A taxi driver’s crash course on city hall’s King Street pilot project
by John Q. Duffy
The City wants to get the word out to the taxi industry, and specifically taxi drivers, on how the new rules for its King St. transit pilot project between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets may affect them.
At its most basic level, the pilot project mandates that left turns are not permitted along this route and at 8 of 12 intersections no private vehicle through traffic is permitted.
Local businesses have loudly claimed the project has been a financial disaster for them saying revenues have dropped precipitously since the trial started. Some project changes have been made to hopefully ease their concerns. Officials say they are open to feedback from the taxi industry.
Key to how taxis use the street during the pilot are doubling the number of legal cabstands, the creation of dedicated pickup and drop off points for disabled taxi passengers and allowing taxis to drive straight along King in the late evening and overnight.
Pickups and drop offs must take place at the reserved and designated spots only, including serving disabled passengers, and No Standing rules remain in effect.
According to David Kuperman, RPP Manager, Surface Transit Projects and Acting Manager, Operational Planning and Policy with Transportation Services - Transportation Infrastructure Management for the City of Toronto, “The new taxi stands have been in place and available at all times since the launch of the King Street Transit Pilot on November 12, 2017. On King Street itself, these stands provide 68 spaces or twice as many as before.”
The cab stands and drive-through exemption are for properly marked and identifiable taxicabs only, not for other ride service cars.
He continued, “Taxis are not permitted to travel through most intersections within the pilot area during the day, when they must follow the same rules as other traffic. However, they have an exemption from 10 pm to 5 am, which allows through movements at all intersections during that period.”
Original plans for the project, keyed on “putting transit first,” reportedly has made life very difficult for cab drivers and their passengers. Project officials did consult with the industry before setting project rules. Drivers not completely familiar with the area, or who don’t know which block a given address is on, should take advantage of maps available through phone apps or through the project web site.
Kuperman said a primary concern for the taxi industry was the creation of more and new cabstands along King St. and this was done. The cabstands are useable all the time.
Transit officials have stated, “King Street is the busiest surface transit route in the City moving more than 65,000 riders per day.”
Kuperman further stated, “The King Street Transit Pilot was developed as a response to slow and unreliable streetcar travel on the City’s highest volume route, with traffic congestion and long passenger service times identified as two of the contributing causes. Over the last several years, many operational changes were implemented, including extended peak period prohibitions, all-door boarding of streetcars, and signal timing changes.
“This pilot project was implemented due to the persistence of these delays, primarily related to high traffic volumes. The King Street Transit Pilot includes a comprehensive evaluation and monitoring program, with results reported monthly on the project website at www.toronto.ca/kingstreetpilot, and a report back to City Council after one year.”
He concluded, “At this point, there are no plans for similar treatments on other streets.”
However other news media have reported that similar projects may be considered for other downtown arteries.
The latest changes to the pilot project are:
The Toronto Parking Authority will be enhancing the parking discount in the pilot area. Up to $10 (a minimum of two hours free parking) will be available when using the Green P app for Green P pay+display lots and on-street parking in the pilot area.
In response to concerns about the removal of on-street parking on King, 90 parking spaces are being added to side streets in the pilot area – replacing 50 percent of the spaces that were removed from King Street – with additional spaces currently under review. Today, approximately 8,000 parking spaces are available in the pilot area (within walking distance of King Street).
To provide more locations for passenger and accessible pickup/drop offs, loading and deliveries, additional loading zones for vehicles and trucks have been added in front of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Princess of Wales Theatre, First Canadian Place, and between Yonge Street and Church Street.
Signal timing has been adjusted at Bathurst Street, Church Street and Jarvis Street to improve traffic flow for turning vehicles.
New and larger signs have been added at major intersections to improve the visibility of traffic regulations for drivers.
Electronic signage will be implemented throughout the pilot to make new traffic regulations more visible for drivers.
To address an increase in transit ridership on King Street, new low-floor streetcars are being deployed to the 504 King and 514 Cherry routes as they become available.
The eastbound streetcar stop at Yonge Street has also been expanded to provide more space for waiting passengers.
More changes may be implemented, Kuperman said, “informed by new data we receive and by the primary objectives of the pilot project.”
He said via email January 25th, “To date, we have received requests for clarification on the rules for taxis and general traffic, and have sent messages through Twitter, the project website, and directly to taxi brokerages. There have been questions about whether we could make changes to the hours of the taxi exemption or the traffic restrictions in general. We are evaluating the data we receive as the pilot progresses, and will be making decisions on the operations of King Street based on the data and on the objectives of the pilot.”
He said the accessible spaces were originally based on Wheel-Trans demand, spaced to serve most destinations. Most blocks will have loading zones on them. They are only for vehicles with an accessible placard. These spaces may only be used to load and unload, and not for standing or parking. One more such stand is potentially in the works, Kuperman said.
In a January 12 news release the TTC claims the latest data “shows a 25 percent increase in King Street streetcar ridership during the peak hour of the morning commute and that the slowest streetcar travel times in the afternoon rush hour have improved by about four minutes in each direction, while vehicle travel times on neighboring streets remain only marginally affected.
It further states, “Reliability of the streetcar continues to remain much higher as the variability of streetcar travel times through the pilot area has been reduced by up to 33 percent.”
In other modifications to original project plans, on January 9, 2018, the City launched a “design-build competition” called Everyone is King, and aiming to “animate the new curb lane public spaces on King Street which range in length from 15 to 140 meters.” This project, the City hopes, will attract people to the area to shop, eat and be entertained during the pilot project.
Projects may include warming stations, ice sculptures, fire performers and art installations.
As well, local businesses can advise the City they could use the additional space as outdoor cafes to keep the area “vibrant”.
In addition to the public space initiatives, Eats on King, a program to promote local quick and full-service restaurants in the King Street Transit Pilot area, will run Monday, February 19 to Thursday, March 29.
The City says, “Interested restaurants can request an application to join the program by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org... For more information, email email@example.com or call 416-397-1234.”
Along with accessing King Street via transit, cycling and walking, King Street remains open to car traffic, and drivers can use designated pickup and drop-off locations to drop off a passenger before making a right turn at the next intersection to find a parking spot.
The City and the Toronto Parking Authority have partnered to offer up to $5 off parking in the area around the King Street Transit Pilot when the Green P app is used to pay. The parking promotion is good for one use and is valid until November 2018.
Original suggestions on how to effectively negotiate the King St area during the pilot include:
Vehicles travelling eastbound on King Street must turn left or right at Bathurst Street. Vehicles travelling westbound must turn left or right at Jarvis Street.
Through vehicular traffic should use other parallel east-west streets: Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, Front, Queens Quay, Lake Shore and the Gardiner Expressway, and then access King Street via north-south streets.
TTC vehicles, City of Toronto emergency and maintenance vehicles, and cyclists are allowed to travel through the pilot area at all times of the day. Space for cyclists is provided in the curb lane but no dedicated bike lanes are provided.
Between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., City-licensed taxis are allowed to travel straight through the pilot area. At other times, taxis must follow the same rules as other traffic.
There is no on-street parking on King Street in the pilot area. On-street parking is available on some nearby streets and there are several off-street parking lots near King Street.
While travelling on King Street, left turns at signalized intersections (turning off King Street) are not allowed.
Current turning restrictions for accessing King Street will remain in place (where left turns onto King Street were previously permitted, they will continue to be permitted).
Existing permitted movements and restrictions on north-south streets will continue after the launch of the King Street Transit Pilot. For example, vehicle traffic on all north-south streets in the pilot area (such as Bathurst, Spadina, John, University and Yonge) can still cross King Street.
A map showing how King Street works along the entire length of the pilot project is available on the project website.
Directional apps such as Google maps and Waze will be updated through the City’s data release on road restrictions and will provide accurate navigation as of the day of the pilot project launch.
Different kinds of data will be collected and regularly shared with the public, including transit speed and ridership, traffic speed and counts, parking and curbside usage, pedestrian counts, cycling counts, safety measures, retail sales and others. The data will be posted to the project website.
More information is available at toronto.ca/kingstreetpilot.