Updated January 4 2017
Effective Sunday, January 8, York Region Transit will impose new service cuts on several of its routes, including Viva Yellow, which I describe below. One bus will be removed from the route, reducing headways from every 15 minutes to every 22 minutes. Service after 10:30PM-11:00PM will also be eliminated.
One wonders why, on one hand, there’s money to be hand to build fancy new bus infrastructure when there’s no willingness to fund transit that would make such capital expenditures useful.
As York Region gets set to welcome the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre [sigh] and continues to lobby for a Yonge Subway extension to Richmond Hill, it’s worth questioning whether York Region is really committed to operating a quality transit service, and if it is serious about reducing its dependence on the single-occupant automobile.
Original post, dated June 24, 2016
In September, 2013, I wrote a post in Spacing Toronto called “York Region’s Rapidways: the good, the bad and the ugly.” I went out to Markham to ride the first of York Region’s VivaNext Rapidways. With the recent opening of a similar Rapidway in Newmarket, and a new Viva Route on Davis Drive, I made a trip north a few weeks ago to check it out.
Viva is the brand used by York Region Transit for its network of limited-stop, proof-of-payment bus routes. When first launched in September, 2005, Viva was strictly a “BRT-lite” operation. Unlike regular YRT routes, the buses are fancier and more comfortable, the stops less frequent, and to speed up service, Viva operates on a proof-of-payment system where fares are purchased in advance from machines at Viva stops. and limited stops. A decade ago, all Viva corridors were supposed to be served by buses operating every 15 minutes or better, 7 days a week.
But a few years later, the cutbacks began to happen as York Region reduced funding for transit operations. Viva Green, connecting Markham to the TTC’s Don Mills Station, became a rush hour only route. Viva Orange, connecting Vaughan to Downsview Subway via York University was cut back as well and now only operates every 30 minutes outside of rush hour. Even Viva Purple (York University – Markham) had its operating times cut back. Worse yet, YRT reduced service on connecting conventional bus routes that feed the Viva system.
But while the region was reducing its spending on transit operations and raising fares, it was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on VivaNext, the region’s rapid transit plan. The plan calls for separated median right-of-ways on Highway 7, Yonge Street and Davis Drive, known as Rapidways, as well as two TTC subway extensions. York Region lobbied for, and got, a subway extension to Highway 7 in Vaughan which will open next year; it has also lobbied for an extension to the Yonge Subway from Finch Station to Richmond Hill. York Region, with its political clout, may just get that too.
Spending billions of dollars on building transit, without properly funding the services that use and feed into that fancy new infrastructure is a problem. This is what’s wrong with York Region Transit.
The Viva Rapidways already built on Highway 7 and Davis Drive are quite different than Mississauga’s Transitway, another suburban Toronto bus rapid transit project that I wrote about earlier this year. Unlike the Mississauga Transitway, which is partially grade-separated and operates mostly through a highway and hydro-electric corridor, Viva Rapidways are located in the median of arterial roads, augmenting existing local transit routes. They are being built on York Region’s busiest corridors: Yonge Street in Newmarket and Richmond Hill, Highway 7 in Markham and Vaughan, and Davis Drive in Newmarket. Together, these Rapidways will cost $2 billion to construct.
The Viva Rapidways are easier to access on foot than the Mississauga Transitway, and, at least in theory, they can promote transit-oriented development along their routes. But the Mississauga BRT’s advantage it is speed, which is lacking on the median bus lanes, slowed down by traffic lights at each intersection.
Like TTC streetcar median rights-of-way on Spadina and St. Clair Avenues, Viva Rapidway stops are at the far side of most intersections in order to accommodate left-turn lanes on the near side. This is problematic as transfers require crossing intersections twice to connect between Viva and parallel local routes; it makes it harder for the transit rider to take the first bus that arrives, be it a Viva or a regular YRT bus.
Local YRT bus stop at near side; Viva Rapidway stop on far side. Davis Drive and Main Street, Newmarket.
Another failing is the requirement for transit riders to push the “beg button” at every intersection. The walk sign will not come on unless the prospective transit rider pushes the button, which is unfortunate. Where rapid transit is built, transit should be as easy as possible to access, and pedestrians should always come first. At least pedestrians can cross Davis Drive in a single phase; on Highway 7 in Markham, pedestrians are expected to cross in two separate phases.
There’s also one other quirk about the Davis Drive Rapidway: despite the heavy construction, the GO Transit corridor was not grade separated at Davis Drive. While Viva buses aren’t stuck in the congestion that occurs when GO trains pass through (this is pretty much the only time there’s serious congestion on Davis), they still must wait at the railway crossings like everyone else.
Beg to cross Davis Drive to access the Viva bus
Another problem, which I discussed in Spacing previously, is that while the Rapidways are elegant, the service isn’t. Viva Yellow operates every 15 minutes during all service periods (for now at least), but the connecting services, which should be feeding the bus rapid transit lines, are lacking. This reduces the value rapid transit corridors can provide.
YRT cutbacks in Newmarket will take effect this Sunday, June 26, 2016; off-peak, most bus routes in Newmarket will operate every 35 minutes during the peak period, every 60 minutes off-peak. The 54 Bayview Route, which connects to Viva Yellow at Davis and Bayview, will operate every 74 minutes during weekday middays, rendering it practically useless.
Despite poor local services, York Region Transit has the highest fares in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. On July 1, the single-zone cash fare will go up even further to $4.00. (In Toronto, the adult cash fare is $3.25, in Mississauga, it’s $3.50). Adult tickets and Presto fares will go up to $3.50 each, where in Toronto and Brampton, the same fare is $2.90.
York Region has been very successful lobbying for, and building, new transit infrastructure. And in Markham, at least, new development is being built that can support higher-order transit projects. But York Region still has a problem on the operations side; it needs to be serious about funding transit as much as it is building it, otherwise the transit infrastructure is more symbolic than useful.
As an aside, Downtown Newmarket, located just south of the GO Station, is worth visiting. The downtown has several great restaurants and shops; Main Street is narrow and pedestrian friendly. There are several interesting railway-related relics nearby. On Davis Drive, the old railway station built by the Grand Trunk Railway and later used by CN and VIA, is now occupied by the local Chamber of Commerce. There’s also the Newmarket Radial Arch, part of a former trestle over the Canadian National tracks and the East Holland River. The arch is the most prominent remnant of the former Toronto & York Radial Railway that ran between North Toronto and Jackson’s Point until 1930.
Main Street, Newmarket
A GO Train passes the old Grand Trunk/Canadian National Station on the south side of Davis Drive. Newmarket GO Station is on the north side of Davis Drive, in an old tannery converted to an office building.
Newmarket Radial Arch over the East Holland River