Tom Jurenka sent in the following note, and it raises questions that deserve a debate.
As a non-native Torontonian (grew up in Winnipeg, but have lived in Toronto for 24 years now) I have always been puzzled — and often infuriated — by streetcars (and the absolutely terrible traffic light timing in Toronto, but that is another story).
My question is an honest one — WHY? All I can see is the negatives of streetcars:
- they tear up streets (I’ve lived through Queen Street E, Gerrard, now St. Clair, being torn up utterly to undo the damage of streetcars pounding the rails)
- they are slow as molasses (as a bicyclist, I routinely pass 5 or 6 streetcars on Queen Street heading from AC Harris to downtown)
- because of their slowness and immobility they delay traffic all the time, causing snarls and the attendant idling pollution
- they are super expensive (witness the recent funding mess)
So I’m really curious why streetcars are a better alternative to trolley buses or just plain old buses, which move fast, are mobile, and are less expensive per unit to buy. Would you be able to point me at some links/articles/studies/whatever to help me understand this issue?
Thank you for your time.
This is a far more complex question than just the list above, but I will use this as a jumping off point.
Without question, track construction is a major pain in the ass for affected neighbourhoods. We are now nearing the end of a long program to correct the combined effect of short-sighted TTC practices in track construction and design flaws in the CLRV fleet. Once that’s done, the frequency of track construction, especially on the grand scale we have seen for the past eight years or so, will diminish and along with it the associated disruption and capital cost.
This is an object lesson in the perils of bad design and the long-range effects of poor choices.
Until the late 1960s, TTC track was built from continuously welded sections of rail, and this was installed in the street in a manner that made it fairly easy to dig up and make repairs. The welded rail holds together much longer and does not produce vibrations at the joints that lead to breakup of the pavement. In 1968, after a derailment accident with one of the two crane cars used to perform track installation, this practice stopped. At that time, the TTC’s policy was that streetcars would be gone by 1980, and there was no point in building track that would last for decades.
This decision, however, was compounded by a change in road paving standards imposed by the city primarily to increase roads’ structural capacity for trucking. All pavement around streetcar tracks was built of concrete slabs with no mechanical isolation from the track. The vibration of passing streetcars and the effect of the unwelded joints led to concrete deterioration around the rails. Salt water seeped into the trackbed, and the common freeze-thaw problem further broke up the pavement.
When the TTC had decided to keep streetcars, track construction standards did not revert back to the old, more robust welded arrangement, and it was claimed that the concrete would hold the rails in place. This short-sighted stance was compounded when the new streetcars arrived. They were about 25% heavier than the PCC cars, mainly because they had been designed for high-speed suburban operation that they would never actually see. Moreover, the wheels on the cars were particularly good at transmitting low frequency vibrations into the ground, and this accelerated the demise of the track. That problem has since been fixed with the use of new wheels, but we are stuck with the weight.
Fast forward to the early 1990s. By this time, the track infrastructure was badly deteriorated through inferior construction and vibration from the newer fleet, and the TTC had to roughly double the rate at which it replaced track. Roadbeds that should have lasted 25 years were wearing out in about 10. They are now using a construction technique with welded rail and mechanical isolation of the track from the roadbed. Moreover, the substructure uses steel ties, rather than the untreated wood used since sometime in the 1970s. This means that the track bed will not disintegrate as the ties rot underneath it. Finally, all recent construction has gone right down to the base slab, and the lower layers of the structure should last a very long time with future track replacement limited to the upper part of the structure.
Just as we reach that point, the City has begun a program to rebuild its antique watermain system and this has complicated and lengthened the period during which streets are under construction (Roncesvalles and Church as examples). On St. Clair, leaving aside basic design issues, the decision to rebuild just about everything — water, hydro, streetcar track, roads — sounded like a good idea. Do it once and get it over with. However, in practice there were many problems with co-ordination of the projects and arbitrary changes by individual agencies that cascaded through the overall plan. The design and tendering process was done in such a way that work did not begin as promtly as it might in some areas, and jobs that should have finished in one construction season dragged into two.
The streetcar, as a vehicle, is taking the rap for many atrocious decisions of past TTC management and poor contract co-ordination by the City. On top of this, the St. Clair project suffered from one major problem: many competing interests wanted their priorities reflected in the design, but there simply isn’t enough room on St. Clair to fit everything in. Some design decisions resulted in precious space being lost, and political decisions favoured priorities for motorists over pedestrians.
In brief, the TTC decided to retain streetcars in 1972, but its track construction, if anything, deteriorated over the following decades. Couple that with heavier cars and a bad initial choice of wheels and you have a recipe for a self-destructing system. Stir in a decision to perform “co-ordinated” repairs by many agencies and you have never-ending construction projects.
Slow Streetcars on Queen
Some aspects of streetcar operation are going to be inherently slower than road traffic because transit vehicles must stop to load passengers. However, this is compounded by several TTC operating practices.
- Queen runs with larger cars, but at most stops all loading is done through the front doors. This underutilizes the space within the car and substantially increases the time spent at stops. This problem will not be corrected until the new cars are in operation with all-door loading and self-service fare collection.
- At all intersections with switches, the TTC now has a stop-and-proceed policy for facing point switches. This prevents cars from quickly pulling away from stops and, on occasion, even results in cars getting just far enough to trip the sensor for the “transit priority” signal and turn the light red against the streetcar (which is assumed to have crossed the intersection). Why stop-and-proceed? When the ALRVs (the long cars on Queen) were delivered, the TTC had to change the way in which electric switches were controlled to a system that would work for any vehicle length. This new system has never worked properly, and to guard against derailments, operators must approach any switch prepared to stop in case it leaps open in front of them. This also happens at manual switches where only a transit poltergeist could force the switch to move. There is a capital project to replace the switching systems, but it has not actually started yet.
- On Queen, one of the ways that the TTC has attempted to deal with short turns and service reliability is to pad the schedule with recovery time. However, at some times of the day the running times are grossly excessive and cars must kill time to avoid getting ahead of schedule. The TTC has a policy of fining operators for running “hot” even when it is impossible to avoid this because the schedule deliberately has extra time. This is a classic case of conflicting priorities. Streetcars are quite capable of sprightly operation. A move from schedule-based line management to headway-based management would help a lot in this area. Cars would be able to move at whatever the prevailing traffic speed is provided that they maintain a regular spacing from each other.
You mentioned traffic signal timings. Toronto has a self-image as a world leader in transit priority signalling. If this is true, then the rest of the world must have little postcards of Toronto intersections sitting on altars for worship by frustrated traffic engineers. I think not.
There are a number of problems with “transit priority signals” in Toronto including:
- There is no mechanism for interaction between operators and the signals. A car can arrive at an intersection where a large crowd is waiting to board, but the traffic light will hold green for the streetcar to speed it away. There is a good chance that this process will time out, and the signal will turn red against the streetcar just when it needs a green. This is time that could have been used for the cross-street. Once an operator signals that departure is imminent (the crowd is nearly all boarded), the signals should clear for the cross-street(s) as far as the next stop (see next point).
- Many intersections do not work ideally for transit vehicles because detection for an oncoming car is too close to the signal. This can happen where signalized cross-streets are close together and some of them don’t have transit stops. The system should control minor streets based on the progression of green time for streetcars from locations where there are stops, not on a block-by-block basis.
- At farside stops (Spadina, Harbourfront, St. Clair, etc.), streetcars can be forced to stop twice because they arrive at an intersection on a red cycle and must wait for the following left turn phase before finally crossing to the transit island. On Harbourfront, there is a separate transit cycle and streetcars cannot use the green time for through traffic. The cycle is only long enough for one streetcar to cross even though pairs of cars are common during heavy service periods.
- At a few locations, notably crossings of Lake Shore Boulevard, the green time for east-west traffic is exceptionally long even though there are times when no traffic can be seen. This is an example of a system that is incapable of analysing actual conditions and adjusting priorities accordingly.
All of these problems would be visited on buses were they to replace streetcars. The problem is with traffic engineering that is not transit focussed, putting it generously. The priority is for maximising the green time available for cars together with a “trickle down” claim that if cars move faster, so will transit. The TTC complains about this all of the time, but refuses to publicly advance alternatives during design discussions such as St. Clair. Effectively, the TTC is complicit by its lack of open advocacy for better signalling practices.
Cost of Vehicles
Vehicle costs need to be compared in light of capacity, lifespan and operating expenses.
The new streetcars have a base price just under $5-million. For this we get a car that should last at least 30 years and be rebuildable for another 10 to 15. The vehicle capacity is claimed to be 240 by Bombardier, but I remain skeptical that this can be achieved under normal operating conditions. By contrast, the design capacity for scheduling purposes of an ALRV is 108 compared with a crush capacity of around 150. The new cars, with all-door loading will achieve a better use of space, but I suspect their capacity for planning purposes will be around 150. By contrast, the capacity of a bus is about 50 for scheduling purposes. For a subway car, the design capacity is about 167 (1,000 per train) although the crush load is about 200.
Diesel buses cost the TTC about $500K each based on an order for delivery in 2010, and hybrids cost about $932K each based on the current order. I will not comment on the relative merits of propulsion technologies or political choices of one over the other as that is outside of my scope here. We can hope that hybrids will become relatively cheaper and of course there are some savings, but not as much as expected, in fuel costs to offset the higher capital cost.
As a matter of interest, back when Streetcars For Toronto argued for streetcar retention back in 1972, the relative cost of a new streetcar and a new bus was much lower than it is today, even allowing for the much larger size of the new cars. Today, a new streetcar represents roughly 3 buses on a planned capacity basis. The cost per “planning” space on a streetcar is $33,300, on a hybrid bus is $18,600 and on a diesel bus is $10,000. However, the streetcar will last at least twice as long as a bus and will have lower operating costs per passenger. The operator driving a bus is one of the most expensive components of that transit service.
The figures above are quite rough and are not corrected for inflationary effects of deliveries in different time frames. They are meant to give a general indication only, not a definitive answer.
When the City decided to keep its streetcars in 1972, demand on the streetcar lines was better than today in most cases. Part of the change can be traced to changes in demographics, land use and travel patterns. However, much blame rests with the TTC.
Starting in 1980, “excess” capacity was tuned out of the system — “tailoring service to meet demand” was the catchphrase from a former TTC Planning Manager. This is the best sort of accounting exercise that ignores the real effect of trimming the so-called fat.
Transit routes encounter all sorts of upheavals, and it is impractical to schedule service based on every bus or streetcar having a full load. Even within a peak hour, there will be a super-peak which the service tries to accommodate. The less “excess”, the more likely any overload from traffic congestion or variations in demand (something as simple as whether or not vehicles meet at heavy transfer points) will affect service leading to delays, short turns and overcrowding.
The link between service levels and riding on the streetcar routes is a chicken-and-egg question to some extent, but one thing is clear. Where service dropped markedly through the combined effect of service cuts and wider headways for ALRVs (Bathurst and Queen routes), riding fell. Where service stayed roughly the same (King) riding held.
In the future, the downtown lines will have to cope with growing riding if only there is service good enough to attract it. The population along streetcar routes will rise and, with it, demand on those routes.
I have written previously on the decline in service on major routes both as an update to Transit’s Lost Decade, a review of service and ridership since 1976 and a look at that old TTC slogan Always A Car In Sight taking things right back to the mid-50s when the Yonge Subway opened.
Recent changes in the Service Standards, part of the Ridership Growth Strategy, have lowered the design targets for vehicles resulting in more service. However, there are two big caveats: there must be enough vehicles and operators to actually field the service, and the budget must have enough funding to pay for it. Streetcars are in short supply, and as readers will see when I review the September 2009 service changes, so are buses. We have riders, we even have the political will to pay for more service, up to a point, but we have no more vehicles.
Taking King as an example, the AM peak headway gets down to 2’00”. The design capacity is, roughly, 23 CLRVs at 74 plus 7 ALRVs at 108 for a total of 2,464. Providing this with buses would require almost 50 vehicles per hour, a service frequency low enough that it would add considerably to congestion due to platooning. This frequency is possible on some suburban routes only because the streets are wider and there is mixed local and express operation.
By comparison, the Dufferin bus operates on an old-style 4-lane city street, and provides under 1,200 passengers per hour of design capacity. Buses there commonly run in packs and the capacity is not evenly utilized.
New neighbourhoods in the Waterfront are designed with the premise that most commuters will use the TTC, and projected demands are at and above those now seen on the heaviest parts of the streetcar system. These cannot be met with buses even with a move to articulated vehicles, assuming reliable, long-lived versions of these can be found.
The streetcar routes need more capacity, but operation with buses would limit what the TTC could provide. As lands along these routes redevelop, transit capacity must also rise or we will have the absurd situation of forcing people to drive cars in the very part of Toronto where it should be easiest for them to use transit. The absence of good service has a cost too, although it may not appear on the TTC’s balance sheet.
This article is not intended as a definitive argument for streetcars, but an overview of major issues. In 1972, Toronto saved its streetcar system, but then did little to reinforce that decision with better service and system expansion. We waited almost two decades just for the Harbourfront shuttle, and a quarter-century for the restoration of service on Spadina. Suburban expansion was completely off of the table.
Times change. I won’t really believe that Transit City exists until I can ride the lines and see new cars brimming with happy riders, but it’s a goal the city finally has pursued.
Any bicyclist who has tried to bike on a heavy bus route knows why streetcars make better neighbours.
“Streecars tear up streets”.
So do buses. I’m sure there are people who know all about bus axle loadings. Offhand, as I recall from the Birchmount Doors Open, an Orion VII hybrid is approaching 40,000 lbs empty. That’s a lot of weight to support on six tires.
I was reminded of this earlier in the day, rattling westbound in the curb lane of Finch approaching the subway station. No doubt the pavement has been pounded out by incessant Finch East 39 service.
I remember a report that came out in the fall of 1963, I think, about 6 months after the Dupont cars came off Bay St. that said that the average speed of traffic on Bay had dropped by 15% even though there were no longer street cars to block both lanes of traffic when they stopped to load passengers. The article said that the street cars had maintained a more orderly flow of traffic than occurred with the buses.
Good Overview Steve.
I look forward to your report on September Service Changes.
Btw, thanks for the Stratford reviews, I’m late in getting around to going this year, I will keep your recommendations in mind.
Great Post Steve!
I found it incredibly interesting to learn the history of streetcar (trackbed) construction over the past 40 years… it vividly illustrates the need to learn from history… or be fated to repeat its mistakes!
It’s a shame such history isn’t internalized amongst either TTC Staff or Commissioners. This is despite the long tenure (25+ years) of many TTC Staffers (it really IS a large complex organization and impossible to master all its facets); it is more understandable for the politicos, excepting Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc, whose maximum TTC Commission tenure is six years, mere rookies in comparison to Staff’s tenure.
Steve: Some of the track problems were finally tackled by David Gunn, but I suspect many have forgotten the long history assuming they ever knew it.
Great write up Steve. But I have a few more questions. These are mostly points brought up by various people on the internet and over at places like UT. Was hoping you could shed some light if possible? Some of these questions are more Transit City specific, but since it’s relatively the same technology perhaps it will apply.
1) You have made an oblique reference to articulated buses. What is wrong with using articulated buses or loading lines with lots of buses instead of using streetcars to meet demand on lines that aren’t King? Certainly buses can easily avoid a lot of the biggest perceived problems of streetcars (one blockage of anything over the tracks blocks everyone).
Steve: The problem today with artics is that a reliable vehicle does not exist for us to buy. I understand that those now in use elsewhere in the GTA spend a lot of time off of the road. TTC is hoping to buy some in a future order, but nothing is certain yet.
There are problems in talking about “lines that are not King” because most of the network at one time had comparable loading and service. There’s a chicken and egg problem here — how much of the lowered demand is caused by the absence of service? I cannot begin to count the number of times I personally and many others have given up and walked rather than waiting for the Queen car. That’s a powerful disincentive to use the system. What would happen if this were fixed?
Yes, a blockage holds everything, but from my analyses of many routes’ operations based on CIS data, actual blockages are quite rare, and general congestion that slows everything down is far more common. I could make the same argument against subways — every time someone is ill, or a door gets stuck, the whole line stops moving. The question is one of tradeoffs between capacity and operational issues.
2) Why is it better to have less frequent (but higher capacity) service on a streetcar/LRT vs lower capacity but vastly higher service by using buses, especially since you can buy 10 buses for every streetcar?
Steve: First off, as I mentioned in the article, that 10:1 ratio assumes diesels, not hybrids (or trolley buses), and diesels have to be replaced roughly every 18 years with a major rebuild half way through their lives. Streetcars have a more robust construction, and electrical equipment, if properly built in the first place, lasts a very long time.
Service frequency vs capacity is a tradeoff, and alas the TTC didn’t go about it in the best way with the ALRVs. When service is comparatively frequent (say every 4 minutes or better), then a 2:3 replacement ratio for ALRVs over CLRVs would not be a problem as you would still be left with something reasonable. However, at wider headways, this does not work, especially for off-peak periods. I am very worried about headways once the new streetcars show up and the effect of short turns that will likely be practiced with the same care as today putting gigantic gaps into service.
At the other end of the scale, the subway runs immensely more service than is justified by the demand over much of the system for a good chunk of the day. There is a 5-minute maximum headway as a service standard policy, and the TTC needs to look at policies for the major surface routes (not just streetcars) too.
On the transit priority signals, there is one additional problem that would be solved by adding a mechanism for operators to trigger (or disable) the longer green signals.
There are locations where streetcars need to turn left and need to wait for oncoming traffic to clear. If that oncoming traffic is heavy and constant, the streetcar will sit at the intersection waiting for a non-existent gap and the priority algorithm will think that the streetcar still needs more green time — in fact, what the streetcar needs is for the green signal to end early so that the red signal will stop oncoming traffic and allow the streetcar to turn. An example is eastbound Gerrard at Main in the morning, but there are numerous others. A similar concept applies where streetcars are stuck behind a couple of vehicles waiting to make a left turn, although in those cases there is sometimes the potential to prohibit left turns.
I hear nothing but criticism for the far-side stops on Spadina and St. Clair — in fact, if the priority signals were operating correctly, far-side stops would be more efficient (there would be no need to stop at the near side). With near-side stops, there is the risk of the first problem on your list (unless operator communication with the priority system can be achieved). The question is whether the signal priority system can actually be operated at Spadina-level headways and still achieve other goals — not just capacity for east-west traffic, but sufficient pedestrian crossing times, and reasonable-length signal cycles (Spadina is 90 seconds in most places, whereas most downtown streets including University are 70).
Excellent post, Steve!
A great explanation.
Your comment on Dufferin service and bus bunching suggests to me that even in today’s cluttered road environment, running rails along a 4-lane road such as Dufferin may still provide a better service than buses. Could it be that legacy systems still have a place for expansion?
Steve, good post, but you dont actually answer any of the questions posed.
Steve: Let’s see:
First point – torn up streets and cars pounding rails – that’s the first long section. Yes trackwork is needed, but it’s at a far higher level for the past decade thanks to bad design decisions of earlier years.
Second and third points – slow as molasses – that’s the whole section about dawdling operators on Queen and scheduling practices.
Fourth point – cost – when capacity and vehicle lifespans are taken into account, the cost differential is nowhere near as great as simplistic comparisons of vehicle purchase prices imply.
I left out a commentary on trolley buses (sorry) because my focus was on lines with heavy demand. An argument could be made for TBs in Toronto including artics like Vancouver’s, but to make a network viable we have to target not just a few streetcar lines but major bus routes. The future of battery buses is unclear, but that’s where the political leanings are today. I remain unconvinced that the battery industry, which has only reached the point of providing lithium ion technology for our hybrid buses, will ever develop batteries capable of running a purely electric bus.
There are many sites where you can read studies supporting a variety of points of view on streetcars and LRT. Many of these are heavily biased one way or another, and all materials have to be read in the context of the cities for which they were done. Many new LRT systems in the USA carry far fewer riders per day than our lighter streetcar lines, never mind our heavy bus routes, and their economic analyses don’t apply directly to our situation. Rather than attempting to critique each variation on the theme, I chose to omit links in my reply.
One major group of studies advocates BRT as an alternative to LRT. This must be seen in the context of service patterns (express versus local, network design), land availability (BRT requires a lot of land for stations unless service is relatively infrequent), cost of labour versus capital (smaller vehicles need more operators) and other factors I won’t go into here. It’s easy to find badly-done LRT where infrastructure costs cannot easily be justified by actual demand levels and travel patterns, but that does not invalidate LRT as a mode.
Many implementations of all transit modes are politically driven. People complain that Transit City exists because of political rather than planning decisions, but other cities have BRTs and subways that were chosen because the political favour smiled on those modes, not because they were the best for the situation. However, just because a decision is “political” does not make it “wrong”, otherwise why bother with elections?
Another aspect of transit priority signaling are pedestrians. A streetcar that needs to make a right turn (e.g. King St W to Spadina N) essentially blocks all W bound traffic on King while waiting for pedestrians to cross. Maybe such busy intersections need to install the “scramble crossing” system and then give a complete cycle dedicated to transit vehicles followed by regular traffic. Or even some sort of combination.
Given their widespread use in cities around the world, I find it hard to believe that a reliable articulated bus doesn’t seem to exist. Still even if articulated buses are out for some other reason (such as their length), is there some major reason why double-decker buses can’t be used?
Steve: The main issues with double-deckers are slow loading times and safety (passenger accidents on stairs). Routes with heavy turnover of passengers in short distances would find that people would prefer to remain “downstairs” in much the same way as they won’t go past the rear doors.
With regards to my much beloved trolley buses: intial infrastructure installation aside, is it really that difficult to introduce changes to routes as Tpronto had always claimed? I seem to recall reading that there was a major diversion, wires and all, of the ANNETTE trolley during road construction in the 1950’s. I suppose one alternative for trolley diversions, especially of a temporary nature, is to have a battery that can allow for short stretches of wireless operation, much like in San Francisco.
Otherwise, how hard is it really to string wires (even the thick power cables)?
Steve: Installing infrastructure for TBs is fairly easy. However, the current excuse for not pursuing this is that the bus industry will have an all-electric battery bus available within a decade. If you believe this, I have several bridges for sale. This is a question of basic physics. It takes a considerable amount of energy to propel a bus, and the most efficient form of carrying this on board (from a density point of view) today is with diesel fuel. We already know that the large battery packs on hybrid buses (which add considerably to their weight) could not do the job all on their own without constant charging from the diesel. It strains belief that the energy density of batteries would be improved by a huge jump needed to power large vehicles like a bus, let alone an artic.
The TTC has a good habit of finding some alternative technology to actually building a TB network, and this year’s scam, pardon me, scheme, is battery buses. The off-wire capability you mention is commonplace today, and Vancouver has used it for a long time.
I have never worked for a transportation department or ministry of any type in any location/country. I am nowadays purely a hobbyist. I have spent recently about half an hour just sitting at the Egilinton GO station waiting for a train to pass. I was rewarded by three trains and it sent my blood pressure up again. – I watch the whole TC debate from a distance and it seems to me that the VIP participants behave like a bunch of “clutzes”.
They think that no one else has built such a project before them and that they cannot learn from anyone else. Point of contention — size of tunnels. Their argument is that they do not know a manufacturer yet. That’s OK, but did they try to contact other well-known manufacturers whose products are still in use about the dimensions of their vehicles?
Steve: The TTC knows the tunnel dimensions required for the Bombardier car, but if Metrolinx in its wisdom chooses to reopen the bid process, things may change. Clearance requirements are not just a question of car size, but also truck placement, swing out on curves, etc. As I mentioned in my piece on tunnel sizing, building an oversized tunnel costs a lot of money, and we should not do this just “on spec”.
Did they try to find a latest section of light subway built in Madrid which uses pantographs?
Steve: Madrid has used various tunnel construction techniques including a large, single-bore tunnel. This has superficial attractions, but there are offsetting problems of station depth and access, not to mention the removal of much more spoil from the tunnel bore than is needed to hold the trains. Some of Madrid’s lines are built as full subways, but with smaller cars than in Toronto, and this allows two tracks to share the same tunnel bore. Overall, it is important to understand the differences between systems when using them as examples.
And then is their hiding of the final size of the vehicles/trains.
I have visited one exhibit and the photograph of one vehicle from Europe was such, that whole side was in a shadow. Only recently the SCARBOROUGH MIRROR noted, that Eglinton LRT will have trains as long as 90 meters. WOW – that’s longer than Calgary LRT and if it will be that long, it will weigh-in at something like 90 metric tonness (at least).
Steve: The TTC has always talked about using three-car trains on heavy LRT lines. Depending on the design load for service planning purposes, the capacity of a three-car train could be in the 450-600 range (I am staying clear of the crush capacity claimed by Bombardier as service is never planned to operate at that level). At the lower end, 450, this would allow the TTC to provide 5,000 passengers per hour with a service every 5.5 minutes (11 trains per hour). Alternately, with two-car trains, they would need about 18 trains per hour, or a 3’20” headway.
The weight of a train itself is meaningless without looking at the axle load. As the train gets longer, it has more wheels carrying the load to the track and pavement below. There is no difference in load on structures as trains get longer. Even on exception of bridges, any span must be capable of holding the longest unit that will pass over it, and they tend to be built for more than “typical” loads.
Only recently the VIPs started to talk about a need to re-arrange several intersection. The reaction from the affected councillors was quite swift – no way in my ward.
Steve: If you have read my comments on the proposed design, you would know that I do not agree with the proposed intersection layouts and feel that they represent a real threat to acceptance of the plan. If the TTC were trying to sabotage its own work, this would be an excellent way to do it.
> Steve: The problem today with artics is that a reliable vehicle does not exist for us to buy. I understand that those now in use elsewhere in the GTA spend a lot of time off of the road. TTC is hoping to buy some in a future order, but nothing is certain yet.
Even if the artics are less reliable than regular buses, do they necessarily cost more overall to run? Remembering that the cost of the driver is the main cost of running the service, not the cost of the buses themselves, it might well be cheaper to run articulated buses even if they last e.g. 12 years vs. 18 for standard buses. Especially since a busy route like 39 Finch East is busy most of the day, so wide headways due to articulated buses won’t be an issue except very late at night.
Steve: It’s not a question of longevity, buy of availability. A broken down bus provides no service, and failures of vehicles in service detract from overall reliability. Just look at the streetcar system and the ailing fleet.
Great post Steve!
Tom suggests that the streetcars are slow lumbering vehicles. Let him ride on the King or Queen cars at night without all the automobile traffic. The streetcars are both fast and smooth.
That said, I agree the problems with the transit signals are a real pain. Streetcars should not have to stop on both sides of the street on a farside operation and fewer things are more demoralizing then riding a streetcar on a centre reservation and watching the cars speed by while the streetcar kills time to stick to a padded schedule. How would headway based managment work without signalling?
Steve: The CIS system is being modified so that instead of showing operators their time relative to the schedule, they would show their headway. How sophisticated this will be — showing deviation from a target headway, distinguishing between cars of multiple routes or branches operating on the same street — I don’t know.
Finally, do you think that a legacy operation on Dufferin would work? The TTC seems opposed in principle to any more such lines but I wonder if in some cases they aren’t allowing the perfect to destroy the good.
Steve: Dufferin would make a very nice artic trolley bus route at considerably lower cost.
Ottawa has the dubious distinction of operating North America’s largest articulated bus fleet (and, to put it bluntly, THAT is the reason we don’t have LRT today or for the near-forseeable future).
We’re also experimenting with three double-decker buses, and hopefully we will see their folly.
Double-decker buses made sense in the early days of bus technology (and were an outgrowth to an extent of double-decker streetcars), when it was difficult to propel a vehicle much longer than 25-30 feet. These vehicles, as anyone will observe, tend to operate in moderate wheather climates.
Snow is their enemy! That’s why the TTC gave up on double-deckers from the outset. I have no idea how GO Transit and Brampton Transit can operate their double-deckers without issues such as cost, keeping people off the stairs, oh, and a fairly low second-floor ceiling.
The pessimist in me believes Ottawa City Council fell for a marketing ploy from a major British double-decker manufacturer desparate to find a market, because their own local market appears to be phasing out double-deckers with the exception of heritage, i. e. tourist, routes (a similar marketing ploy got us stuck with the equipment in use for the O-Train).
Steve: GO has a different travel characteristic in that many of their lines tend to accumulate passengers who are all headed to one destination. This avoids the internal circulation problems I mentioned. As for Brampton, wait and see. They’re not running any services close to heavy TTC lines.
I am also amazed that in this era of accessibility, it’s perfectly ok to buy buses with an entire floor that is not accessible when pressure on the TTC focuses on getting as close to 100% as possible. There is a double standard at work here.
About the Eglinton tunnel diameter/cross-section — I have to wonder if designing to a specific LRV design is a wise decision. When it comes time to replace the Eglinton LRVs (or augment the fleet with an additional order?), the tunnel size will end up dictating what vehicles can be procured. Can’t we design a tunnel that will fit the majority of LRVs so that we are not wedded to one specific vehicle design?
I am thinking in particular of the SRT tunnel at Ellesmere and the headaches that is causing with the Mark II trains being unable to fit through it (would LRVs be able to fit through it?).
Steve: OK, you force me to say it. I think that some at Metrolinx may be fighting a rearguard action to still build Eglinton as ICTS and this would make the tunnel smaller. Basically, I don’t trust anyone on the technology issues around Transit City for reasons that have been extensively explored elsewhere.
“Could it be that legacy systems still have a place for expansion?”
Yes, it’s just nowhere near the most important thing for us to do at the moment. In all seriousness, take a look at the modern streetcars being built in the states (Portland, Seattle, Washington, Tacoma, more in the workds). The only real difference is that for the most part they go in the curb rather than centre lanes. Although the main justification for these lines seems to be the development attached to rail, they do improve service somewhat, and give considerably more capacity than busses at a much lower cost and community impact than true light rail.
I have a few thoughts on streetcars, as a transit user, a cyclist, and an Autoshare user, who’s given up on Toronto’s present version:
– is there a reason that streetcars cannot run on tires, removing most of the track issues (wear, expense, danger to cyclists and pedestrians) and use something a more modern to guide the vehicle? Has this been done succesfully elsewhere?
Steve: “Modernity” is in the eye of the beholder. A large vehicle running on tires is called a bus, and its size and capacity are limited by the loads that can be supported through tires as compared to steel wheels and rails. Yes, you can build heavier buses, and they will destroy the roads which were not built for this type of vehicle.
– will our city ever sacrifice curbside parking, so we can run streetcars where it is safe for pedestrians to board and exit!?
Steve: I very much doubt that this will happen. However, some locations such as the Roncesvalles redesign to be implemented next year could bring the sidewalk out to meet the streetcar while allowing parking to remain between stops. There are major problems with track geometry at junctions with curb lane running (curves are far too tight), and utilities are generally buried under the curb lane so that they don’t conflict with the tracks. All of this would have to change — it’s not just a question of moving the track to the curb lane.
– far side stops are asinine, counter-intuitive, and require passengers to transfer across two streets of traffic rather than one
Steve: The biggest problem with farside stops is that the crossings are not always set up to aid pedestrian movement, and the traffic signals delay transit rather than helping it. The only reason we have farside stops is to make room for left turn lanes. They are a pro-auto design, not pro-transit.
– does anyone believe that higher-capacity vehicles will not be scheduled to come even less frequently than now?
Steve: Yes and no. The question is how much less, and what standard will be used for the maximum headways. TTC is talking about a 10 minute maximum, but I think this is too high for busy routes because the scheduled headway is never observed when service is disrupted and much wider gaps would be commonplace.
– will the city ever sacrifice the convenience of wealthy individuals in SUVs to multitude of people in transit vehicles: remove left turns, transit signal priority, and something like enforcement of traffic laws by police?
Steve: I doubt it. Moreover, we have a situation where a lot of traffic bylaw enforcement requires police rather than staff such as parking control officers. Police regard traffic enforcement as very low on their priority list, but refuse to give up the work. I fondly remember trips to Vancouver where I would see tow trucks merrily removing illegally parked cars the moment the rush hour began. Here we let King Street fill up with taxis in a supposed transit priority area, and tow mere mortals only under exceptional circumstances.
On the topic of double deckers, MegaBus seems quite happy with them on the New York routes as well. From what I’ve seen they most definitely have a place, and it’s as the highway coach equivalent of an artic. I know some highway artics were built in Britain some time ago, but in general I would say that artics just don’t work very well in that market, while double deckers are fine.
Steve: By “that market” do you mean highway traffic (such as GO), or heavy urban traffic?
Best post so far, Steve! Thanks for the insight!
Hey Steve- excellent overview.
Although a couple of quibbles… as a driver, TTC user and bicyclist who has lived and worked in cities around the world, I can honestly say that Toronto traffic “management” is an oxymoron of a scale unseen anywhere else.
If there’s “best practices” thinking anywhere in the system – whether at TTC or at city hall – I’d be surprised.
There are cities like Montreal that actually do a good job of keeping traffic flowing by eliminating left turns and not just at rush hour (IE: to make a left, you have to first make 3 right turns). This would NEVER happen in Toronto due to a misguided belief that this would ruin the quality of life on side streets through neighbourhoods. But any sensible urban thinker knows that Montreal’s neighbourhoods are far denser – and more vibrant – than Toronto’s. Traffic, when properly managed, doesn’t have to mean the death of a neighbourhood.
Cities like Santiago, Chile – where smog is a huge problem in the wintertime – work really hard to ensure that traffic (buses and cars) keep moving and idle as little as possible. One smart rule… NO private construction can impact the right of way. IE: the mess at St-Clair and Avenue Rd and on Adelaide between Bay and Yonge wouldn’t happen there. They’re building a 54 storey tower in Santiago on an extremely tight urban lot without a single lane closure. How come we can’t do that here?
And why wait until the new streetcars have arrived to institute POP on all streetcar routes? Immediately putting a POP system in place would greatly speed boarding and running times.
Modern fare collection systems? Don’t get me started on that. Bogota has it – yet Toronto doesn’t (Giambrone was recently on CBC radio with the excuse that magnetic cards are “10 year old technology and why would the TTC adopt technology that’s out of date”.) Ummm… because whatever technology that comes down the pike will be ignored just as magnetic cards were. So, tokens anyone? How’s 150 year old technology for you?
Frankly, a system that can’t even prevent bunching of streetcars on the 1.5km section of St-Clair that’s currently in operation just isn’t a credible service.
We’ve let city hall wreck the TTC with their political meddling for far too long. I remember when the TTC was frequently cited as the best transit system in North America. It’s time to put in place professional managers (like maybe someone with experience managing large public or private services?) who have one mandate that guides all decisions: to lure people out of private cars not with threats and coercion, but with better service.
Steve: I hate to say this, but a lot of the problems you describe are brought on by staff, not by politicians, especially the ones you mention about traffic control. As for swipe cards, yes, they are obsolete and everything uses RFID these days. The real problem with the provincial Presto system is that it is a proprietary technology that is not compatible with modern payment systems including credit cards.
POP now? First you have to read the riot act to the bean counters at the TTC who look on every rider as a potential for fare evasion rather than a customer. We could have POP now if only there were the will to implement it. We have the Metropass only because the politicians forced staff to accept it back in 1980. Now over half of the adult fares are paid using passes.
Thank you for your quick, thoughtful and informative response. However, I am not sure my point was clear in the first part:
“jamesmallon: Is there a reason that streetcars cannot run on tires, removing most of the track issues (wear, expense, danger to cyclists and pedestrians) and use something a more modern to guide the vehicle? Has this been done succesfully elsewhere?
Steve: “Modernity” is in the eye of the beholder. A large vehicle running on tires is called a bus, and its size and capacity are limited by the loads that can be supported through tires as compared to steel wheels and rails. Yes, you can build heavier buses, and they will destroy the roads which were not built for this type of vehicle.”
Montreal has subways on tires, and they are not buses, whatever their merits. I do not see why a vehicle that is a streetcar in ALL ways but its wheelstock needs to be designated a ‘bus’. Why can’t we run heavy streetcars with tires on a reinforced concrete roadbed, minus the tracks that cause the problems, using some kind of passive magnetic system in the road bed independant of the power-grid? It has to be much cheaper to pour concrete with a magnet every foot: a magnet which can be removed for replacement individually and cheaper than a rail.
I will cede many of the advantages of streetcars over buses, but I will not accept the expense and dangers of tracks on the road. I am not sure if you cycle, but if you did downtown, I think you’d agree. Heck, if the vehicle had a steering option it could get around the others that break down!
Steve: You cannot directly compare Montreal subway cars with streetcars. First off, the “roadbed” in Montreal is built for those cars, and they are much smaller than standard subway cars because of weight limits on rubber tires. At junctions, the “steering” is done with steel wheels on steel rails, a separate set underneath the car.
As for passive magnets and other road-based systems, they are (a) expensive compared to conventional technology and (b) intended only for limited use areas such as historic districts as a way of avoiding overhead systems.
Tracks have been in roads for over a century. I’m sorry that cyclists don’t like them, but we’re not getting rid of streetcars on that account.
My second remark tries to build on mine and Brent’s.
TTC has made a mistake more than 20 years ago when they built a tunnel for SRT so small that other (larger) vehicles cannot use it. Starting from that logical point, I feel that TC VIPs do not really know what they want to build or if they want to build it at all, as they are afraid that it ( a small tunnel size) will also happen to them.
New trams (streetcars) for Manchester which are going to be built in the BOMBARDIER plant near Vienna will be roughly the same size as the new ones for T.O. – therefore a reaonable person can take the measurements, build a computer program for animation and study the effect of the curve spin.
They (TC VIPs) hide behind passenger capacity, but they are not willing to convert it into a physical size – those 90 metres.
The 90 meters converts into very long and therefore wide platforms, longer times needed to clear an intersection, higher energy requirements and so on.
The need to redesign the intersections has been formulated only recently.
Therefore I am not sure that TTC/Metrolinx are 100% behind the project or if they are waiting for next municipal/provincial elections, where new Mayor or Premier would terminate it and they (TC VIPs) would try to mount a PR offensive against new govt.
Please do not call me anti-TC – I am really much bigger fan of rail traffic than most of people in T.O.
Steve: As I pointed out, I agree with some of your comments if you read closely, and worry myself that the TTC is screwing up a good project.
When the CLRV’s first appeared on the streets of Toronto, I was disappointed to discover that they were air-electric, not like the post-war all-electric PCC’s. Don’t know if the new low-floor light rail vehicles will be air-electric or all-electric. The air-electrics has an audible air pump running that keeps the air in the system.
Something to think about streetcars and buses. Modern modular trams (streetcars), with lengths up to 54 metres, can attain capacities of about 350 people (all streets occupied and standing passengers at 4 persons per m/2.)
(Please note: modular cars can have their lengths increased, to economically met ridership demands, without purchasing complete cars)
In Portland it has been found that one light rail vehicle (capacity 185 persons) & 1 driver is as efficient as 6 to 8 buses & six to eight bus drivers. Also for every bus or LRV used one must hire at least three persons to drive, maintain and manage them.
Do the math for one year, then multiply it by 40 years!
With the modern LRV lifespan now put at 40 years, without major refurbishment, the economics of running LRT/streetcars on heavily used bus routes can be seen.
I’m with Tom Jurenka. I grew up out west, and when I moved to Toronto I couldn’t understand why this city was in love with its slow, frustrating streetcars. Although I still hate the streetcars, my position has become more nuanced: streetcar technology has its place, and there are cities that do streetcars right. However, Toronto is not one of them, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Your responses to Tom seem to confirm this belief.
Ironically, it’s the fact that streetcars were retained in the 70s that has led to today’s situation. The TTC never had a chance to start with a clean sheet and forget its legacy operating practices. Meanwhile, the public has been conditioned to think that it’s perfectly normal for streetcars to be slow, block traffic, board only at the front door, and generally combine the worst features of rails and buses — none of which is true in cities with world-class tram systems. It’s noteworthy that, as far as I know, no city in the streetcar revival has modeled their system after Toronto’s.
Steve: I will agree with you about the TTC’s operating practices, but these must be changed rather than simply saying “streetcars are bad”. As you will know from other threads on this board, I have not been impressed with the TTC’s endless ability to concoct excuses for poor service.
So Tom Jurenka sees nothing but bad in streetcars. I wonder if he’s ever actually rode one. I came to the conclusion as a kid 35 years ago that there’s just simply NO such thing as a mode of transportation that is 100% perfect. You can basically berate any mode you want into the ground or you can deify it into the ground all you want. What I wonder is does every advocate of these unproven technologies sincerely believe 100% in what they push or is there at least sometimes something else at work? About the only thing I really know for sure is that there is ZERO CHANCE of trolley busses EVER returning to Toronto.
Great post Steve!
You didn’t mention:
Streetcar and trolley bus are electric vehicles that do not consume fuel (electricity) when stopped to load and discharge passengers, unlike a stinky bus.
Electric vehicles regenerate electricity back into the traction power grid when they decelerate and are very energy efficient.
Electric vehicles are very quick off the mark and operate quietly in the city neighbourhood without creating pollution at street level (all forms of transportation do their share of polluting.)
Electric vehicles can be just awesome when used on their own right-of-way moving large passenger loads at a fraction of the cost of subway or the automobile and freeway.
Steve: Although it may be heresy to say this, I stayed away from the energy argument on purpose. There are many people who feel that electricity is “dirty”, although it’s hard to know what they would replace it with other than, possibly, hot air. I didn’t want to get drawn into that particular debate. Also, as a proportion of total costs, energy is relatively small. It makes a contribution, but not a decisive one.
I think just about everything has air brakes now. Truth be told I’m not sure if it’s legal for a rail vehicle NOT to have them. Honestly given we use air on everything else, busses included I doubt that theres much to be gained in the all electric system; the compressor isn’t really the burden it was in 1945.
Keep in mind that Montreal’s subways are also 100% underground, including even the train yards. This is because rubber-tired trains and snow do not mix at all well, and would result in said trains not being able to stop. Not really an option for streetcars in Toronto.
David Aldinger said “About the only thing I really know for sure is that there is ZERO CHANCE of trolley busses EVER returning to Toronto.”
Well, I can dream, can’t I? In truth, though it is unlikely, I would never say never. Just look at all the cities that had streetcars, got rid of them, and then brought them back again.
On the other hand, some bright star on Ottawa City Council no more than two years ago suggested that Ottawa should seriously consider looking at new bus technology–CNG! Oy….
Re: double-decker buses (again!)
I’ve never been convinced about accessability argument against double-deckers. If you’re talking wheelchairs, then buses tend to have sapces for one or two – and that wouldn’t change with double-deckers.
Steve: My point was not that the vehicles are inaccessible, but that there has been a lot of pressure on Toronto to be 100% accessible (a goal I think cannot be achieved) while other systems are not held to the same standard. There is a big difference between services that all people can use, and services where all people can use all seats.
I also don’t see why they are more vulnerable to snow – could please explain?
Steve: It’s a stability question, I believe, but will leave this issue for others to comment on. Note that it does snow in parts of the British Isles where DD buses are/were quite common.
As for staircases, I spent years travelling (semi-regularly) on double-deckers, and I never once witnessed anyone having an accident on the stairs. People realise it’s a staircase on a moving vehicle, and act accordingly. Ceiling height upstairs was about 6’5″ (2m).
Steve: Remember that our wonderful TTC was so paranoid about legal liability that they got rid of stand right, walk left signs on escalators, and they’re not too thrilled about the steps within our bus fleet. At some point, transit agencies have to trade off issues for the overall good of the system, but the TTC tends to be very conservative on these issues. (The escalator safety folks, by the way, are Provincial.)
I do agree with the whole passenger ciculation issue. People on short hops (under 10 mins) do want to stay downstairs. Unfortunately, I have no idea what proportion of TTC bus riders do journeys of that length.
Steve: This depends on the route, but the streetcar routes are good examples where much riding is for relatively short trips (20 minutes or less of on-vehicle time). Bus routes with many local trip generators as well as heavy transfer points behave like this too despite their length.
Finally, they are not being phased out in the UK… if anything they are becomign more popular due to the lower operating costs per seat.
Seperate point about traffic law enforcement: decriminalise minor traffic offences (that is, make them civil offences rather criminal offences). That way, it would not longer have to the be the police who sort out parking violations (or blocking intersections, my pet hate). Instead, it can be done by city appointed staff. The penalties would remain fines or points of the licence or confiscation of vehicle etc.
Steve: The problem is not the Criminal Code, but the Highway Traffic Act which is provincial. A related issue is the claim that only police can order a tow to avoid, in effect, “theft” of the vehicle. Given that tow truck operators in Vancouver operate with no police anywhere in sight, this problem has obviously been addressed, but it appears to suit folks in Ontario to claim only real cops can authorize a tow.
re:”As for staircases, I spent years travelling (semi-regularly) on double-deckers, and I never once witnessed anyone having an accident on the stairs. People realise it’s a staircase on a moving vehicle, and act accordingly.”
For some inexplicable reason, OC Transpo claims it has to have an extra employee on board the DDs to prevent people from sitting on the stairs. It seems that stairs are not self-evident to OC Transpo riders. Now, I don’t want to dissuade OC Transpo from thinking this because the extra expense is one reason to kill the DD experiment, and I’m all for that.
“Tracks have been in roads for over a century. I’m sorry that cyclists don’t like them, but we’re not getting rid of streetcars on that account.”
Thank you for minimising the safety of 10% of downtown’s population, not to mention people with reduced mobility whose canes or wheelchairs do get caught in them. It’s fine to be a streetcar-zealot – whatever floats your boat – but the fact is their implementation in Toronto is always going to be worse than their absence.
Steve: We will have to agree to disagree. It is always easy to say “I don’t like xxx” and then find all sorts of arguments to support that position. However, I could mount a similar attack on all manner of street furniture and civic design that could be construed as hazards or impediments. Everything is a question of the merit of benefits relative to effects.
If I really wanted to be extreme, I might even suggest that cyclists are a hazard to those who have mobility, vision or hearing problems because not all, but enough cyclists are irresponsible, hazardous users of the road (and the sidewalk). That does not invalidate cyclists’ right to exist any more than your argument works against streetcar tracks.
Steve said, “Also, as a proportion of total costs, energy is relatively small. It makes a contribution, but not a decisive one.”
While energy costs make the picture brighter for streetcars, the case is very easily made without it. It is simple to comparing a single LRV at $5 million lasting for 30 years and carrying three times the load of a bus. Three buses cost $0.5 million, but last about 15 years, so the total capital is $3 million (assuming there is no inflation, to keep this simple). Over that 30 years, you need to pay for two additional drivers and if we assume an annual cost of $50k per driver (which is low when benefits are factored in), this adds $3 million to the operating cost over the 30 years.
$5 million for the LRV, or $6 million for buses – which is better?
Granted, the $5 million for the LRV is needed up front, which likely increases the LRV cost due to financing, but there are so many other costs on the bus side (inflation for the buses in 15 years and the true total cost of operation and maintenance over the time) that the LRV is less costly. Energy savings is a bonus on top of all that.
Track and wiring infrastructure is more costly, but it is a small increment over reserved lanes for buses due to the extra space needed for a bus lane over an LRV lane. Comparing this infrastructure cost with that of the bus in a non-reserved lane is difficult since repaving costs are not totally attributable to bus operation, but at the same time are generally not at all attributed to bus operation which makes it a “forgotten” cost of bus operation.
Steve: One tweak to your argument is needed. Often, a bus lane is seen as “free” because the number of buses operated in it is relatively small, or they are all running express, say on a highway lane or improved shoulder. The moment one tries to scale BRT up into LRT territory, passing lanes are needed at stations for express/local operation as well as to allow hopscotch operations. As soon as a frequent BRT service has to actually stop for passengers, it requires a lot more space than LRT for an equivalent capacity. Ignoring this allows BRT advocates to cite low-cost implementations without bothering to talk about the cost and physical space requirements of higher capacities when they become necessary.
“As soon as a frequent BRT service has to actually stop for passengers, it requires a lot more space than LRT for an equivalent capacity. Ignoring this allows BRT advocates to cite low-cost implementations without bothering to talk about the cost and physical space requirements of higher capacities when they become necessary.”
But, try to convince people (i.e. some Ottawa City Councillors who oppose converting BRT to LRT — and let that be a lesson for any who worry that THEIR City Councillors would prefer BRT to LRT!) that your argument is on the mark!!
David Cavlovic: Britain is in no sense phasing out double-deckers. They’re still by far the ‘normal’ bus in cities all over the country, and London is switching back the routes that were previously converted to articulated buses (it was a major issue in the last local elections). All the hysteria that appeared in the press over the past couple of years was a tempest in a teapot about the retirement of the Routemaster, a particular type of double-decker built in the 1950s and 1960s, in favour of ‘generic’ modern double-deckers.
Steve: Dufferin would make a very nice artic trolley bus route at considerably lower cost.
Do you say this because Dufferin isn’t wide enough or because ridersnhip isn’t high enough to rate a streetcar line.
If ridership is high enough then it would seem that the points you make in your original post would apply i.e. that at a certain volume of ridership streetcars have lower operating costs than buses. Ridership on Dufferin seems awfully high but I don’t have the figures.
Steve: The total daily ridership is in the same league as several streetcar lines, but it is the peak ridership that determines which mode is required. As I mentioned in the post, the scheduled service on Dufferin has much lower capacity than the King car.