Image:Woodbine Ave. & Highway 7 on the VIVA Purple; an example of a BRT service 
I remember! Actually, I don’t because I’m not old enough to tell you. The diesel bus was revolutionary when it was first introduced in the 1900s; compared to existing streetcar infrastructure, it was far more versatile, without requiring miles of dedicated track. Now, however, the bus is just an unreliable mess that many people have to take to get where they need to go, maybe a little late. Toronto has the third biggest bus operation in North America, so it would make sense that it would be efficient but the system is ridden with delays and reliability issues. Here’s how it can be fixed.
Bus rapid transit, also known as BRT, is where buses have transit priority. Buses can basically be as fast as a subway when built to a certain degree and can cost significantly less. There are many BRT systems across Ontario. The critical component is dedicated lanes. Buses can have their own personal lane to drive on, without the traffic of anyone else. Going along with it is priority signalling. If a bus is late on schedule or in a hurry, the bus can tell the traffic system to extend a green signal to let the vehicle through. This combination basically means a driver won’t have to slow down often, which results in 50% faster buses compared to regular lanes and 30% better service reliability. That way, you can enjoy whizzing past cars and trust me, it feels fantastic.
The passenger experience can also be drastically improved with transit comfort and convenience. This can include enclosed heated waiting areas during the bitter cold, bus arrival times at all stops, and all-door boarding for quicker departures. These high-quality bus services are already crisscrossing major avenues in the GTA, including the VIVA in York Region and the Mississauga Transitway.
The City of Toronto has announced a plan to build bus lanes on five major streets from 2021 to 2025 in Scarborough and Etobicoke. These include Eglinton Ave. to UofT Scarborough, Steeles Ave. West, Jane St. and Dufferin. These buses pick up more than 30,000 people every week and are the busiest routes in the TTC system. These are the streets where building Light Rail (basically a beefed-up streetcar,) either would not justify the demand of people or not worth the cost and time to build. They are also in the far reaches of the city where subway stations are far, and the only way possible is a slow, crowded bus.
The future plans should be to introduce proper BRT routes in North York and moving closer to the core of Toronto. These include the 25 and 925 Don Mills, and all of the Lawrence and York Mills/Wilson routes; there are many other good candidates recommended by the TTC for the far-future. This way, a bus can be an extension of subway services by providing rapid access between the subway lines and beyond. While the TTC can add more buses, longer buses and “express” services, they will also need to prioritize them over other vehicles. This is a significant first step for the TTC, considering that their transit priority before was traffic skip lanes, which only saves a couple of seconds.
Buses are crucial to every transit system. They are the first and last kilometres of every trip, so our city will need to take buses more seriously as a proper rapid transit option. These additions will give the reaches as well as the entire system fast and reliable service. Isn’t it a bit ironic that Toronto comes last in the whole province considering we’re the biggest city? Now it needs to catch up!
- Image from TVO. https://www.tvo.org/article/your-guide-to-ontarios-biggest-transit-projects
- The American revolution of buses replacing streetcars. https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/dead-sailing-ships-goodbye-trolleys-1936-article-1.2903124
- Bus Rapid Transit Studies by the European Automobile Manufacturer Association and UC Berkeley. (Page 20) https://www.acea.be/uploads/publications/20th_SAG_HR.pdf
- The official Ontario Handbook for Bus Operation. http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/handbook/bus/section4-2-7.shtml
- TTC’s 5-year service improvement plan http://www.ttc.ca/PDF/About_the_TTC/TTC_5_year_SP_web_accessible_Action_Plan_.pdf