the most crowded routes during the pandemic," she added.
"It runs through neighbourhood improvement areas. It serves a lot of essential workers and people who are racialized and lower income. We need better bus service sooner."
TTC faces possible shortfall of $553M by end of year
The decision by the TTC board comes as the transit agency faces a massive shortfall due to a severe drop in ridership during the pandemic.
According to a report presented at the meeting by CEO Rick Leary, the agency projects the loss of riders will cost it $238 million by Labour Day if current trends continue. That shortfall could balloon to $553 million by the end of the year.
Mike DeToma, spokesperson for the TTC, said ridership is returning, especially on bus routes, as the city continues to reopen.
"It is slowly coming back," he said.
The city has said that the bus-only lanes will improve speed, reliability and capacity, and as a result, they will increase access to employment, health care and community services.
"Bus priority lanes are an important step in the city of Toronto's recovery efforts and for ensuring TTC surface routes remain fast, safe and attractive options for customers as ridership returns," DeToma said.
The Eglinton East corridor is the top priority of all five routes.
Bus lanes would run for 8.5 kilometres along Eglinton Avenue East, Kingston Road and Morningside Avenue from Brimley Road, through to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus.
The other corridors are:
- Jane Street from Eglinton Avenue to Steeles Avenue.
- Finch Avenue East from Yonge Street to McCowan Road.
- Steeles Avenue West from Yonge Street to Pioneer Village Subway Station.
- Dufferin Street from Dufferin Gate to Wilson Avenue.
"The Eglinton East bus corridor is among TTC's most heavily used and, even during COVID-19, continues to play a significant role in moving people around the city," the TTC said in a news release.
TTC to look at possibility of free Wi-Fi on buses, streetcars
In other news, the TTC board also decided on Tuesday to ask staff to look at the possibility of rolling out a free Wi-Fi pilot program on buses and streetcars that service neighbourhood improvement areas and post-secondary institutions. Staff will be asked to report back in November.