King Street pilot under attack, but arguments don't all line up

A King Street restaurant owner is launching a social media campaign to kill the streetcar-first pilot project based on claims that clash with official city numbers.

Kit Kat restaurant owner alleges the city's fudging its numbers

Al Carbone says he wants city hall to completely scrap the King Street pilot project, and he'll be keeping up a social media campaign until it does. (John Rieti/CBC)

One restaurateur's latest call for city hall to kill the King Street pilot project was interrupted by a TTC user who accused him of "bringing the outrage" without any facts to back it up.

Al Carbone runs the Kit Kat Italian Bar and Grill, where an ice sculpture of an upraised middle finger has sat on the patio in recent weeks. Now he's launching a social media campaign against the pilot called #ReverseKingCarBan — despite the fact that cars are not banned from King Street — that he vows to keep up until the changes to the streetscape are scrapped.

Carbone told reporters his business has been cut in half, but he's refusing to open his books to prove that. When asked if Torontonians should accept his word against TTC statistics, Carbone said yes before attacking official city statistics.

Carbone appears to be using the same cartoonist as Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti. (Submitted by Kit Kat restaurant)

"They're all fudged. They're fudged. They're not accurate," he said.

That was too much for Trevor Dunseith, who interrupted the news conference to accuse Carbone of lying.

"I think they're being very disingenuous," he said after Carbone wrapped up.

Dunseith, a University of Toronto student who often takes the King car from the Parkdale area, blasted Carbone's attacks as farcical, arguing he's ignoring the city's facts while providing none of his own.

"Proper city planning needs proper thought and proper testing — it's a pilot for a reason," he said. 

Fact-checking Carbone's claims

City statistics show small increases to average speed but major improvements in streetcar reliability. (John Rieti/CBC)

Carbone's anti-pilot news conference and press release contains numerous claims that either clash with official city data or aren't backed up with any hard evidence, including:

  • "The commute time for motorists on parallel streets, like Richmond and Adelaide Streets, has increased an average of 12 minutes." 

City data shows the worst slowdown, during the evening rush on Adelaide, is less than two minutes, but does note December's awful weather slowed drivers down while the holiday season reduced the number of people moving through the core.

Carbone told reporters his number comes from his own experience.

  • "Eateries, bars and other small businesses on King Street have suffered nearly 50 per cent of revenue losses."

Carbone offered only anecdotal evidence of this. While some restaurants have reported problems, others have said their business hasn't been affected. The city will soon provide point-of-sale data to examine this matter.

  • "The time savings have worsened during the month of December compared to the month prior. The pilot project has clearly not achieved its intended goal."

The first sentence is reflected in city statistics, although the difference is fairly small. However the second part ignores other key improvements to factors like streetcar reliability. The city also notes that the slowest travel times have seen improvements of up to four minutes. 

Argument hinges on, rejects city data

In addition to his melting ice middle finger, Carbone has commissioned an ice sculpture featuring the faces of, left to right, Mayor John Tory, former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and Coun. Joe Cressy. (John Rieti/CBC)

Carbone's arguments don't completely ignore city data, as Dunseith suggests. He rightly notes that the average streetcar speed improvements have been 102 seconds eastbound and 150 seconds westbound, but that overlooks some other benefits riders are seeing.

The city's latest dashboard says most significant improvement happen during the afternoon rush, where the slowest streetcar travel times, once around 25 minutes, have improved by about four minutes in each direction. 

Further, Carbone's message seemed to get mixed up at points.

When commenting on the city's move to make parking free in the pilot area, he asked: "Free parking ... for who? That's not going to affect anything." Moments later, he said he wants the city to provide free parking for over a year to make up for the damage done.

At several points during the 10 a.m. news conference he pointed at streetcars with few people on board, suggesting it was a sign of failure. Earlier, he said the pilot hasn't improved lives for riders because they're still being crammed onto streetcars — "They're outside waiting for three cars to come," he said.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.

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