I'm fortunate that I don't have to enter or leave Toronto's downtown core during rush hour. My schedule takes me in and out of there in the mid-afternoon and the late evening. Most people, however, are not so lucky, and every day tens or hundreds of thousands of people make that journey on systems that are either rapidly approaching, or have already exceeded, capacity. It's particularly bad, from what I hear, on the subway. A friend of mine who commutes with the rush told me recently that he might get two rides every couple of weeks where he wasn't crammed like a sardine in a tin - and that they wouldn't necessarily both fall on the same day.
This can't go on forever. Overcrowding breeds resentment, and resentment breeds frustration with and the eventual abandonment of transit. The installation of automatic train control in the next few years will help with this, reducing the spacing between trains so more trains can be run in the system, but that won't address the underlying issues. This overcrowding is one of the major reasons why I believe the absolute most necessary goal for future TTC expansion is the Downtown Relief Line. If completed to its full extent, this line would funnel riders to the downtown core by branching off the Bloor-Danforth line at Pape in the east and Dundas West in the west. It would reduce the pressure on the southbound Yonge line, as well as the 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcar routes.
Today, considering the degree to which it's discussed in the media, the Downtown Relief Line is closer to realization than it's ever been - which, honestly, is saying a lot, considering that it's only lines on a map. The appropriate time to start building it was the late 1980s, after the Network 2011 plan was presented, but of course the governments at the time had no will to do it. So now we're left with an overcrowded system and vague promises that the DRL might be built in the future - but not before 2020.
We can't keep looking to the future with expectation, hoping that the money will shower down from somewhere and that all of a sudden we'll be able to make all our transit dreams reality. We can't just wait for the DRL to be built (or not built, as the case may very well end up being). We need alternatives, at least for the short term.
If the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority knows how to use anything to its advantage it's buses, because buses were its predecessors' only option from 1963 to 1990. The Metro Rapid system is the latest expression of this, and it's something the Toronto Transit Commission might well take a hint from. Metro Rapid is, essentially, light bus rapid transit, and while Metro Rapid buses run in mixed traffic like ordinary buses, they stop only at major intersections and are equipped with transponders to hold traffic lights green as they approach. They're not as fast as subways or dedicated light rail, but on congested roads they'd at least have a speed advantage over streetcars.
One thing I've not heard about the TTC investigating, but which it perhaps should, is the possibility of instituting Rapid-like service, on a temporary or permanent basis, along key rush hour corridors in Toronto. Imagine the current 97 Yonge route being supplemented by a rush hour only articulated express, or buses departing from Pape station and travelling south and west to downtown. The TTC would just have to get over its apparent conviction that articulated buses are just things that other transit agencies operate, and that Torontonian exceptionalism prevents their use here. I tell you what, articulated buses running on the 29 Dufferin route would probably spare a great deal of overcrowding and grief.
As far as I see it, when it comes to the current system we can no longer afford to coast. We've been coasting for decades, ever since the opening of Kipling and Kennedy stations in 1980 marked the effective end of significant subway construction in this city. We've run out of time to rest on our laurels, and though it'll take time for permanent solutions to solve the dawning transit crisis we're in, we've not got time to waste anymore.