CBI EventsTransportation/Transit

Improving Surface Transit in Toronto: Expert Hacks

By August 13, 2019 No Comments
Panel discussion in the Sears Atrium

On July 30, we hosted the second in our Urban Innovation Café event series, “Hacking Surface Transit in Toronto.” Over 140 people attended to hear our panelists answer the question, “how can we improve surface transit in the region quickly, while we wait for the Province’s proposed mega-projects to be built?”

We were delighted to welcome an outstanding panel of transit experts to the stage at Ryerson’s Sears Atrium: Barbara Gray (General Manager, Transportation Services, City of Toronto), Raktim Mitra (Associate Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University), Andrew Miller (Associate Director, Mobility, Sidewalk Labs) and Matti Siemiatycki (Associate Professor and Director, School of Cities, University of Toronto). The event began with everyone sharing their perspective via quick presentations, after which Cherise Burda moderated a panel discussion.

>> Listen to the presentations and panel discussion on Soundcloud

Barbara Gray on Partnerships and Data Mining

Barbara Gray focused on the recent King Street Transit Pilot, and the reasons for its success. Partnerships across the City and with the TTC, plus new methodologies to gather data, informed the project. “The real victory was behind the scenes,” read her last slide.


Raktim Mitra on Mode Shifting

Raktim Mitra focused on cycling infrastructure to free up surface transit routes. “Fifty five percent of new cyclists were former transit users in our recent study,” he said. “Including cycling infrastructure in transit projects eases ridership, which is, in a way, a transit hack.”


Andrew Miller on Choosing the Right Mobility

Andrew Miller discussed aspects of the new mobility plan put forth by Sidewalk Labs for the Quayside project, plus the financing model for the new Waterfront LRT that leverages future land values and adds private bridge funding–an approach new to Toronto.


Matti Siemiatycki on Learning by Doing

Matti Siemiatycki put forth the idea of “experimental urbanism,” i.e. an agile approach to developing transit. Given the growing urgency to address specific suburban routes with high ridership and less-than-ideal service, “we need faster alternatives than all the rapid transit already planned–and we already have lots of local examples to learn from,” he said.

The panelists all agreed that small measures can often add up to big gains. Using nimble and flexible strategies like painting street lanes or giving transit priority on certain lanes at certain times of day can transform ordinary bus routes into quasi-BRTs. And in looking for transit tweaks, we need to be looking at all data points. As Raktim Mitra pointed out, “in Toronto, our buses spend 20% of their time just for boarding.” Find a way for boarding to take less time, and buses will gain travel time.

Everyone also found consensus in that many of Toronto’s suburban lines are carrying massive numbers of people every day, by North American standards, and that finding innovative ways of improving service and promoting public transit in these areas–whether it be through altering traffic rules, making the service more enjoyable, or fine-tuning routes to get local travellers to where they’re going–would make a big impact in areas like Scarborough and Etobicoke. Toronto’s imperative is to address the needs and experiences of riders outside the core, using a community-focused, equity lens, and making smart–not political–decisions.

This conversation on “Hacking Surface Transit in Toronto” was wide-ranging, and drilled down into specific examples, cases and ideas. We’re grateful to our panelists, who shared considerable knowledge and experience with our audience.

Listen to the recording of “Hacking Surface Transit in Toronto” on Soundcloud.