A recent report on improving bus service on Finch has been met with mixed reactions by North York councillors, with some saying it’s too little, too late.
The March document is a follow-up to a May 2011 report titled Opportunities for Improved Bus Service on Finch Avenue, which responded to a proposal by Ward 1 councillor Vincent Crisanti to bring rapid bus service to Finch Avenue West.
The report says installing 30 new bus stop lanes at traffic lights, moving nine bus stops from before the lights to after the lights, and installing seven new signal priorities could significantly improve Finch’s bus service.
“The combination … would decrease the round-trip travel time on the 36 Finch West bus route by approximately 10 minutes,” the report says. “Customers would benefit from faster service, reduced travel time by as much as five minutes per direction for longer trips, and more-reliable service.”
The report says the improvements could have the same effect as adding four buses to the route in the morning peak period and three in the afternoon peak period.
Ward 23 councillor John Filion said the improvements could go a long way to improving not only bus service, but also overall gridlock in North York.
“In addition to this being a benefit for transit, just getting the bus out of the way when it’s dropping people off will also improve the congestion,” he said. “So you sort of get two benefits for the same dollar, so I think it’s a very good idea.”
However, one of the caveats of the report is that the improvement construction would not be complete until 2014, with construction of Light Rail Transit slated to start in 2016.
“With the start of major construction on Finch Avenue West, the benefits of the queue-jump lanes would be largely wiped out, so the real benefits of the lanes might be available for only two or three years,” the report points out. “This brings into doubt the wisdom of spending a considerable amount of money on what would likely be short-lived benefits.”
For this reason, Filion said he would like to see the queue-jump lanes installed only at the 14 intersections east of Keele Street where there will be no light rail.
Considering the total estimated cost of the bus improvements is pegged at $25–30 million, Ward 10 councillor James Pasternak agrees.
“To put in what could be a $30 million investment for only two or three years is really not a good use of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
The report, which arrived a year after Crisanti’s initial proposal, clearly frustrated Ward 24 councillor David Shiner. He said while the city should certainly be looking at improving bus service along Finch, the report took too long and said too little.
“I think it’s a ridiculous response from the TTC to take a year to come back and say it may be too expensive, though they’re not sure,” he said.
“It probably would have been beneficial to get the changes in now,” he added. “If the TTC was really serious about getting riders moving along the Finch bus way, they would have come back very promptly.”
Shiner went so far as to speculate that city staff deliberately held the report back after the Feb. 8 special council meeting that saw Light Rail Transit return to Finch.
“It almost seems like they were trying to delay this so (councillors) would vote for an LRT instead of doing any improvements to the current service,” he said.
Shiner also objected to a suggestion that he said “seems to be from the 1950s,” which says consideration should be given to providing staff at high-volume bus stops to allow customers to board at all doors to reduce the time at busy stops when the new articulated buses arrive.
“It just seems that this is a report from the old TTC, that took forever to get things done, came back with impractical costs that wouldn’t work if they didn’t like the idea, and then overburdened it with the suggestion of hiring up more people,” he said.
Councillors are expecting another report in June that will look at increased bus service east of Keele Street, where there will be no Light Rail Transit, and using existing resources to improve service on the 36 Finch West line west of Keele Street.
Shiner is one North York councillor eagerly looking forward to that report.
“I think that this needs to go back to the drawing board very quickly,” he said. “It’s an out-of-date response to a long-standing problem that should be better addressed.”