King Street businesses say pilot project digging into profits after slow December

Businesses along the King Street pilot corridor say the project is hitting their bottom line hard after an uncharacteristically slow December.

Project was implemented in November to test efficiency of prioritizing streetcars along King

The King Street pilot project was implemented in November to test the efficiency of prioritizing 504 King streetcars - the city's busiest surface route. (John Rieti/CBC)

Businesses along the King Street pilot corridor say the project is hitting their bottom line hard after an uncharacteristically slow December. 

The project was implemented in November to test the efficiency of prioritizing 504 King streetcars — the city's busiest surface route. 

Cars are not allowed to drive straight through the intersection on King Street between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets and parking is not allowed along the route.

Businesses say that corridor of the Entertainment District has experienced a loss of traffic as a result.

"Daily customer traffic declined by 18 per cent on average," Laleh Larijani, of the Forno Cultura bakery, wrote in an email to the mayor and city councillors.

Larijani said that led to a significant loss in profits during the peak shopping month. 

One city councillor toured the area in response, speaking with local businesses to hear how they are being affected almost two months into the project. 
Etobicoke Coun. John Campbell visits a King Street restaurant Thursday. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"I voted in support of the pilot after having walked along King and having spoken to many business owners who indicated that much of their business was local and did not arrive by car," Coun. John Campbell (Ward 4) said in an email. "I suspected, however, that I was not getting the full story."

Restaurant owner Fred Luk reiterated Larijani's concern to the Etobicoke councillor during his visit. 

"Because of the large volume of vehicles delayed outside of the pilot area, we find that our customers are cancelling," he said. "We usually get two to three cancellations per week. We are now getting five to six per day." 

He said customers usually visit the area for dinner and a show but more and more are nixing their reservations because they're running late after getting lost or being unable to find parking. 

"On weekends, this was a mixed-use area. Saturday and Sunday you could park free till 1 o'clock," he said. "We've lost all that business."
'It's a dead zone,' Coun. John Campbell (Ward 4) said of King Street. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Jesse Warfield said his family business, Gabby's Restaurant, is also bearing the brunt of nixed parking. 

"This is the first time in 20 years we've had to inject money specifically into this location," he said. 

"Unfortunately in some cases, it's resulted in loss of employment."

Warfield said he, and many other business owners in the area, support pushing efficient transit forward, but the King Street pilot is a hard pill to swallow. 

Parking on evening and weekends

"I recently read that three to four minutes is the end-to-end reduction in time if you ride the streetcar...I don't think that's a significant enough margin to justify the millions and millions that is being lost on King Street," he said. 

After his tour, Campbell conceded that some changes are needed. 

"It's a dead zone," he said. 

"I would like to see people able to park here in the evening, park here on the weekends, because listen, when it's –15 C people don't want to walk a block-and-a-half to get to a restaurant. They want to park within 100 metres. I think that would bring more vibrancy back," he explained. 

Area Coun. Joe Cressy was unavailable for an interview Thursday regarding the changes. But he previously told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that transportation staff are looking into the possibility of changing the rules on weeknights and weekends.

The pilot project will remain in effect for one year. At that time, the city will assess its effectiveness and decide its future.