TTC to explore new strategies in face of 'historical maximum' subway crowding

A new report from the TTC includes a range of new strategies to address record overcrowding on the Line 1 subway. But some say a new line is the only way to fix the problem.

The subway is now at or near capacity for a full 90 minutes every morning

TTC statistics suggest the Bloor-Yonge station consistently exceeds its capacity during the morning rush hour. (Tariq Fancy/Twitter.)

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is exploring new strategies to address historic overcrowding on the Line 1 subway, but transit advocates say the measures will fall short of making real change.

At their meeting Thursday, TTC board members will debate a report that includes alarming statistics about subway overcrowding on the Yonge Street portion of Line 1, which has reached "historical maximums" during morning rush hour.

The TTC estimates that between 28,000 and 30,000 commuters travel south of Bloor-Yonge station every hour during the peak of the morning rush. At the same time, most trains arriving at that station are 100 per cent full.

The report also indicates the subway is now at or near capacity for 90 minutes every morning.

Transit advocate Shelagh Pizey-Allen puts it more plainly.

'People are being sardined'

"People are being sardined on the Yonge line with no end in sight," said the executive director of the advocacy group TTC Riders, which will hold a demonstration about the overcrowding at King station this morning.

The report presents a range of options designed to alleviate the congestion.

Some of the ideas are already in the process of being implemented, such as automatic train control, which will allow trains to run more frequently and closer together.

Once that work is complete in late 2019, the TTC says it will be able to move around 3,000 more commuters per hour during peak periods.

TTC chair Josh Colle says automatic train control will make a noticeable impact on overcrowding by the end of 2019. (Metro Morning/CBC)

"With that kind of precise stopping … we can just add more trains," said TTC chair Josh Colle. "That really changes everything."

The report also mentions bolder possibilities, including short-turning trains near the top of Line 1; running buses on Yonge Street; and "differential pricing," which would adjust fares for rides at certain times of the day.

Colle said he isn't optimistic that type of pricing system would ever be approved, and that selling the idea to commuters would be tough.

"Historically, Torontonians have never been as keen on it," he said.

Colle also pointed to a potential refurbishment of Bloor-Yonge station as a way to alleviate the current rush hour bottleneck and reduce crowding. That project has an estimated $1-billion price tag.

Relief line needed 'as soon as possible'

TTC Riders says the strategies in the report will only offer marginal improvements to crowding problems.

"We don't think that they go far enough," Pizey-Allen said. "To truly address overcrowding on the Yonge line, we need to build the relief line as soon as possible."

TTC Riders is planning a 'day of action' later this month to address overcrowding. (TTC Riders)

Planning work for the long-proposed subway line is now underway, which is set to run east from the downtown core and north under Carlaw Avenue to Pape Station. The relief line would give commuters on Line 2 the option of getting downtown without transferring to Line 1.  

If the line isn't operational by 2031, former TTC CEO Andy Byford has said the transit agency will not be able to handle the number of commuters trying to board at Bloor-Yonge station.

"If the city continues to grow the way it seems to be growing ... at some point you just will need an alternate line," said Colle.

A funding plan for the relief line has not been finalized.

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter and one-man band video journalist based in Toronto. He previously worked for the CBC in Vancouver, Windsor and Kitchener-Waterloo. When he’s not chasing politicians or driving to a crime scene, Nick enjoys cooking, comedy and following the NBA.