501 Queen: Streetcars vs Buses November 25-29, 2019

During the last week of November, the first to see streetcars return to The Beach after almost three months’ absence for construction at Kingston Road, the line had a major disruption thanks to a broken rail near Roncesvalles. This rail damaged the track brakes on 22 Flexity cars, and while the TTC searched for the problem, the line was completely switched to bus operation.

Streetcars ran on Monday and Tuesday, November 25-26, and on Wednesday November 27 until midday. Buses ran from the afternoon of November 27 to the end of service on Friday,November 29 (actually Saturday morning).

There have been calls from certain quarters on City Council for a comparison of the operation of both modes. I published an analysis of route 505 Dundas in May 2018. Broadly speaking, it showed that buses outrun streetcars only when there is no traffic in the way and operators can drive as if they are on the suburban streets they are used to.

The substitution on 501 Queen gave an opportunity to compare the two modes over the entire route, not just over a segment running with buses due to construction. This article reviews the data from November 25-29 for 501 Queen.


The TTC has two vehicle tracking system, CIS and VISION. The streetcar fleet (and a small number of buses that often run on streetcar lines) is tracked by CIS, while most of the bus fleet is tracked by VISION. The entire system will be on VISION probably in a few years, but for the moment there are two data sources.

Until quite recently, I was unable to obtain finely-grain information about vehicle locations from VISION, but this changed in October 2019. It is now possible to get comparable data tracking vehicles from both systems. This meant that comparable data were available for both the streetcar and bus operations on 501 Queen.

The process for converting data from snapshots with GPS co-ordinates to a format suitable for analysis is described at length in Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data.

In this case, we are interested in three aspects of streetcar and bus behaviour:

  • How long does each type of vehicle take to get from one point on the route to another?
  • What are the speed profiles for each vehicle type along the route?
  • What are the dwell times for each vehicle type along the route?

For the comparatively coarse measurement of travel times between points, the route is divided by screenlines. Tracking when each vehicle crosses a screenline gives both the headways at each line, and the travel times between them.

For fine measurement of vehicle speed, the tracking data are used to calculate each vehicle’s speed as it moved along a route. The route is subdivided into 10m segments, and the speeds of every vehicle passing through that segment in each hour are averaged. This reveals locations where vehicles spend a lot of time stopped or travelling slowly, and of course locations where they move much faster.

For dwell times, the points of interest are those where vehicles are stationary. The “tick” of the clock for tracking data is every 20 seconds, and so the length of a vehicle’s stay at a point can only be calculated to a multiple of that interval. This is a fairly coarse measurement relative to the length of time most vehicles take to serve stops, and the resulting data give only a broad outline of comparative dwell times. Note also that “dwell time” is not necessarily all “stop service time” because vehicles can be awaiting a green traffic signal, or be stuck in traffic at the stop.

The distance scale to which I convert GPS positions is measured in 10m increments. Given that vehicles will not necessarily stop at exactly the same place every time, the charts here give moving averages of dwell times over 30m.

All of the analyses presented here are subdivided into hourly intervals recognizing that a route’s behaviour at 6am is vary different from midday, the two peaks, and the evening. Far too much data presented by the TTC is summarized on an all-day basis, and even on an all-route basis. This masks variations in behaviour by location and time of day, and does not give a detailed picture of what is happening.


The data reveal various aspects of bus and streetcar operation on 501 Queen, and by extension, on other routes where a substitution might be contemplated. The results for 501 echo those seen in the 2018 article on the 505 Dundas route.

  • Across the entire route, buses travel faster than streetcars, but their performance varies from place to place, hour to hour.
  • On sections of the route where traffic is not free flowing, and where stops are busy, buses do no better than streetcars and during some periods they are worse.
  • Where traffic is free flowing, some of the advantage buses have arises from driving at above the speed limit which is 40 kph within the old City of Toronto, and 50 kph on the Lake Shore section west of the Humber River.
  • The effect of streetcar slow orders at numerous locations is clearly evident in the data.
  • Dwell time for buses appears to be slightly longer than for streetcars. This could be due to loading delays, but in turn that could be caused by the bus service being overwhelmed by streetcar-level demand. (There were complaints about the quality and capacity of the replacement service.) Also, buses lose time getting to and from curbside stops, but this is not necessarily reflected in “dwell times” because they are merely slow, not stopped during these moves.
  • I am unable to comment on service quality with buses because many vehicles were not logged on to VISION with the 501 route number. Therefore, their data do not appear in the extract I received. However, there were enough vehicles to get a sample of their behaviour and determine travel times.

Route Structure

During the period of streetcar operation, route 501 operated in its standard weekday configuration with 501A service between Neville and Humber until about 9pm, and a separate 501L service from Humber to Long Branch. In the late evening, all vehicles ran end-to-end over the route from Neville to Long Branch.

During the bus operation, buses ran over the full route from from Neville to Long Branch diverting south to Lake Shore Boulevard at Windermere Avenue because buses cannot run through Humber Loop. Operating speeds over the diversion are not directly comparable between the modes because buses did not serve Humber Loop.

Travel Times Between Screenlines

The two sets of charts linked below compare travel times for the two modes within each segment. There are also charts for the major portions of the route (e.g. Neville to Yonge). Here is a sample from them.

  • Streetcar and bus data are shown in red and blue respectively.
  • The solid lines show the average values, and the dotted lines show the standard deviations in the values.
  • Where the difference between travel times is small and within the value of the standard deviation, the scatter in data values will produce overlap between the ranges where most of the values lie for both modes.

The descriptions for each segment should be read in conjunction with the charts linked here.

Silver Birch to Woodbine

Note that the screenline for the east end of the route is set one stop west of Neville Park at Silver Birch to avoid problems with queues of vehicles laying over near the terminal before they actually cross the screenline.

In general, the travel times in both directions for this segment are similar with a small advantage for buses.

The westbound chart illustrates a problem with this type of analysis: the presence of major events that can skew the results.

Here is the chart with all of the data left in the analysis. The large spikes at midday were produced by a major delay for a medical emergency that blocked all transit vehicles just east of Woodbine for close to one hour on November 27. This occurred during the transition from streetcar to bus operation, and so both modes were affected.

When the data points for the delayed vehicles are removed, what remains are the trips that encountered normal conditions.

Throughout these charts, I have left in all of the data including for delays. One could filter out the outliers, but then the question would be whether this artificially trims out events that would be “normal” in day to day operations. If there were more data, for example from an extended substitution, the effect of one major delay on the overall numbers would be smaller.

Woodbine to East of Coxwell

Buses are slightly faster over this segment in both directions. One issue here for streetcars is their relatively slow operation through the Kingston Road intersection.

East of Coxwell to Greenwood

Buses are faster over this segment in both directions. Two issues affecting streetcars are slow operations through the special trackwork at Coxwell and at Russell Carhouse, as well as delays for crew changes at the carhouse.

Greenwood to West of Broadview

This is a segment where buses were notably faster than streetcars although by varying amounts through the day. Driving speeds for buses tended to be high here because of light traffic on this section of Queen Street. Streetcars crossed two intersections with slow orders due to special trackwork at Leslie and at Broadview.

West of Broadview to Parliament

Buses ran faster in this segment in part due to relatively light traffic, and partly because of the long-standing slow order on the Don Bridge for streetcars due to problems with expansion joints and the facing switch westbound at King. The expansion joint issue was resolved some time ago, but many streetcars still operate over the bridge at a slow pace.

At Parliament, there is a streetcar intersection and its standing slow order. Because the screenline is in the middle of the intersection, the effect of the slow order is allocated partly to the segment east of Parliament, and partly to the west.

Parliament to Jarvis

From Parliament westward, the difference between bus and streetcar travel times narrows. Note that as this gap narrows, the difference lies within the margin of the standard deviation and so the scatter of values will produce overlap between the ranges of typical travel times for both modes.

Jarvis to Yonge

Streetcars have a slight edge in travel times in the afternoon, while buses have a slight edge at other times. Again, the difference is smaller than the standard deviation. This segment includes two streetcar intersections at Church and at Victoria.

Silver Birch to Yonge

This chart gives the travel times over the eastern portion of the route. The cumulative effect of the shorter bus times over each segment is visible in this chart, although it is lower in the afternoon than other times of the day.

The westbound chart includes a gap for the period from 2-3pm. For some reason, the VISION data for this period is not as detailed as at other times of the day. During that hour, no buses were tracked between Silver Birch and Yonge on all three days of the substitution.

Yonge to University

Streetcars generally make better times over this segment in both directions than buses illustrating the problems that buses have in congested areas with busy stops. There is a streetcar intersection at York, but its effect is minor as there are only trailing switches that do not have the same severity of standing slow order. Moreover this is a congested area where traffic speed tends to require slower operation even without the special trackwork.

University to John

Streetcar and bus travel times are comparable in this segment which includes a streetcar intersection at McCaul.

John to Spadina

Streetcars make better time eastbound over this segment than buses, while for westbound trips times are comparable for the two modes except in the late afternoon when streetcars have the advantage.

There is a streetcar intersection at Spadina, and with the screenline in the middle of the intersection, the travel time effect is allocated partly to each segment east and west of that line.

Spadina to Bathurst

Travel times in this segment are similar for both modes. At Bathurst, there is a streetcar intersection, but its effect is mainly on westbound trips because there is no eastbound facing point switch.

Bathurst to Ossington

Buses have the advantage over this segment until the early afternoon. There is a streetcar intersection at Shaw.

Ossington to Dufferin

Buses have an advantage westbound in the morning, but otherwise travel times are comparable for the two modes. There is a streetcar intersection at Dufferin with a westbound facing switch.

Dufferin to Lansdowne

Travel times for the two modes are similar all day long in this segment.

Lansdowne to Roncesvalles

Travel times for streetcars are longer for most of the day westbound. This is partly affected by crew changes at Roncesvalles which count against westbound trips because they occur before streetcars cross the screenline in the intersection. Eastbound trip times are comparable for the two modes.

Yonge to Roncesvalles

Westbound trips give the advantage to buses until early afternoon when traffic conditions affect their travel speed. Eastbound, streetcars have the advantage for much of the day.

Roncesvalles to Humber East

The Humber East screenline is located west of the Humber River bridge, but east of Humber Loop.

Bus travel over this segment ran in the traffic lanes, not in the streetcar right-of-way and had the extra mileage of diverting south on Windermere. However, buses were not delayed by slow operation through the special trackwork at Roncesvalles, at the carhouse and at Sunnyside Loop, all of which is in poor condition thanks to a delayed project to rebuild in this area (now planned for 2021).

Streetcars had the delay associated with track at Roncesvalles, as well as the stop at South Kingsway which was not served by buses.

Buses were affected by delays making the left turn at Windermere and this causes the sharp increase in average bus travel times during the PM peak. Note that although the bus times more than double, the standard deviation does not change much indicating that this is a chronic condition affecting most trips, not a spike that creates a wider scatter of values. The detailed data for this segment are in the chart below.

Here are the data for streetcar operation showing much more consistent travel times.

Humber Loop

I have not included any data for operations at Humber Loop because the streetcar and bus operations were completely different in this area.

Humber West to Royal York

The Humber West screenline is located west of the exit from Humber Loop onto Lake Shore.

Buses were generally faster than streetcars in this segment as they could operate with little hindrance from traffic on the wider Lake Shore Boulevard.

Royal York to Kipling / Kipling to Long Branch

Buses were generally faster over these two segments although less so west of Kipling.

Humber West to Long Branch

Over the portion of the route west of the Humber River, buses had lower average times almost all day except for the afternoon peak.

Travel Speeds Along the Route

501 Queen is a very long route, and the charts are too crowded with data if the entire route is consolidated on one page. The following sections deal with the eastern and western segments of the main route where it operates on a classic 4-lane city street, and then the segment west from Roncesvalles to Long Branch which has a mixture of street running and reserved right-of-way in a more suburban environment.

Here is a sample page from one of the charts showing travel speeds westbound on the eastern portion of the route during the hour from 5 to 6pm. The pattern of stop locations is quite clear because these are the points where the speeds drop down. The solid lines show the average speeds for each mode, and the dotted lines are trends interpolated through these values to show the overall behaviour. East of Yonge, the bus line (dotted yellow) is generally above the streetcar line (dotted red). The degree to which they are separated varies by time of day and location.

Here is the chart for the same area for the hour from 9-10 pm. Note how often the bus speeds peak well above 40 km/h which is the speed limit for this area. Streetcar operators would be disciplined for this type of operation, but bus drivers on replacement services appear to have free rein. It is easy for buses to “outperform” streetcars when they drive as fast as possible regardless of posted limits.

I leave it to readers to peruse these charts which show a great deal of detail about the operation of the two modes on various parts of the Queen route.

Neville to Yonge

Yonge to Roncesvalles

Roncesvalles to Long Branch

Dwell Times

The question here is whether buses tend to spend longer at stops than streetcars. The charts linked below show the westbound comparison for each segment of the route. The values shown are the degree by which average occupancy in a location exceeds 20 seconds, the minimum possible with a 20-second polling interval for vehicle location. (A vehicle might occupy a location for less than 20 seconds, but it was “seen” there once during that interval.) As mentioned earlier, the resolution of this calculation is limited by the polling cycle of the tracking systems.

I have generated only the westbound charts for the three sections of the route as these give the general idea of how the numbers behave. There are some locations where streetcars sit for longer than buses, and others where buses take longer. The big spikes correspond to locations where there are external delays such as crew changes (which vary by mode), whereas the small ones are probably representative of the time needed at stops.

Here is a sample page showing data for the hour from 5-6pm westbound from Yonge to Roncesvalles.

The blue and green lines show the moving averages for dwell times for streetcars and buses respectively, with trend lines in red and yellow.

Buses (green) usually have higher values, but this varies by location and time of day. From the speed charts, we know that buses are driven faster than streetcars when possible, and the longer dwell times are more than made up for by higher speed between stops.


13 thoughts on “501 Queen: Streetcars vs Buses November 25-29, 2019

  1. As a rider, I find that buses have been providing a far better service on Queen compared to streetcars.

    Steve: Depends on where you are and when you ride.


  2. One thing I have noticed recently are the ramp requests for people boarding/disembarking streetcars with baby strollers. This is another source of increased dwell times for streetcars that doesn’t happen with buses.


  3. It wasn’t a 1 to 1 replacement of streetcars with buses, more like 3 buses for each streetcar. If we actually got more streetcars… (insert sound of crickets here.)


  4. Public transit is important for a civilized city. We want it to be as convenient and efficient as is reasonably possible. What I get from a quick scan of your article is that the speed of the service is roughly the same for streetcars as buses. There is no mention of costs – how do the costs of streetcar operation compare to using the bus? From other readings I have been led to believe that the bus is a lot less expensive, especially when the costs of trackwork are figured in.

    There is also the matter of resilience – you never hear of streetcars being called in because there is a disruption to the bus service. Apparently bus drivers are less disciplined than streetcar operators. You mention exceeding speed limits here, but have also elsewhere commented on excessive bunching caused by drivers not sticking to schedules, etc.

    The streetcar does have a reputation for being classier. Is this mostly because of greater comfort and roominess, or the fact that bus routes are often used in the more neglected parts of a city?

    Steve: A few points in your comment need to be untangled.

    The operating costs are strongly affected by the number of drivers needed for the vehicles. The replacement ratio for buses vs the new Flexitys is about 3:1 meaning that you need three times the drivers just to provide the same capacity.

    As for trackwork, the effective cost per unit of service or passenger carried depends on utilization because this is more or less a fixed cost regardless of service level. On busy routes, some track will wear out faster, but there is also a lot of damage to pavement around the tracks thanks to non-streetcar traffic and this accelerates pavement deterioration regardless of service level. When costs are cited for bus vs streetcar/LRT elsewhere, it is important to adjust for how the calculation has been done and the cost expressed to avoid transferring higher unit costs of lightly used systems onto a “Toronto” model. An important issue with latent and growing demand on the streetcar network is that the infrastructure is already there, and getting more out of it by improving service does not add to this component of total costs. There is a similar argument for a goodly portion of the power distribution system.

    While we’re on the subject of capital costs, the new streetcars cost about $6 million each including spare parts, warranty and training. A diesel bus costs about $750k these days, hybrids over $900k and battery buses about $1.2m. The lifespan of a streetcar is 30 years, during which time the bus with a 12 year life would have been replaced 2.5 times. You can do the math. The life cycle cost of buses, allowing for future replacements, is in the same ballpark as streetcars depending on the assumptions one makes about future capital costs and discount rates.

    Yes, streetcars (or any fixed guideway vehicle) can be delayed by an obstruction, but the routes have a higher capacity. There is a tradeoff. How many times, for example, have there been bitter complaints about delays in the subway and bus shuttles?

    I am always amused/annoyed by the double standard applied to streetcars/LRT and subways where the advantage of rail transit over buses is clear. We cannot afford subways everywhere, and the service level on some streetcar lines today (never mind what is expected in coming decades as the population of the old city rises and car usage declines) would require buses on a scale that would be intolerable to motorists and challenging to physically operate. The upper end of this today is on King where the peak capacity is close to 3,500 per hour, or the equivalent of 70 buses/hour at an average load of 50/bus. At that level of service, there would be problems at intersections because the frequency of buses would be higher than that of the traffic signals (i.e. more than one bus per cycle).

    Bunching is a problem on both modes, but moreso on buses because they are driven as fast as conditions permit, unlike streetcars where operators are wary of high speeds, and because there is a strong desire to get to terminals early and leave late (but within TTC “on time” metrics) to get a long layover. I am not saying that operators do not deserve a break, but there is a question of reasonableness here. Decent length breaks and bunching are two separate issues.

    I must take issue with buses being used “in more neglected parts of a city”. This has become the standard line in the “Scarborough deserves a subway” debate. There is a simple reason why buses are used outside of the old City of Toronto: little of the streetcar network went into the suburbs in the 1950s because much of this territory was farmland with some industrial areas. Residential areas were concentrated along old roads (e.g. Kingston Road) and in a few towns. The suburban “radial” system had died off earlier due to the Great Depression, the lack of investment during WWII, and the rise of the automobile. A remnant of the Scarborough line to West Hill, the portion from Victoria Park to Birchmount, was abandoned when Metro was formed in 1954 and the street railways were cut back to the old City boundary. The lines to Richmond Hill and Weston were converted to bus and trolleybus operation, respectively, in 1948. The only survivor of the radial era is the service on Lake Shore Blvd. W. to Long Branch.

    The suburbs grew in the era of the automobile and were served by buses because that was the easiest way to provide transit in those less densely-populated areas compared to downtown, and where the type of employment concentrations that really drove demand on the streetcar network (e.g. the factories where Liberty Village and surrounding neighbourhoods now stand) simply did not exist. There were attempts to introduce LRT in the suburbs (and by that I do NOT mean the Scarborough RT technology, but streetcar-like vehicles on their own rights-of-way) in a TTC plan in the 1960s (superseded by provincial dreams of new technology that morphed into the RT in the 1980s), and by Transit City whose lines would be operating today if it were not for Rob Ford’s visceral hatred of David Miller and his plan, not to mention of streetcars.

    When the 1960s plan was proposed, the idea was to get a network of rail lines in place before the suburbs developed, but it was not to be. The lack of rail transit in the suburbs is not for lack of trying, and certainly not from some sort of plot to foist second rate transit on people who are not “downtown”.


  5. Thank you, Steve, for your answers to my questions, and the expanded explanations. You do a wonderful job of following the maddening politics and bureaucratics involved in the transit realities of Toronto, and setting the results out for our education. I only wish there were signs that our actual transit policies would also become better educated and better managed.

    Keep up the crusade!


  6. One thing giving an “edge” to the bus is the number of slow orders for streetcars. Is there a plan in place to repair the track or switches where the slow orders exist, or is this “state of good repair” below the line?

    Steve: The irony is that many of the intersections along the Queen route have fairly new track in good condition, but it’s easier for the TTC to issue a blanket slow order for the whole system. I think that they had a wakeup call with the damage to cars from track overdue for maintenance near Roncesvalles that damaged 22 cars, but who knows how much real change we will see. This is the problem of cutting back a little bit at a time compounded by the streetcar system not being top priority.


  7. It is good to see debate between Mr Ted Syperek and Mr Steve Munro. It is always good when two experts debate. But what both of these gentlemen missed is the injuries and deaths that are caused to streetcar passengers and streetcar tracks are also known to injure and kill cyclists. Streetcars on most Toronto routes are simply NOT safe. What has also been omitted by these two gentlemen is that vast swathes of major Toronto streets and major Toronto intersections that need to be closed for months on end for streetcar track construction and this is especially problematic when streetcars block or delay access to major emergency hospitals as even a few minutes lost can literally mean the difference between life and death for ambulance patients. Plus, the cost for streetcars needs to include not just the costs of streetcars and related infrastructure but also for the hundreds of shuttle buses that need to be operated all year round as streetcar substitutes and this is also something that Steve missed.

    Steve: I am really going to piss off the cyclists now. The streetcar tracks have been on Toronto’s streets for over a century, and they carry hundreds of thousand of passengers every day. Maybe you would prefer to have buses weaving to and from the curb and cutting you off all of the time?

    Intersections closed for months on end? Unless there is concurrent work on utilities, a typical intersection rebuild takes about three weeks as I have often documented here.

    Vast swaths? I think not. You might want to stay up to date on where work actually happens, and which road projects have nothing to do with streetcars, such as the lengthy work on Dundas. Dundas was a mess for much of 2019 thanks to an ongoing watermain replacement job, and that certainly made life difficult for cyclists (and everyone else). All sorts of construction screws up cycling routes (and transit for that matter).

    Hundreds of buses? At its peak, the bus replacement this year totalled less than one hundred vehicles, and that includes the buses running on streetcar lines because of late deliveries from Bombardier.

    Streetcars block access to emergency hospitals? In case you haven’t noticed, traffic generally blocks emergency vehicles. You are really reaching in the suggestion that getting rid of streetcars will improve emergency health operations.


  8. I guess we can’t determine if there were short turns or the amount of short turns that took place during the bus operation. I know the TTC has a policy to reduce short turns as much as possible, but running 90 or so buses from Neville to Long Branch with minimal short turns seems like it does more harm than good with guaranteed bunching on the route.

    During the bus operation I heard complaints mostly regarding the capacity on the buses, but I can imagine the crowding levels greatly varied on the buses due to sporadic headways. I can also say that as a rider, having a route where you can’t predict times using an app or site is very frustrating. People may see the next signed in bus on a prediction which may be 45 minutes away despite there actually being 10 buses coming before then. Another minor complaint I also heard was the bus route not serving the Ontario Food Terminal as walking from Windermere is further than from Humber Loop.

    I’m not sure what percentage of people taking the 501L take the 501 or 508 into downtown, but I figured it could’ve helped if the TTC activated the GO protocol to get between Mimico and Long Branch stations and Union Station to take some pressure off the 501. But they did not that I was aware of.

    Steve: There is a big hole in NextBus capabilities that it cannot handle a situation where service is substituted on this kind of scale on a route, even assuming operators logged on to “501” and Vision was tracking them all. NextBus won’t show vehicles with run numbers that aren’t in the schedule.


  9. Regarding the lack of information as to what buses might be coming and when….

    I have to assume that every bus and streetcar has a radio tagging transponder so the TTC knows where it is (if not, why not?). It would seem to be straightforward enough to use that ongoing information to identify every vehicle, live, on a route map of Toronto. So we could all see what vehicles are coming our way and judge the timing and wait-time. And the operations managers could see where there are knots and bunching and react accordingly. Perhaps this is how it works already, but why can not this information be public? What secrets would be revealed? This kind of openness should be able to help all of us.

    Steve: Where so you think I got the maps showing where buses were in real time? The mechanism exists and has existed for decades. All vehicles are polled for their location regularly by the TTC’s central system. In turn, this information is fed to NextBus which maps the information into both its own display and into the feed that is available to anyone for their own apps. The NextBus feed is also used by the signs in transit shelters and at stations to display pending arrival times.


  10. Concerning the broken track brakes on the new streetcars: Track brakes have been used for about 80 years on track a lot worse than what we currently have. I tried to answer the question ‘Why all of a sudden and so many streetcars are affected?’ The PCC track brake (As per 4500 at Rockwood) is suspended by springs, has a certain amount of freedom to move between its front and back stops. It also has a slope at the front and rear of the brake. If the brake hits something the sloping forward end will tend to push the brake up over the obstruction.

    The flexity track brakes appear to be square ended so if they hit something they do not easily move out of the way but rather take the full force of the strike. Their attachment appears to be designed to keep the track brake parallel to the track which reduces the freedom of movement.

    I suspect we will see this happen again. The danger is that the track brake may break loose completely and derail the rear wheel of the streetcar.


  11. During the bustitution, there could be five, ten, or even fifteen 501 buses laying over east of Long Branch loop. There were so many buses, riders who wanted Long Branch loop were told to get off well short of that, typically across from Thirty Seventh or Thirty Eighth St., leaving them with a 350+ metre walk, and the bus laid over wherever. It looked like a waiting line for subway shuttles. At some times, the buses were double parked.

    Curiously, there’s a Tim Hortons on the corner of Thirth Eighth and Lake Shore, right across the street from the parked buses.


  12. As a cyclist, I am not pissed off by streetcars and their tracks. They could be better, but so could everything else on Toronto streets. I _am_ pissed off by lack of care by the city in every other aspect of street design and maintenance. Lack of space, lack of safe routes. Crossing the Kitchener rail corridor on an east-west bike trip on King or Queen or Bloor is inviting death not because of streetcars but because the city will not take away space from single-occupancy automobiles to provide dedicated space for cyclists. Where bicycle lanes are provided, too often they are maimed by potholes that send riders flying off. And let’s not get into snow clearing.

    To give only one example, I would much rather ride eastbound from Spadina on Adelaide than on Front. Adelaide has old disused streetcar track, but cyclists are given space away from it, and even when they do have to cross the track, this is much better where dedicated cycle lane is provided: the lane closure past Duncan right now is much better than the situation past York – at Duncan cyclists are in between the old tracks but in their own dedicated space; at York cyclists are on a sharrow in front or beside an angry motorist and dodging double-parked delivery vehicles. On Front you’d be inviting death. On a street like Queen, the main danger is from parked cars or drivers in a rush racing past you, because you have no dedicated space of your own.

    For that matter, Bloor is another good example since it does not have streetcar tracks but it is quite unpleasant to cyclists in the parts that do not have a dedicated bike lane. Where the bike lane has been built it is like night and day.

    And as concerns road safety and lives in general, most road deaths in Toronto sadly happen in the outer-416 suburbs where there are no streetcars. A cyclist-on-track death, while tragic, is rare enough to make headlines and warrant follow-up articles, while “person dies after being struck by driver” is a four-paragraph news story every week.


  13. Thanks as always for the analysis Steve.

    My teeth begin to grind anytime I see a comparison of bus vs. streetcar that does not include a cost comparison. You have the information available and provide a fairly detailed summary in the comments – would you consider flagging it in the introduction (and perhaps linking to a cost comparison) when you compare those modes?

    I sometimes hear that bus service for 501 is “better”. But when pressed, those who prefer the bus generally agree that throwing away the existing infrastructure investment and hiring 2-3 times more operators at a greater cost to the system for the same service is a bad idea.

    Regarding buses travelling well over the speed limit – I hope city staff responsible for overseeing Vision Zero review that data and hold TTC service managers accountable for reining that in.

    Steve: Cost comparisons are tricky because a lot depends on what scenarios are compared. First off, one has to nail down the cost components, and for rail modes these fall into four (or for subway five) categories: hours, vehicle kilometres, peak vehicles, track kilometres and stations (for subways). Obviously buses do not have the track and stations component, expect for dedicated infrastructure like a BRT. Separating some of the basic costs into these components can be challenging because internal accounting systems do not break things down to a finely-grained enough level, and in fact I doubt this would be possible. Instead there’s a judgement call about, for example, which maintenance is affected by service usage, and which is simply a per vehicle cost.

    Next is the question of capital which as streetcar opponents never tire of pointing out includes all of that track and overhead. The situation is very different if one is costing a brand new line where all of that has to be established as opposed to an existing one where the basics are already in place. That capital investment lasts a very long time, although like anything (including subways) it has to be refreshed. However, the refresh is cheaper than a new build, especially when the original infrastructure is designed on the assumption of future partial replacement. With the infrastructure in place, there is a notional annual value (depreciation), but the money has been spent and it’s not as if ending streetcars will recoup it. The issue in comparisons is always for future comparative costs.

    That brings us to the question of what transit demand will look like in 20 years when one might conceivably see a “keep/discard” debate arise. The streetcar infrastructure has carried vastly more riders than it does today, but demand finally has someplace to go with the introduction of larger cars. Even more are needed, but the infrastructure is already in place.

    Without question, rail infrastructure has a cost, but oddly enough it is one that politicians and content, no, enthusiastic to embrace provided it is for a subway. If the capital cost of, say, the Vaughan extension were charged against the ridership (or against ongoing city budgets), the cost would be immense on a per rider basis. Even the operating cost per passenger is very high because it is the outer end of a line that is busy downtown, but deserted most of the time otherwise except mainly at York U Station.

    Years ago, the TTC, in common with other transit agencies, and in a practice descended from railways of the 19th century, cited all their costs per vehicle mile. This made buses look incredibly cheap because they tended to be used on faster routes and that diluted the hourly component of costs. Also in years past, buses were built to last with periodic rebuilds, and the TTC typically held onto them for almost 20 years. However, the bus industry no longer does this because, in North America, transit operators got out of the business of rebuilding vehicles, and government subsidy programs established a life cycle of 12 years after which money was available for replacement. Now that buses are getting more expensive with hybrids at close to $1m and battery buses well above that, the capital cost of that 12 year cycle is more evident. The TTC’s transition to the new shorter cycle was greased by using “infrastructure stimulus” money to replace a raft of elderly buses sooner than might have happened. (They were, by the way, unlikely to make it to 18 years, but the stimulus money made their early retirement possible at minimum penalty to the City and TTC.)

    By analogy to the old trolleybus fleet whose electrics were recycled into new bus bodies, it will be interesting to see whether a “recycling” market arises for battery buses when their bodies age to the point of replacement. Of course, if they are well-built, we may find that they last longer than diesels, but only time will tell.

    Meanwhile, demand is rising on the streetcar lines if only we would provide enough vehicles to handle it.


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