Why Do We Have Streetcars?

This piece is much more of an editorial than my usual writing here in response to a lot of ill-informed commentary about the streetcar system and Transit City.  This is not intended as a definitive, answer-all-questions epic on why we should keep streetcars, but as an overview of my position. 

Some will think I am too aggressive, moving too fast, or just plain out of my mind for my opinions on the role streetcars and LRT can play in Toronto.  I happen to have similar feelings about those who advocate subways and other inappropriate technologies.

For three decades, Toronto has been appallingly served by its professional transportation establishment and by its politicians.  While the rest of the world goes on with building, or rediscovering, the streetcar and LRT, we clung to the idea that they were quaint, something for the tourists, but not “real” transit.  We blew years on studies looking at small extensions to our subway network that would do almost nothing for the city overall and leave large areas without decent service.  We just about convinced everyone that good transit could never happen because we could never afford it.

With Transit City and the Official Plan there is hope that we are moving in an important new direction.  

Recently, a reporter at the Star who shall remain nameless left me both a voicemail and a comment here asking that I get in touch about a piece he is writing.  He has not returned my call back, and the email he left bounces.  This leaves me little alternative but to reply here to the questions I think he might be asking.

What is LRT? 

One of the reactions I have heard to Transit City is to dismiss the plan as “only streetcars”.  Indeed, a report to that effect in the Town Crier includes some rather uncomplimentary remarks by one of the people who is supposed to be in charge of our transportation infrastructure:

Rod McPhail, director of transportation and planning for the city, said an environmental assessment is currently underway for Don Mills Rd…

While McPhail says LRTs are factored in as a possibility, he added that other methods of transportation like buses and streetcars are still being considered as well.

“Really, we’ll just be looking at buses and streetcars,” he said. “The only real difference between LRT and streetcar services is that the stations are a little further apart.”  [Emphasis mine]

McPhail said the LRT proposal has made his job somewhat difficult.

“It’s confused the public,” he said. “Components of the transit city plan are in the city’s official plan so there is status to it, but it is a visionary document.”

I will be charitable and assume that Rob McPhail has been quoted out of context, but there’s a clear problem with his statement.  LRT is most definitely not just streetcars with the stops further apart.  It includes any or all of the following:

  • Reserved right-of-way with or without grade crossings at intersecting streets
  • Signal priority that really gives transit top priority
  • Cars roughly double the size of our present CLRVs, possibly running in trains of 2 or 3 cars depending on the route
  • Tunnels and/or overpasses when there is no alternative way to get from “A” to “B”
  • The ability for pedestrians to walk across the tracks, although this is not necessarily desired for lines with high capacity and very frequent service
  • The ability to run in or across traffic lanes (not as a design ideal, but as a way to simplify areas such as intersections or yards)
  • Self-service fare collection (regardless of the technology or enforcement mechanism) with all-door loading
  • Double-ended operation (like subway trains) so that loops are not required and turnbacks can be implemented with crossovers

If we start the debate by assuming that the Transit City lines are simply a clone of the Queen car, we are miles off of the mark already.  Queen Street is a mess with three major problems:  not enough service, a route that is too long to manage, and dubious quality of line management for the service that is operated.  This is not a model for a new transit system.

The Sheppard Subway is no model either.  It cost nearly $1-billion to complete, the stations are 1 to 2 km apart, and it does nothing to enhance or stimulate development of the street except at a few locations.  Transit service between the terminal points is a shadow of its former level and some of the worst suburban service runs directly above the subway.

I will return to LRT and Transit City shortly, but first let’s look at the streetcar system.

The Streetcar System’s Capacity 

Toronto does have streetcar lines and they will always be streetcars, not LRT, for the simple reason that they run on busy city streets.  The neighbourhoods through which they run require closely spaced stops that are handy to where people live, shop and work.  Imagine, for a moment, Spadina Avenue with stops only at Bloor, College and Queen.  Imagine St. Clair with stops only at Bathurst, Oakwood and Dufferin.  That’s what a 1 km average spacing gives you.

The streetcar lines once carried many more passengers than they do today, although there are signs of recovery especially on King where the morning peak service is comparable to the late 1960s (2-minute headways, and unable to handle the demand).  The only thing that keeps us from carrying more passengers on most streetcar routes is that we don’t have enough cars.  Over the past 20 years, riding on many routes has been killed off by service cuts, and we have a long way to build back up.

That build up will not be possible with any surface technology but streetcars.  We have already reached the limit on King until we have more and larger cars, and redevelopments along other carlines will drive up their ridership in years to come.

As a point of reference, a 2-minute headway is 30 cars per hour.  This provides a design load of about 3,240 on ALRVs (the articulated streetcars forming about half of the AM peak King service).  If we move to longer cars, the capacity goes up by about 1/3 to around to 4,300 at design (average) levels, and a crush capacity of over 5,000. 

(For the record, I am using the TTC’s own vehicle loading standards from their Annual Service Plan at page 8.

(The point about crush loading values is not that you plan for them, but routine variations in demand plus special events will create situations where a line must carry above its design capacity for a short period.  Service should never be designed to require this level of loading as a routine operation.)

By contrast, 30 buses per hour give a design capacity of 1,650.  Even articulated buses bring this number up to only about 2,500.

Track Reconstruction Woes

Many people, residents and motorists alike, comment that the streetcar system is responsible for perennial road construction.  This is true in the short term because the TTC was building very bad track until the early 1990s.  Although a recent report claimed that the old track was “state of the art”, this track would not have passed muster in 1921, let alone the 21st century.  Our roads and track collapsed because of shoddy design and construction.  Only now has the TTC nearly completed the task of putting the network back into first class shape.  Dundas, St. Clair and Roncesvalles are the major pieces left to complete.  After 2009, the amount of track construction should fall dramatically.

(Ironically, the Harbourfront line will be due for renewal in about 2010 on its 20th birthday.  This track was better built than most of the 80’s vintage, but it suffers from having no rubber insulation to damp noise, vibration and concrete damage.)

Huge reconstruction projects are not caused by streetcars per se, they are caused by penny-wise and pound-foolish design two decades ago.

Why Have Streetcars?

So why have streetcars?  The question really should be “why have transit”?  Complaints about streetcars focus on several factors that, interestingly, were not present back in the early 1970s when Streetcars for Toronto and Toronto Council saved the system from destruction by the TTC.

  • Service on streetcar lines now is well below its former level, service is unpredictable and inadequate to demand
  • Streetcars are noisy (the track and cars of the 1970s did not have this problem)
  • Track construction causes havoc in neighbourhoods (this was true but to a much lower extent because less track needed to be rebuilt each year, and total reconstruction of the road base was not required)
  • Streetcars can’t go around delays (this has always been true, subject to whatever diversionary tracks are available, but oddly this argument is never raised when subway lines are under discussion)

Let’s boldly assume a conversion to a bus-based system.  Many more buses would be required than the existing streetcar fleet just to provide the same inferior level of service, never mind what is really needed.  Buses would completely dominate major streets and crowd out traffic.  People who complain about being stuck behind streetcars today would always be stuck behind a bus.  Maybe that’s where they belong.

Transit City — An LRT Network

First off, this plan is a network, not a series of lines that will be built at a glacial pace, and the intention is to have all of it up and running in 15 years.  This is an aggressive plan, but if we are serious about making transit attractive to riders and supporting the planned increase of population densities in the Official Plan, then we need substantially more transit service.

That service needs to be easy to get to, relatively inexpensive to build and operate, faster than buses stuck in traffic, and with a capacity and frequency that will handle projected demands.

“Bus Rapid Transit” is often proposed as “the solution” usually in areas dominated by suburban land-use patterns and car-dominated roadways.  BRT has fundamental problems of capacity, especially at stations where much land is required if frequent services will all stop.  Often, BRT is proposed on dedicated roads or existing expressway.  This is fine for people who want to travel between two stations, or on a route that uses the BRT link as a line-haul access to a terminal, but it is useless for developing local neighbourhoods and serving local demand.

Look at the bus roadway from Downsview to York U — it will do a great job of moving people between these two sites, but nothing for the area in because the people “in between” are not at the BRT right-of-way.

The Don Mills study mentioned in the quote above has a very different purpose than Transit City and the two should not be confused.  This study began from a hare-brained proposal to widen the DVP that morphed into a transit study.  However, the study was strongly biased toward people travelling to downtown, and the service design is intended to get people from the Don Mills corridor to either the subway (at Castle Frank) or the core (via Richmond Street). 

Moreover, the access to Castle Frank would have required both the construction of Redway Road (a long-held pet project of a former mayoral candidate) as well as reconfiguration of the Bayview offramp at Bloor Street.  This is a road project masquerading as a transit project.

Transit City is intended to provide service for travel up and down Don Mills and between its neighbourhoods.  The alignment to Pape provides not only a subway connection at Danforth, but provides for further extension of the Don Mills line into downtown.  Yes, some of this will be underground, but the strength of LRT is that it doesn’t all have to be underground.  The Eglinton line is possible only because at least two-thirds of it will be in the middle of the street, not a subway.

City Council will be asked, sometime in the next few months, to direct that the EA studies for Transit City be LRT-only studies.  This will be possible under the new Municipal Class EA process that will be approved sometime soon.  Transit City is an LRT plan and should be designed that way from the outset. 

We should not entertain fantasies about experimental bus technologies, nor will we spend too much time preserving the option of eventual conversions to full-scale subways, nor should it be an ICTS/RT plan.  If you want one of those, move to another city.  Alignments should be based on what LRT can do, not on potential accommodation of every alternative.

People often ask how other cities build so much while we do nothing.  They believe that transit exists to serve passengers, not as welfare for the consulting, construction and real estate industries.

Parts of Transit City will be challenging to design, but this can be done with good will and good information from the professionals about what is possible.  We have the opportunity to built a network serving the whole city and a model of what can occur beyond.

18 thoughts on “Why Do We Have Streetcars?

  1. Thank you for the clarification. And hear hear to the nixing of experimental bus technologies. And drawing from the above, I must add my two-cents worth for re-introducing trolley buses. Si j’étais Roi, with proper financial resources, but more with a green commitment (and keeping in mind dedicating at least one garage to trolley coach operation), I would seriously implement a plan that would prevent all but peak-express, peak, community access and blue night diesel service from penetrating anywhere south of St. Clair, west of Warden and east of The Kingsway. Sounds drastic, but consider the reduction of pollutants in the downtown core. As well, most of these ares are still heavily residential, esepcially in East York, so noise reductions is also a bonus. These are essentially hilly areas as well, especially travelling north-south: trolley buses have no problems with hills. period.

    If one looks at corridor situations, Dufferin could be either trolley bus or LRT, especially with the elimination of the Queen St. jog. This is not so far fetched: Dufferin south of Bloor was studied over a decade ago for streetcar conversion.

    Steve: When the TTC looked at trolleybuses on Dufferin, the real impediment was the airstrip at Downsview which imposes constraints on stringing overhead along Wilson Avenue. Also, the Gladstone/Queen/Dufferin jog was troublesome for overhead clearance, but this problem will go away with the job elimination project in 2008.

    Otherwise, it makes sense to restore trolley service to Lansdowne (INCLUDING the extension up Caledonia), Ossington and Bay. Yes, some routes are currently lightly travelled (say 80 QUEENSWAY, 78 SWANSEA, most East York routes), but as with the streetcar services mentioned above, this was not always the case. Especially in conjunction with some form of private-vehicle prohibition/taxation for the downtown core, riding levels would definitely rise in these areas (which, prior to the seventies saw few car owners in the first place.

    Steve: I think we need to concentrate on heavier routes such as Bathurst and Keele rather than routes like Swansea where the service to overhead ratio is not good.

    Would this be expensive, especially since the original trolley bus infrastructure has all but vanished? Well, we can do the obvious comparisons of small subway extensions that benefit the very few, to the obvious improvement of the environment. Some of the routes could be “upgraded” to streetcar operation, but what would be the point? With the exception of Dufferin, the Trolley bus has greater flexibility through narrower streets with lesser physicial impact. If replacing it evenutally with improved bus technology were then possible, then fine: do it. But for the foreseeable future this technology is pure fiction. Alternative fuels still emit waste. It is still better to centralize emissions to a central location that generates electricity.

    As for pull-ins and pull-outs and emergency diversions: Well most cities that operate trolley buses today have some form of battery back-up that allow the buses not only to divert when necessary during and emergency, but also to operate on routes not physically connected to the main yard. This greatly reduces the cost for unsightly overhead and switches.

    All this was known to the TTC in 1991, yet, they still said “down with trolley buses”. Well, time to admit the mistake and start again. They did it once before in 1947 (although admittedly, the first try-out in the 1920’s was iffy), they can do it again.

    Steve: The demise of the trolleybus network in Toronto was caused, in the main, by a marriage of convenience between the promoters of natural gas buses as “green” technology and the anti-trolleybus management of the TTC. They allowed the system to wear out to the point where retention was uneconomic, and exploited the supposed benefits of natural gas propulsion to offset the environmental advantage of the trolleybuses. The CNG fleet never expanded after that initial batch replacing the trolleybuses showing just how committed the TTC really was to CNG technology. The TTC retired CNG technology last fall.


  2. Thanks for this.

    With the job and residential sprawl that we have we can’t be building subways to service these areas, and so the higher-order LRT does make more sense.
    In theory we should have a second higher-order east-west transit service near the dense urban core, but given our overall transit, I don’t think we can put a subway where most cities put them, as we’re dominated by a car-driving suburban majority who won’t support effective transit, unless they can get some for their area (mywardopia prevails).

    I believe there are two excellent opportunities for light rail near to what you’re thinking of in putting in a Front St. transitway to somehow link out to Etobicoke and also to take advantage of the rail corridor to the NW up to the Dundas St W. station area, and follow that up to the Jane idea.

    It remains quite uphill to get new ideas into the officialdumb, as it were, and I appreciate the comment that “For three decades, Toronto has been appallingly served by its professional transportation establishment and by its politicians.” – because it’s true.


    This is why the glaciers and ice caps are melting, and it’s a shame we can’t claw back pensions eh?

    One small quibble though: didn’t the extra weight of the CLRVs help trash the streetcar tracks ahead of their time?

    But overall, thanks again.

    Steve: The CLRV problems were related much more to the original Bochum wheels than to their weight. The virbation characteristics of the wheels coupled with the lack of rubber insulation between the track and pavement caused the concrete to disintegrate. With the move to SAB wheels (similar to the PCC wheel), this problem went away. However, the track was badly built. In particular the unwelded joints provided vibration points and the concrete around them fell apart quickly.


  3. I take issue with council directing that the EA studies for Transit City be LRT-only studies. This undermines the entire planning process. You yourself have taken issue with alternative technologies not being considered for projects such as the Spadina extension.

    Personally I would love to see a network of LRT-lines criss-crossing the city. I feel it would be the fastest most efficient technology, and more to the point a technology the ttc may actually be able to afford sometime in the not too distant future. However, through a proper environmental assessment planners may conclude that some of the corridors served by one of the LRT-lines does not have the transportation demand to justify a LRT technology. Planners may find that one of the corridors could be more efficiently served by a BRT, for example.

    We don’t want to be running empty subway trains to the fields of Vaughan, but we don’t want to be running empty LRT trains either. The municipal planning process has been corrupted in the name of subway technology, let’s not do it in the name of LRT technology as well!

    Steve: I think that the important issue is to decide that LRT is first on the list, and to look for routes and designs that are based on LRT. If the design process reveals serious problems with projected demand (the line will be too successful, or badly underused), then we should turn to alternatives. However, we should not assume from the outset that we are building a mish-mash of different modes. The EA process in theory forces people to look at alternatives, but I have been badly disappointed by what I have seen.

    Council and the TTC have made decisions that they would be building subways for decades and rejecting LRT out of hand, even with EAs.


  4. Steve I can think of one more bonus of having the Transit City Streetcar system implemented as opposed to a bus rapid transit system is pollution. LRT running from power lines exhaust zero local pollution as opposed to a large number of diesel, or bio-diesel buses.

    True the generation of electricity does cause pollution near the generating station but, the OPG has a plan to slowly phase out all the coal fired generating plants such as Nanticoke and repalce them with cleaner generating sources such as more nuclear and buying hydro from Quebec. With many electrically powered streetcars running, and more people leaving their cars at home, less local pollution will be dumped into Toronto’s overburdened atmosphere. This would result in less smog days here in Toronto.

    One more personel benefit of streetcars for this user is that they are a great way to get to know the city. I recently moved here from Vancouver and used the subways to get around but really got know the city since starting to use the streetcars to explore my new city. I hope that the Transit City streetcar plan is implemented (the Eglington Cross Town line in particular as this bus route is at its maximum).


  5. From a motorist’s point-of-view, streetcar tracks create a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride for cars, and it always seems that one route is being temporarily replaced by buses due to construction. Is all the extra cost of maintaining track and overhead bleeding an already cash-strapped TTC? Does anyone have numbers comparing bus operation to streetcar operation, as well as captial costs?

    Steve: I have already written several times about the issue of track maintenance, the bad paving that we are close to getting rid of, and the unusual scale of track repairs for the past several years. Please stop dragging this out as a generic argument against streetcars.

    If the demand on a surface route is too much for buses, then doesn’t it follow that the service should be converted to subway operation?

    Steve: The cost of replacing a surface bus route with a subway is enormous, and the impact on accessibility of service is equally severe. Just look at Sheppard East for an example. People think of “subways” like the early parts of Yonge and Bloor-Danforth with a stop always in walking distance, but what they get is North Yonge or Sheppard with stops 2km apart even in a built-up area like North Toronto.

    If you took every single car off any given road in Toronto, there would be sufficient demand to run a viable subway operation under that road. The problem is that the TTC, by stopping subway construction in the 80s, created the conditions that led to car dominance.

    People slowly left the system as Toronto grew into the 905 and commuting distances became greater. The TTC just isn’t a viable option anymore unless your trip starts and ends at a subway station.

    I’m glad Toronto kept its streetcars, but not because they make sense transportation-wise. They give the downtown neighbourhoods a pleasant character and they’re fun to ride (ding ding!), but that’s about it. I don’t think they’re practical at all.

    Off street surface LRT with real enclosed stations and railway-like grade crossings, that’s a different story altogether, but streetcar operation in mixed traffic just doesn’t make sense.

    Steve: The alternative is frequent bus service with mixed traffic, and that is considerably worse than streetcars. The issue is that the TTC needs to concentrate on running good streetcar service rather than using traffic congestion as a perennial excuse to sit on their hands. Changing streetcars to buses won’t make much difference as anyone who uses routes like the Dufferin or Bathurst buses can tell you. Service is erratic despite the alleged flexibility of bus operations.


  6. I remember finding your website a year ago, and thinking to myself “This LRT scheme is nothing but a pipe dream.”

    Amazing how much has changed in a year.


  7. I think you’re really underestimating the frequency and effect of streetcar delays vs. subway delays.

    Steve: I am trying to be ironic, particularly in the context of proposed subway lines whose demand is well within LRT capability.


  8. I’ve got a couple of observations.

    The first is that banning private automobiles although popular in many jurisdictions would not go over well in Ontario (and to be effective it would likely require amendments to provincial statutes). The reason being the primary manufacturing sector in Ontario is related to automobiles. We are home to Magna, Linamar, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and many smaller companies in the car building trade. Why is the CAW making noises about supporting Mr. Harper’s “Green Plan”, because it doesn’t hurt they car building industry. Sure Toronto doesn’t have a major manufacturer and we like to think of made in Toronto solutions to the problems we face, but Toronto exists simply at the pleasure of the Ontario government. Mike Harris proved this point with amalgamation.

    Which is my second point. Toronto and the TTC does not have the power to make major decisions. Certainly they can influence them, but in the end it’s the “golden rule” or he who has the gold rules! There are few if any large capital projects undertaken by the city without the senior levels of government. The proposed VCC extension, the subway in general and subsequent extensions, our UTDC streetcars and the list goes on. David Miller’s campaign for 1% of the GST partly illustrates this point, what he really needs is the revenue and power to have a more automonous Toronto, one not beholden to the whims of the senior levels of government. But as long as there are ribbon cutting opportunities at new subway stations and other big capital projects, no politician in is right mind is going to give it.

    I think one of the major reasons we still have streetcars is that the Davis government supported the idea of keeping them. The thought being Toronto could become the “showroom” for the UTDC. Thanks to the same we have the SRT. I also suspect that Bill’s fingerprints are on OBI as well. I’ve heard the the Rae government was responsible in part for the poor quality track and the eastern european articulated buses we got in the 1980’s, but I have no reliable confirmation of this.

    Steve: Actually, we have the CRLVs because, after the demise of the original mag-lev Go-Urban scheme, the government was desperate to have a product to show for all their efforts. They dusted off a design the TTC and Hawker-Siddeley had developed in the 1960s as an updated PCC car, but the CLRV result was an overbuilt monster — an interurban car disguised as a streetcar. The weight and truck design comes directly from a requirement for 110 km/h operation on suburban routes, even though nobody operates LRT lines like that.

    The OBI situation is actually Bob Rae’s. On the last day Rae was in power, the agreement to buy hundreds of buses for Toronto was signed. While Toronto was stuck with those buses, systems around us were buying elsewhere.

    The Ikarus bus deal was another dubious scheme, but Bill Davis was long gone from Queen’s Park when it happened.

    The Transit City proposal makes far more sense than the huge investment VCC does. But as long as the TTC is managed for political gain and not to serve the transit using public, our dollars won’t go very far.

    Lastly about trolley coaches, I don’t know that the trolley coach was popular with the public at large. I certainly didn’t like riding them. As I recall the ride was worse than streetcars or diesel buses. The acceleration seemed erratic and jerky, it could’ve been they were old, but I’m just not a fan of them.

    Steve: The reason for the jerky acceleration was the original controllers that tended to give more power to the bus at low speed than was comfortable. Modern buses do not have this problem.


  9. I am a supporter of both LRT, and TRUE BRT.
    The Majority of “BRT” systems planned in the GTA are not true BRT. It amazes me how a distinctly branded bus with real time tracking, and TVM’s can be considered BRT.

    A True BRT system is one that is completely seperated from auto traffic, runs buses with headways of 2 minutes or less during peak periods, and features POP boarding.

    The only system that comes close, in my opinion, is the Ottawa Transitway system. In my opinion, BRT must have extensive element of grade seperated busways to be considered BRT. Ottawa has this.

    I am astounded that the citizens of Toronto, let alone the politicians do not know what LRT is. Heck, they built their own LRV in the 1970s, to run on proposed LRT lines! The streetcars trundling our streets should not be even considered streetcars!


  10. I assume you have heard of the UK group Light Rail Transit Association? They are a pretty knowledgeble bunch. Have you considered contacting them, in help to sell the benefits of the Transit City Plan to the citizens, and politicians?

    Steve: I have subscribed to the LRTA’s publication since the days it was called “Modern Tramway”. They are not in the business of providing city-specific advocacy, but have a lot of good materials on their website.


  11. I always thought too that Dufferin would have been ideal for trolley buses, given the very high levels of service and one rush hour short-turn branch. I’ve always been a fan of electric buses, given their quiet running, environmental benefits (at least at the local level) and quick acceleration. I would have suggested 7 Bathurst, 29 Dufferin, 35 Jane, 41 Keele, 63 Ossington/161 Rogers as great routes for trolley buses.

    I never would have guessed that Downsview Airport would have prevented Dufferin’s conversion, even though I pass that way quite often! Though now buses could go via Billy Bishop Way behind the big-box outlets to Wilson Station and the garage.

    Anyway, my feeling is that the hybrid diesel-electric Orion VIIs are the latest manifestation of the CNG bus. At least these do not require a separate fuelling station and fuel, and are not restricted from certain terminals like the CNG buses were.

    As for BRT, I agree with your analysis as BRT being useful for line-hauls (such as GO’s express buses to York University), but not for building a transit-orientated community. Some projects, like the first phase of Viva and Brampton’s Acceleride are often described as “BRT” they are not – more like a quality limited stop bus service, that people can actually walk to the stops. When I think of BRT, I think of Ottawa’s problematic transitway, or the one Mississauga and GO Transit are planning to build along the 403, which will rely on park-and-ride ridership.

    Steve: I am waiting to see how the technology of hybrid buses evolves including vehicle price, long-term operating costs and reliability. Given that these buses use well-developed technologies — diesel engines and electric motors — and they fit within the existing fueling and maintenance infrastructure of the TTC, there is some hope that this will become the standard bus of the future. Schemes for alternative fuels continue to ignore the advances that continue to be made with proven, existing technologies.

    As for trolley buses, the real question is the point at which the cost of a power distribution system becomes lower than having a little generating station on each bus. Offwire operation with batteries eliminates the old-time complaints about “flexibility”.


  12. Hi Steve:-

    One of the members of my model railroad club is always on about the need to remove streetcars from the traffic flow for the sake of the motorist by replacing them with clean trolleybuses. I’ve related to him the TTC’s experience (probably long forgotten now by them) but very likely still valid of the one for one replacemnet of new diesel buses for 40 year old streetcars on Bay street when the U part of the YUS subway opened.

    They discovered that these brand new buses were at least 10 minutes late on every run, since they couldn’t control the traffic the way that the streetcars could, the traffic controlled them. No longer could left turning traffic clear an intersection when an opposing streetcar had its doors open and therefore held back the traffic behind it. This meant that when the streetcar was ready to go, it could. It didn’t have to wait to pull back out into the mini grid locks that the buses aid in creating.

    His argument back to me is that it’s probably not true, since with the bus off to the side and the streetcar no longer a player on the street, the autos can move at will.

    Unfortunately, his old fashioned thinking is still up front and blinkered for many suburbanites who wouldn’t ride a transit vehicle if it pulled up to their door and took them directly to their destination. This is what I believe to be the major problem with understanding of what real transit is and can/should be versus the perception of how a transit vehicle fits into the automotive ‘me’ life of many who unfortunately get the opportunity to call the shots.

    His capacity argument of one form over the other is that since the smaller bus can move more quickly because the traffic is less jammed up (no streetcars you see) then you don’t need as many buses any how. Somehow I don’t think he’s alone.

    Steve: At the risk of sounding like I dismiss motorists out of hand, I fear that nothing will change their minds. The worst case situation, of course, is the arterial jammed with traffic and no transit service at all. One does not have to travel far to find examples. Fixing that problem will require either the acquisition of added rights-of-way, if possible, to accommodate fast transit in its own right-of-way, or the horrible expense of subway construction for which there is no solid demand corridor in the 905.

    Motorists coming into the downtown area have to get used to the fact that the streets are narrow, there are many travellers, and the motorists are not going to rule the road. Transit agencies and politicians need to be aggressive enough about improving transit so that it clearly is “the better way”.


  13. Now if the Transit City people will get the blasted CRLV out of the logo. It is neither light nor rapid. While the streetcar serves its purpose (but the sooner we can get low floor the better), due to political interference it also muddies the true picture of LRT, and what it can bring Toronto.

    If the average Torontonian could see LRT throught the eyes of San Diego, Denver, Edmonton, Calgary (excluding its Buffalo-esque downtown strip), Strasbourg, Cologne and others, they’d likely clamour for mass development.

    Imagine it extended into the 905 as well – across Hwy 7 above the city on what is now VIVA, Highway 2 in Durham, Hurontario/Burnamthorpe in Mississauga, between Burlington & Hamilton and between Kitchener/Waterloo & Cambridge – we could get the region really moving. Integrating that with a better GO strategy…now pinch me – I think I’m dreaming too far for the GTA


  14. Ontario motorists may not like being told where they can or cannot drive (or even how much they pay for that privilege, gas included), but they may not have a choice in the future. Environmentally we are in a dangerous situation RIGHT NOW! Selfish car use–and I am not denying IN ANY WAY that there are those who really need to use their cars as individuals–has got to come to an end. Car restrictions WILL come to cities like Toronto sooner or later. Until then….

    Until then, the old adage of streetcars control traffic, but traffic controls buses will not apply. But if traffic levels can return to 1960’s(!!) traffic level, well traffic-based streetcar lines are the way to go–and maintain.

    BRT’s WILL NOT WORK in Toronto they way they do here in Ottawa. Apart from Hydro-Electric corridors, Toronto just does not have the available rights of way that Ottawa was able to use. The reason is because those rights of way were taken up by the likes of the DVP, etc.! And, even though Ottawa dismantled it’s streetcar system, it never stopped being a transit system. As early as the late 1940’s, government departments such as National Defence were discouraging people from parking downtown. That is still to a greater or lesser degree the thinking that occurs today. The only Achilles heel in the Transitway is street operation in mixed traffic through the downtown. Buses can be delayed by cross-street traffic jams. The now-defunct O-Train extension was touted as being the solution to that problem, but the way it was designed, it would have made it actually worse.

    Steve, I may be a doubting Thomas, but I really can’t see a whole heck of a lot of cost savings, other than ANYTHING to help the environment, a hybrid fuel bus might have over a trolley. I bore you with endless “what if’s” for trolley bus operations, but I see others have the same boring thoughts. Really, we transit enthusiasts DO have a life. Yes? Agreement?…No really. My REAL life is music. (I say this all in good fun, of course).

    Steve: I am willing to give hybrid buses the benefit of the doubt because at least they are built on established technologies, and their goals are reduced fuel consumption, reduced pollution, and improved vehicle life. I may seem to be in love with streetcars, but know that we need some form of bus for large chunks of our transit networks. At least let it be a good bus.


  15. Steve:

    This is not an original thought – I am reiterating other posts that you have made – but is very well borne out by my mid-day weekend experiences. The lousy streetcar service during these periods is entirely because the TTC chooses to provide service at an inadequate level. And yet, when streetcars finally arrive, they are packed to the gunwales. (I have serious issues returning from Chinatown and Kensington with my shopping because there is no way to make my way through crowded streetcars with my parcels.) It is a terrible shame that we have a City where the populace still wants to travel by transit – despite the lousy service – and yet government refuses to provide it.


  16. Hi Steve. It was interesting to see the issue that both you and Dennis Rankin touched on – that of road capacity. We will have fixed road widths with us as there is no way to change it without wholesale demolition. To make the best use of what space we have, streetcars and LRT make the most sense because they allow the maximum use of that space. I am very surprised that none of our planners have accepted this fact. Motorists may feel put out by the fact that transit is given priority, but for the city to function we need to use road space wisely. One person in one car will not work.

    As for the issue of streetcars getting stuck in traffic, why is it that busses can do the same thing but not attract the planners’ wrath?


  17. if I may play the devils advocate (since I know the answer to this), I’d like to ask you a question because I want to hear it in your words:

    An articulated “bendy bus” can carry about as many people as a single “short” CLRV streetcar. Why can we not replace all of our short streetcars with bendy busses. No extra vehicles would be needed.

    Steve: First off, buses don’t last as long as streetcars. Second, they will almost certainly hold up traffic just as much as a streetcar will out in the middle of the street. Third, we need more capacity on our streetcar routes, and the last thing we want is to cap ourselves at the limit imposed by articulated buses. Fourth, there is the small matter of emissions, although articulated trolleybuses could address that .


  18. Well, the vast majority of transit providers in Los Angeles have replaced all their diesel buses with CNG buses with no real harmful effects. I’m sure the TTC could do the same.

    Steve: Actually, we tried CNG technology here and it was a failure. One big issue is the lifespan of the propulsion system — we keep our buses a long time, and the CNG fleet just didn’t hold up. Also, the only price advantage of CNG in Toronto was that there was no fuel tax on it, but half of the cost of diesel fuel was the tax. Not exactly a level playing field. Now with natural gas being in short supply (compared with the era we embraced this technology), the CNG price comparison is even worse.

    I think most car drivers know not to drive down Queen or King if they want to get anywhere in a hurry, but they don’t have to because they can drive down Richmond and Adelaide. That’s one reason why I don’t get all the sentiment against the King St reserved streetcar lanes…nobody cruises King St looking for a restaurant; they know that they want to go to the Entertainment district, so they drive down there, park, and walk around it.

    For me, a big advantage of streetcars is that they act as traffic calmers…by slowing down all traffic to their pace, they make the corridor safe and inviting for pedestrians and bicyclists. A side bonus is that because they are in the middle of the street, we very rarely have streetcar-bike encounters, something that would happen quite a bit with buses. Let’s just speed them up by adopting POP on every streetcar and removing stops that are too close together.

    Steve: It appears that we will have to await the new fleet of low-floor streetcars with all-door loading before we see POP everywhere.

    As for too-close stops, there are really not a vast number of them and I think that this argument is overblown. For example, on King downtown, the stop spacing is a function of the traffic lights. Westbound, we could get rid of the Victoria Street stop (although I use it and would be miffed), but that’s about it.

    On Queen, you might get rid of York bothways and Simcoe westbound, but the potential savings are not vast. People who languish for 10 to 20 minutes at these stops waiting for a supposedly better-than-five-minute headway will not take kindly being told that if their stop is removed, service will get spectacularly better. Fix the service, then we’ll talk.


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