What’s the BIGGY about HOV?

hov_lanes.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoToronto traffic has always been a bone of contention with commuters, but never more so since the introduction of HOV lanes or high occupancy vehicles lanes. So much so, that it has dominated Toronto airways, news outlets and overshadowed the Pam Am games over the last few weeks.

As someone who doesn’t drive and has taken public transit for the better part of my adult life, I find the whole argument absurd. Seriously, there are plenty of other things in this world to bitch about, and this one seems to be about a 2 out of 10.

But what I have made a few observations from this whole thing:

1. There are a lot of commuters coming in from great distances within the GTA to work in downtown Toronto.
2. Very few drivers carpool.
3. Drivers have a very negative perception of public transit, even if they have actually rarely or never taken it.

According to a recent Metro article, writer Jessica Smith Cross and two compatriots attempted a commute from 1 Yonge Street and up the DVP to Fairview Mall on Sheppard Avenue East. Not surprising, the HOV commute took only 18 minutes while their colleague’s commute as a solo driver took 43 minutes. Smith Cross observed as their car “held a steady clip of 80 to 90 km/h on nearly the entire length of the Don Valley Parkway” that it’s “a stunning reminder of how many people drive to work and back alone”.

My family drove up to Orillia to drop my son off at camp on Monday afternoon. The only spot that we encountered HOV lanes were on the Don Valley Parkway, which we could use since we had four in the car. I was also surprised to find that there were so many solo drivers. But after that stretch, where we entered the 401 and the 400, we were just like any other driver without any special lanes at our disposal. The traffic was pretty clear all the way north, but upon the return trip, the 401 was heavily congested, because, it was rush hour.

HOV2Globe and Mail writer Darren McGee did a two-part comparison between driving to work in downtown Toronto from his home in Clarington, ON and taking the Go train. He titled the first installment HOV horror: One long, frustrating drive on the highway to Pan Am Hell. From the title, it’s obvious that McGee has a penchant for exaggeration either because he is a man-baby or he thinks it makes good copy. One commenter named K. Leicht wrote, ” Nightmare? Really? Nightmare!? What a blissfully joyful life you must live for your long, uneventful commute to be considered a nightmare. Makes a mockery of #firstworldproblems”.

HOVAt any rate, McGee complains that it took him 112 minutes to get to the Globe office during rush hour traffic (regular commute during rush hour takes about 55 to 80 minutes), with most of that time spent on the Don Valley. So, it took him 32 minutes longer on a bad commute day and an hour longer than his best commute time.

Sounds bad I know, but he did this test on the very first day the 3 person HOV lanes were opened – lending to a greater deal of confusion – AND there was an accident on the Don Valley that morning, which added to the lengthier proportion of time spent on that route.

The next day, he compared his previous day drive with a go at GO Transit, in the aptly titled: All aboard GO Transit for Day 2 of the Pan Am Games travel nightmare. He’s not one for concise titles. McGee complains while sitting in the quiet zone of the Go train, that a man with a bad cold and a woman who drinks her coffee too loudly surrounds him, while another woman applies her makeup, he might add, too heavily. The trip takes 108 minutes from door to door, 4 minutes shorter than the previous day’s drive.

Port Credit Guy tells McGee in the comment section, “If you brought your laptop or a book or something (or even the G&M), you wouldn’t even notice the make-up people and coffee slurpers, and you would actually get something done, which you can’t do in the car. Sounds like you need some time management training.” Definitely, man-baby.

Finally, I can’t wrap up this post until I mention that according to the Toronto Sun, our former mayor and current sitting Toronto city councillor Rob Ford has openly disobeyed the traffic laws. Recently recovering from abdominal surgery, he admitted to driving as a single occupant in the HOV lane and bragged about to the media.

Ford said, “Me? I’ve gone on the HOV lanes. Absolutely, I have. I have to get down here sometimes.” He added that, “these HOV lanes are a complete disaster. I know I see people just going down the HOV lanes and saying, ‘OK.’ Basically catch me if they can. There were a lot of people I saw that were by themselves.”

This coming from the same guy who smokes crack cocaine. Our current mayor John Tory has yet to comment. Perhaps he is too classy to even bother.

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