The Better Way, Postridie

What can you do in 75 minutes? I can:

– watch an episode of “The Americans” and have lots of time to make a bag of popcorn

– fly to New York, gate to gate

– run 12.5 kilometres

That’s the time I saved today by driving my car downtown to Sumach and Queen Streets. I left the house at approximately the same time as yesterday, though I did stop for fuel. I drove straight down Bayview Avenue, to the extension, and circled around back up to Queen Street to my destination. Elapsed time: 40 minutes (75 minutes yesterday). I was back in the car in a few minutes, and by 4:16pm, I was at Carlton Street via Jarvis Street. I arrived at St. Clair Avenue at 4:22. I was at Lawrence Avenue and Yonge Street by 4:36. I continued up Yonge Street, then took some secondary streets and looped back to Bayview, avoiding the construction blocking the northbound curb lane just south of Steeles. Elapsed time, door-to-door, one hour and 45 minutes, 75 minutes faster than the same trip by public transit.

On further examination, there were a few downsides. For example, it was difficult to see the pedestrian jaywalking just south of Carlton across Jarvis. My view of him was obstructed by the SUVs and minivans that were also heading north, and if I had hit him, it would not have been pretty. I witnessed a woman in a Camry Solara running a red light, thankful that the driver waiting patiently to make her left turn didn’t assume the woman in the Solara was going to stop. I only remember going around one driver who was bent on driving 15 km/h below the posted speed limit in the passing lane; usually this is just a fact of driving in Toronto.

I burned hydrocarbons, yet I felt like I was making progress, rather than being stuck in a stationary subway car. Instead of being subjected to the hiss of overdriven headphones by a teenager that will surely be deaf at the age of 30, I listened to A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Opus 21, by Mendelssohn.

I also had a nice time keeping up with a Porsche Panamera 4S, just on the edge of illicit activity.

I saved 75 minutes, time that will be lost forever from the day before.

There are clear answers to the transit problems and traffic congestion in Toronto. Our typical navel-gazing politicians cannot get past their insular thinking. London, England has a congestion charge, and every farthing goes to transit. Transit in London is also partly privately run. For a profit. If I want to travel from Charing Cross Station to Piccadilly Circus, I can walk, take a bus, take a London cab or get on the Tube. True, I can do much the same if I want to travel from Queen Street to Dundas Street along Yonge Street in Toronto. But once you’re out of the downtown core, the four modes of transportation rapidly become one or two, and that’s a bus, or a car, because the distances are too great to walk.

About a year ago, I had a conversation with a TTC employee about fare payment. With London’s Oyster Card (like a Metropass), I can ‘tap’ on and off buses and the Tube. Only now is the Presto system being rolled out to the TTC, seemingly at a snail’s pace. He said that having a payment system like Presto wouldn’t cause one more person to take transit, so there hasn’t been any need for it. I won’t take transit if I have to line up to purchase my fare. Lineups are a sign of someone else’s inefficiency, and I won’t abide it. The inability to easily transfer from bus to subway or from one transit system to another has likely kept ridership down. I know I’ve been riding transit more often simply because I hold a Presto Card. New York’s MTA is experimenting with near field communications, so that people can pay their fare with their phones. They are also looking at partnering with credit card companies to make it simple to pay a fare. It’s not about adding riders. It’s about the customer experience. The new head of the TTC, Andy Byford, understands this, and has appointed a number of station and area managers that are responsible for customer satisfaction, among other duties.

Also in New York, I can scan a QR code on a bus stop with my cell phone which will tell me what buses are coming my way and when. Although stops are numbered in York Region, there is no easy tool to do the same. I have to launch a browser on my phone, key in the stop number, wait for the server to load the page and then find the information on a page not optimized for mobile. Close, but not there yet.

And what about fares? In New York, a fare is $2.75, competitive with Toronto. In London, where the transit system is amazing, it’s £4.50, almost $7.20 Canadian for a cash fare, but only £2.10 or $3.35 Canadian using the Oyster card. Surely the efficiencies of the fare card are evident to the Toronto managers of the TTC. Imagine the information that could be gathered about how individuals use transit from the fare card.  Informed, intelligent decisions could be made about investment in new subways and bus lines to accommodate the actual transit flow, rather than relying on manual counts and ‘gut’ feel.

The New York has a new subway being built right downtown. They have many cross-over lines and relief lines. Same with London. There isn’t just one way across town, there are many. My commute today involved relief ‘lines’; different roads to get around construction. One problem on the Yonge/University line, and the whole line is delayed.

What does all of this have to do with cars, and value? Fuel efficiency, handling, and sportiness all go out the window if you’re sitting in gridlock. A great transit system will give drivers more room on the road. We can pick our spots. I’d much rather take transit during peak periods because it’s a better use of resources. But it’s a difficult decision to make if I’m going to lose more than an hour out of my day for the inconvenience of taking public transit.

Leave a Reply