Smart commuting the York way

With 1,000 buses a day entering York’s Keele campus, the University is a very different transportation hub than it was in 2001. Just a few years ago, York University was drowning in single occupant vehicles, gridlock and traffic frustration. There was no direct bus route to the Keele campus, forcing students, faculty and staff to take a convoluted route to the University. That picture has significantly improved thanks to the first university-based transportation management association (TMA) in Canada.


Above: Toronto Mayor David Miller addresses participants of Smart Commute Black Creek during its third annual meeting and celebration

Yesterday, members of Smart Commute Black Creek – formerly the Black Creek Transport Management Association – celebrated the association’s third year of existence with a breakfast that featured Toronto Mayor David Miller and York Regional Chair Bill Fisch as guest speakers. Over 130 association partners from business, government and education attended the annual meeting in the dining hall at York’s Schulich School of Business Executive Learning Centre, and marked three successful years of reducing traffic congestion in York Region. Participants were invited to celebrate the association’s incorporation, new name and new logo.

Three years ago, after extensive community consultations and partnership building, the Black Creek TMA was created to find solutions to the traffic gridlock taking place in the Black Creek area of York Region. York University, the largest generator of traffic in Toronto, took a leadership role in its formation, not least because the University faced many challenges associated with traffic congestion and rising costs of moving staff and students on and off its Keele campus.

Tom Arnold, York’s executive director of security, parking and transportation and Chair of the association, announced the new name to its membership, “It is probably the worst kept secret but we are now incorporated – that means we are here to stay – and we have a new name, Smart Commute Black Creek, and a new logo. We are here to celebrate the success of the first university-based transportation management association and tell you where we are going in the future.”

Arnold delivered an entertaining speech that outlined the abbreviations used by transportation experts. “I will define the acronyms now so that people can use them. We have SOVs, or single occupant vehicles, and TMAs, or transportation management associations….There is the BRT, or bus rapid transit, which is very important to us, and the TDM, or transportation demand management…and finally we have the SCBC, or Smart Commute Black Creek,” said Arnold. “When our smart commute group got together, we wanted a name that identified the region but did not tie us to one level of government. Black Creek runs through our region that we are trying desperately to save from the dreaded SOV because it threatens to strangle us. We aren’t stopping until we get the S-U-B-W-A-Y coming to York.” 

York University President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden said of the association and its efforts, “This is a priority because of the huge growth this area is experiencing. York is a community of over 60,000 people and we have over 1,000 buses a day coming onto the campus. We are the largest transit hub in Toronto that is not serviced directly by the subway.

“We need to find locally based transit solutions. Smart Commute Black Creek provides us with a grassroots and ‘on the ground’ approach to solving transit problems and we need to continue forward on this track.”

Mayor Miller agreed with Marsden, saying, “We are delighted with the success of the Black Creek TMA. It is remarkable to see the difference that this TMA has made in shifting mobility to transit, cycling and car pooling.”

According to Miller, “There were 4,000 fewer cars coming into the Keele and Steeles area per day during peak periods in 2003. That means about 640,000 fewer cars per year and about 19,400 tonnes reduced in emissions. York University, which is the heart of the TMA, grew its population by 10 per cent in 2003 with no increase in car traffic….For York University, the plans to build two new parking garages have been deferred at a cost savings of up to $33 million. By freeing the land from parking use, this will allow for the creation of additional new academic buildings to be constructed on former parking lot sites. Additionally, freeing the peripheral land from parking will allow for a 35.5 acre private sector residential development to be built.

“In the past, York was a community where 70 per cent of the people came by car and only 30 per cent by transit. Today York is a community where 60 per cent of the people now come by transit and only 40 per cent come by car and that is a major accomplishment that was made possible, in part, by the TMA,” said Miller. “I have to thank Lorna Marsden for her foresight in establishing the first university-based TMA.”

The TMA has enabled York University to achieve a GO Transit train stop for York Region commuters near the campus and a natural gas shuttle service. An express bus service has been established for inter-regional commuters on Highway 407, and there has been an increase in local buses serving the Keele campus – now over 1,000 buses a day. There is also an Internet-based service to help students and employees find car-pool partners, plus special parking vouchers for car pools. The Smart Commute Black Creek TMA has also provided a guaranteed ride home program in the event of an emergency for daily transit users, car poolers or cyclists.

York Region’s Fisch summed up York’s transportation challenges: “Over 50 per cent of the people coming to York Region are from outside the region…. We are trying to make transit a viable alternative to cars,” said Fisch. “Once we get our rapid transit plan going next September, there is work to be done building stations for what I like to call ‘rail on rubber tires’. We want to remove thousands of cars from our roads.

“Sustainability and increased action at all levels of government and in the private sector is essential,” said Fisch. “We have to change our thinking about how we get around our communities.”

The speakers joined Smart Commute Black Creek’s executive director Janet Lo in unveiling the TMA’s new logo.

“Our accomplishments have been many and it is important to note that these have been accomplished without legislative support,” said Lo. “Our goal over the next year is to double our membership.”

Right: (Left to right) Tom Arnold, Lorna R. Marsden, Bill Fisch, David Miller and Janet Lo

For more information, visit the Smart Commute Black Creek Web site.