Buses vs Streetcars: The View from the TTC

A recent Globe and Mail report explains how the TTC poured cold water on Rob Ford’s proposal to phase out streetcars and eliminate the Transit City LRT lines.  The details behind this article were posted on the City of Toronto’s website yesterday in the section dedicated to answering questions from candidates.  (Other TTC-related questions appear first, and readers should scroll down to the heading “Present Transit City Plans & Commitments”.)

32 thoughts on “Buses vs Streetcars: The View from the TTC

  1. Can Transit City really get canceled even if it is not funded by the City of Toronto?

    Steve: Partly this depends on how successful an anti-TC mayor would be in convincing Council of his position, how willing Queen’s Park was to go along, and who the Premier is in a year’s time.


  2. The City’s page says “Six of the TTC’s 13 busiest surface route corridors are served by streetcars (King, Queen, Spadina/Harbourfront, Carlton, Dundas, St. Clair).”

    I’m curious, does the TTC have a list anywhere of what its busiest surface route corridors are? And how is a “surface route corridor” defined? Is it by routes or by streets? (For example, would “York Mills” be considered a single corridor with all the combined traffic of the 95 and the York Mills Rd segments of the 115 and 122? Or would they just count the 95 on its own because it’s the main York Mills bus?)

    Steve: No, they don’t have this list somewhere public. However, it’s not hard to figure out where there are overlaps such as 501/502 (not that the 502 contributes much), 504/503/508 (of which the largest capacity is the 504). And, yes, I suspect York Mills includes the small contributions from other routes. More to the point, Eglinton East has a raft of routes on it, and you’re not down to a single route until east of Don Mills. Similarly Eglinton east from Kennedy Station.


  3. The vehicle contract has a termination for convenience clause. Please refer these questions to Metrolinx.

    What is “convenience” in this context?, one has to wonder.


  4. Streetcars are more efficient for sure, but they do get stuck in traffic, and as a result, cause traffic, which causes the next car to get stuck, and cause traffic that blocks the next car, etc etc.

    There are 3 options really.
    1 – Have streetcars on all the major east-west streets in downtown, as well as Bathurst, which due to the Allen, is a major feeder route into downtown.

    2 – Remove all the streetcars from the entire city forever and ever, and toss them in a giant rubbish bin and laugh at them from your SUV. Okay maybe not that extreme, but that is how stupid the idea is.

    3 – Compromise, remove some current streetcar routes, but keep transit city. King and Queen are important routes and while they are both “blocking traffic” I don’t see rationale to remove them. Bathurst may become more heavily trafficed. The proposals to extend the Allen are not just going to go away. While it’ll never, ever, get south of Bloor, there are points north of Bloor where one could end the highway without causing a huge destruction to giant portions of the city. (Dav and Spadina, Dav and Dupont) but another proposal would see it end at Bathurst. As for east-west routes, both Dundas and Carlton do not move as many people as either King or Queen, and it probably would be popular to remove one, but not both of these.

    When considering your options, with #1 having 6 major routes downtown, #2 having 0, and #3 having 4, I think the answer is clear. Remember, if people push on with Rae-Miller style leftism, the answer will continue to be Harris-Ford style reactionism.


  5. Obviously, these questions came from the Smitherman camp. If Ford wants to phase out streetcars cost effectively, he’d probably start with the Spadina LRT when it comes up for track renewal (which is pretty soon from what I hear — so much for the 25yr theory of track longevity). Then, instead of cancelling the contract for the downtown streetcars, simply reduce the number of cars ordered.

    None of the questions address the benefits of articulated trolleybuses as replacements to streetcars …

    – 1:1 operator ratio (against CLRVs)
    – zero emissions
    – no ongoing track construction
    – temporary off-wife capability for route diversions/passing a disabled vehicle
    – vehicles can pull over to curbs and therefore not block two lanes of traffic
    – increased safety when passengers exit vehicles running in mixed traffic
    – better service frequency (two articulated trolleybuses for every new streetcar)

    The City no longer appears to have any say with Transit City, so I don’t think he can scrap any of the new lines. The TTC won’t even own the LRVs running in the suburbs — Metrolinx will. This is a really strange arrangement.


  6. The rebuttal from Rob Ford’s representative at the end of the article was certainly brief and lacking in content.

    The vehicle capacity numbers stand and a streetcar still holds more than a bus.

    The track all over the city’s been rebuilt over the last 10 or so years at great expense along with the remaining sections being done now or in the near future, and the cost of all this infrastructure that’d be wasted if streetcars are abandoned is recorded fact too. The contract cancellation clauses for the new streetcars, the Transit City cars, the construction contracts etc. are hard numbers on paper that could be totaled up if necessary, and if Rob Ford’s people need information about this specifically, they could call up Jean Chretien and ask how that went with Eurocopter.

    Anybody so willing to ignore facts would be a very dangerous person to have as mayor.


  7. If transit city is funded by Government of Ontario, Metrolinx, & Federal Government then how can the Transit City be cancelled if it is not paid by the City of Toronto.

    The new streetcars can be canceled since 2/3 of it is paid by the City of Toronto.


  8. According to a poll reported by Royson James, only 8% agree with Rob Ford to scrap the streetcar system and 55% want to go ahead with the purchase of new streetcars.

    Rob Ford’s streetcar proposal appears to be a noble sacrifice to appease the anger of the Car Culture much like some cultures (at least according to Hollywood) would throw a villager into an erupting volcano to appease the anger of the god of fire. It sounds like the same principle.


  9. Let’s say, City X spends a good deal of money to repair its existing streetcar rails, then places a large order for new and presumably reliable streetcars … and then immediately decides to phase out the streetcar service.

    Uhm, what are they smoking at the City Hall? Ah … they’ve just elected a new Mayor … and he is a fiscal conservative!

    Steve: Just about every fiscal conservative in office recently has spent money like a drunken sailor on projects they want. “Fiscal conservative” is almost an oxymoron.


  10. Why can we not just build center platforms throughout the the CORE, where traffic congestion is a problem. Many of the sidewalks downtown are wide enough to be removed in place of a central platform for street cars. Locations where a platform cannot be placed can have those stops eliminated?

    That being said, some stops are totally useless and lazy; Like Victoria st. on king. I don’t understand why people can’t walk to Yonge, a mere 15-20 seconds away. It irritates me every time i have to stop there when I’m going to Yonge, it feels faster to walk at times.

    The only issue I see with this aside from the “relocation” of some subway exists, is that pedestrian flow gets quite heavy during rush our, and this would create a bottle neck every time people approached a platform. But i’m sure there are ways around this…


  11. It is almost accepted wisdom that streetcars are bad for cars. I recall when the streetcars were removed from Bay Street. (Correct me if I mean Spadina, but I think it was Bay.). Independent studies showed that traffic congestion increased. Streetcars, it was theorised, added a certain organisation to the street, a kind of orderly herding of the cars.

    In the current environment, while I prefer to travel by transit, I regularly have to travel to Mississauga. Sadly, where I need to go is so underserved by transit that it is effectively non-existent. I have little choice but to drive.

    With my driver’s hat on, I much prefer to drive on Queen or King with the streetcars than on the wide open thoroughfares of Mississauga. As an example, one almost never has to wait longer than one light cycle to get through an intersection on Queen or King. In Mississauga it is not uncommon to wait two or even three or more light cycles, with three or more lanes of cars and no busses abreast, to clear one intersection.

    Car commuting is actually facilitated by the relatively high modal split in favour of transit in the inner city. Where car commuting approaches 100%, the efficiency deteriorates markedly. (Last time I was in Toronto’s northwest – Transit City territory – the car modal split/gridlock phenomenon was also apparent.


  12. Hi Steve and Michael Greason:-

    Yes Michael it was Bay St and the other phenomenon of anti streetcar forgetfulness is that the brand new buses which replaced the cars were unable to keep the schedule! The streetcars, tied to their lines and therefore unmaneuverable, had been no newer than 10 years with 40 + years old cars used in the mix as well. These antiques operated on the exact same schedule and the exact same route that the brand new, highly flexible, diseasels adopted from them. Every bus was late. None could keep up with the streetcars! So the route had its schedule drastically altered to add time to allow for the unforeseen shortcomings of the modern, ultra efficient, sleek and zoomy and certainly exceedingly far more maneuverable, smelly, bouncy, uncomfortable and noisy diesel bus.

    Do you remember the headlines when the TTC proudly proclaimed a significant and highly desirable drop in decibel levels at street level on Bay when they installed the electric trolley buses in place of infernal combustion in the concrete canyon!? Think maybe those decibels were almost the same with streetcars?

    Steve, do you still have the stats that show the Dupont cars and then the Bay bus timings? My memory says that there was about 10 minutes added to the schedule to allow the superior freewheeled technology a chance to cope.


    Steve: This gets a bit tricky because of changes in routes, but here goes (all speeds are for peak periods in mph):

    April 1954:     Dupont car Christie to Docks 7.73, Christie to City Hall 7.79
    December 1956:  Dupont car Christie to Docks 7.6, Christie to City Hall 7.5
    April 1959:     Dupont car Christie to Docks 7.5
    April 1964:     Bay bus Dupont to Docks 7.35
    March 1967:     Bay bus Dupont to Docks 7.0, Bloor to Docks 6.7
    July 1974:      Bay bus Dupont to Jarvis 7.1, Bloor to Jarvis 6.8
    October 2010:   Bay bus Dupont to Jarvis 7.76 (AM) 7.14 (PM), Bloor to Dundas 6.52


  13. Michael: I remember a comment (may not be exact) from the UCRS Newsletter, “Before the last Dupont car finished its trip, the first Bay bus was behind schedule.”

    From the passenger viewpoint, streetcars stand out there and dominate traffic; the bus pulls off to the side and has to fight its way back in.


  14. My letter to Ford last night:


    Dear Mayor-Elect,

    Congratulations on your victory. I was not among your supporters but I wish you and the city good luck and a good term.

    Now that the heat of the moment is over, and before you take action on your campaign promises, please take a quiet moment to think about global trends concerning streetcars. I know the TTC has neglected this valuable resource (largest network in the English-speaking world after Melbourne, Australia) and the current lines badly need some modern technology, fare payment, traffic light management, stop relocation, etc.to improve performance. But please, do not strike down streetcars, their planning or expansion without due consideration. There is something going on in the world that cannot be ignored inside the bubble of Toronto politics.

    Atlanta is building a streetcar, despite being a car-loving town. Tempe, Arizona is building a streetcar despite being a small city in the Southwest. Detroit and Cincinnati are building streetcars to spur development in their scarred downtowns. Even subway-rich Washington DC and New York are now studying or adding streetcar lines. Philadelphia has brought back an abandoned streetcar line. San Francisco is building more. Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Seattle and Charlotte are among cities that have added LRT lines that act as streetcars downtown. None of this was true when you first became a councillor — things have changed.

    In the big picture, Toronto is still well ahead of the game due to its legacy system and must not now fall behind its competition. Revise policy, study what you need to study, but clearly if all these places (American cities, at that!) are adding streetcars and Light Rail Transit then there must be something of value to such infrastructure, something that goes beyond just another bus line. To slow down, postpone, or discard any streetcar work in Toronto would be grand waste indeed, the kind you were elected to stop.

    Please give this careful thought. The world is watching.

    Steve: The real question here is whether streetcars are simply misunderstood, or are one of those irrational causes that politicians seize on. If the latter, no amount of common sense, not even a fiscal argument about how streetcars are better for the city, will sway Ford and his backers. His own policy head wrote a pile of drivel in his blog earlier this year on transit. It was disavowed by the Ford team at the time, but the attitudes must remain there underneath.


  15. One of the positive results of yesterday’s election was the complete defeat of “The Toronto Party” whose transit policy I reproduce here:

    * Extensions of Toronto’s subway network
    * Light Rail Transit link between Downtown Toronto and Pearson Airport
    * A network of off-road bicycle trails
    * Filling in gaps in the arterial street system
    * Replacement of the elevated Gardiner Expressway with a new viaduct leading to waterfront revitalization
    * Two new expressways built entirely within existing utility corridors
    * Use of new technologies to keep traffic flowing

    These guys tried to slide in on Ford’s ticket. I don’t know if they are supported by Ford.

    Steve: I always regarded the “Toronto Party” as a bunch of ill informed folk whose policies never made sense.


  16. How many times is there a car parked within the no standing zone at streetcar stops. This does not affect the streetcar but will affect a bus. I see this many times on Dundas. How often will artic buses or trolleys have to still stop in the middle of the road.

    Steve: Frequently.


  17. Now that Doug Ford is denying that Rob ever planned to cut Streetcars (didn’t realise they were a comedy act) …

    Something that the TTC needs to learn, is they need to start taking streetcar operations seriously. If they continue to operate the cars in such absurd manners, with little control of spacing, etc., then the system will be seen as a problem, rather than a benefit, and sooner or later, someone will get rid of it.

    The system was likely saved by the 204 new streetcars, the 1/3 funding from the Province, and all that new track. We may not be so lucky next time.

    Steve: Ford has talked openly about cancelling the streetcar purchase, and we’re still not sure where the money is coming from to build the new carhouse. Meanwhile, if the Harbourfront project falls apart, the line could become inoperable, or even worse the street could be rebuilt without tracks. Death by a thousand cuts.


  18. So… um… now the Ford camp says it was never their plan to remove streetcars, and that it was a “rumor” started by the “opposition”? What??

    Steve: It’s in his campaign literature, linked from a comment above.


  19. Recent events with these articles and his statements after the election tell me that Ford is at least willing to listen. So there is still some hope. Besides, by saying that he will listen to his critics, he has cast out the first stone. Simply ignoring his critics means that he is a hypocrite and the electorate (including myself) will have lost their trust in him.

    I have faith. And a heck of a lot of optimism.

    Steve: You have the metaphor wrong. “Casting out the first stone” is a Biblical reference to someone who is so good, so without sin, that he is entitled to throw the first stone at a public execution. By analogy, someone is so perfect that they have the right to criticise others. Ford is far from perfect, and some of his policies arise from his own blinkered view of the world.


  20. Steve:

    You remind me of one of my best put-downs ever in my life. I was working at Brewers’ Retail on Christmas Eve and accidentally shortchanged a customer by 20 dollars from a 100 dollar bill in front of a long line up. I was a very honest cashier. When people gave me two twenties stuck together, I snapped them in my fingers and said “You only have to pay once.” I never stole a penny from anyone.

    The policy, when a person was shortchanged was to tell them that once we balanced the store, if there was an overage, we would give them a call. This was stupid. As an honest person, I said, I was sorry and provided the requested $20. The lady got very irate and said “I know how you people work. You did this on purpose.” Usually the perfect response comes later, but in a flash I said (loudly) “WHEN YOU ARE PERFECT CAST THE FIRST STONE”.. She was really angry but had no defense. The line up laughed at her.

    On a related topic, to the original post, listen to Rob Ford’s interview with As It Happens on October 26. (It is first in the first segment of their downloads). If I had no idea who the interviewee was and did not live in Toronto, I would conclude that the person interviewed – at a time set by his publicist – was an ignorant boor.

    Steve: The clip is available on YouTube, and on the CBC’s site (starts at 1:40 into the item).


  21. There are rumours running around about Karen Stintz for TTC chair – given that only 4 outgoing board members are still around now, I guess a new face wouldn’t be all that surprising. It would be interesting to hear what she would now think of the crosstown Eglinton LRT. I wonder whether the midtown councillors have or will have quiet words with Ford about this being a subway in all but name.

    Steve: Councillor Stintz has much to learn about LRT, and has consistently opposed it on Eglinton because, to paraphrase, it wears out in 30 years while subways last for 60. She isn’t paying much attention to all of the maintenance work happening underground.

    The rhetoric of the election is certainly being tempered by reality already.

    The next step in this dance may include the lines used by the Ontario Liberals after they took over from Eves/Harris – “They left us with an even bigger deficit then we thought so our promises will have to wait to be implemented.” Ford can use that to both cut or not implement some change if it can be argued the implementation would cost too much to do so. This will get Ford off the hook for just about anything he promised baring ending the vehicle registration and house sale taxes and cutting the councillor budgets. For example, the idea of changing the SRT to a subway will be declared undoable, after a study, as will probably the extension of the Sheppard line. The Sheppard extension will be promised and worked on and if Ford gets 8 years, shovels will probably be in the ground near the end. But, that will have to be new money.

    Thus we may end up with the bare bones of Transit City, I suspect with a new name and, maybe….just maybe….somebody knocking some heads at TTC management to not allow the same mistakes as occurred on St. Clair.


  22. Hi Steve.

    Do you have any thoughts behind Ford’s change of heart regarding the streetcars? The arguments that he is using were the same ones that were brought to his attention during the campaign and ignored by him. Their validity or weight has not changed but he, it seems, has.

    Steve: My suspicion is that he hasn’t changed all that much, but is moderating his tone to deflect the debate while he gets his feet under the table.


  23. I’m a 100% atheist. I never took bible studies.

    But fine, I’ll rephrase: Ford has tossed the ball back in your court. Now it’s up to you what to do with it. Either you can talk to him, or whine and stomp your feet and watch him do what he does because you decided to ignore him.

    Steve: I too am an atheist, but it’s helps to know common phrases, their origins and meanings. I will certainly not be ignoring Ford, but he has been quite clear that his objection to streetcars rests on alleged traffic congestion. When he finds out how much it will cost, and how many buses will be getting in the way, he should, if he listens to “common sense”, change his mind. That, however, does not strike me as part of his agenda.


  24. Objectively, what should be done here is this …

    – Ford asks the TTC to initiate a six-month traffic and service quality study on King
    – Temporarily replace CLRV service with articulated diesel buses
    – Do a comparison before and after.

    If service quality and traffic flow improve, phase out streetcars with articulated trolley coaches. If service is the same, keep the streetcars.

    It’s that simple.

    Steve: Except that first you need the artic diesels. Also, we need a fair definition of what constitutes improvement in traffic flow, as well as proper monitoring of service quality. The TTC itself does not do anything like the detailed analyses I have provided here, and they are quite fond of reporting numbers on an averaged basis that give no hint of the range of values. This could be a case of “the fix being in” before the trial starts. Remember the Y?

    And, of course, they would never agree to artic trolley buses because Ontario Bus Industries doesn’t make them.


  25. Honestly, Ford has always struck me as pragmatic and practical. You are suggesting that he is driven solely by an ideological perspective, that he has some hidden agenda and hatred towards the streetcar network and LRT in particular. Ford is all about growing the city in the most efficient way and I find it hard to believe he would toss away millions of dollars already spent simply because he doesn’t like something. Something like this would contradict everything he has accomplished as a City Councillor.

    Steve: In recent interviews on the subject, Ford’s remarks about the streetcar are always from the point of view of the alleged traffic congestion which will vanish, magically, when the buses arrive. That’s pro-car ideology.


  26. Yes, I agree. If such a study were done objectively, I suspect that, overall, TTC service quality would decrease and that round-trip times would increase (as trolley buses or diesels would lose time merging back into traffic after each stop). This would be offset slightly by a trolley bus’ ability to go around (and not get stuck behind) left-turning cars waiting for an opening in oncoming traffic. But, without a doubt, traffic flow (measured simply by the number of vehicles passing thru various intersections, per hour) would improve. These question is how much though. At intersections where left turns are permitted and where a nearside stop exists, a bus that can pull over to the curb is no better than a streetcar at keeping cars moving. Why? … the left lane is already blocked by the left-turning car.

    One thing that really needs to be studied though is the “domino delay effect”. How much does streetcar (A) delay the streetcar behind it (B) when cars pile up behind (A) while it’s loading at a non-island nearside stop on a green light? All of these factors, including cost, have to be carefully considered before an intelligent decision can be made.

    The one thing we can’t study right now is how traffic flow might improve with a new streetcar fleet. The new fleet (with faster loading and unloading through all doors), and fewer and longer vehicles on the road, may help just as much as a bus conversion.

    The problem is that Ford doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who likes to do studies, and the TTC is notorious for cooking their numbers as well.

    Steve: TTC Planning has already made the point that fewer larger cars will work better in traffic both in terms of interacting with the traffic signals and in keeping one car, rather than two or more, running in platoons formed by the signal timings. The all door loading will also be beneficial by, one hopes, reducing the stop service time at major stops. Minor stops will be dominated simply by the need to stop and open the doors if only for a few people. There are a few stops that could be eliminated, but not many. For example, westbound King and Victoria is a commonly cited one, but as things stand today, it often functions as an advance offloading stop for Yonge. A similar effect happens at Queen and Victoria westbound.

    Any trial and analysis requires careful study at the micro level intersection by intersection, block by block.


  27. I think it is worth noting that if people think bunching with streetcars is bad now, replacing those streetcars with buses would make bunching worse. Just look at Dufferin, the most aggressive bus route within the broader downtown area, and has obscene bunching problems.

    Bunching buses would cause just as much, if not more, traffic havoc than the streetcars, because more often than not, there is on-street parking a certain distance behind a near-side stop, and that would result in buses queuing up in the only through-lane as they are required to pull up to the sidewalk (although you see this rule broken on occasion in particularly awkward situations). Passenger circulation in buses is also poorer than on streetcars due to wheel wells in the front and steps at the back on the newer models that now make up most of the fleet.

    As such, I seriously doubt that traffic flow would improve, especially when you consider the inevitable ridership drop that will accompany the replacement of streetcars with buses. If that ridership drop leads to more cars on the road, then congestion will certainly rise, and everybody will be moving that much slower.


  28. People here are suggesting articulated diesel buses for downtown service. The only places I’ve seen these buses used have been on wide streets with very little on-street parking (Viva on Yonge St. in York Region, the Hurontario route in Mississauga, and some routes in Ottawa that mainly use the Transitway). How well would these vehicles negotiate the turns at Dundas/Broadview, Queen/Broadview, Carlton/Parliament and other turning points on the main streetcar routes along with all the other traffic, parked cars, etc.? I can imagine the outcry if they started blocking intersections or clipping vehicles during turns or merges. Are these really the best vehicle choice for downtown?

    Steve: A related issue is the question of boarding. Buses are assumed to pull in to the curb, and artics are going to have to use all door loading to avoid interminable stops and get full use of their capacity. However this requires that many parking spaces vanish so that buses have enough room to pull completely into the stop. Some will argue that buses can stop with their ass end out in traffic but (a) this causes the same blockage as a streetcar and (b) makes for a very long step down, especially from the doors that cannot “kneel”.


  29. Andrew … not diesel. Something like this …

    Vancouver TB on YouTube

    It seems to be able to handle very tight turns.

    Steve: It is worth noting that this turn is in the more or less classic 4 lane to 4 lane road layout, but that the bus needs to use parts of the second lane on both streets to make the turn. A bus can only turn curb-to-curb lane with very wide curve radii on the sidewalk (such as are provided on suburban streets), but on downtown streets built out to the lot line, this layout is not possible. This also affects stop placement because a nearside (before the turn) stop is not practical given the need to pull out into traffic to make the turn. In this case, the stop is farside well beyond the intersection.

    Right at the end of the video, there is another turning move showing the same situation as at the beginning.

    And, yes, if we are going to have buses, they should be electric. Getting the TTC to buy them and build a TB network is quite another matter.


  30. Well, Steve, you probably remember what I’ve said the chances of ETBs ever coming back to Toronto are. I agree with you 100 per cent but know it’ll never happen.


  31. I believe Transit City needs to continue because without Transit city the congestion in this city will have consequences. Also Rob Ford ran more on the gravy train message pulling this plan will cost Taxpayers a lot of $$ especially because work is underway. Plus we don’t need another 1995 on Eglinton in which the subway was to be built & then got covered up. Finally the 32 Bus is at capacity & the only real idea to clear this is building LRT’S as the timing as well as the cost makes more sense than subways so Rob Ford DON’T PULL TRANSIT CITY.

    We would have to pay for the construction to be dismantled as well as the streetcars that have already been ordered and are currently being built Do Not Cause More Issues in the future plus this city needs to do better when it comes to emissions with the traffic so LRT is the way too go.

    In the time 1 subway will be built 4 LRT’S Will be in time For The Pan Am Games also Air Right’s are a silly idea to raise $$ as Rob Ford said and San Francisco is living proof of streetcars that work so SAVE TRANSIT CITY.


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