Bus rapid transit paves the way to York University

Increased transit access to York’s Keele campus came one step closer to reality Friday with the official groundbreaking ceremony for a bus rapid transit route that will operate between Downsview subway station and the Harry Arthurs Common.

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri acted as official host for the ceremony, which brought representatives from all levels of government to York’s Keele campus. Attending were York alumnus Jim Flaherty (LLB ’73), federal minister of finance and minister responsible for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA); George Smitherman, Ontario’s deputy premier and minister of energy & infrastructure; Jim Bradley, Ontario minister of transportation; David Miller, mayor of Toronto; York Centre MPP Monte Kwinter; York West MPP Mario Sergio; and Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) chair and city councillor Adam Giambrone. Acting as master of ceremonies for the event was Toronto city councillor Joseph Mihevic. City councillors Anthony Peruzza and Michael Thompson were in the audience.

Above: Members of the delegation arrived at the ceremony on a new hybrid bus, part of a fleet expansion acquired by the TTC. From left, York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri,  Deputy Premier George Smitherman; federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty; Ontario Transport Minister Jim Bradley; Toronto Mayor David Miller; York Centre MPP Monte Kwinter; and TTC chair and city councillor Adam Giambrone.

"It is a pleasure to be here at my alma mater," said Flaherty.  "I don’t want to say how many years ago I graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School but I will say that this campus did not look like this back then. It is great to see the developments on this campus and, of course, the importance of York University as a centre of knowledge is one of the main reasons why this announcement is so important. 

"York University has become a centre of unparalleled growth and activity, resulting in traffic congestion that is getting progressively worse," said Flaherty. "While we all know designing and building the Spadina subway extension will take time, the additional six kilometers of dedicated bus lanes are an interim solution that is both practical and efficient."

Above: Officials flanked by York students put shovels to the ground for the York University Busway

The York University Busway will significantly improve the speed and reliability of bus services between Downsview Station and York. The busway project involves the designation of existing High Occupancy Vehicle Traffic lanes on Dufferin Street and Allen Road as bus-only. Additionally, new bus-only roadways will be constructed in the hydro corridor between Keele Street and Dufferin Avenue, just north of Finch Avenue, as well as on the Keele campus. Construction of the busway will begin this summer and is expected to be complete in the summer of 2009. The busway is scheduled to open in August 2009.

"Thousands of York University students, faculty and staff travel to York from across the Greater Toronto Area," said Flaherty. "Nearly 1,700 buses serve this campus every day during the school year and many of the buses are filled to capacity taking thousands of cars off the road."

The busway route is part of a two-phase project to improve access to York’s Keele campus. The York University Busway is the first phase and provides six kilometers of dedicated bus-only lanes which will move TTC buses carrying passengers from Downsview Station to the heart of the Keele campus. The second phase is the Toronto-York Spadina subway extension to the Vaughan Corporate Centre, which will be completed by 2015. Construction should begin on the subway extension this September, said officials. Construction has now begun on phase one and the busway project will be completed in time for the 2009-2010 school year.

"Greater economic prosperity, cleaner air and smart growth for our province have been championed here today," said Smitherman. "As we continue to work with our federal and municipal partners on vital infrastructure projects, we will promote an integrated system that envisions the kind of growth and environmental stewardship that sustains our unique quality of life and economic success."

The delay in getting the busway and extension of the Spadina subway has been a problem, acknowledged Smitherman. "If the students can’t get to the place that does the teaching because of the inaccuracies of infrastructure, well, that’s a serious problem and, if we’re frank about it, that’s been a serious problem associated with York for a long, long time," he said. 

Toronto’s mayor agreed and highlighted that the TTC was originally constructed for a city of 1.5 million and Toronto is now a city of 2.6-million people. "This busway is a very important part of building a rapid transit network for the 21st-century," said Miller. "Today we celebrate the progress that can be made when all orders of government work together toward a common goal: to reduce greenhouse gases, stimulate urban development and economic activity, and to enhance our public
transit network."

"TTC service will continue to improve with the partnership of the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada and the City of Toronto, allowing us to expand our network with this dedicated busway," said Giambrone. "Riders, and in particular students of York University who have been frustrated with crowded, irregular service to campus, will see a real improvement in the reliability of the service they count on between Downsview Station and York University."

"This busway promises to reduce travelling time dramatically for students and staff alike. Buses arrive here from the Downsview every two minutes," said Bradley. "That’s a lot of people who will benefit from the busway."

Funding for the new York University Busway

The federal contribution of $9.7 million to the City of Toronto for the bus rapid transit project comes from the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund (CSIF), which supports large-scale strategic infrastructure projects that improve quality of life and further economic growth. It is part of an overall commitment of $350 million to the TTC and the City of Toronto for improvements to subways and subway infrastructure; streetcar infrastructure and dedicated streetcar lanes; buses and bus infrastructure; and the PRESTO farecard system for the GTA.

The City of Toronto is contributing $18.4 million. Provincial funding for the project was provided in the 2007 budget, through a one-time payout of the province’s commitments under the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund agreement. In total, the TTC has allocated $9.7 million in provincial funding for this project. Since 2003, the Ontario government says, it has committed more than $2.7 billion to help the City of Toronto improve and expand transit, including provincial gas tax funding of close to $524 million.