Toronto startup aims to crowdfund new bus route in Liberty Village
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How much would you pay to improve your commute?
A Toronto startup is betting that the transit-starved residents of Liberty Village, who struggle to board the overcrowded King streetcar, will be willing to contribute at least $25 to try a bus alternative.
Brett Chang, 23, and Taylor Scollon, 24, the founders of Line Six Transit, are crowdfunding $2,500 to test a service they are calling the Liberty Village Express from Oct. 6 to 10.
In less than a month, they’ve signed on 58 backers and raised $1,450 toward a bus that would run from Pirandello and East Liberty Sts. to Union Station.
“People are so fed up riding the King streetcar, they’re interested in jumping on the bus,” said Chang.
“We picked Liberty Village because we’ve seen that there are major transit challenges facing that community. There’s hyper-urbanization, there’s rapid growth, and the city has not been responsive to the transit needs of that community,” he said.
A Kickstarter-style crowdsourcing site will gather a group of people interested in travelling to the same destination at the same time.
“What we want to do is provide a platform for people who want to organize their own transit, and we’ll handle the logistics,” said Chang, who wants to expand the business to other groups once the Liberty Village Express is up and running.
“It’s bottom-up transit, which is something that hasn’t been done before,” he said.
The TTC has a legal monopoly in Toronto. But Chang says Line Six is on solid ground. The City of Toronto Act exempts “vehicles exclusively chartered to transport a group of persons for a specified trip … for a group fee.”
TTC spokesman Brad Ross said the transit system will be monitoring the situation but doesn’t know enough about the business model yet to comment on whether it breaches the act.
Liberty Village Express contributors won’t pay a fare. For a $25 contribution, a rider gets a reserved seat for the entire week; $50 buys two seats for the week. Seventy-five dollars gets two seats and a t-shirt. The website also promises a morning coffee.
If Line Six doesn’t raise enough money to launch, it will return what has been collected.
The week-long pilot is proposed only for morning travel, including four Union Station-bound trips between 7 a.m. and 9:15 a.m., and three runs back to Liberty Village between 7:20 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. But if the venture takes off, there will be additional morning runs and evening service, Chang said.
City Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), who has been pushing the city, TTC and Metrolinx for more transit options for Liberty Village, says he’s not sure if the business model will work. It may be a more comfortable ride, but with traffic and no signal or lane priority, it’s not clear the bus will be any faster.
“You should be able to get around this city in a reasonable amount of time in a reasonable amount of comfort without resorting to a private service like this,” he said.
But he acknowledged that in Liberty Village, the condos were developed before appropriate services were in place.
All-door boarding on the TTC — something transit officials have recommended begin in the New Year — should speed service on the King car. With 60,000 riders a day, the streetcar carries more people than the Sheppard subway.
Metrolinx is also looking at ways of serving more Liberty Village residents on the GO train from Exhibition. That would offer commuters a seven-minute trip to Union Station every 30 minutes, said Layton.
“We’ve estimated there are 2,000 people travelling from the subway to Liberty Village every day at the three streetcar stops that serve (the area). If we can get the 2,000 people off the King streetcar, that will be an enormous relief of pressure to folks travelling on that car who don’t live in Liberty Village and maybe don’t have the luxury of just walking over to a GO train station,” he said.
A group of condos along Queens Quay has been providing shuttles to various city destinations for about 30 years, said Ulla Colgrass, member of the York Quay Neighbourhood Association.
“People just wouldn’t move here unless there was some means of transportation,” she said.
Condo residents own the mini-buses and pay for the service through their condo fees.