Will Toronto Get More New Streetcars?

Updated June 13, 2018 at 10:00 am: The discussion and actions at the Board Meeting are reported at the end of this article.

Correction June 18, 2018 at 3:45 pm:

The section reporting the debate at the TTC Board meeting originally stated that Acting CEO Rick Leary was waiting to see if Bombardier could ship 20 cars/month by fall 2018 in order to hit the target for contract completion by the end of 2019. This should have read “20 cars/quarter”.

Original Article

Streetcar riders in Toronto are a long-suffering bunch. The size of the fleet has not changed since the mid-1990s despite the addition of a new streetcar line on Spadina in 1997 and the Harbourfront extension to Exhibition Loop in 2000. As the fleet wore out, its reliability dropped, and the now 40-year old CLRVs (single section) and 30-year old ALRVs (two section “articulateds”) are showing their age.

The TTC needed new cars some time ago, and the process of ordering the low floor Flexity fleet goes back to 2006. The first attempt, one that might have brought Toronto new cars about the same size as the ALRVs with a mixture of low and high level floors, was called off when the 100% low floor Flexitys (a design originally for Berlin) became available. That delay, combined with foot-dragging by incoming Mayor Rob Ford, and manufacturing incompetence by Bombardier, has left the TTC with a fleet far below its needs, and new cars straggling onto the property at a glacial rate.

During the past 20 years, population and employment downtown has grown far faster than in other parts of Toronto, and the residential density, once on a downward trend as family neighbourhoods gentrified, is growing. This is not confined to the new south-of-King areas, and is pushing north into the territory of other streetcar lines. The rate of growth is also changing. When the TTC ordered 204 Flexitys, these were expected to handle rising demand through 2027. This date has been revised much earlier to 2020

A major issue for the TTC, and for transit advocates in Toronto, has been the problem of “latent demand”. If the fleet stays the same size or declines, service and capacity follows the same path. The original plan for Flexity roll out onto the streetcar lines focused as much on reducing the number of operators required to carry demand little changed from then-current levels. Now, the TTC acknowledges that growth on streetcar lines went unmet for years.

The 1990s were a critical period because Toronto was coming out of a recession during which the TTC had lost 20% of its ridership, but the streetcar fleet, sized to mid-1990s demand, was unable to expand service as the system recovered. Many of the complaints about “bad streetcar service” come directly from the failure to add capacity as the economy rebounded, and then as the population along streetcar lines began to grow.

Much of the residential growth Downtown between 2012 and 2016 took place south of Queen Street. Almost 50% of all Downtown growth occurred in the King-Spadina and Waterfront West neighbourhoods. The Bay Corridor, King-Parliament and Waterfront Central saw moderate increases accounting for 36% of new residents. As a result of the increase in development in Toronto’s Downtown area, TTC streetcar ridership increased by 20% between 2008 and 2018 which is much higher than what was anticipated back in 2008. Transit mode share across the City has also increased from 23% (2006) to 27% (2016), putting additional pressure on the system.

Recent revision of the projected employment and population growth for Downtown Toronto has introduced higher forecasts which now extend to 2041. The revised estimate of number of new residents in the Downtown is 500% greater than originally projected. The revised estimate of new jobs in the Downtown is 200% greater than originally projected.

The size of the TTC’s streetcar fleet has been unchanged for almost 30 years, during a period of continuously-increasing ridership growth. This has resulted in streetcar capacity, during peak periods, being completely exhausted more than 10 years ago, with no ability to accommodate additional ridership during peak periods. Experience with deployment of the new LFLRVs on the first few streetcar routes has shown that there is an existing unmet, latent demand for peak-travel on the TTC’s streetcar routes. King Street is an excellent example of this. Over the first few months of operation the route experienced an increase of all-day weekday ridership of 16%. There are other factors that have contributed to the ridership increase (such as priority treatments and increased reliability); however, latent demand is one factor driving the ridership increase.

On King Street, the TTC has seen the combined effect of running more capacity (larger vehicles) and more reliable service (the King Street pilot). This number is still constrained by the capacity of service on the street.

On Queen Street, the shuffling of vehicles between routes and the retirement of most of the ALRVs has led, finally, to a schedule that reflects the equipment actually available to operate the route and a net increase in capacity provided, as opposed to scheduled.

Higher-density development is beginning on the Dundas, Carlton and St. Clair routes, and it is spreading away from the central part of the city where the subway is the primary mode.

Future new routes in the eastern waterfront as well as a new link to southern Etobicoke will require even more streetcars.

The TTC projects that by 2033, the peak service requirement will be 287 cars, (345 including spares), equivalent to about 570 (690) CLRVs. At their height, there were only 196 CLRVs and 52 of the larger ALRVs. This is a huge increase in the streetcar system’s capacity, almost to the level of the 745-strong PCC fleet which dominated the system through the 1950s and 60s.

At its meeting on June 12, 2018, the TTC Board will consider a report from staff that summarizes the result of a vendor survey to gauge interest in producing streetcars and proposes the following actions:

Over the coming months, staff will undertake the following:

  1. Request funding approval through 2019 budget process;
  2. Update contract documents based on stakeholder input, contract changes, and lessons learned;
  3. Engage consultant to validate RFI responses (e.g. technical and commercial performance, on-time delivery performance, etc.);
  4. Develop scope and budget for additional maintenance capacity at Hillcrest; and
  5. Report back to the TTC Board in Q1 2019 with recommendations.

The wild card in all of this will be the outcome of the provincial election on June 7, and the degree to which the incoming Premier will support or attempt to sabotage any expansion of streetcar service. Funding arrangements, especially under the federal PTIF scheme, depend on all three levels of government contributing. This effectively gives any one level the ability to veto a project unless there is a change in the rules.

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