To make any transit system actually deliver the goods in terms of getting people where they want to go, and also allow those who cannot reasonably use transit to move about in the remaining road space, a couple of basic ideas need to be respected.
1-Service needs to serve the rides people want to make, not dictate the rides people will make. That means it should not be distorted to serve a particular manner of concentrating riders, and not creating too many barriers at the margins between areas.
2-It needs to be fast enough to be competitive with the other options. If transit only takes a couple of minutes longer, and means I do not have to park at the other end etc, I will use it, if I have to plan on an extra 30 minutes, forget it.
3-Needs to be at least as reliable as the other options, so when I go to get a bus/train I need to know both when it will be there, and how long the trip will take. Also this needs to be consistent virtually all the time.
Given the above rules, there becomes some very serious limits to how transit can reasonably work, and how many rides it can really support. The heavier the mode the larger the volume required to support it.
So the question quickly becomes, can we design a system that integrates the modes we have and makes full use and still allows us to move around the way we need to. Toronto currently really has a single focus on the long haul transit, and that is the core, all of GO is focused on getting riders to the core. This makes sense, in that riding from say, Liberty Village to Markham, would mean that the transit there would need to be able to readily support the riders movement around the area, and deliver them to work. There is a natural competition between designing transit to serve trips to the mall, a local employer, and to the major centers of employment.
GO as a destination:
GO currently is served by large parking lots, this encourages riders to drive to train. This both seriously limits the number of riders, and means that people are already in their car, and must own a car to use the GO in far too many cases.
Go is a critical link between the areas, for instance to get from Ajax or Burlington, into Toronto it avoids getting on or limits the drive on expressways that are well over capacity. It would be better, however, if we could ride a bus right from the start, or at least a point even closer to the start of our trip. One of the things that must be addressed as part of the solution to Toronto’s congestion woes, is that GO and local transit need to be designed to work hand and glove, and local service to the GO needs to be an attractive frequent, and GO schedule sensitive service.
GO as a Start of Ride.
One of the key problems in Toronto itself, and elsewhere in the GTA, is that there is also the issue that I cannot readily ride the GO to many locations within Mississauga, or areas of Toronto beyond the core. That would mean it would make sense for instance to ride GO from Richmond Hill to the Oriole Go stop to board a Sheppard subway to North York City Centre, or to Main to use the Danforth subway for destinations that were not in the core. However, too many of these transfers either do not exist, are designed entirely for travel in the other direction, or are far too cumbersome.
Local Transit Links
One of the issues that is coming to the fore, is how we actually tie together the various transit systems. The need to improve access to and from the TTC for the various regional agencies is fairly clear. The Islington Subway station bus bays are in terrible shape, and a project to either move, or fix these, is required to improve access for Mi-Way, and to ensure that Mississauga riders to do not become Mississauga drivers. Also the shortening of the Cross-town project is another substantial issue. This was meant to go to meet the Mississauga Bus-way at the Renforth Gateway.
How we link York Region transit to the TTC will as it continues to develop will be crucial to the success or failure of attracting a deluge of people who will either be riders or drivers. As noted above one area of critical import will be from Richmond Hill, and also from Markham. How this is done, will both have a huge effect on to what degree people choose transit as an option and to what degree the areas beyond Toronto overwhelm the existing TTC infrastructure. If the primary link from Richmond Hill Centre were subway, or even an LRT it could have serious repercussions for the use of the Yonge subway line further south.
These links cannot represent major barriers, but the routes with capacity need to be easier to get to and faster to use, than the ones that are in jeopardy of being overwhelmed.
One of the reasons I like the idea of a Hwy 7 across the top of the city is the need to permit riders to use transit for a trip that starts in Brampton and ends in Markham without having to go out of their way to go through Union Station. Union Station, even if we choose to take UPX and other routes out, is in danger of becoming a critical bottleneck in the system, designing a system, that forces trips out of the way to go through a bottleneck is not helpful.
If the highway 7 BRT can act to support the kind of line haul operations that would allow people to make only a few stops, getting across the city, better still. That would make the bus trip possibly faster than driving, which would go a long ways to reducing congestion. The issue is how do we support such cross-jurisdictional trips. Can we keep GO involved? Can we have the local municipalities cooperate to share a line? To make this work, each of the local transit operators has to be well connected to the Hwy 7 BRT, so that riders can move into the local system and their final destination easily.
This also requires, substantial and meaningful local transit support. One of the things that must change is that new development must be easily served by transit. Cities need to declare their transit plans and stick to them. Local service to region wide service is critical to allow transit to actually address the issues across the GTA. Once people are in their car, unless there is a strong reason to get out, and a place to park, they will remain in until they reach their destination, and we can no longer build the roads to support this type of movement in the region.