Always A Car In Sight

That, believe it or not, used to be the TTC’s slogan years ago when transit service was a far more important part of the life of Toronto than it is today.  Three love affairs have brought us to where we are now:

  • The automobile
  • The subway which moves huge numbers of people provided they’re going where one was built
  • Tax cuts and changes in public spending priorities

From time to time, people ask me both about how service has declined and about the practical limits on streetcar service.  I am not going to pretend that the answer to our problems is to build streetcar lines running in mixed traffic everywhere.  For one thing, there’s a lot more of that “mixed traffic” than there used to be.  But it’s interesting to see what streetcars were doing even well into the “modern” automotive era.

One sad part of looking at these numbers is that the downward spiral is there for anyone to see.  This has always been a concept we talk about as if it is in the future, that one more budget cut or fare increase will push us over the edge.  Guess what?  For the once-proud trunk lines downtown we passed that line a long time ago.  Taxis pick off would-be TTC riders at every stop because the service is so infrequent and unreliable. 

The TTC refuses to improve service claiming that to do so in mixed traffic is pointless.  Nothing like giving up on “transit priority” and a “transit city” before we even get a chance to try.

Up on St. Clair, the idea of putting in a right-of-way has been around for decades.  Alas, the service has dwindled over the years.

The TTC is always happy to cut service in response to a claimed drop in riding or to balance their budget, but they are most grudging about putting it back to handle growth and to attract new riders.  That’s what the Ridership Growth Strategy is supposed to be about, but of course until we have more streetcars, we can’t do anything on that front.

The periods covered by this spreadsheet are:

  • April 1954 just after the Yonge Subway opened
  • April 1964 two years before the Bloor Subway opened between Keele and Woodbine
  • January 1968 before the extensions to Islington and Warden opened
  • October 1971 before the Spadina Subway opened
  • October 1980 heading into the prime decade of growth for the TTC
  • April 1990 in the start of the early 90’s recession
  • February 1996, the black day when service cuts thanks to Harris funding cuts ravaged the system
  • September 2006 when a few small improvements can be seen, but the overall trend is still not upward

The service levels are shown in minutes and seconds, as well as in cars/hour.  Things get a bit tricky where there are mixtures of ALRVs and CLRVs, not to mention the days of two-car PCC trains.  I haven’t tried to concoct an equivalency measure for different sizes of vehicles, but you can see what has been happening.

Streetcar Services From 1954 to 2006 (PDF Version)

3 thoughts on “Always A Car In Sight

  1. Interesting. I asked my parents about this (they arrived from Italy in 1954 and lived in the Bloor-Bathurst area). They recalled that in the 50s and 60s, not a lot of people owned (or could afford) cars, and most women in those days didn’t drive — and as a result, the service was very high to meet demand.

    They described it as a “streetcar every minute” on almost all the routes, with all the cars jam packed. Cars were so crowded and moved so slowly that sometimes they simply opted to walk instead. They also mentioned that sometimes the cars were so packed in they weren’t even able to reach the fare box to deposit their dime, and they rode for free. Yep, the fare at that time was 10 cents!

    So, in those days (before the suburbs took off) combined with lots of post WW2 European immigration, etc., transit was the primary mode of transportation for the majority, and the level of service reflected that.


  2. There were none of these “please step behind the white line” business. Nowadays, we have drivers who do not start moving buses or streetcars until the passengers do so. This results in needless waits. I have been on one bus that the driver did not move for 5 minutes because the passengers would not move behind the white line.

    The white line maybe for safety reasons, but it seems to only slow down service for me. It should only be a “guideline”, not a rule.

    Another problem I find is that passengers refuse to exit through the center doors. This results in another delay. PLEASE EXIT THROUGH THE CENTER DOORS. When my kids were still in their strollers, I always exited using the center doors.


  3. Some more stats, of sorts.

    When I was growing up in Lawrence Park in the 70’s and 80’s, the NORTOWN 61 operated at it’s WORST every 10 minutes, even on Sundays.  Nowadays, forget about ANY service on Mt. Pleasant in the evening.

    Also, I remember even a minor trunk route like LESLIE 51 being as good as every 5 to 10 minutes even on the weekend.  NOW, there is no Sunday service at all.

    What’s interesting about both examples are that they run through neighbourhoods where people would rather use their cars than walk the extra distance to Yonge or to Don Mills for example, or even wait for a bus at a bus stop for over 10 minutes.  You can point to many other service reductions in fairly affluent areas where TTC service reductions have literally forced people to Take The Car.

    A transit city?  Please.  More like a Transit disgrace.  And I really think the term Transit Disgrace should be a rallying cry of sorts to hurl at City Council as well as at the TTC.  We gotta keep asking why Toronto is now a Transit Disgrace.

    Steve:  The point this illustrates is that in neighbourhoods where people have the choice of taking their car, service quality really matters in holding on to riders.  Cuts that might be grudgingly tolerated elsewhere because people don’t have a choice produce only riding losses in some areas.  The TTC has on several occasions made some rather stupid assumptions about the small impact on ridership that a service cut will have even when proposing cuts to half hour headways or worse.  Nobody rides because they can either walk faster or find an alternate TTC route or drive.

    Also, for short trips, taxis are competitive especially for more than one person.


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