New King Street pilot project data flies in face of claims that business is down 50 per cent

New data released by the city of Toronto suggests customer spending in the area of the King Street Pilot Project has not been affected by new rules that prioritize transit - a result that flies in the face of claims by some area businesses that spending is down by 50 per cent.

Streetcar travel times continue to improve as pilot goes on, city says

New data from the City of Toronto shows that spending on King Street has not been affected by the pilot project. (Doug Ives/Canadian Press)

New data released by the city of Toronto suggests customer spending in the area of the King Street Pilot Project has not been affected by new rules that prioritize transit and impose restrictions on private vehicle traffic.

That goes against recent protests from restaurateurs and other merchants, some of whom claim the project, which began in November, has cost them up to 50 per cent of their business.

"Preliminary findings indicate that customer spending since the pilot began is in line with seasonal spending patterns over the past three years," says a report on the pilot project released Friday.

"There will always be skeptics," said Coun. Joe Cressy, a long-time booster of the project. "But I believe the data speaks for itself." 

Cressy acknowledged that thanks to a cold snap, "business was in fact down on King in the early part of this pilot ... but it was also down across the city." 

That city's new spending data comes from Moneris Solutions Corp., a tech company that specializes in processing payments. 

Other findings in the report paint a cheery picture of transit on King Street:

  • A 16 per cent overall increase in ridership on King streetcars.
  • A travel time improvement of four to five minutes during the evening commute in both directions.
  • Travel times for cars on most downtown streets since the pilot started have, on average, increased by less than a minute.

"Eighty-four thousand people are now riding the King streetcar. That's an increase of 12,000 since the fall," said Cressy. "It's kind of like building a subway station on King for a fraction of the cost." 

Free parking brought in last month

The project has found enemies in King Street business owners like Al Carbone, who runs the Kit Kat Italian Bar and Grill and who placed an ice sculpture of a raised middle finger on his patio in protest.

"Eateries, bars and other small businesses on King Street have suffered nearly 50 per cent of revenue losses," he said in late January.

Restaurateur 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)

Carbone also accused the city of "fudging" previous numbers that show the pilot project is increasing ridership without having significant impacts on drivers on surrounding streets.

In response to complaints like Carbone's, the city brought in free parking on King Street for up to two hours in early January.

The boost in ridership has come with its own pitfalls: in December, CBC Toronto spoke to commuters who said that while travel times might be improving, crowding on streetcars was still an issue.

By adding new Bombardier Flexity streetcars, which can fit two to three times more people, the TTC has increased the capacity of streetcar service in the pilot area from 2,047 passengers per hour to 2,892 passengers per hour since the pilot began.