Bombardier Undermines Streetcar Credibility

Updated on July 5, 2018 at 8:00 am: Minor typos corrected. Explanation of replacement service as Flexitys displace older cars clarified.

Over the past day there have been a number of media comments, articles, tweets triggered by the announcement that 67 of Toronto’s new streetcars must return to Bombardier to repair bad welding. This started with an article by Ben Spurr in the Star, with a followup by Spurr and a Globe article by Oliver Moore. I’m sure there are others, but they will do for now.

The problem is described, briefly, in the TTC CEO’s Report released on July 4 as part of the agenda for the Board’s July 10 meeting.

As of June 25, the TTC has 80 Bombardier low-floor streetcars available for service. Unfortunately, we have learned that frame imperfections were found on assembled sections of the 67 vehicles manufactured before 2017 at Bombardier’s facility in Mexico. It is important to note that these welding deficiencies pose no safety threat. Bombardier has agreed to make the required repairs by removing cars from service and sending them to the Bombardier Welding Center of Excellence in La Pocatière, Quebec for repair.

We are working with Bombardier on a repair schedule that will have minimal to no impact on our service to customers. All vehicles will be repaired by the end of 2022.

[From “current issues” on p 6]

There is an inconsistency in the size of the fleet reported by Spurr and repeated by Moore. Although the CEO’s report says they have 80 cars, the number 89 has been used in media reports. This discrepancy is likely due to how Bombardier and the TTC count deliveries. Car 4488 was delivered to TTC Hillcrest today (July 4), and this makes a total of 88 cars in Toronto. (4401 was a prototype and is back at Bombardier for retrofits.) However, the highest car number actually in revenue service, and therefore formally accepted by the TTC, is 4482. This may seem like railfan trivia, but keeping track of just how deliveries are going is an important part of knowing how the roll out of new vehicles is actually progressing day-by-day, not in infrequent updates from the TTC.

The chronology of the problem has also been confused somewhat, and I have to own up to misinterpreting Spurr’s recounting of TTC information until this was sorted out in emails with TTC spokesperson Brad Ross.

  • 2015: TTC and Bombardier identify welding problems at the plant in Mexico where frames for the new cars are manufactured. This was one of the key problems that delayed the early shipments of cars to Toronto. TTC refused to accept cars whose parts would not fit together when they arrived at Thunder Bay for final assembly. In time, this manufacturing problem was corrected, or so it was thought.
  • June 2017 (quoting Spurr): “Company representatives said the problem is a “lack of fusion” in some of the welds on the car’s skeleton, particularly around bogie structures and the articulated portals where different sections of the articulated vehicle are joined. The company says it brought the issue “under control” last June and it won’t be repeated in future deliveries.”
  • October 2017: The TTC becomes aware that repairs would be required according to Ross as quoted by Spurr. One must ask what the TTC’s quality control inspectors were doing in Mexico between June and October.
  • February 2018: 4466, presumably the last car completed with bad parts, is delivered to the TTC. This is a rather long span after Bombardier’s claim that the issue was under control in June 2017.
  • July 2018: TTC and Bombardier announce the need to send the defective cars to a Bombardier plant in Québec which is their “world centre for excellence in welding”. In other words they are giving the job to people who should know what they’re doing.

There is a further inconsistency in that the TTC CEO’s report talks of 67 vehicles manufactured before 2017 in Mexico. This is clearly a typo and the date should be 2018.

If the problem finally escalated to TTC management in October 2017, this was during the Byford era, but there was no report of the problem publicly. If we are to believe tweets from members of the TTC Board, Councillor Mihevc in this case, he was unaware of the need for cars to return to Bombardier until this report broke a few days ago. This begs the question of how much the Board is actually in touch with critical issues on the system they govern.

Teething problems with new equipment are common, although Bombardier has a particularly checkered record in that regard and was dropped from a subway car bid by New York City due to problems with a previous batch of cars. In Toronto, the new TR subway trains continue to have problems, although the worst of these have been ironed out. On subway car orders, riders do not usually see the effect of equipment troubles because the TTC has its older fleet to fall back on, not to mention a generous pool of spare trains, and service gets out to the lines. The streetcar network, starved far too long for new cars, does not have this luxury, and Bombardier’s screwups are in plain sight affecting the transit network.

(One might also recall reliability problems with hybrid buses that could be regularly found parked around the city after going disabled. Again, the full effect is not visible to riders because the TTC maintains a large spare pool to cover for these failures.)

Both Bombardier and the TTC state that the problem is not a safety issue for existing cars, but that over time the poor welds would led to premature failure of cars that are supposed to last 30 years. In a particularly bizarre comment, Bombardier spokesman Eric Prud’Homme is quoted by Moore as saying that this recall spurs interest only because of previous problems with the order and that welding problems are “not uncommon” in the industry. Well, yes, maybe, but when they are on a scale requiring that cars be shipped back to the manufacturer, this is a different problem from minor corrections that can be performed at the customer’s site. And, of course, any retrofit that takes cars out of service reduces the pool available to replace the aging CLRV and ALRV streetcars.

The process is expected to require 19 weeks which is subdivided as:

… 19 weeks total for the repairs: 2 weeks to ship the cars to La Pocatière, 12 weeks for maintenance, 2 weeks to ship back to TO, and then 3 weeks for commissioning. [Tweet from @benspurr]

If the cycle time at Bombardier is 12 weeks (delivery each way and commissioning can take place in parallel with repair work), and there are 17 cycles (4 cars x 17 cycles = 68 cars), then this will take almost 4 years (204 weeks) and will complete in 2022. (I include this detail because the initial impression was that the repairs alone would take 19 weeks, not 12, leading to a mismatch between the proposed end date and the length of the project anyone could calculate.)

If there are only about ten cars out of the fleet at any time (in transit either way, or in commissioning activities when they return), the TTC will get by with the proviso that some of the older cars, likely the smaller CLRVs which although older are more reliable than the ALRVs, will stay in service longer. Ideally, they should be scheduled on peak-only runs so that most of the service is provided by the Flexitys on hand.

Politicians and others with their own agendas have seized on this latest setback to say “maybe we should bus some routes permanently” or just get rid of streetcars. With a hostile government in Queen’s Park, this could be a problem especially if Doug Ford decides to meddle in control of the TTC.

It is important to understand what is possible with the fleet the TTC should have available as well as the planning issues about the streetcar corridors in Toronto.

Buses are now operating on the 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton routes, as well as on a Broadview shuttle replacing a small part of 504 King during track work. Streetcars will return to Carlton in September, possibly with some bus trippers, and likely to Dundas sometime in the fall depending on car availability. 511 Bathurst will revert to bus operation in September because of major construction work on the bus roadway at Bathurst Station, and the 502/503 Kingston Road service will also go back to buses. It should be noted that between them, the peak requirement for streetcars on 502, 503 and 511 is only 28 CLRVs plus spares, and this makes these routes easy candidates for bus substitution because relatively few vehicles are needed for any one route.

The streetcar system has been fleet constrained since the mid 1990s. Ridership losses of the early 90s recession allowed service to be cut back to the point that the 510 Spadina line could open using existing spare cars in the fleet, and the planned rebuild of about 20 PCCs was not required. Since then, there has been no capacity for growing demand, and if anything this has fallen through added congestion on major routes and the gradual decline of fleet reliability and availability. The TTC would like to retire the last of its old cars in 2020, although that may not now be possible.

Toronto is fortunate in that the order for Flexitys represents a considerable addition to potential capacity over the fleet it will replace. The old fleet contained 196 CLRVs and 52 ALRVs. Counting the ALRVs as 1.5 cars, this is the equivalent of 274 CLRVs. The 204 Flexitys counting as 2.0 cars each represent 408 CLRVs. This means that the TTC can improve service capacity rather than simply replacing it one-for-one.

This has been a boon on King Street where the capacity of service provided is now considerably improved even though the number of cars operating has stayed almost unchanged.

The 204-car fleet (or 194 if one takes 10 out of the pool for rotation to Bombardier), can provide service improvements, but it cannot replace the full streetcar service on a 1:1 basis. The table below shows the vehicle requirements for all routes assuming streetcar operation at current service levels, or at a recent level when streetcars were in use. The total cars is 214 which clearly cannot be handled by the Flexity fleet if old cars are substituted 1:1. (Allowing for spares at 20%, the total fleet would have to be 257 cars, and this is roughly the level that an added 60 cars would provide.)

However, that would represent a doubling of capacity on the affected routes, and this is well above what is needed in the short-to-medium term. The tradeoff, if replacement is less than 1:1, is that headways (the time between cars) would widen.

For example, on a 2:3 basis (two new cars for three old ones, a capacity increase of 33%), the fleet requirement would go down by 50 cars (one third of the 153 CLRV/ALRV total below). This would bring the total requirement, just barely, within a 204-car fleet. Headways on affected routes would grow by one third. For example, the peak headway on 511 Bathurst would go from 4.5 to 6.0 minutes. This will inevitably affect ridership just as the replacement of CLRVs by ALRVs did years ago on Queen.

A more generous replacement rate of 3:4 (a capacity increase of 50%) lessens the effect on headways, but requires more cars than are available while maintaining a spare pool of 20%.

An important question is the degree to which additional peak service could be provided by the surviving CLRV fleet, or if bus trippers or replacements are the only viable solution. The smaller the replacement vehicle, the more are required. Moreover, if buses are used, this draws vehicles from an already-strained fleet that cannot meet demands on the bus network.

“Why use streetcars” is a question posed by some. A vital issue for City Planning is that growth in the population and in travel demand will occur disproportionately in the old city and along the streetcar corridors. Service will have to be substantially improved to handle future demand that is expected within the next decade.

The streetcar network once provided considerably more service on some routes than it does today. Demographic shifts and ridership lost to service cuts, not to mention a declining fleet of streetcars, have stretched peak headways in some cases quite substantially. But the capacity is there to carry more riders if only the TTC had the vehicles to operate and the City had the will to fund transit service at higher levels on key routes.  (This is also an issue on the bus network which has its own artificial, budget-driven limitations.)

Ed Keenan, writing recently in The Star, noted that the 506 Carlton car once carried 60,000 riders per day, but has fallen back by 2014, the last year for which the TTC has published ridership stats, to 39,700. In all the hand wringing about the effect of fare systems on ridership, the TTC has lost track of a basic driver of demand: the quality and quantity of service. The infrequent publication of stats does not help in tracking of demand, but even those numbers hide latent demand that simply does not show up out of frustration. The King Street Pilot has shown what can happen when service and capacity improve, and the TTC is proud of their success, but substantial movement beyond King is a political minefield.

Fortunately for Toronto, the streetcar infrastructure is in good shape unlike the situation years back when it declined through less-than-ideal maintenance from which the system has only recently recovered. Likewise, Toronto lost its trolley coaches (electric buses to those too young to remember) in part because the system was allowed to decay by management who wanted rid of this mode and colluded with alternate technology providers to bring this about.

Another requirement for new streetcars waiting in the wings comes from the proposed Waterfront extensions west to Humber Bay and east at least to Broadview. This perennial wallflower project has not attracted funding support, and Waterfront Toronto is reduced to planning for a BRT right-of-way that might, someday, mirror the Queens Quay West design with streetcars.

Toronto’s challenge now will be to decide whether Bombardier can be trusted with an extension to its existing Flexity order (the fastest way to get more cars and build up service), or if a delay to seek bids from other builders is the way to go. In the best political tradition, the Board will consider a recommendation from management that this decision be put off to early 2019 when the financial situation for new streetcars will be clearer.

This brings me to funding from Queen’s Park which is unlikely from an avowed streetcar hater, Doug Ford, now Premier. But, that said, Toronto needs to remember that many capital projects have little provincial money in them, and there is also funding from the Federal government. Toronto needs to decide what it needs, and cobble together funding for its many projects where this can be done. It won’t be easy with competing demands for subway expansion and for the renewal of the existing Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, a great deal of which is “below the line” in the unfunded portion of the City’s capital plans.

Expansion of streetcars or LRT, whatever one might want to call them, has always been an uphill battle in Toronto for various reasons including the idea that streetcars are old fashioned and just  get in the way. Tell that to major cities around the world running and expanding their networks. Toronto needs more capacity to move people on many corridors with easy access to transit, something a few subway lines alone can never achieve. Buses at the density required to replace streetcars will only worsen congestion, not relieve it.

Bombardier, through its ongoing cock-ups with provision of new streetcars, has been no friend to the Toronto system. We must get past this with, if need be, a new supplier of vehicles so that the system can grow. Bombardier’s incompetence should not be used as the justification to retrench and, by implication, eventually dismantle the streetcar network.

 

27 thoughts on “Bombardier Undermines Streetcar Credibility

  1. When 4401 was transported for upgrade from pre-production spec to production spec from Toronto to La Pocatiere, it was assumed that it was in an effort to take pressure off the lines at Millhaven and Thunder Bay. This revelation makes it seem like the actual object was to do frame repairs on 4401. Hopefully the release of this report means that the estimate for repairs is based on that work being successfully completed for that vehicle. It’s a shame that similar repairs were not done on 4466 when it was returned to the manufacturer because of damage in transport – presumably now it will have to leave and return a second time.

    While TTC may not be able to seek damages for the matter since it is a warranty matter, it does reinforce the need to obtain “damages cars” (rather than cash) at the end of the 204 car order reflecting compensation for previous failings, since another 6-10 vehicles in Jan-Mar 2020 would ease the impact of these works between 2020 and completion in 2022, separate to any exercise of the 60 car option contract.

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  2. “Bombardier’s incompetence should not be used as the justification to retrench and, by implication, eventually dismantle the streetcar network.”

    Could not agree more. These sorts of things will be used by the low-information types (read: Doug Ford) as a strike against the system, when attitudes should really be more like this.

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  3. It’s really unfortunate that Bombardier’s giving an excuse to the anti-streetcar crowd to push their agenda. The streetcar fiasco is causing me to have deja vu all over again. Right: remember those awful H6 subway cars that UTDC/SNC-Lavalin built? The holdup with the fleet getting delivered and into service? The numerous very serious and very expensive modifications they got over their service lives especially, including early on? Oddly, none of the anti-streetcar crowd was pushing against expanding the subway system because of the problems with getting a working fleet of trains in to replace the outgoing ones. Also, not much, if anything, was said about the problems with CNG or hybrid buses, so it’s pretty clear that there’s a certain crowd who are pushing a BS agenda by presenting “problematic supplier” as “bad mode of transportation” when the two are not the same at all and the fact is you can get stuck with lemons on wheels of all kinds.

    I’m of two minds on the latest problem especially on it being discovered at this late date. On one hand, given the legendary welding problems that Bombardier’s had at the Mexican factory, I’m not surprised that additional problems were lurking. On the other, given the quantity of rejected parts and parts that had to be individually, extensively reworked by hand, wouldn’t have problems with improperly fused welds been visible – bad welding bead can usually be seen – and discovered during pre-assembly rework? Or at least on inspection in Thunder Bay after being delivered to see if they’re usable before being committed to assembly in a streetcar that’s going to be delivered to a customer? Unless the problem wasn’t visible and was uncovered by recent NDT [non-destructive] testing of some form, but what would’ve prompted that at this point?

    Has anybody read Bombardier’s shareholder reports by any chance? Are they even making money on the TTC streetcar order at this point? I think it’s safe to say at this point that whatever savings they were expecting to reap from cheap labour at that Mexican factory has more than been negated by the costs of cleaning up problems that place caused. Factoring that and the other problems with delivering this order that have been expensive to solve with the second production line, the contractual penalties, the costs of this recall, not to mention the battering the company’s reputation has taken and the potential loss of future TTC work and orders from other potential customers, and we know that they seriously underbid the competition so margins can’t have been all that great to begin with, Bombardier could end up taking a loss on this order. And if that’s the case, you wouldn’t be sticking it to them by cancelling the order, you’d stick it to them by making them eat the cost of building and delivering every single streetcar to customer satisfaction.

    Steve: As I pointed out in the article, problems with new vehicles of every mode have been hidden by the surplus of existing vehicles which can cover service until the new fleet’s reliability settles down. With the aged, overstretched streetcar fleet, we don’t have that luxury.

    The telling point will be when Ontario and its premier buyer of rail equipment, the TTC, stop automatically giving new orders to Bombardier. The next big one is the replacement fleet for the BD subway, and if that goes elsewhere, I would fear for the future of the plant in Thunder Bay. The problems lie with production mismanagement, but it’s the whole city that will suffer.

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  4. Imagining some far off fantasy future time when Toronto has the full 204 flexity cars from the initial order, could extra demand be met by keeping some of the CLRV/ALRV cars in the fleet?

    Steve: Only briefly, although I suspect that the TTC has been rather eager to ditch the old fleet thanks to a less-than-supportive senior management for whom creating a fleet crisis fits right in with permanently shutting down parts of the network. And, no, I do not trust the TTC one bit in their support for anything but subways and buses.

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  5. dowlingm’s comment

    “obtain “damages cars” (rather than cash) at the end of the 204 car order reflecting compensation for previous failings”

    is on target. As a vendor, Bombardier keeps splashing themselves with bad publicity. Giving away some “free” product would be one way they could recoup some positive publicity.

    Bombardier, needs to working hard to rebuild the relationship with the TTC. With 80 units (bad and good welds) in service they need to get moving on the ramp up of delivery. If they can show they can deliver, it makes sense to order Bombardier units to keep jobs in Ontario. And this need to keep the jobs (Mr. Ford promised jobs during the election) should keep Ford from messing with things.

    In fact, LRT and streetcar routes can be built quickly, so Ford can claim/show that he has created lots of jobs, and can keep Bombardier producing here in Ontario. Killing the streetcars and LRT projects in progress would only kill jobs.

    Steve: Although extra cars would not materialize until the end of the current order in 2019, they could put the TTC in a position of having a full 204 usable cars while repairs on the original 67 continue to late 2022.

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  6. I just never bought the crap about Bombardier being the only company in the world, as the TTC pretty well excused, that knew how to provide a vehicle for Toronto’s legacy system.

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  7. TVO is rebroadcasting the series of “Dates” between two politicians with differing views on a subject. The one with Doug Ford and Jagmeet Singh about public transit and bike lanes was a great one to watch. Starts out with Ford driving his huge black SUV along St. Clair and repeatedly ranting and raving about the disaster and waste of money. Eastward from Keele they had no traffic delays at any time. Everytime a streetcar went by in the opposite direction Ford is yammering Trump style about empty streetcars and too many streetcars over and over again. It was interesting to see once again how foolish Ford is in his stance on transit something he obviously never uses himself.

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  8. Steve said:

    ” the streetcar infrastructure is in good shape”

    and yet, no, not in significant lengths, at least the edge part of the concrete closer to the curb. As a cyclist, there’s truly not much room to go along these tracked routes, and at times, every inch/cm matters. So when the area adjacent to the track presents nasty height differences or is gapped/broken, it’s yet more disincentive to bike. There’s an awful lot of this around: Notice of Hazard TTC; please fix your tracks and area to a rideable, not driveable, condition.

    And if the push is against streetcars, in some places, like King/Queen, yes, there should be a real alternative by now – like a subway, where it makes sense, and where there have been a few real plans over decades, but instead, relative follies in suburbs get built. King, or Queen, could be possible car-free, or at least be able to be repainted easily for bike lanes, just like Bloor and Danforth, right?

    Steve: The condition of the concrete adjacent to the streetcar tracks is, in places, disgraceful, and this arises from various factors including poor initial construction. However, that’s a city responsibility, just like potholes and other dangers cyclists face trying to use the streets.

    There will not be a subway in the King/Queen corridor for at least a decade, and then likely only covering a part of it between the Don and University. What needs to happen is a change in how we apportion road space, and that applies not just to streetcar streets but the road network generally. (There are also issues regarding pedestrian safety, but that’s not what you are writing about here.)

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  9. Steve said: “The condition of the concrete adjacent to the streetcar tracks is, in places, disgraceful, and this arises from various factors including poor initial construction. However, that’s a city responsibility, just like potholes and other dangers cyclists face trying to use the streets.”

    I actually wrote to the TTC about this chronic problem recently and got this response:

    “We have a track patrol program in which staff inspect the entire network every 90 days. All defects, including pavement failures are recorded, prioritized, and scheduled for repair. We also have an agreement with the City’s Transportation division in where they apply temporary asphalt repairs and we in turn make permanent concrete repairs.”

    From subsequent information I think that they do not actually inform the City about any specific problems they see with the concrete ‘flange’ adjacent to their track. The City are remarkably fast about dealing with issues like this if one uses 311 to report maintenance problems to them. In the last email I had from them, the TTC gives me hope that they may start passing along information to the City on any specific problem areas they see. Of course, it would seem like a good idea if the TTC just fixed their concrete on a regular ongoing basis, the longer poor concrete is left unrepaired the larger the area that needs repair will become!

    Steve: It is ironic watching the repair work on Broadview this summer. The last time this area was done, the quality of the concrete, especially at the Dundas intersection, was very poor and it started to fall apart not long after the installation. Was it fixed? Were there ongoing repairs? No.

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  10. Hamish is correct that once the DRL opens, Queen and King will beome streetcar free allowing for barrier separated bike lanes. Both the Yonge subway and the Bloor-Danforth subway closed numerous streetcar lines when those subway lines opened and so, let us not pretend that streetcar routes will somehow not be impacted when the DRL opens. I personally like streetcars but there comes a point when streetcars will not be able to handle the demand and a subway is necessary.

    Steve: Two points: The DRL won’t be open for at least a decade, so don’t start gloating over the disappearance of streetcars yet. Also, large parts of these routes, especially the more heavily travelled western legs, won’t be “replaced” by the subway.

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  11. … and for what it’s worth, four stops on Queen between University and Pape (and *ONE* on King) does not eliminate the need for through service on what is essentially the spine of the streetcar network (that also connects all operations yards).

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  12. Not sure why anyone thinks that Queen and King would become streetcar free once the DRL opens – in the early 2030s I’d guess.

    Clearly they aren’t paying attention, as the DRL documents all show continued streetcar service on both King and Queen. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone, as much of the King/Queen ridership is west of University, for which there is no plans yet to build a subway!

    Even east of University, the first subway station on King is at Sumach. Riding the 504 eastbound, a lot of riders have already gotten off the streetcar by Sumach! The next station on King is … oh look there aren’t any …

    Queen gets stations at University, Yonge, Sherbourne and Carlaw. That’s it. There’s still huge 501 ridership west of University and east of Carlaw! And quite frankly, if you are eastbound in rush-hour at University on Queen heading to Yonge … are you really going to get off the street, schlepp down a huge escalator, and take the subway 1 stop, to come back up again? Or simply stay on the streetcar one stop? Of course not.

    A more likely scenario is that the car restrictions on King would be expanded to Queen!

    There’s huge growth planned in downtown with various development projects in the next decade. The one thing we can guarantee is that automobile driving and parking will become ever more difficult and expensive.

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  13. niftz: And quite frankly, if you are eastbound in rush-hour at University on Queen heading to Yonge … are you really going to get off the street, schlepp down a huge escalator, and take the subway 1 stop, to come back up again? Or simply stay on the streetcar one stop? Of course not.

    Well, I will simply walk rather than wait for a streetcar which will move at snail’s pace. If the streetcar service on Queen were to be shut down once the DRL opens, then there will still be a surface bus service so that you don’t have to go down and come back up. Whether we should have bus service or streetcar service on Queen once the DRL opens should NOT depend my preference for buses and it should NOT depend on your preference for streetcars but it should depend on RIDERSHIP. If the ridership falls below what justifies a streetcar service, then we should switch the route to 100% bus operation and if the ridership is high enough to demand a streetcar operation, then we should retain the streetcars on Queen. I expect that the ridership will fall below what would justify a streetcar service and for the route to switch to 100% bus operation but I could be wrong and only time will tell.

    Steve: Look at other subway routes and what passes for a “surface bus” in their territory. Yonge: Extremely limited, half hour peak headways downtown. Bloor-Danforth and Spadina: none. Sheppard: every 15 minutes. Of course you would walk.

    And you do realize, I hope, that the heavier branch of Queen, the service west of University Avenue, is NOT being replaced by the RL.

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  14. It’s easy to understand the concern over the post DRL fates of the King and Queen streetcar lines. The TTC has, of course, done it before, although the downtown/midtown sections of Lines 1 and 2 were finished before the Streetcars For Toronto committee ensured the survival of most other routes.

    The DRL is not coming in this half of our century, so the King and Queen can reign until 2050, at least. By then, Toronto downtown will be so full of high rise condos that no sane person will suggest streetcar removal. There simply won’t be any alternative.

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  15. Me: Whether we should have bus service or streetcar service on Queen once the DRL opens should NOT depend on my preference for buses and it should NOT depend on your preference for streetcars but it should depend on RIDERSHIP.

    Harrison: The DRL is not coming in this half of our century, so the King and Queen can reign until 2050, at least. By then, Toronto downtown will be so full of high rise condos that no sane person will suggest streetcar removal. There simply won’t be any alternative.

    What’s wrong with your thinking is that you want to have streetcars no matter what and at some point, your goal becomes retaining streetcar service at any cost and your goal is no longer to improve transit but to retain streetcars no matter what. What if by 2050, we have some amazing new technology that renders streetcars completely obsolete? You will still want to keep streetcars but for me in the other hand, it is about improving transit service and I don’t restrict myself to any particular technology as in your case you are emotionally attached to streetcars.

    Steve: If your “analysis” comes down to equating streetcar support with emotional attachment, it’s clear that you have the opposite, a desire to get rid of them no matter what. Can we talk about your emotions too?

    Amazing new technology? Teleportation? Gondolas? Hyperloop? Yes, I suppose anything is possible, but don’t hold your breath looking for that sort of salvation, or worse yet invest in it. Streetcars have been around in one form or another for a long time. They might lose their overhead power supply and simply become self-propelled electric trains, although the energy cost for that is higher because of conversion losses with energy storage systems. AV’s? The fundamental problem is road capacity. There’s a reason why bigger vehicles are better than small ones – they carry more people in less space.

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  16. Philip: I’ll concede that streetcars have a certain nostalgic value to me. Many of us are guilty of that, and nostalgia doesn’t provide much in the way of human transportation.

    BUT, there are enough practical reasons for ‘streetcars no matter what’ that will make them unique in the urban scene for at least the next 3 decades. They are large, comfortable, smooth, and they make great trains, when capacity demands suddenly increase. When they run on their own rights of way, with proper signaling, they can cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

    I don’t believe ALL the stories about the deliberate attack on streetcars and interurbans by GM et al in the thirties and forties; but there is no question that electric rail transit was often horsed around by politicians and auto executives in the name of progress. Progress, in those days, was a car in every garage. That’s certainly not the case any more.

    As for buses; they don’t make good trains, they compete with cars for the ever more crowded GTA road space, and they’re not very lovable.

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  17. Funny how all these anti streetcar folks have blinkers on, they are in a hurry to remove a basically excellent system (it’s not the streetcar’s fault that they have been poorly managed) and replace it with subways and buses, How many times have we seen this, only for them to now start being put back where they were. Look at all the streetcar and LRT lines all over the US and Canada. Look at all the new build systems throughout the rest of the world and these are real systems not just “city circulators”. Here in Australia, we have the world’s largest streetcar system (250kms of route) and we would be lost without it, patronage continues to grow so much that we are building a metro to back up not replace the streetcars. The Goldcoast built a new streetcar/LRT line that was decried by the Nimbies saying it would be the end of the world, it has been a roaring success and has already been extended with more extensions to come and these Nimbies are now demanding it run down their streets! Sydney is spending billions to put back a fraction of the huge network they threw away in the 1950’s that will run through the heart of downtown and out on two other routes and other lines have just been approved. Canberra, the national capital, is building a streetcar/LRT line with extensions already being planned. Even in the UK where streetcars have made a big comeback are now extending those.

    So, be careful what you wish for, your system has a great infrastructure base and, with intelligent planning can become even greater, don’t be in such a rush to dump it, only to have your grand kids forking out a fortune to re-build it at some future date!

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  18. As for the Bombardier cars, our latest cars are made here by Bombardier and they are excellent vehicles. The problems you are having are not new to the industry though, look at the debacle that Siemens went through with the “Combino” trams several years ago, they forgot that aluminium and steel don’t mix and fatigue cracks quickly showed up. This was not just one city but many cities throughout Europe and here in Melbourne but, instead of headlines and recriminations, Siemens got on with the job of fixing every one of them, even here in Melbourne! The plan to send two cars back at a time is a wise one and will have minimal impact, of course it should never have happened and Bombardier should have had a proper quality control (like they do here) and all this could have been avoided.

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  19. Harrison: The DRL is not coming in this half of our century, so the King and Queen can reign until 2050, at least. By then, Toronto downtown will be so full of high rise condos that no sane person will suggest streetcar removal. There simply won’t be any alternative.

    Me (to Harrison): What if by 2050, we have some amazing new technology that renders streetcars completely obsolete? You will still want to keep streetcars but for me on the other hand, it is about improving transit service and I don’t restrict myself to any particular technology as in your case you are emotionally attached to streetcars.

    Steve (to me): If your “analysis” comes down to equating streetcar support with emotional attachment, it’s clear that you have the opposite, a desire to get rid of them no matter what. Can we talk about your emotions too?

    Thank you Steve for your response but you are NOT being fair to me since I clearly stated to Harrison, “Whether we should have bus service or streetcar service on Queen once the DRL opens should NOT depend on my preference for buses and it should NOT depend on your preference for streetcars but it should depend on RIDERSHIP.” As you can see, I am NOT arguing for the abolishment of the streetcars based on my emotions which you are welcome to talk about. I want transit decisions to be based on ridership, costs, benefits, drawbacks, and other relevant criteria and we should NOT perpetually bind ourselves to streetcars based on emotions, nostalgia, etc if in the future streetcars no longer provide the best service or if in the future streetcars no longer provide the best value for money.

    Steve: But by implying that the attachment to streetcars is emotional rather than logical, you imply one side of the argument is already weak. The issues about streetcars have a lot to do with demand (present and future) and with the fact that there is simply not enough road space to go around. That is an issue in many parts of the city, not just on the streetcar lines. Indeed, if we ever see a true BRT proposal with dedicated lanes, not just white paint on the roadway everyone ignores, there will be the same screams from motorists who, one might argue, can be rather “emotional” about this debate.

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  20. Steve said: “AV’s? The fundamental problem is road capacity. There’s a reason why bigger vehicles are better than small ones – they carry more people in less space.”

    Ironically, streetcars would be the best choice for implementing road based autonomous transit. Since they travel on rails, it means the navigation system would be much simpler and thus cheaper to implement.

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  21. I think that Greg King said it best in the first of his 2 letters of July 11, when he outlined the current popularity of streetcars/LRT’s in Australia and the USA. When Detroit and Dallas begin to spend money on ‘trolleys’, you can bet that our neighbour has collectively decided that they are the urban solution.

    Toronto, ironically, appears to be the only large city in these 3 countries which is held down by politicians and transit executives who drag their feet on the issue.

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  22. Steve mentioned BRT and I am glad to inform you that BRT delivers much better transit than streetcars which is why BRT will be built on Queens Quay east of Bay as Toronto decided that it does not wish to repeat the mistakes it made on Queens Quay west of Bay.

    Steve: Actually, the TTC is looking at a centre reservation for streetcars. There is also a plans for a Broadview extension south to Commissioners, and a link from Cherry south to Queens Quay. The BRT proposal is a stopgap in Waterfront Toronto plans, and it has a huge problem with the inability to connect to Union Station.

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  23. Hi Steve

    I have a question for John – if BRT is so much better than streetcars / LRT then why did Ottawa decide to get rid of theirs in favor of an LRT line?

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  24. Would “John” care to gladly inform us exactly how and why BRT delivers “much better transit” than streetcars?

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  25. Just to stave off any nasty rumours, I am not the “John” writing on the seemingly heavenly values of BRT in Toronto. If we actually have room for BRT anywhere then there is room to lay rails. And then there is that wee issue of staffing the more numerous and less-capacious buses. You may perhaps save on the rails but not on the salaries and benefits for all the extra drivers. And of course motorists will try to drive on those nice mostly-unoccupied lanes.

    BRT might be quite the thing and work very well in the suburbs where there is not the capacity to support LRT, but cramped Toronto streets? Ridiculous!

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  26. So far, the BRT on Davis Drive, in Newmarket serves one function only: It keeps the cars away and makes for an easy auto drive from Yonge to 404. Some buses operate outside the BRT for reasons which seem invisible, and certainly a waste of all the money and time that went into that particular BRT.

    So, it’s not exactly quite the thing, anywhere.

    Steve: Too much of the “BRT” hereabouts has been little more than a highway construction project. Without the will and funding to substantially improve service throughout the region, it is the equivalent of building the 401 while leaving the locals with two lane dirt roads.

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  27. Philip says, “As you can see, I am NOT arguing for the abolishment of the streetcars based on my emotions which you are welcome to talk about. I want transit decisions to be based on ridership, costs, benefits, drawbacks, and other relevant criteria and we should NOT perpetually bind ourselves to streetcars based on emotions, nostalgia, etc ….”

    Philip, if that’s how you feel, then you really MUST speak with everyone on the TTC Board and a few of the City councillors to boot (and for that matter a few of the Liberals in the previous provincial government) about what exactly transit decisions “should be” based on.

    Based on all your criteria, here are some suggestions to start the conversation:

    1. The 3-stop/1-stop Scarborough “Let’s-waste-lotsa-money-for little-return-and-put-more-stress-on-an-already-crowded-subway-line” Extension.

    If car-loving Rob Ford had shut up and minded his business regarding a topic about which he knew nothing – transit; and the Provincial liberals hadn’t kowtowed to patent stupidity to win a by-election or two; and if the City councillors had just continued along with the FULLY FUNDED (by the Province) SEVEN STOP LRT PLAN – Well, then people in Scarborough all the way towards Malvern would actually be enjoying the benefits of actual transit vehicles carrying them to the existing subway AND THE CITY WOULD BE A COUPLE OF BILLION DOLLARS RICHER. Oh, and did I mention that Scarberians would actually be enjoying the benefits of actual transit vehicles carrying them? Duh!

    2. Giorgio Mammoliti’s “Finch Avenue West Deserves a Subway Too!” Campaign

    Idiot Giorgio likes to go against the Emery Village BIA members who are all for having an LRT built along the right-of-way to replace the perpetually jammed-full Finch West buses where the population demand (even latent demand) DOES NOT WARRANT A SUBWAY. Never mind the TIMELINE involved to build said subway. Never mind the MONEY involved to build said subway. Can you say Sheppard Subway, Version 2? No logic, calling down residents in his own Ward at his “community meeting” who dare to speak up against him and shutting down a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting in May, claiming there has been “no public consultation” with area businesses, when in fact that work was done TWO YEARS AGO. More leftover garbage from the Ford era when Giorgio and Rob and brother Doug did everything in their power to screw transit development except in particular politically beneficial neighbourhoods….

    3. King Street Streetcar Project

    For YEARS, thousands of other transit users rode the King St. streetcar underneath those wonderful signs in the downtown core that said, in effect, Streetcars Only in Middle Lanes during Specified Hours. And during those “Specified Hours” cars were trucking along the streetcar rails and make left turns from those lanes, blocking and slowing down streetcars – with absolute impunity, because the police didn’t care to ticket anyone. Then, when the City makes a huge public announcement telling drivers that auto traffic will be restricted to cars along King Street except via 1-block sections after which they must turn – well, it’s as if people had been allowed to relieve themselves at will on the streets and sidewalks throughout that trial area, the car drivers and restaurant/businesses owners complained so loudly! So the City offered a “parking discount” to potential patrons to appease the restaurant/business owners – but NO! an Icy Middle Finger appeared in front of one venue, promptly and vocally supported by our Ward 7 Anti-Transit Friend, Giorgio Mammoliti – his OWN middle finger up in salute against “The City” – even though HIS ward is KILOMETRES AWAY from the area in question. GAAAAAAH!

    4. Vision Zero (Or What Should Be Called Zero Vision, based on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Idiocy in Preventing Pedestrian DEATHS and making those Poor, Poor Drivers take a few more minutes to get where they’re going).

    There are councillors who consistently disregard common sense and vote against decisions that would benefit transit riders, increase ridership (and perhaps, thereby, money into TTC’s coffers) and help the flow of traffic and people within the city – because they “don’t like streetcars” or because their car-owning, car-driving constituents bitch and complain about how they get stuck behind those stupid streetcars and it’s all about “me, me, me, me, ME.”

    Steve has already championed the retention of the streetcars when they were going to be scrapped decades ago and continues to argue about their benefits to the city and its residents – as well as the rest of the transit system. All of which falls on deaf ears in the Council Chamber as those with the power don’t want to listen to his “truth.” Seems to me that his only recourse at this point would probably be to write a blog! ;->

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