Toronto

Taxi companies flag issues with transit-first King Street pilot project

A pilot project that will dramatically change traffic on King Street by focusing on streetcar service won the executive committee’s approval — but is sparking concern among the taxi industry.

Toronto councillors question ambitious project that could start this fall

The King Street pilot project would put streetcars first, but what would happen to taxi cabs? (David Donnelly/CBC)

A pilot project that will dramatically change traffic on King Street by focusing on streetcar service won the executive committee's approval — but is sparking concern among the taxi industry.

The proposed one-year pilot project would start this fall if it gets the go-ahead from the entire city council. It calls for the removal of some 180 parking spaces and will force cars to use King Street for one block at a time by making drivers turn right at intersections between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street.

Two representatives of the taxi industry called for cabs to be exempted from the new rules, arguing they play an important role in getting people around.

Sam Moini, president of the Toronto Fleet Operators Association, says many people in the area rely on hailing rides from the sidewalk, a service only taxis have the power to provide. Losing access to those customers, he says, would be another heavy blow for the taxi industry.

"We lose that edge … we lose that one thing we still have," he told the committee.

Taxis operating in the downtown core often rely on street hails, something that could be harder to do with new driving restrictions. (Getty Images/Radius Images)

Kristine Hubbard, operations manager at Beck Taxi, says her company handles around 50 trips between 8 and 9 a.m. on a weekday morning, noting that's just a fraction of the cabs in the area. She says if those cabs are forced to turn right at every block, drivers will keep trying to make it back onto King in search of customers.

"They're going to be circling those blocks over and over and over again," she said.

King Street does not work today... To do nothing is to render us to more failure.- Coun. Joe Cressy

​Hubbard says that means taxis will frequently be turning across bike lanes and crosswalks at intersections near King.

Coun. James Pasternak says he'll introduce a motion to support cabs, should the pilot project go ahead. Both Pasternak and Coun. David Shiner voted against going any further with the idea.

Coun. Joe Mihevc warned exempting cabs from the rules could make King a preferred route for their drivers to get across the city.

When asked if allowing cabs could block or slow TTC vehicles, the city's Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati replied: "that would be our concern."

Gulati says a quarter to one-third of traffic on King is taxis, based on video captured from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Mayor John Tory tabled a motion calling for transportation staff to consult with cab companies on the pilot project, which was approved.

Cab companies allege they were cut out of process

Both Hubbard and Moini said they felt cut out of the process of drafting the pilot project, even though there were numerous major public meetings.

Moini said by the time he heard about the changes, it was too late to change anything.

Coun. Jim Karygiannis pressed city staff on how they'd engaged cab companies, and suggested they hadn't gone far enough to engage the industry, calling it "certainly questionable."

Karygiannis called for the project to be delayed.

But Coun. Pam McConnell says she was "stunned" the taxi industry could have missed the information about the project.

"Perhaps you should check your emails," she told Hubbard.

King Street not working, local councillor warns

The King streetcar line is the TTC's busiest surface route, with an estimated 65,000 people taking it every day. Right now, it's often faster to walk than take a streetcar.

"King Street does not work today," said Coun. Joe Cressy.

"To do nothing is to render us to more failure."

Coun. Gary Crawford confirmed that some $1.9 million in parking revenue would be lost, and asked staff about plans to replace it. Officials from the Toronto Parking Authority say they'll be looking at the streets flanking King, and could convert any free spaces on those into pay parking.

However, staff say they're "not confident" the revenue can be replaced.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, meanwhile, introduced motions calling for the city to monitor congestion on nearby roads, alleging the current plan "completely ignores" motorists.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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