Linking North York: a case for extending the Finch West LRT

Toronto residents likely look at current TTC maps and notice the gap between the northern portions of Line 1 Yonge-University. In its initial planning stage, the Finch West LRT would have linked Finch Station to Humber College’s North Campus instead of its current plan to end at Finch West Station, but constructing the full line was deemed too costly at the time. Since then multiple proposals have been put forth regarding how to best link the two segments of Line 1 operating in North York. Extending the Finch West LRT would be a better allocation of funds over spending money on an inner suburban subway that lacks the density required for a subway line.

Some have argued for an extension of Line 4 Sheppard westward from Yonge to Sheppard West station, but this proposal encounters several issues when compared with a LRT extension. Constructing subways are more expensive per kilometer of track built and are more costly to operate in the long run given the cost of maintenance upkeep. Subway stops are also comparatively further apart given their high construction costs which can limit access to transit in less dense regions like North York.

Furthermore, while subways can carry the greatest number of passengers more quickly, they require high population densities to support their use. The Sheppard line has two of the TTC’s least used subway stations and the line’s current daily usage rates only place it slightly above the 36 Finch West bus.

Conversely, a surface LRT can be built at a lower cost per kilometer on a dedicated right of way with more stops so it is more accessible North York residents. A good comparison here is city council’s decision to go with a $3.4 billion single-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Center instead of a multi-stop or multi-line LRT network in Scarborough that could have substantially cut commuting times for far more residents.

In the TTC’s most recent Corporate Plan for 2018-2022 outlining their envisioned transit network, the Finch West LRT is shown reaching Finch Station. Hopefully, this means that council will make the right decision when the time comes to link the North York segments of Line 1.

On the 36: the split Finch West bus

Residents of University Heights and Bathurst Manor are intimately familiar with the 36 Finch West bus and have taken notice of the recent changes made to the route. On weekdays between 6am and 10pm, the 36A carries eastbound passengers to Finch West station where they must transfer to another 36 bus to continue towards Finch Station. Likewise, those travelling west from Finch Station on the 36 must transfer to the 36A at Finch West Station.

The odd quirk has drawn frustration from residents who view the transfer as an awkward and unnecessary part of their daily commute. Residents, like Britney, who travel eastward towards Finch Station for work in University Heights do not understand why the change was made.

Britney explained, “Finch West is a busy area with lots of offices and industry. I think the change doesn’t reflect how people actually use the [Finch West] bus” pointing out that many of her co-workers travel to work from areas served by the 36A which no longer continues towards Finch Station. Her coworkers must transfer at Finch West Station adding additional time and stress to their commutes.

After contacting the TTC’s customer service line, the split of the Finch West route was attributed to its high passenger traffic. In 2017, the 36 Finch West was the TTC’s third busiest bus route and its fifth busiest surface route overall averaging 43 100 weekday trips. As explained, the split is the TTC’s effort to optimize traffic flow by increasing the service frequency of buses along certain parts of the route.

However, this has still left residents wondering why it has only been the 36 and not the TTC’s busier surface routes that has undergone such a change. The two bus routes that have greater usage, the 32 Eglinton West and 52 Lawrence West, offer commuters routes without a midway transfer during the same weekday hours while travelling equivalent or greater distances.

Resident Troy Budhu speculated, “you can’t help but think this wouldn’t happen outside of Finch West and the Jane-Finch community

‘I still use tokens’: Switch to Presto monthly passes reveals fare accessibility issues for residents

It has been a few weeks since the TTC discontinued Metropasses in favour of Presto monthly passes as part of their switch to Metrolinx’s cashless fare system. The change however has not been without criticism from some community residents.

Bobbie is one of several University Heights residents frustrated with the replacement of monthly TTC metropasses for Presto. When commuting to work on the 60 Steeles West bus she opts for tokens or cash. As Bobbie explained: “I take the bus from the intersection where I live to work. Between my home and workplace there’s no subway station or I have to find a Shoppers. I don’t do online banking so I don’t use Presto.”

Presently, Presto users’ options for reloading their cards are limited. Users can only add funds or purchase a monthly pass at Presto Fare Vending Machines in TTC subway stations, at a Shoppers Drug Mart or online at prestocard.ca. While users do not need to travel to load their passes online, the online loading presents its own issues. Funds can take up to 24 hours to be added to a user’s Presto card which may lead to them being unable to pay their fare if they need to travel immediately. Additionally, there are residents such as Bobbie who do not use online banking services making online loading a non-option.

Though Presto is designed with convenience and availability in mind, these remain primary issues for residents who have yet to make the switch. As Bobbie said: “I wouldn’t mind eventually using Presto, but it’s an inconvenience to me right now. I used to buy my Metropass at the lottery stand and I bought tokens because they’re more available.”

Such concerns over Presto’s accessibility reveal potential service gaps that can disproportionately affect some residents using public transit. As the TTC continues their plan to phase out tokens and tickets later this year with Metrolinx’s proposed single-fare Presto replacement; they must ensure the Presto-based replacement is as widely available as their current fare system. Otherwise, Toronto’s public transit may inadvertently be made less accessible for more vulnerable groups such as low-income residents and seniors who will have to go out of their way to accommodate Presto’s limited availability.