Losers in the new transit plan? Finch bus riders

Tess Kalinowski Transportation Reporter, Toronto Star

Riders who pack the 36 Finch West bus are about to become the biggest losers of the city’s latest transit expansion plan that no longer includes light rail on Finch Ave.“We have a lot of mothers with kids and youth and seniors — they rely on the bus,” said Patricia, a community development worker at the Rexdale Women’s Centre, who didn’t want her last name published.“In the winter, you need to see them waiting. You need to see how crowded it is. Sometimes you can’t all fit on the bus,” she said. “It’s not very crowded, it’s extremely crowded.”Swept to power last fall on a promise of better connecting the suburbs with downtown, Mayor Rob Ford is now being accused by critics of abandoning the low-income, high-immigrant communities in the northwest corner of Toronto.At best, Finch will get a dedicated bus lane or an express bus to bolster service for the 40,000 riders who crowd the 36 bus or, worse, are left standing at the curb because they can’t elbow their way on.“It’s not a very pleasant situation. If they could make it better, it’s extremely necessary,” Patricia said.Running at two- to three-minute frequency during rush hours, the 36 Finch bus is a 64-minute, 20-kilometre ride between the Finch subway station on Yonge St. and the Humberwood Loop near Rexdale Blvd. and Highway 427. But traffic can cause the buses to bunch, so there will be four in a row and then an interminable wait for the next one.Finch is so congested that when the TTC considered an express bus in the past, the idea was abandoned because additional buses would exacerbate the problem.Like many riders, Patricia wasn’t aware that Finch was slated for a transit makeover. That was before Ford decreed there would be no more light rail tracks on Toronto streets.He effectively killed the 11 kilometres of light rail the previous city administration had agreed on for Finch between Keele St., where it would have connected with the Spadina subway extension, and Humber College. The $1.2 billion project was to have opened in 2019.More than a commuter convenience, surface light rail was touted for its potential to spawn mid-rise development and livelier streetscapes — a boon for Finch, where the streetscape alternates between barren fields near hospitals and highrises and blocks of payday cash stores, noodle shops and suburban backyard fencing.“Europe is filled with cities that come alive because of LRT,” said Councillor Maria Augimeri, whose York-Centre ward borders Finch.“We had an opportunity to make their lives easier, and we’re chucking it out with the bath water,” she said.“You have the opportunity to turn Finch from an ugly suburban street to a more urban avenue ... plant some trees, do some boulevards… bring some renewal…. It would connect us with the rest of the city in a way that we have never been connected before,” said Councillor Anthony Perruzza (York West).It would also have connected Toronto to Mississauga and the airport, points out Jamie Kirkpatrick, of Toronto Environmental Alliance. He said he will continue to fight for Finch even though it appears the battle has been lost to politics.“Building a subway on Sheppard for people who aren’t there instead of delivering service for people who are loyal transit users isn’t fair,” he said.“That’s the injustice of it all,” said Kirkpatrick. “If we were to actually plan based on planning principles, we would be building Finch LRT. Because we’re allowing ideology and politics to lead, it’s off the table.”http://www.thestar.com/news/transportation/article/965983--losers-in-the-new-transit-plan-finch-bus-riders

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