Friday, June 03, 2005

Why People will not Leave their Car at Home

Re: “Group has $7.9M to get you to leave car at home.” Toronto Star. 

Getting paid to commute by transit? Hello that is so me! I still don't have a drivers license and don't need one living in New York City. New York City has perhaps one of the best transit systems in the world. Ok...even the system in NYC is not perfect with construction needed and some down time due to track fires. However, that is what happens when the backbone of your system is now over the age of a century.

Giving people incentive to take transit, even though in some cases transit may take a little more time to take in comparison to the car, can only be positive. Paying people cash as well as a free monthly bus pass will increase transit ridership as well as reduce the number of cars on the road. This means cleaner air and less congestion on the roadway. However, there is a problem with this plan already. Is there capacity on the transit system to handle the increased demand that is sure to come from providing an incentive like this? Probably not considering GO Transit's three train's southbound and three trains northbound to Bradford are packed already. Another problem is Union Station in Toronto is already really packed with trains and delays are already backing up this important hub in Toronto. Renovations are due for this station, but I doubt whether any more trains will be added to soon except for the possibility to Toronto's Lester B. Pearson airport. Issues of capacity may mean more buses and trains will need to be ordered in order to handle the excess the capacity created when these incentives are put through.

But this new incentive may work for the new VIVA rapid transit program. The VIVA program, like Ottawa's Transitway, will provide rapid express bus service to major points along Yonge Street (between Newmarket and Finch Subway Station), along Highway 7 (between Vaughan and Markham) and better connections to major points in north Toronto (e.g. York University, etc.). This new transit system's launch would only benefit from such a deal in York Region. This way people might actually get out of their cars in order to check out "VIVA" to get to work in Toronto. The VIVA program will have some existing capacity, but most of it will be new capacity since GO Transit appears to still want to run the Newmarket "B" route in both its local and express forms and seems to refuse the idea of ending the service once VIVA starts up.

As for the conditions in Toronto and the TTC. The Yonge Street subway line is practically at capacity already during the morning and afternoon rushes. So providing incentives to people to start using that line to get to work is pointless unless more capacity is added somehow. However, with the TTC facing a yearly budget crunch, along with the City of Toronto, adding capacity to the Yonge line doesn't seem likely to happen to soon. Encouraging more people onto the Spadina line might help a bit as well. To do this might require the TTC to finally push the Sheppard line westward to meet the Spadina line at Downsview subway station. Again, this is unlikely to happen as well because of the above noted budget shortfalls. So it seems in the short run, what people need to get out of their cars is reliable transit.

But this is not likely to happen too soon during rush hours because of funding shortfalls needed to increase capacity and to maintain existing service. Sure the federal government is sending GST rebates to municipalities in the name of transit service. But these cheques are pretty well already spent considering that municipalities (like Toronto) are battling to maintain existing service because of the need to retire old buses and purchase new ones. Thus, the GST money is only really going to maintaining existing service and not increasing capacity in anyway. With the exception of York Region Transit, expansion of existing systems in the Toronto area looks unlikely. Why York Region Transit? Because of the creative way the private-public partnership and launching VIVA has been undertaken and due to be launched in September. Other municipalities in the Toronto area are hesitant to get into public-private partnerships in transit terms because of bad experiences like the highway 407 fiasco (a privately owned highway in the suburbs of Toronto that went horribly horribly wrong). Therefore, the public-private nature of VIVA is being watched by local governments to see how it pans out. Why wait? The VIVA consortium is a brand new idea in providing services to people. So governments are watching to see what problems creep up and what successes there are to such a deal. This way if the VIVA program goes horribly horribly wrong (like the 407 fiasco did), then governments know not to make a similar deal in the future. So capacity is not likely to be increase during rush hours due to reluctance of local governments to engage in public-private partnerships until VIVA operational and fully studied.

So capacity during rush hours is not likely to be increased any time soon (except in York Region). So what good is it to provide incentives for people to get out of their cars and onto transit during the most needed times if there is no capacity along the main transit arteries (e.g. Yonge Street subway line)? The only way is to get people to utilize the lesser used arteries like the University-Spadina subway line which still have available capacity. But can how would stipulate that you can't use a subway line? It is almost impossible.

The only other option is to provide incentives for people to telecommute to work (i.e. work from home) or shift their work schedules so they are not in rush hour times. This would increase the number of people taking transit during times when there is underused capacity on the clogged rush hour arteries. In other words, why not commute home at 7:00 P.M. and into work at 10:00 A.M. when the subways are still running yet have space to spare? It make sense, now we just need people to volunteer. Perhaps throwing in $200 and a free transit pass a year might do that. This would encourage more people to take transit as well as not cost the transit systems any more money because of existing unused capacity being used. It is truly a win-win situation if this were to happen. All of this just by adding one stipulation of not riding transit during existing rush hours or telecommuting. But this will require further investigation on how to keep people from riding during rush hours.

Government incentives are great if they are fully thought through. However, obviously this incentive program hasn't been thoroughly thought through by the federal government. This is because new transit funding for infrastructure projects only needs to be invested in order to expand capacity during peek periods in the Toronto area to make this program work. Why only Toronto? Because Toronto is currently heading towards becoming worse than Los Angeles in terms of congestion. The city needs utmost help.

Other cities in Canada might be able to benefit from the deal to give financial incentives for people to leave their cars at home. But capacity needs to be ensured to be there. If other cities are anything like Toronto in terms of capacity issues during peak periods, then this incentive may not work.

 Works Cited 

Rush, Curtis. “Group has $7.9M to get you to leave car at home.” Toronto Star. 1 June 2005. Online. Internet. 9 June 2005. Available:

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