Over the past week, we have heard a lot about streetcars that were stuck in the yard or failed in service because of frozen air lines.
If the air isn’t dry, moisture condenses and freezes, blocking air movement. Whatever system that air line runs – such as releasing the brakes – stops working, and the streetcar is stuck just as if it were frozen to the rails. Think of this as sclerosis for streetcars.
Drying the air has been an issue for the streetcar fleet more or less since it was delivered 30 years ago, and the problem is worse on the long ALRVs than on the shorter, and older, CLRVs. One can only wonder if this is yet another subsystem where the TTC gambled that things would keep running until new cars arrived.
Record cold weather meant anything that was borderline temperature sensitive has failed, and riders have seen the effects.
The new cars are over a year late. If the wait means they work perfectly “out of the box” I will be ecstatic – the Toronto Rocket subway trains have not exactly inspired confidence in Bombardier.
The partial replacement of streetcars by buses led inevitably to musing by Councillor Doug Ford that maybe we should just make this a permanent arrangement. The Ford family is well known for looking for any excuse to rid Toronto of what they see as a nuisance.
This begs two very important sets of questions for the TTC and its current chair, Karen Stintz. Will they rise to the streetcars’ defence not just for the short, post-deep-freeze, but for their long-term future?
First off, cold though it may be, the glaciers are receding, and by the weekend it will be almost balmy. Ice will melt. Sidewalk cafés will spring to life. But what about the streetcars?
According to the TTC’s Chris Upfold, most of the PM peak streetcar service operated on Wednesday evening and they hope to be close to 100% for Thursday. That’s an important sign that this really is a short term, weather related problem.
Second, whenever someone talks about buses replacing streetcars, we always get into a debate about how bad the bus congestion would be. In the short term this presumes we even have the buses to spare. In the longer term it means more buses, the noise and fumes they bring, and, if TTC history is anything to go by, service that will be as little as they can get away with thanks to the cost of all those extra operators.
Yes, articulated buses would carry more, but so will the new streetcars. The big question for the TTC is “how many new cars will you run”? They have been rather evasive on this although the streetcar fleet plan does give route by route numbers. Part of their focus is on trying to get more reliable service, and through that, better utilization of the route’s theoretical capacity.
Anyone who thinks Queen and King might be better off should try the Dufferin bus someday.
Dufferin’s AM peak service is about 23 buses/hour. Convert that to “short” CLRV streetcars, and it is roughly 16/hour (counting 1 streetcar as 1.5 buses). The King car is scheduled for 30/hour and some of those are the longer ALRVs. We would need twice the level of service on Dufferin to handle existing capacity requirements on King.
Back in the 1990s, ridership on the TTC fell through the floor, a loss of about 20 percent that was compounded by the Harris-era abandonment of transit funding. In 1997, the TTC had enough spare streetcars that they could open a new line – Spadina – without expanding the fleet.
Since then, the standard response to calls for better streetcar service has been “we have no spare cars”. Riders have seen over 15 years of growth in demand with almost no improvements in service.
The TTC knows it has a backlog and that even more growth is to come. On top of the 204 new cars now on order, the TTC would like to buy 60 more.
Doing the same thing with buses would take a huge fleet. Streets that are now “clogged” with streetcars would be even worse off. Most streetcar lines are four lanes wide with parking banned only peak period, peak direction. Buses may pull over at stops, provided they can reach the curb, and then they have to pull out again. The experience for standing passengers is not pleasant, and there is no guarantee those buses would actually clear the middle lane.
If the TTC really believes in streetcars and if Chair Stintz really believes in their ability to handle the strong growth now happening thanks to downtown intensification, they should be telling Doug Ford and anyone else who would listen about what the new cars can and will do.
Yes, better service will cost more money. Both Stintz and TTC CEO Andy Byford have played the “we can get by” card to keep Rob Ford happy, while riders grumble about service that is full and unreliable.
Now is the time for the TTC to be positive about what the streetcars can do for Toronto, to show advocacy for this important part of our transit system.