At a recent meeting of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC), a motion was approved asking for reports on the comparative cost of streetcar and bus operations on Queen Street. The author of this was Councillor Michael Ford, although it was actually placed by his colleague, Councillor Holyday because Ford is not a member of PWIC.
1. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission, upon completion of the construction projects that have resulted in the removal of the 501 Queen Streetcar route from service for Summer 2017, to defer reintroduction of streetcar service for a period of two weeks, to permit the collection of data for the comparison study.
2. City Council request the General Manager, Transportation Services, in consultation with the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Transit Commission, to conduct a comparison study of the efficacy of streetcar service versus bus service on Queen Street, specifically looking at:
a. Schedule reliability of transit vehicles
b. Delays to other users of the road
c. Collisions at transit stops involving transit vehicles and cars, pedestrians, or cyclists
d. Collisions at transit stops between cars, pedestrians and cyclists not including transit vehicles
e. Ridership satisfaction
f. Fleet maintenance costs
g. Fleet operator and operation costs
h. Incidences of driver assault
i. Incidences of passenger disputes
j. Traffic volumes in peak period and off-peak periods
using bus data collected during the two week delayed streetcar re-implementation period, followed by the subsequent two weeks once they have been re-implemented, in order to get a clear and direct comparison during non-construction periods, and report back to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in the first quarter of 2018.
The request received little debate coming as it did as an add-on motion to a Friday meeting. Nobody from the TTC was present, nor were there any interventions by downtown Councillors or members of the public. PWIC, although it deals with many issues affecting downtown, contains no members from that area thanks to the gerrymandering of committees by Mayor Tory.
An amendment to this motion by Councillor Lee asked the Deputy City Manager to report to Council with additional information such as the cost and feasibility of such a study.
The package passed on a 3-2 vote and the request goes to the July 2017 Council meeting for approval.
My recent series of articles on bus vs streetcar operations on Queen was already “in the works” when this motion was approved, although this request triggered somewhat more urgency to producing them than I had planned.
Part I: A comparison of travel times for streetcars in April vs buses in May 2017
Part II: An historical review of travel times September 2013 to May 2017
Part III: Capacity of service scheduled and operated
Part IV: Comparative operating speeds in May 2017
One important point flowing through these article is that “comparison” can be challenging when the underlying conditions vary. From the analysis I have published, it is already clear that buses tend to fare better than streetcars where traffic is light and demand is low, but they lose this advantage in busy areas. A further problem is that TTC operating practices for each vehicle type differ and buses tend to be driven more aggressively. Streetcars could be too, but in an attempt to manage service, various practices have resulted in streetcars being forced to drive more slowly than actual road conditions dictate. The longer this goes on, the more it is assumed to be an inherent part of streetcar operations, while those of us who have ridden the TTC for some years know what streetcars can actually do given the chance.
The motion proposes that buses stay in operation for two weeks beyond the point that streetcars would have returned (Labour Day weekend) and that data be collected to compare operations. To be fair to the buses, this may not be an ideal period because early September sees much traffic displaced from King to Queen thanks to TIFF. Other planned construction work will disrupt the street: in September, track will be replaced at Queen & Coxwell, and in October/November at Queen & McCaul. Coxwell, at least, is well out of the core an work there will not affect streetcar service (a bus shuttle will run to Neville). There is also the question of whether the TTC will have enough buses to spare for Queen once the summer service cutbacks end in September.
One issue raised by the motion and by some media reports is that riders feel they are getting a faster trip with buses. My analysis shows that for some times and parts of the route this is true, but not for the most congested areas. Moreover, as already noted, we are seeing buses unconstrained by a “go slow” operating policy compared with streetcars that limp along the route to avoid running early. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
We have been down this road before when former Councillor Rob Ford, later Mayor, posed a series of questions to the TTC in 2010. My thanks to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam for providing the exchange. For the purposes of this article, I have divided up the material so that I can comment on each section, and reordered the sections to provide a better thread in the current context.
It is no secret that I support the retention and expansion of the streetcar network. Although new suburban lines such as 5 Crosstown and 7 Finch West will use the “Metrolinx” Toronto car, whatever it might be, new lines in the waterfront west to Humber Bay and east to the Port Lands will be part of the “legacy” network. Waterfront plans depend on the capacity that an LRT link to Union Station can bring.
The question of articulated buses as a streetcar replacement comes up from time to time. My response is that there are suburban routes where these are appropriate, but that in the congested core area, streetcars are the best vehicles for traffic conditions and they have the ability to operate underground where needed. Buses might be made to work, but only if Toronto is prepared to devote much more road space and time to transit vehicles. They are not a panacea for suburban motorists fighting their way through traffic in an oversized SUV.
Of note in this discussion is that Ford refers to hybrid buses. This mode was in favour, for a time, but many of the hybrids are now retired before their due date as they have proved to be unreliable and the hoped-for operating savings did not materialize. The TTC has standardized on diesel buses and plans to replace almost half of their fleet in coming years thanks in part to federal “stimulus” funding. The irony here is that the large hybrid fleet arrived on the back of another federal program for which only “green” buses were eligible.
As for environmentalism, another pending shift in vehicle technology is to electric buses powered with batteries that are recharged at various locations along the route. If this technology works out, it would eliminate the need for buses to have a diesel engine at all, and would bypass the problems of battery life over long bus routes. The TTC is aware of this technology, but having been burned before on early adoption, they are in “wait and see” mode.
What is missing throughout this entire set of questions is whether it is practical to attempt bus operation on the streetcar lines in light of future demand. Thanks to equipment shortages and, quite bluntly, a lot of farting around by the TTC and City in ordering replacement cars, the level of streetcar service today on most routes has not improved in two decades, and declines are far more common than improvements. A major concern for City Planning is the growth of residential density in the near-downtown. The most obvious examples are the high rise neighbourhoods along King Street east and west of the core, but mid- and high-rise buildings are appearing along other streetcar corridors that will add to demand on them.
A question the TTC has not answered explicitly is what level of service will be needed to handle both the backlog of riding from past constraints and the growth that is to come. What we do know is that they do not consider the 204 Flexitys now on order to be enough, and have plans for a further 60. Whether or not Bombardier will get the contract, it is clear that the TTC knows it needs a bigger fleet to handle future demand. Any comparison with buses must take this into account.
In the text below, the “Q” sections are from Rob Ford, and the “A” sections are from the TTC’s Brad Ross. In some cases, I interject, and as is my standard style in comments here, my remarks will be prefaced with “Steve:” and will be in italics.
Note that costs cited here are for 2010$ unless otherwise specified. There have been minor edits for style and to update external links.
Buses in lieu of Streetcars:
Q: If new hybrid buses were to replace streetcars on all streetcar routes, and in order to:
- keep the same level, schedule, and frequency of service as at present;
- keep the same level of passenger capacity on each route, as at present;
- as well as accommodate normal ridership growth in service;
What is the estimated cost?
A: It is not possible to keep the same frequency of service and the same passenger capacity if lower-capacity buses replace higher capacity streetcars.
On congested downtown streets operating a greater number of buses to replace streetcars will add to overall congestion, and result in less reliable service for passengers.
The answers below assume that the overall passenger capacity on streetcar routes will be kept the same with the operation of buses.
Supplementary TTC reply:
A: Poor service, i.e. unreliability or crush loads, drives ridership away. The TTC’s Ridership Growth Strategy calls for more service and greater reliability to drive transit ridership. Fewer riders means less fare revenue, driving the need for greater operating subsidy.
Steve: The Ridership Growth Strategy was an early casualty of Rob Ford’s Mayoralty, and it was only partly reinstated by Mayor Tory when he realized, belatedly, the damage done to transit by reducing its quality and capacity relative to demand. An important issue in any debate is “what quality of transit do we want”, and the related issue of “what transit will we need in years to come”. Any comparison must look not just at the streetcar routes as they are today, but as they could evolve in the future with more people living in the “old City” they serve.
Q: Cost of new drivers? How many additional new bus drivers / operators would we need to hire, train, and deploy? and their annualized cost?
A: On existing streetcar lines, approximately 700 additional drivers would need to be hired to replace the drivers that would operate the Legacy streetcar vehicle fleet (currently on order) with buses. This would increase TTC operating costs by approximately $35M per year due to the cost of additional operators.
Steve: That works out to $50k as the annual, fully burdened cost of a driver, and this number is now quite out of date.
Q: Cost to replace streetcars with new buses? To replace streetcar service, how many new hybrid buses would be required to keep the present frequency, capacity, and level of service (now offered by streetcars)?
A: Approximately 550 “Twelve-metre” buses would be required to replace the entire fleet of 204 “Thirtymetre” new low-floor streetcars currently on order. (Note: Approximately one 2.7 “Twelve-metre” bus is required to replace each new “Thirty-metre” low-floor streetcar in “peak” periods).
This would also require at least two new bus garages in the vicinity of existing streetcar routes.
Steve: In recent remarks, the TTC has been using a 3:1 ratio rather than 2.7:1 for bus replacements of the new Flexity streetcars.
Q: Inflation in purchasing new vehicles? When inflation is factored, the estimated cost of purchasing new hybrid buses (and what # per year, and what estimated years of delivery?)
A: Cost of a Hybrid Bus: approximately $740,000 based on 2011 prices.
- The Hybrid premium (compared to straight diesel) is approximately $200K.
- The base bus price increased by approximately $20,000 with the release of the new 2010 engine exhaust emission control package.
- Inflation is approx. 5% per annum.
Steve: The TTC Capital Budget contains projects to acquire 768 diesel buses in 2017-2019 at a total cost of $552,669,000 or about $720k/bus.
Q: Increased Co2 Emissions? What is the Estimate of new carbon / Co2 emissions resulting from going from a current all-electric system to a hybrid bus system? What annual effect on the City’s climate change targets?
A: Based on study reports from the U.S. Department of Energy it is estimated that Clean Diesel buses emit approximately 2000 Grams of CO2 per mile when operating in a standard Downtown Business District (CBD) environment. TTC testing of hybrid buses has demonstrated an approximate fuel savings over diesels of 30%, and assuming a straight line relationship between fuel usage and CO2 emissions, Hybrid buses emit approximately 1,400 Grams of Co2 per mile in downtown operation.
This could be compared to streetcar CO2 emissions on the street of “zero” (although the source of the electrical energy must be considered to estimate the actual CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere at the point of power generation.).
Supplementary TTC reply:
Re: Emissions (from 550 new Hybrids): A TTC Hybrid bus operates approximately 50,000 miles per year (81,000 kms.) and emits approximately 1,400 grams of Co2 per mile. A total of 70,000,000 grams of Co2 would be emitted in one year.
Steve: This discussion is moot in the sense that hybrid buses are no longer under consideration, but a related issue is that “city” buses run on routes where speeds are lower than in the suburbs and there is more stop and go traffic. Although the number of kilometres/year is lower, the emissions can be affected by the duty cycle of urban routes. Average values from suburban operation cannot be applied to a replacement of an urban network on this scale.
Increased Fuel Costs & the Maintenance & Reliability of Hybrid Buses?
Q: The annualized increase in: volume, & the cost, of fuels/batteries? What is the operating and maintenance reliability and its costs, of new hybrid buses, compared to the present cost of power, operation and maintenance of the present electric streetcar system?
Supplementary TTC reply:
Re: Fuel Costs (for 550 new Hybrids): Based on the results of fuel mileage tests by BAE during revenue service operation at TTC, our hybrid buses achieve approximately 5.6 miles per Imperial gallon (1.23 miles per litre, or 1.989 kms per litre); thus the fuel used by a front line TTC Hybrid bus in a year would be approximately 8,929 Imperial gallons, or 40,714 Litres of diesel fuel.
Steve: Again, hybrids are no longer the issue, and the point of comparison will be between diesel buses and the existing and future streetcars.
Q: Recent Track and Roadbed Re-construction? Which streets or routes have undergone (or are now undergoing) a full track / roadbed re- construction since amalgamation and what were the final actual costs of each?
A: The TTC maintains approximately 85kms of double-track streetcar track. There is a continuous program of streetcar track replacement based on a 25 year cycle of replacement with, on average, 3 to 4 kilometres of track replaced each year. See Streetcar Track Replacement Plan in TTC’s Capital Budget for details.
Steve: The TTC also replaces a number of intersections every year on roughly a 30-year cycle. An important issue here, in brief, is that the amount of track repair required in recent years has been affected by the relatively poor quality of track construction from the mid-1970s through to the early 1990s. Although the TTC had decided to retain streetcars, they continued to build track in a manner used when the system’s replacement by 1980 was the policy. All of this track fell apart prematurely adding to a workload that the TTC has only just now overcome. I will turn to this topic in a separate article on streetcar infrastructure.
Fact Sheet re Existing Streetcars & Lines:
Q: For all existing streetcar lines (both those sharing lanes such as on the King / Queen / Dundas / Bathurst / or College-Carlton routes), or those using dedicated rights of way (such as St Clair, Waterfront, or Spadina), what are the following:
The route number /name and the # of kilometres served?
A: Detailed information about all TTC routes and service levels in available in the TTC Service Summary, published about every six weeks in the TTC website. Route Distances are round trip. [Source Service Summary for October 20, 2010]
- 511 Bathurst 9.4 km
- 506 Carlton 29.6 km
- 306 Carlton 29.6 km
- 502 Downtowner 18.8 km
- 503 Kingston Rd 17.9 km
- 505 Dundas 21.5 km
- 509 Harbourfront 9.3 km
- 504 King 25.6 km
- 501 Queen 48.9 km
- 301 Queen 48.9 km
- 512 St. Clair 14 km
- 510 Spadina 12.3 km
Approximately 10 percent of the total amount of service on the TTC’s surface route system is currently provided by streetcars.
Steve: Since this list was compiled, the 514 Cherry has been added as a short branch off of the 504 King car. Most of the track this route uses already existed, and the 514 is operationally simply a scheduled short turn service of the 504.
Q: How many regular-size and articulated size streetcars are used on all routes?
A: TTC owns 195 15-metre streetcars, and 52 23-metre articulated streetcars.
As of January 2011 the maximum number of streetcars in scheduled service will be 163 15-metre cars and 38 23-metre cars.
Steve: An answer to this question must be assembled from information from different time periods. In fall 2016, no construction projects required bus substitution for streetcars, and bus replacements were dictated by equipment availability. The AM peak requirements were:
122 CLRVs (standard sized cars) were scheduled on:
- 506 Carlton: 32
- 514 Cherry: 14
- 505 Dundas: 18
- 504 King: 33
- 512 St. Clair: 25
19 Flexitys (new low-floor cars) were scheduled on:
- 509 Harbourfront: 7
- 510 Spadina: 12
This number has increased with the official conversion of 514 Cherry.
30 ALRVs were scheduled on:
- 501 Queen: 30
49 buses were in use on:
- 511 Bathurst: 17
- 502 Downtowner: 9
- 503 Kingston Road Tripper: 7
- 504 King Trippers: 16
Q: The maximum passenger capacity for each size of streetcar (when full)?
- for those seated? Regular size and for Articulated?
- for those standing? Regular size and for Articulated?
A: The maximum crowding standards are: for new 30-metre low-floor LRV’s under construction:
- 63 people at “off-peak” times (Note: the “off-peak” standard is the number of seats on the vehicle).
- 130 people at “peak” times (estimated).
Q: The maximum passenger capacity of a hybrid bus?
- for those seated?
- for those standing?
A: The maximum crowding standards are: 12-metre low-floor bus, hybrid (or straight diesel):
- 36 people at “off peak” times,
- 48 people at “peak” times
(Note: the “off-peak” standard is the number of seats on the vehicle).
Steve: Capacities for hybrids and diesels are the same.
Q: For all streetcar routes, the present total of all passengers served:
- per day (24-hour period)?
- for the entire year?
A: Approximately 285,000 customer trips are made on streetcar routes on a typical weekday. For the entire year, the annual ridership is 86.9 million rides – 285,000 daily rides (avg) X 305 weekdays (taking into account weekend ridership).
Streetcars serve the three busiest TTC surface route corridors (King, Queen, Spadina/Harbourfront).
Six of the TTC’s 13 busiest surface route corridors are served by streetcars (King, Queen, Spadina/Harbourfront, Carlton, Dundas, St. Clair).
Four TTC streetcar routes (King, Queen, Spadina/Harbourfront and Carlton) each serve more customers each day than either the Scarborough RT or Sheppard Subway.
TTC streetcars carry approximately 18 per cent of the total ridership on the TTC surface route network.
Steve: All day ridership numbers for December 2016 are available here: Ranking Surface Routes
Q: The total number of streetcar drivers / operators needed to serve all streetcar routes at present?
A: Current TTC streetcar services are operated by approximately 540 operators per week
Removal of Streetcar Infrastructure
Q: To have each existing streetcar route returned to a normal flat surface road, can you please provide the best estimates (based on comparisons of current arterial contact & construction cost actuals, or track rehabilitation):
A: No work has been undertaken on this issue, to date, and a detailed response to the question is not possible in the time frame requested. Some initial responses are provided where information is available.
Q: To carry out the planning, coordination, community consultation needed, possible traffic and/or transportation studies, and/or street or site preparation?
Q: Would a change of this magnitude require an Environmental Assessment? If so, what type, and is there any estimate of cost and length?
A: Formal EA approval would not be required to decommission existing streetcar tracks.
Steve: This poses an intriguing question. When the TTC implemented the rights-of-way for lines on Spadina and Queens Quay, an EA was required because there was a change in use of the road. It is odd indeed to think that a wholesale conversion from streetcar to bus would not require some sort of review, but it would likely be the more perfunctory Transit Project Assessment (TPA) now in use.
Q: Other than a policy approval by the TTC’s Commission, and Budgetary approval by city council, is any other official approval required (i.e. regulatory or otherwise)?
Q: The estimated cost to excavate, remove all streetcar rails, carry out road paving & re-construction along all routes? (including streets not in active service, such as routes to streetcar garages / or connecting rails downtown).
A: The removal cost for the items mentioned above is approximately $1,000 – $1,100 per single track metre including the cost of repaving the street.
A: This isn’t something the TTC would do across the board. The rails and track bed are designed for a 20-25 year life. When the time came to redo the road, that section of track would either be removed or paved over or left alone – depending on engineering assessments at the time.
Q: The cost to dispose all rails (how / where are they disposed, used, or sent?).
A: Disposal of the steel rails is estimated to cost $100-$125 per single track metre with a potential estimated salvage cost of $400 – $425 per ton.
Q: The total # of present streetcar stops? The cost of additional physical changes (signage / schedule / parking meter changes) to convert to bus bays?
A: Approximately 700 streetcar stops are currently in existence. Modification costs unknown.
Q: Estimate of existing on-street parking spaces that would be lost in creating new bus bays (on shared streets)? Estimate of the average yearly loss in revenue to the city of a single on-street parking space?
A: Little loss of parking expected as parking is currently not allowed opposite streetcar stops. Each on street parking space generates $2,500 per space per year (net of taxes, source, TPA).
Steve: It is worth noting that despite all the room allegedly available at car stops, 501 Queen buses routinely have problems properly pulling into the curb. This affects passengers boarding or alighting at the rear door which is well above pavement level and which cannot “kneel” as the front door does.
Q: Estimated costs for any other changes that are not contemplated or covered above?
Q: Cost to dispose an existing streetcar? (how / where are they disposed of, used, sold, or sent?).
Q: Cost to remove all applicable streetcar overhead wiring, power plants, or electrical generation or components? Cost to covert existing streetcar maintenance garages, storage yards to house hybrid buses?
A: The demolition of the overhead contact system, including all poles, wiring, substations and components is estimated at $1,000-$1,100 per single track metre.
It is not considered practical or cost effective to convert existing streetcar yards to store/maintain hybrid buses. The existing TTC capital budget estimates the cost of a new 250 vehicle bus garage at $100 million (excluding property acquisition).
Supplementary TTC reply:
A: Approx. $10 million for property acquisition, depending on location. This is a guesstimate only.
Steve: The cost of the new 250-bus McNicoll Garage now under construction is $181m and this does not, I believe, including the cost of land. [This value is corrected from $181k, the original number published here.]
Q: The estimated % increase in inflation for road construction/transportation infrastructure projects in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 used by the City’s Budget and Transportation Planning Divisions in their future Capital Budget planning purposes?
A: The approved Transit City Program escalation factors are as follows:
Base Year (is 2008)
2009 3 %
2010 3 %
2011 4 %
2012 4 %
2012 4 %
2013 4.5 %
2014 4.5 %
2015 to 2020 5.0 % / annum
Q: The present market value a used TTC streetcar (based on actuals)? How many would be eligible for sale? How is transport to a buyer carried out, what is the cost, and who pays?
Steve: The existing streetcar fleet (CLRV/ALRV) is beyond its 30-year design life, and the TTC has to invest substantial funds to keep the remaining cars in working order. Of particular concern are the electronics which are positively antique by modern standards, and these would represent a substantial cost to a potential buyer. The old fleet is good for little more than scrap value.
As for the new Flexity cars, much depends on Bombardier actually filling the contract. If Toronto were to offer them for resale, they would have to be modified for operation elsewhere (change of track gauge, possible change to reflect power voltage).