The Future of Streetcars in Toronto

Correction Nov. 7, 2010: An error in the spreadsheet calculating the number of vehicles required for 501 Queen in 2020 (either Flexity streetcar or replacement bus) caused these numbers to be understated.  I have replaced the spreadsheets and modified the text in the article where appropriate.

The election of Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto brought deep concerns to many about the future of transit as witnessed in the comment threads elsewhere on this site.  Much of this focussed on the existing streetcar network and the planned Transit City lines, but transit as a whole is a larger issue.

This article is not intended as the definitive defense of streetcars.  Indeed, the whole idea of “defending” them starts from a negative perception.  The challenge for those of us who see a future for streetcars and LRT is to advocate for them, for the role they can play in decades to come.  We also have to be honest about the tradeoffs.  No technology — buses, trolley buses, streetcars, LRT, subways, gondolas, dirigibles, even swan boats — is without its problems and limitations.  Pretending that any one of them is “the answer” is hopelessly shortsighted regardless of which one you might prefer.

The election brought a great deal of what I will politely call bovine effluent to the debate on the transit system, and many vital issues were simply ignored.  Nobody talked about fares, only about the technology to collect them.  Rapid transit networks were conceived to fit within funding that candidates thought could be available, rather than starting with the question “what do we need” and then addressing the cost and implementation.  Regional transit was ignored, except for occasional hopes that Metrolinx, that bastion of clear-headed thinking and far-reaching financial planning, would take at least part of the TTC off of our hands.

Transit City was the heart of much debate.  Whether your platform was “more of the same” or “Miller’s plans must be garbage”, campaigns ignored the fact that transit is much more than Transit City.

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