“Admiral Adam” launches Amphibious City

[This article is cross-posted with spacing]

Spacing exclusive – we have learned that the Toronto Transit Commission will announce a major service increase. Smarting from recent customer service issues including higher fares, sleeping employees, and rush hour service cuts, the TTC will roll out an ambitious plan for rapid transit expansion. New routes will utilize the city’s waterways to link the downtown core with neighbourhoods across Toronto.

The plan – Amphibious City – calls for partially grade-separated waterway routes as the means to quickly move commuters to and from the city’s core. Several new routes will operate as soon as this summer. In mid-March, Spacing lamented minor service cuts by the TTC and GO – despite increased ridership and higher fares. We now learn that the cuts released enough operators for intense training allowing a “quick launch” of new services.

The preliminary fleet of seven-year old “Hippo” buses will operate on three routes by the end of June. Several routes will be added in coming years leading up to the 2015 Pan-American Games.

The news of an upcoming official announcement, barely a week after the Ontario government’s budget delivered a kick in the teeth to Toronto’s LRT plans, is surprising. However, TTC officials explained to us that this is part of a contingency plan for any Transit City delays. Hippo buses will be cheap to implement, require much less money in construction costs, and the first phase can be implemented without going through a lengthy environmental assessment.

The purchased Hippo buses, acquired by the City of Toronto from a defunct private tourism enterprise, will provide service until larger and wheel-chair accessible vessels can be acquired, preferably from a Canadian manufacturer.

Some dredging and remedial work will be required for service on inland waterways such as Highland Creek or the Don River.

Speaking to Spacing insiders, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone called this the “most exciting transit news since Transit City.”

Giambrone notes that Amphibious City will be complementary to Transit City, the planned network of light rail corridors across the city. “People have criticised Transit City for being too focused on east-west travel, and missing many parts of the city. Amphibious City seeks to address those concerns, and it will be a fun way to get around.”

Amphibious City promises to improve the public perception and visibility of the TTC, while providing a service not at the mercy of Toronto’s traffic congestion. This service would also benefit from a quick start-up, requires minimal infrastructure, and give riders alternatives to the overcrowded Yonge Subway and the Scarborough Rapid Transit line as it undergoes a planned conversion to LRT.

This wouldn’t be the first time the TTC planned aquatic transit services. Until 1960, the TTC operated the Toronto Island ferries until they were transferred to the Parks Department. In 2007, Giambrone floated the idea of fast ferries, earning him the moniker “Admiral Adam”, but a year later, the fast ferry plan was torpedoed in a report by noted transit consultant Richard Soberman. Now, the Admiral is back, and with a vengeance.

While not yet confirmed by the TTC, Spacing has obtained a list of planned Hippo BRT (Boat Rapid Transit) routes:

  • Queen’s Park/Bluffers:  From McCowan and Steeles, via McCowan, Scarborough Town Centre, and Brimley Avenue to Bluffers Park. Express via Lake Ontario, then north from York Quay to Queen’s Park via York and University.
  • Ryerson/Humber Bay: From Long Branch, via Lake Shore Boulevard to Palace Pier, then via Lake Ontario to Dundas Square/Ryerson University via York Quay, Queen’s Quay, Yonge and Dundas Square, looping via Gould and Victoria. This route would replace the slow and little-popular 145 Lakeshore Express.

These two routes would likely be ready for the launch of service. Other routes would follow once the necessary infrastructure is ready.

  • Don River/Harbourfront – from Don Mills and Steeles, down Don Mills Road to the Don River south of Overlea Boulevard, and via the Don River to York Quay. This later route will be completed upon dredging the Don River.
  • Malvern/Highland Creek: From Neilson and McLevin to Queen’s Park via Neilson, Centenary Hospital, Markham Road, Military Trail, University of Toronto-Scarborough, Highland Creek, Lake Ontario, and then downtown via York Quay and University Avenue. A section of Highland Creek will be dredged before service could begin on this route.
  • Airport Express: A premium fare, express Hippo service to Pearson Airport, following the Etobicoke Creek until reaching the airport property near Highway 401, then using the existing internal road system to reach each terminal.

Other, express Hippo routes could serve the Toronto Zoo (Giambrone, obviously having some fun, coined the term “see the hippos, take the Hippo”), and the proposed Pickering Airport, via the Rouge River.

Special Hippo services will operate for the Pan Am Games linking the Atheletes’ Village with venues on the Toronto Waterfront, Hamilton and Scarborough Campus.

Naming opportunities for the Hippos will allow the TTC to recoup system costs from the advertising industry.  Urgent approval of this plan will be required to circumvent Toronto’s pending Hippo Review Board.

Some transit critics were infuriated by this plan. An advocacy group calling themselves SOS (“Save Our Swan Boats”) immediately blamed transit advocate Steve Munro for Amphibious City, claiming that he was behind the scheme. They pointed to an earlier plan for smaller watercraft utilizing canals across the city that would, in their opinion, create jobs and “put Toronto on the map.”

SOS laughed at the so-called “Airport Express” which would require “passengers to pack a lunch”. SOS praised Metrolinx for funding infrastructure upgrades allowing a private company to operate 1950s rail cars for $22 one way trips using an existing rail line. “This type of public/private partnership will ensure the future of modern transit for our city”, said SOS.

Etobicoke and York Councillors complained that Amphibious City ignored the Humber River and Hippo service through their constituencies, and York University demanded that Hippos run via Black Creek to their main campus.

The Toronto Environmental Alliance cautioned that this plan assumed ice-free conditions in the harbour and rivers, and accused the TTC of depending on Global Warming to ensure uninterrupted service.

Metrolinx CEO Robert Prichard fired a shot across the bow, warning that, once again, Toronto proposed new regional services without regard for Ontario’s plans.  He dismissed Hippos as an obsolete technology, completely out of the league of Metrolinx’ own submarine express transit, aka The Deep Move.  Prichard himself was about to announce conversion of the underground Taddle Creek to provide direct service to the University of Toronto from Yonge and Queen’s Quay, across the street from the Toronto Star building. “We would have used Captain John’s [Restaurant] as a new mobility hub. It’s for sale. We’d preserve a beloved landmark in the process.”

Giambrone was quick to dismiss these preliminary criticisms, saying that Toronto needs Amphibious City. “It’s exciting, it’s visionary, it’s the wave of the future.”

As for the Airport Express and other longer routes, he reiterated that the TTC would be putting out a detailed request for proposals for new vessels. “We will be looking for a Canadian supplier of Hippos. Bombardier is working on hydrofoil Hippos as we speak.”

Finally, as if to test out a new speaking line, he then changed his tone and said:

We will run buses on the beaches, we will run them in the streets, and we will run them in the sewers and the rivers and in the harbour. And in 1,000 years, men will still say, “This was their finest transit system.”

[With files from Sean Marshall and Steve Munro]

37 thoughts on ““Admiral Adam” launches Amphibious City

  1. Brilliant idea. At least the hippos will be out of traffic and will be able to possibly beat conventional travel times, especially shortcutting through the creeks and the like.


  2. I can’t wait to get to Harbourfront from Don Mills and Overlea! Can I take my bicycle on the hippos?


  3. Ah, the spit-take. Great way to start drinking my morning coffee while reading this article. Thank you Danny Thomas for that invention.

    Hilarious article, Steve. Happy April Fools Day.


  4. and, BTW, LOVE the Churchill reference. In keeping with that theme, there will be advocates for submarine operation as the only way to go.


  5. Now I know why all the EA’s for the Transit city and GO expansion had to include a part under the “Navigable Waters Act”.


  6. Did the lostrivers.ca people consult on this?

    Personally, I can’t wait for the Yellow Creek crosstown route.


  7. Mayor David Miller has issued a press release stating that “This is a particularly appropriate initiative for Toronto and will be expanded to include temporary water routes whenever possible; this will allow the citizens of Toronto to take advantage of the many broken water mains in our City. The TTC will run special “water main” routes as and when our aged infrastructure allows. For obvious reasons, these will not be announced in advance and may only run for a few hours but this will only add to the excitement of living in our great City and it is anticipated that the transfers issued on these short-lived routes will become collectors items.”


  8. Quote from the Beverly Hillbillies … “that ain’t a hog at all … that there’s what you’d call a HIP-POE-POT-A-MUSS”.


  9. As someone who lives near Garrison Creek, I don’t want over 400 of these hippos running through my neighbourhood unless they are completely converted from diesel to electric.


  10. I can just hear Adam Giambrone singing now: ”
    I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
    Only a hippopotamus will do
    Don’t want a bus, no dinky Subway ploy
    I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy.”

    That being said, the hippo stations better not have Cinnabons in their concession areas. It’s hard to control hungry hippo….hungry patrons as it is.

    Steve: Then there’s Flanders & Swan’s “Hippopotamus Song” — “Mud, mud, glorious mud / Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood …”. A few years ago, Bryn Terfel gave a recital at Thomson Hall and sang this as an encore. To his amazement, a huge number of people in the audience knew the words and joined in for the chorus!


  11. You truly got me. If only we had swan boats on our waterways. We would have the most unique transit system in the world. Rental price? A TTC Fare.


  12. What’s all this business about people wanting to drive their own swans downtown?

    Absolutely not! We’ve got to get people out of their swans and onto the hippos.


  13. This morning when I first read this, I was wondering why anything like this would be written (and initially, I thought the part about adding to TTC’s fleet was true, until I read the part that the TTC was depending on Global Warming to enhance this transit system).

    Happy April Fools!


  14. I fear that the implementation of the TTC’s amphibious fleet will only invite gentrification and more condo development on the Toronto Islands as developers continue to fight for prime land along our waterfront.


  15. mikeb says:

    April 1, 2010 at 10:54 am

    As someone who lives near Garrison Creek, I don’t want over 400 of these hippos running through my neighbourhood unless they are completely converted from diesel to electric.

    Electric traction power + water + NOT A GOOD RESULT!! truly “electrifying”

    Happy April 1st!!

    Steve: Ontario is working on a new technology that will allow electric Hippos to operate in water. We will open a new plant to build them, and will take over the world with our excellence in transit technology.


  16. I still can’t believe it! A good while back I shared my proposals for converting all subway and streetcar lines plus the RT to Swan Boat Rapid Transit technology and I see it’s been completely ignored for this! Doesn’t anyone how wonderful it would be to have all streets now served by streetcars to instead have swan boat canals down the middle of the street instead of those hideous rails?! And what about that great ride through all those subway/RT ROWs and subway tunnels?! Is there any hope at all that I’ll ever be able to stand on the subway platform at Union Station in giddy anticipation of the absolute ecstacy of being able to step off that platform into a swan boat for a ride that’s the transit equivalent of Paradise?!


  17. Toronto needs Amphibious City. “It’s exciting, it’s visionary, it’s the wave of the future.”

    That’s just classic… 😀

    Now I don’t know if I prefer this one or the ‘announcement of construction on the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT.’

    Cheers, moaz

    ps. there is a plan for swan boats in Kuala Lumpur


  18. Oh, man! I can hardly wait for those electric hippos to start service! (I can hardly keep my composure over this one!)

    Steve: Genetic engineers are still working out whether to grow their tails for single contact wires, or their ears for dual contacts. Dual mode Hippos may be the result to allow interoperation with other modes.


  19. Like watching Coronation Street, or eating blood pudding, singing the chorus of the Hippopotamus Song is an English Tradition. Flanders & Swann also composed a wonderful ode to public transit:

    A Transport of Delight (Youtube)

    Steve: I had the delight of seeing Flanders & Swann at the Royal Alex at about the time their first LP “At The Drop of a Hat” came out. I was very young and didn’t get all of the jokes, especially some of those about Madeira, M’Dear.


  20. “I was very young and didn’t get all of the jokes, especially some of those about Madeira, M’Dear.”

    One could say that is irrelevant. “But it’s not irrelevant! It’s a hippopotamus!” (also from At The Drop Of A Hat)

    Steve: The TTC has always needed a theme song!


  21. Seriously though, that funky looking vehicle in that picture actually looks quite interesting. is it some kind of amphibious sightseeing vehicle?

    Steve: Yes. It really is a Hippo Bus modified by Sean to TTC colours.


  22. Given the story in today’s Star about the ferry lineups, an Eastern Gap Hippo service mightn’t have been the worst idea yesterday. The Island Tax should be repealed and island services brought back within the ambit of TTC fare structure.


  23. Clearly this is nonsense. We should be building underwater subways. I don’t care that the demand is more appropriate to amphibious buses. How are we supposed to create jobs and be world-class if we don’t get our heads out of the sand and build trains under the sea?


  24. Still waiting on the Fire Breathing Swans to guard the 416 border from the 905. That project should have higher priority than Amphibious City…


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