“Is the King Street pilot project working?” This is among the City’s burning questions as we move ahead into the New Year. Every Liberty Village resident and Torontonian seems to have an opinion on the King Street pilot project.
Though taxi drivers faced difficulties early on adhering to the changes in traffic laws across the pilot area, many have since come around. Taxi companies have long had concerns about the pilot project and initially flagged issues with the transit-first project. In response, taxis were given special licenses and more permissions than regular drivers are. The extra load zones are being used regularly by taxies, who are also allowed to drive freely across the pilot project area from 10 pm through to 5 am. New taxi stands are being added along King Street and on side streets to accommodate drop-offs/pick-ups. Depending on what taxi driver you talk to, some would say it’s working and others would say it’s not. Needless to say, the pilot project has seen its fair share of criticism from those working from city cab companies.
Speak to most drivers in the city and almost all will likely encourage any driver to avoid the area completely. As a driver, the perception of the pilot project is that it is not driver-friendly and though the city has attempted to discount parking nearby in an attempt to bring in more drivers, it hasn’t done much to change the perception. Toronto police traffic services have communicated that the drivers who are using King Street are following the laws, for the most part. Those who do not are being hit with a $110 fine and two demerit points.
Perhaps the one benefit that drivers can hang their hat on is that travel times on nearby streets have not seen increases longer than a minute. All in all, any driver is probably best to avoid the King Street pilot project area, as sorry as we are to say it. Unless you know where you are going, driving in this area is confusing and difficult, especially when considering the tourists and non-resident drivers unfamiliar with the unorthodox traffic rules.
More than 65,000 people take the TTC streetcar system on King Street every day. So how much has the TTC saved in time with this transit-friendly design – streetcars are approximately 2-4 minutes faster during rush hour and eastbound streetcars have seen their spacing targets rise from a lowly 37 percent to approximately 80 percent. For commuters, the experience seems to be somewhat better. That said, the pat on the back that the City of Toronto has given itself may not be entirely justified when analyzing the numbers on how King Street businesses are being affected.
King Street businesses
King Street businesses are perhaps having the roughest go of the pilot project as, unlike drivers, they can’t just leave. The City has promised to work with small businesses in the area, committing to street performers and art installations to draw more pedestrians out. In the depths of Toronto winter though, that doesn’t count for a lot. Profits are down at some businesses by as much as 30 percent, compared to last year. There have been accusations from merchants along King Street that the pilot project is inherently anti-business and a collection of business owners are planning on suing the City of Toronto for the tens of thousands of dollars that have been lost. Add on to this that these same businesses are also tasked with the recent Ontario minimum wage increase to $14.
Will the King Street pilot project be permanent – for better or for worse, probably
The King Street pilot project is unlikely to last in its current form because, simply put, it’s not working for businesses, the pilot has kept most drivers away, and implementing it in the dead of winter has meant lacklustre results outside of moderate changes in TTC times.
That said, don’t expect King Street to return to its former self. The City is still figuring out how to make this work as best as it can for all stakeholders. Expect the experimentation to continue until the year-long pilot expires. For better or for worse, some iteration of the pilot will be here to stay.