Are eBuses The Answer To Everything?

Over on spacing’s website, my friend John Lorinc has written The case for way more electric buses in which he wonders whether Toronto should just give up on building rail lines and focus on buying a large fleet of electric buses.

What New Money? And a Bit of History

The impetus for this is that the Federal government is handing out a potload of money for electrification according to a recent press release. Before I get into the details of Lorinc’s article, there is a vital statement in the press release:

This funding is part of an eight year, $14.9 billion public transit investment recently outlined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and will also support municipalities, transit authorities and school boards with transition planning, increase ambition on the electrification of transit systems, and deliver on the government’s commitment to help purchase 5,000 zero-emission buses over the next five years.

Yes, that’s right, this is not “new money” but a carve-out from a previous announcement that, when stretched over coming years, is a lot smaller than it sounds. Now we learn that of the $5.9 billion planned for 2021-2025, $2.7 billion or 46 per cent, is earmarked for electric vehicles. Transit systems that might have had their eye on other projects will have to think again.

Updated at 9:05 pm March 5: I have received a reply from Infrastructure Canada confirming my interpretation of the press release:

Hi Steve,

That’s correct.

The Prime Minister’s announcement on February 10, 2021 provided $14.9 billion for public transit projects over eight years, which included permanent funding of $3 billion per year for Canadian communities beginning in 2026-27. In the first five years, $5.9 billion will be made available starting in 2021 to support the near-term recovery of Canadian communities by several means, including supporting the deployment of zero-emission vehicles and related infrastructure.  

The announcement made on March 4th to invest in electrifying transit systems across the country funding is a part of this initiative. The funding is separate from funding currently available under integrated bilateral agreements in place with provinces and territories.

Source: Email from Infrastructure Canada Media Relations

The problem here is that by dedicating the funding to a specific type of project, the type of spending cities will make will skew to where the money is available. Indeed, they will rush to buy new buses with federal funding even though their existing fleet might not actually be due for replacement.

A further problem arises if the feds expect that this will be a cost-shared program. Will Toronto and Ontario pony up their share of a bus purchase plan, especially if it is accelerated beyond normal vehicle retirement cycles when they might have eyed the federal dollars for projects like the Waterfront LRT and the Ontario Line that are in various stages of engineering and procurement?

This continues the distortion of spending priorities we saw when Paul Martin’s government threw its support into hybrid buses. There was lots of money for hybrids, even though they had a 50 per cent cost premium over diesels, but if a transit agency simply wanted to buy more buses to run better service, and get the best bang for their buck with diesels, no federal money was available.

The cost premium for battery buses currently sits at about 50 per cent above hybrids, although this is likely to fall as the technology becomes more common.

Update March 6 at 8:00 am: With the cost of an eBus sitting at $1.0-1.2 million, generously assuming prices will fall as the industry ramps up, 5000 buses represent a capital cost of over $5 billion. It is quite clear that the federal program will not cover 100 per cent of the new vehicle costs. In the TTC’s capital plans, future buses remain largely in the “unfunded” category, and new City and provincial dollars will be needed. The federal funding reduces the cost of eBuses and infrastructure but does not represent a sudden supply of “free” vehicles.

At the TTC, there is a love for big bus replacement orders because it shifts costs from the operating budget (with small subsidies) to the capital budget (with very large subsidies) both by avoidance of vehicle rebuild costs and by shifting a large chunk of the fleet into a warranty period. (Warranty repairs effectively come out of the purchase price of the bus on the capital side of the ledger.)

This approach works well enough if the new technology pans out, but the TTC had a lot of problems with its first batch of hybrids. Generally speaking, the technology has not achieved quite the benefits originally hoped.

That issue of “benefits” bears examination too. Some cities expected to see big drops in diesel fuel costs, but this depended on buses running in a very urban stop-and-start environment where a lot of energy could be recouped from braking. The situation is very different on suburban routes. If one were looking to save big on fuel costs, hybrids might not quite achieve what one hoped.

Conversely, if the aim is to eliminate tailpipe emissions and the transit carbon footprint, that is quite another matter. However, it comes at a cost, and that at a time when transit systems are just trying to keep the lights on. There are hopes that going electric will save money, but this depends on the interaction of many factors:

  • How efficiently will a battery bus use power, allowing for conversion losses, and can a bus run a full day’s service without needing to recharge?
  • When will recharging power be consumed? Overnight when, presumably, there is surplus power for the taking, or during the day when power is less available and more expensive?
  • Will buses be built to last longer than 12 years on the assumption that without the vibration of a diesel engine they will last longer? What would be the implications for subsystems such as batteries and electronics? In effect, can the higher capital cost of the vehicle be amortized over a longer period?
  • What scale of charging infrastructure will be required, and how much does this effectively add to the per vehicle cost?

This is not to disparage electric buses. After all, I was part of a group that fought to save Toronto’s trolleybus system, an idea that reached the stage of a preliminary plan for network expansion by the TTC. However, there were forces working against trolley bus retention including:

  • TTC management who preferred to have an all-diesel fleet (this was 30 years ago, and hybrid technology was unheard of).
  • A “new technology” group in the Ontario Ministry of Transportation who had little to show for their existence.
  • A bus builder who wanted an easy contract to build vehicles for the TTC.
  • The natural gas industry which had, at the time, a surplus of product looking for a market.
  • A manufacturer of pressure tanks looking to market his wares. (I am not making this up. “Industrial development” gets into odd corners of the economy at times.)

The result was a move to buses fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) that were pitched as “green” and therefore an alternative to electric buses tethered to overhead wires. This scheme did not work out as well as hoped, and CNG had a short life as a transit technology in Toronto. But management was rid of the trolleybuses, and their real goal was achieved.

The TTC regularly claims that it has the largest fleet of electric buses in North America, although if you press them on the issue, they must admit that this only applies to battery buses. There are fleets of trolleybuses in other cities, some larger than Toronto’s ever was:

  • Vancouver has about 260 of which 74 are 18m articulated buses.
  • San Francisco has about 275 of which 93 are articulated.
  • Seattle has 174 of which 64 are articulated.
  • Boston has 50 of which 32 are articulated.
  • Dayton has 45 standard sized buses.
  • Philadelphia has 38 standard-sized buses.

All of these have off-wire capability to varying degrees allowing for short diversions when necessary. This was held as a shortcoming of trolleybuses by their critics even though off-wire was already a feature of new trolleybuses three decades ago.

The big change today is that the technology to carry on-board power has improved a lot, and cities can go electric without having to string a network of overhead wires.

This may seem like a lot of history to go through before I turn to the question of the future of electric buses in Toronto, but it is worth knowing of past technology issues and the unseen hand of government, through targeted subsidies, on the scales of transit planning judgements.

The State of LRT Planning in Toronto

Lorinc begins with this statement about LRT:

Exhibit A: According to the City’s latest estimates, the cost of the Eglinton East LRT (Kennedy to Malvern) has now doubled, to $4.4 billion – an eye-watering sum for surface rapid transit, no matter how worthy.

I cannot leave that accusation of doubling just hanging out in the air unchallenged. Other factors are at play:

  • The EELRT as now proposed would run north to Malvern Centre rather than terminating at University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC).
  • Earlier costs did not include a Maintenance & Storage Facility (carhouse and shops). Originally, a single carhouse on Sheppard at Conlins Road would have served both the Sheppard and EELRT routes, as well as a converted SRT when that was added to the Transit City network. Now the EELRT must bear this cost alone. Although the fleet will be smaller, the amount of specialized repair equipment will not scale down proportionately.
  • The approach to Kennedy Station now includes an LRT tunnel that will surface east of Midland Avenue. Previously, the LRT portal was just east of Kennedy Station, but the Scarborough Subway Extension structure is now in the way.
  • The original project cost does not include inflation due to delays in project initiation.

Lorinc continues:

My thought experiment is this: why, instead of the ceaseless melodrama of the subway/LRT projects that only get more costly by the quarter, are we not pouring money into a first class e-bus fleet running on dedicated rights-of-way on arterial roads across the city?

If the TTC allocates even a fraction of the capital into this kind of BRT network — no-carbon buses, high frequencies, reliable service, and therefore far less over-crowding — it can deliver huge mobility gains to parts of the city that wait and wait and wait for better transit.

Meanwhile, at great expense, the great and powerful transit Pooh-Bah, Doug Ford, will bury the Eglinton West LRT extension lest his constituents be frightened by the sight of streetcars passing through Etobicoke’s leafy groves on a street that was originally intended to be an expressway corridor. In Scarborough he will deliver a subway in place of an LRT line that could have been open now for at least six years.

This gets us into two fundamental questions that bedevil debates about transit in Toronto:

First, is it reasonable to expect that road space would actually be made available for true BRT operations in Toronto? Would the taking of lanes on Eglinton East (Leaside to Kennedy, now under construction), Eglinton West (Humber River to Renforth, now proposed as a tunnel), and Finch West (LRT in the early stages of construction), have been any more palatable had this been for buses?

By “for buses” I am not talking about painted lanes but dedicated space comparable to the BRT instalations in York Region. York started with wide roads that had plenty of room to expand, except in old town locations where the BRT infrastructure peters out. Many Toronto arterials do not have room for new lanes, and opposition is already brewing to plans for “RapidTO” red lanes on Jane, Dufferin and elsewhere.

If we are going to make a real difference for transit, we have to take road space away from cars. Conversely, if moving cars and providing parking/loading space is more important, then please do not waste our time talking about transit priority.

Simply replacing diesel or hybrid buses with electrics, but running them in the same traffic conditions will make a statement about out commitment to lower carbon emissions, but it will not say much about a commitment to transit. Indeed, unless capital subsidies for new buses continue indefinitely, this would commit us to future purchases of more expensive vehicles among many competing priorities for transit spending.

Second, the primary attraction to riders is service – as John Lorinc said “high frequencies, reliable service, and therefore far less over-crowding”. These goals are achieved primarily by running more buses, ensuring that they arrive regularly and that they have predictable, tolerable loads with room for all who wish to board.

The problem here is that nobody wants to pay for that, and the TTC goes out of its way to underplay crowding problems. In May 2019, what was supposed to be a quarterly report on crowding appeared in the CEO’s Report. Is has not been seen since. Even the reported information was at a summary level, and I had to request the details to find out which routes and periods of service had problems.

The RapidTO program on Eglinton East had only a small effect on overall travel time, and not much effect on service reliability. A good chunk of the time saving came not from the painted lanes, but from the elimination of stops by the TTC. Any fool can speed up transit service by getting rid of stops, although that may run counter to the basic ideas of customer-focus. Even if these removals could be justified, the point is that the saving was counted as a benefit of the red lanes when this could have been achieved any time by a workman with a van and a collection of “this stop not in service” signs.

When we talk about what service might be, regardless of the type of vehicle, we also have to talk about service quality. People love subways because, as a matter of policy, they run frequently and travel quickly because their stops are further apart than would be the case for a surface route. But if the subway network were subject to the same service standards as our bus routes, trains would run less frequently in off peak periods, and some parts of the network might be threatened with less than full 7-day, 20-hour service.

An important discussion in any debate of transit technology is the capacity it can provide and the future demand it must support. Some LRT proposals in North America face legitimate criticism for using a heavier technology than might be appropriate for a corridor. Some are more streetcars than rapid transit. However, this does not invalidate LRT per se, merely warn against overbuilding. (Yes, subway boosters, that message is for you too!)

Running More Bus Service

There is a double standard when it comes to surface transit. As Lorinc notes, the bus network carried “slightly more passenger-kilometres in 2019 (235 million) than did the subway”. But every attempt to get more bus service is met with push-back due to the capital cost for buses and garages, and the ongoing operating cost to run more service.

Today we are in the ironic state that the TTC has a fleet of over 2,000 buses, but their peak service requirement is only 1,527 vehicles (March 28, 2021 schedules) including 86 buses serving streetcar routes during construction projects. Yes, these are pandemic times with decreased riding, but when the demand returns, will the TTC be able to afford more service? In January 2020, the peak service requirement was 1,625 and even that kept a generous pool of spare buses (about 400), larger than the industry standard.

The TTC should be able to add 200 buses to its current peak service on the bus network, especially if pending purchases will eliminate the last of the old, unreliable fleet, and allowing for reclaiming vehicles from the streetcar network. However, running even the existing bus and streetcar fleets at full utilization will drive up operating costs, and no government stands ready with a cookie jar full of operating subsidies.

Lorinc argues that with the money we would save on expensive rail projects, there is “a generational opportunity to change directions, for the better”. Maybe, but that does not address the question of operating costs for much-expanded service. (To be fair, running an LRT or subway isn’t cheap either, especially when they are underground.)

Looking Elsewhere for Examples

When we talk about BRT in Toronto, we are usually talking about paint, some signs, and a gentle exhortation that motorists should stay out of what they once looked on as “their” lane. Enforcement is almost totally absent. It will be interesting to see how easily some sort of discipline will be reasserted on King Street as traffic and transit demand build up again, or if there will even be an attempt. Hand-wringing, yes; action, no.

The most commonly cited examples of BRTs, moreover, are in Latin America and cities like Bogota, Colombia. But Ottawa’s OC Transpo BRT network served middle-class suburbanites for decades, while GO’s express bus fleet has pumped 905 commuters into GO and TTC stations for just as long.

The BRT systems in Bogata and Ottawa involve dedicated infrastructure sometimes on private roads and sometimes on very wide arterials. That is not what we’re talking about in Toronto. I am trying to imagine a BRT station with multiple bays for buses in each direction occupying the equivalent of four – not two – four road lanes at a major intersection. At that scale, there are issues with station access and pedestrian traffic.

As for GO’s express bus fleet, it is a fraction of the size needed to describe it as “pumping” riders into the TTC, unless one is talking about a very small pump. GO Transit is fed primarily by parking lots, and its greatest fault is the abdication of local service to each municipality, to the degree they wish to fund it.

One thing common to Bogata and Ottawa is that they have (or had in Ottawa’s case) extremely frequent service. Ottawa’s was so successful that it is now an LRT surface/subway, although that project had its own share of problems with construction and operations.

A few BRT success stories are commonly cited without looking at how their infrastructure would or could map onto Toronto, let alone their service levels.

Whither eBuses?

The shift away from fossil fuels is a strong political and social issue of our times. This shift is more easily implemented for major infrastructure investments or renewals, for fleets as opposed to individual vehicles because there are economies of scale. That will catch up in the private, individual vehicle market eventually, but fleets are the low-hanging fruit.

Clean energy is quite another matter, and there is a huge difference in where energy comes from depending on where one lives. Indeed, there is substantial controversy over whether Toronto’s electrical generation mix is “green” because there is relatively little gas and no coal generation, or “dirty” because of the long term problems of nuclear waste. Future technology such as solar and wind are coming along bit by bit, but there is a huge drag from investments in existing infrastructure and the industries that support it.

At its April 14, 2021, meeting, the TTC Board expects to receive a report on its eBus program including an updated fleet plan for the conversion. A project of this scale does not include just the purchase of buses, but the conversion of garages to support vehicle charging and the maintenance of electric rather than diesel buses. Even the three garages that now host eBuses only have enough charging capacity for that small fleet, not for a full cutover to electric operation. McNicoll Garage will open for revenue service on March 28, and it was designed and built for diesel/hybrid buses.

The TTC does not plan to open another bus garage until the early 2030s, in part because of buses that will be released by LRT conversions on Eglinton and Finch in the next few years. Would this be enough to handle an aggressive burst of transit growth on the bus network? A long-standing problem at the TTC is that they only project for growth at barely inflationary levels, and in the process fall behind overall growth across the city.

Council avoids new taxes to support operating, as opposed to capital, budgets. In coming years, opening new rapid transit lines will push up the operating budget further straining the TTC’s ability to support regular bus and streetcar routes. This is the opposite of the direction Toronto should be headed.

It is not enough to simply show up with bags of cash, but also to recognize that change on this scale takes several years and ensure that project funding fits into a reasonable timeline. Moreover, funders must acknowledge that just buying vehicles addresses barely half of the problem.

Job stimulus is a noble goal, but if there is no move to expand service with net purchases of buses beyond what would otherwise happen in normal replacement cycles, then there is no real stimulus. There is also the question of whether a new eBus will have more or less Canadian content than the vehicles we use today depending on where various technology components come from.

With a handful of exceptions, the city has never really tried to offer exceptionally reliable, high-frequency bus service on dedicated rights of way over a broad and inclusive geography.

Well, there was the failed attempt of Transit City that was largely a surface LRT network, and rail was chosen because of the projected demand in most corridors. It was designed as a network, but what we are getting is fragments, and overpriced fragments in some cases at that.

But I agree with John Lorinc that Toronto has never even though of, much less tried to offer exceptional bus service. That would require political advocacy and stamina our political leaders do not have.

There are two issues here: making transit better, and buying new cleaner buses. They should not be entwined. It will be years before Toronto’s bus fleet is even half electric, and yet we can start work on aggressively improving transit today. Capital projects are politically convenient because the payoff is somewhere off in the future. Those responsible for managing and funding our system can continue in set ways. We need real change now.

Yes, buy eBuses, but recognize that better service is something we can do now, and completely taking over road space is not the only solution. We must not hold good service hostage to a road plan that might never be implemented, or to a technology that will will take a decade to fill out Toronto’s bus fleet.

A trolley bus passes under a bridge that once carried interurban electric service from West Toronto to Guelph. June 1981. Today this is the intersection of Weston Road & Gunns Road.

37 thoughts on “Are eBuses The Answer To Everything?

  1. You aren’t kidding; it’s a very complex topic.

    I’ve always felt that dropping trolley buses was one of the dumbest moves made in Toronto’s long history of questionable changes in public transit. One waits in vain, to this day, for anything approaching a coherent rationale for that decision.

    I have no idea whether present decisions, if they are actually carried out, will look good 30 years into the future, but I feel confident about two points related to electric technology.

    One is that electric motors, as you suggest, are much simpler than diesels, and can last a long time with very little maintenance. I suspect that replacement costs, when necessary, will also be much cheaper.

    The other is concerned with the recent improvements in battery technology, which will continue, and will allow considerable flexibility in charging methodology in the very near future.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks. I am much more interest in service, reliability, and capacity than technology, and yes there are unfortunate echoes of the CNG and Hybrid-Electric Orion bus orders before. Note that Hamilton (which also junked its electric bus fleet in and switched to CNG) is now touting “RNG” for its buses, treating its passengers with obstructed vinyl wraps.

    That’s a great photo at the end. It not only shows the 89 Weston Streetcar and the old Toronto Suburban Railway/CN spur line, it also shows the remains of the St. Clair streetcar tracks that led to Avon Loop (and before that the TTC/ToYR Weston streetcar), and the old Willys-Overland plant which is just undergoing demolition.

    Steve: Ah yes. “RNG” : another attempt by the natural gas industry to preserve its market.

    As for the photo, I could not resist one with so many electric references including the hydro corridor.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Indeed, unless capital subsidies for new buses continue indefinitely, this would commit us to future purchases of more expensive vehicles among many competing priorities for transit spending.”

    Many countries have announced that non-electric vehicle sales will be banned in 2030. By the time these buses would retire in the mid 2030s, electric buses will probably be the only option, anyway.

    Steve: This is true, but it does not change the fact that as cheap diesel buses cease to be part of the mix, ongoing capital renewal costs for fleets will go up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sigh. I guess the trolleybus is now officially obsolete.

    Steve: Not quite. Systems that have them already have the infrastructure, and there is also the question of enroute charging to save on layover time. Down but not out.


  5. As battery technology improves, streetcars may be retrofitted so that overhead cables become unnecessary. Will this be the end of streetcars? Rapid direct charging at stations may eventually eliminate the need for expensive GO train catenary wires. I don’t see contingency plans for this in our planners.

    Steve: There is a fundamental limit to the amount of energy that vehicles can carry around with them. The further you want to travel off wire, and the heavier the vehicle, the more the batteries weigh and the greater the charge needed to sustain them. There are also a lot of conversion losses that don’t exist when power simply flows from an overhead wire to the motors. This applies on an even greater basis for trains. Overhead (and third rail) isn’t going away tomorrow. However, buses with on and off wire capability could drive on wired trunk corridors and then go off wire for branches and diversions. Recharging would occur while under wire.

    As for streetcars, the distinction is less whether there is an overhead wire (there are already some lines that have sections of overhead-free operation in historic zones), but whether there are tracks which allow for larger vehicles and trains, not to mention the ability to operate in tighter quarters than free-wheeling buses could.


  6. Quick question for now, I’m still poring over the many Infrastructure Canada links looking for a definitive answer, and the more I look, the more I can’t find one:

    The latest announcement *alludes* to electric buses, but as the staged setting in Ottawa reveals, the LRT appears included. Much of the material from many gov’t links supports LRT, and much of the thrust in the latest announcement *apparently* is about battery tech as much as it is about buses themselves.

    As if the overlapping Infrastructure Canada and InfraBank isn’t muddled enough (ostensibly on purpose to obfuscate the massive unspent CIB funding allotment) so are the details of exactly which funding goes where for what?

    Steve: Not to mention that the Minister’s own announcement goes on at length about 5,000 electric buses whose combined value, never mind supporting infrastructure, is more than double the total dollar value of the program, There is a lot of fudging and double counting going on here that omits the scale of investment needed by local and provincial governments.

    As an illustration of how obtuse the stark details lend themselves to be, and as unworkable in Canada as this could be, this appears to fit the vague descriptions for funding announced so far:

    Are Chinese trackless trams the best new thing to hit the road in your city?

    Steve: I know this will sound unkind, but there has been enough technology hype out of China in the last while that I will not take this seriously without a real-world implementation in a country where the results can be verified. As the article points out, although one avoids tracks, one does not avoid the need to take road space and invest in stations, control systems, etc. The idea of regular recharging at stops is basic, although this also implies a charging infrastructure everywhere to achieve this. Also, as I have said elsewhere, there are big energy losses in the whole process relative to drawing power from overhead and feeding it directly to motors. So much of this seems to be bound up in battery development technology, not transit per se. After all, BYD started out as a battery company looking for an application for their prodct, not as a bus company.

    In practical terms for Canada, applicability would end at “trackless”…but the lack of catenary by having batteries recharged at station stops would be just as apt a use of the funding as electric buses…perhaps even more so due to increased efficiency via steel on steel wheels and rails, both for thrust and regenerative braking.

    Ironically, Bombardier were partners in at least one of the CRRC projects in the article linked.


  7. Ottawa’s transitway looked impressive when I started using it in 2006. But it was essentially paving over CN and CP tracks. So it didn’t go where people needed it to. So if you parked at a park and ride you were ok. If you needed to transfer to local service it was not.

    It broke a network of local services which were useful and considerably increased trip times despite the fact that politicians forced OC Transpo to abuse the Transitway as a bus highway instead of properly using it as a trunk route. The STO in Gatineau did the same thing initially with their BRT the Rapibus with the same disastrous results although the STO to its credit only took two years to repair the damage.

    Far from being successful, the broken service that it represented meant that people abandoned OC Transpo. It took 25 years for OC Transpo to carry the same number of passengers as it did pre BRT and that is despite Ottawa’s population growing considerably, meaning that transit’s share of transportation is much lower than pre-BRT.

    Ottawa per LRT is an example of what not to do and the inherent problems with BRT.

    There much that is wrong of course, but I’ll stop here.

    Steve: You bring up the common problem that just because there is a right-of-way, it is not necessarily well-placed for transit demand unless, maybe, it was a former transit route that established riding patterns in the first place like the Pacific Electric in Los Angeles. Planners, amateur and professional, fall victim to the trap of drawing lines on convenient, if inappropriate, locations on the map.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Canada is a large country with natural resources that can provide energy for more than e-buses, yet the city of Toronto acts like they don’t have money. What gives?

    Canada should be leading the way for alternative energy. Plenty of natural gas in Newfoundland, water, streams, hydroelectric, solar, wind and most importantly, land.

    It seems to me that artificial scarcity and unfair taxation is in play. Build more condos, but the city doesn’t have the money to provide the infrastructure for the condos. Look at Yonge-Eglinton. It’s a mess. Dozens of more condos higher than 60 storeys under construction today, yet no money according to the City of Toronto.

    Steve: Natural gas is not “alternative energy”.

    What does “artificial scarcity” have to do with this issue anyhow? We are barreling ahead with electrification with little discussion of generation and distribution capacity.

    As for Yonge-Eglinton, that is as much the fault of a provincial government that overrides local planning and decrees that areas around rapid transit stations should be built up and up and up. Toronto does get both development charges (dwindling thanks to Ford) and property taxes, but they go to pay for the infrastructure and services needed for the higher density. There isn’t a pot of gold sitting around to spend on transit expansion or electrification.


  9. I don’t for a moment claim that catenary-less LRTs are a solution, for a start, as with buses and other tired vehicles, Canada’s cold winters are an impediment for battery propulsion (a whole topic in itself, I’m an electronic tech) but be aware of Perth, Australia’s ongoing electric battery buses (they build them in Perth) and their consideration of of a “trackless and catenary-less tram”:

    [Perth’s next public transport investment must introduce a new ‘intermediate transit system’ – faster and better than buses but cheaper and more integrated than heavy rail.
    The Proposal

    Commit to providing a metropolitan Tram Network across the Perth metropolitan area by 2030.
    Fund the world-first trial of trackless trams in Perth by 2021, starting with a Phase 1 Trial Line running in an East-West route from Burswood station to St Georges Terrace and a major North-South link along Beaufort Street to Morley, as proposed by International transport experts.
    Establish a specialist Perth Tram Network Team in the Department of Transport to plan the overall network, deliver the trial, and develop Transit Activated Corridors (TAC) Plan for Perth that focuses on transforming main road corridors to a string of urban regeneration in precincts along major roads.]


    There are a number of research papers online on this, and as stated, I’m dubious on this exercise, but watching closely, battery tech has come leaps and bounds, and I was at first dubious of battery buses, but their real-world performance is impressive for acceleration, ride comfort ostensibly economy (the latter still an open question)…but what holds true for battery buses can hold true for other vehicles running at least in part on battery accumulation.

    That being said, mechanical flywheels are also being revisited, pioneered for buses half a century ago in the UK (on a few chosen Routemasters). The problem was delamination of the wheel, materials are far superior for that use now.

    I’m still digging on trying to find the details for this announcement pertaining only to buses. The PR releases allude to such, but I’ve yet to read legal detail.


  10. If you want a really good example of a rail transit line on a right of way that is not well placed at all then you need to look no further that the Red Line in Cleveland. That line has always been handicapped by the fact that its only downtown station is at the western end of Cleveland’s downtown. A couple of times a downtown subway was approved by voters but a county engineer managed to lobby the county commissioners not to issue the bonds to pay for its construction.


  11. The benefit of electric buses is you can buy them, run them and build the BRT or tunnels for them independently of each other…I say buy the buses, get more than you need…build the service by flooding the zone, and then when people start clamouring for dedicated lines build them…once electric BRT is in place automate lines where possible.

    Steve: “Flooding the zone” with transit is not something Toronto is accustomed to doing. We could have been doing this with diesels or hybrids for decades, but chose instead to run as little service as possible while fighting over who gets the next rapid transit line and where, not to mention what they “deserve”.

    We came close to undersizing Leslie Barns, and even though it is slightly larger than we needed (in theory), the TTC forgot to allow for the relocation of all major maintenance work from Hillcrest. Now there is a projectto convert at least part of Harvey Shops as a fourth carhouse so that we have someplace to put all of the additional cars we plan to buy.


  12. Changing Technology

    I recall the trolley coaches on several routes including Junction, Annette, Weston Rd etc. They were fast, clean and quiet!

    Their biggest fault was very slow going through intersections where other trolley coach routes ran. Frequent de-wirements. This was due to the obsolete trolley wheel they were equipped with. Modern type of power collectors would have cured that at minimal cost.

    Steve: Actually it was due to poor overhead maintenance and design. Vancouver had much better overhead than Toronto, but with the same shoes on the trolley poles (not wheels, never on TBs). Vancouver TB drivers go through special work on the assumption that the poles will stay on the wire. They also didn’t let their system fall apart in anticipation / support of abandonment the way the TTC did.

    An important distinction is that Vancouver intersections have a secondary suspension above the overhead to handle the vertical load rather than trying to do this through horizontal spans as the TTC did. We now have this arrangement on the streetcar overhead that has been converted for pans: a “spider” above the intersection that carries the main load. The result is overhead that stays where it is supposed to be.

    There is a direct analogy to the way Toronto puts slow orders on streetcar intersections rather than fixing the track and the electric switch controllers.

    CNG powered buses were short-lived.

    Early type Hybrid buses were not the great savior they were touted to be. Very expensive to acquire. Thought to be big fuel savers (40% ?) based upon New York City’s use of some 900 (?) of these buses. However, it seems there were no “Boots on the ground” to look them over. Turns out they were no where near the fuel savers (10% ?) due to fact NYC’s heavy congestion held buses to very low speeds compared to many of TTC’s routes. High enroute failures made tow truck operators rich!

    It will be most interesting to hear details of the Battery buses.


  13. Erick makes a really interesting comment about the Ottawa BRT route choices leading to a decline in (at least relative) ridership when it was built. I never knew that was the case.

    I grew up in Ottawa in the 70s, and pretty much took the bus everywhere and all the time. The routes worked pretty well and I rarely felt the need to own a car. A few years ago I looked at the BRT reworked transit map, and concluded that were I to move back to my old neighbourhood I’d more than likely rely upon a car instead transit, due to the odd BRT-centric routes.

    Erick’s comment makes me think my reaction wasn’t an isolated case.


  14. Changing Technology

    Recharging battery buses is something that will require careful planning in order to avoid overloading hydro transmission lines especially as large numbers of EV’s come on line. Spreading recharging locations across the city may be something that will be necessary.

    Many stations have Green P parking lots adjacent to subway stations. These could be utilized to recharge buses overnight including a number of buses laying over at the actual subway station bus bays and extra parking spots that they also have. A small TTC garage staff could be assigned to each station and Green P recharging facility to connect/unconnect buses as well as perform basic interior cleaning and possibly exterior as well. A small contingent of spare battery (or diesel) buses cold also be parked at each station as protect for battery buses that require heavier work that would have to be carried out at regular Division garages. These Division garages would of course also recharge a major portion of battery buses.

    All of the above dependent upon available hydro capacity at each location which will require a careful balancing.

    Steve: For the amount of power involved, I think it is actually simpler for Hydro to establish a presence at each garage as if it were a major industrial facility. Parking lots are not ideal locations because they are unheated, and there is no provision for the auxiliary equipment needed for basic vacuuming and washing.


  15. Has anyone done and published a study of all the external problems (I am sure it has been done but not published) as to the effects on the power grid, the damage caused to the environment from the mining, the problem with getting rid of used batteries, how extra power will be generated? The TTC’s new ebuses have diesel heaters. I am afraid that this is a new panacea that will die out in the end.


  16. Vandalism and graffiti would be a concern if buses are parked at random spots. I seem to recall that subway cars in Vincent yard got tagged, so the already existing fence had to be upgraded.


  17. Robert Wightman: The TTC’s new ebuses have diesel heaters.

    Only the American Proterra buses use diesel heating. Chinese BYD buses are fully electric including heating. Canadian New Flyer electric buses are also fully electric. TTC did not order electric buses from Nova Bus which is a Canadian company whose electric buses are also fully electric. Proterra buses should be dropped because they use polluting diesel for heating.

    Steve: The purpose of the diesel for heating is to extend the range of the batteries during cold weather. When you charge a bus, the power can be used for propulsion or heating, but using it for one reduces power available for the other.

    The TTC’s spec when they invited proposals was for a bus that could stay out all day without recharging. NovaBus did not have such a vehicle and therefore did not bid. The TTC has discovered that the battery capacity for buses that were supposed to have all-day capability was not as good as hoped, especially in cold weather. An option they are now considering is on-route charging stations. With this configuration, the need for supplementary onboard power should be reduced or eliminated.

    We will see which tactic management proposes when the eBus evaluation report comes out in April.

    Please see my article on the November 2020 Board meeting where the status of the evaluation was discussed.


  18. The parking lot chargers I have seen are 35 amp, 220volts, capable of delivering about 7kw/hour. Our house has 200 amp service for a maximum of about 40kw.hour at maximum load. A bus with a 100 HP motor would draw about 55kw/hour or about 400 kw per 8 hour day. To provide for an 8 hour day, on a parking lot charger would take about 60 hours. At maximum load our house would take about 8 hours to provide an 8 hour running time for a bus. Our actual usage is about 7% of our theoretical monthly usage.

    So to operate a bus for a month it would take the power equivalent of about 14 houses.

    Guess why they are talking about a big substation for a garage with many electric buses.

    Steve: Some years ago, when batteries were not quite what they are now, and neither was wind generation, I calculated that the wind turbine at the CNE could power only a few buses with its output. There are also a LOT of conversion losses along the way. People are fond of pointing out how little of the energy in gasoline actually moves people in cars, but the same is true of other energy form too. And we won’t talk about the energy used to build and operate oil wells, refineries, pipelines, etc., vs building something like a nuclear power plant and associated infrastructure. I am not knocking electrification, but I don’t think there is an appreciation for just how much energy it takes to move a fleet of buses around. The attraction comes if, and it’s a big if, one can generate “clean” power, also from the supposed low cost of “surplus” overnight power for charging. The moment we have to build new generation capacity, things change a lot.

    In Vancouver’s study of eBuses, they note that “Each bus will need to be able to charge at an average rate of 50 kW” although they go on to talk about charging rates of 150kW. In route chargers run at 450 kW because they have to be fast. There are also limitations in the distribution system for in-route charging that might not be convenient to a major node in the network.

    The current (January 2021) status of Vancouver’s plan is in this Translink update. The original plan from February 2020 is part of the Translink Mayors Council Agenda. (Scroll down for the presentation deck and report.)

    It is worth noting that when the TTC considered the matter of eBuses in early 2020, their staff did not even know of the work Vancouver had already done in this subject.

    It is worth noting that the charging infrastructure is generally more expensive than the vehicles and, therefore, is a significant part of the capital cost of conversion.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Any word on when the TTC plans to get a few vehicles from Nova to test their long range all electric vehicles?

    Steve: There is supposed to be a status update in April at which point we may find out where the TTC is headed including inviting Nova to be part of the mix of bidders.


  20. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a push by some manufacturers for Hydrogen! TfL in London are pretty keen – as the Hydrogen buses have longer range, and take less time to “fill up”!

    We’re at around 400 ZE buses in London, with around 700 by the end of 2021… Popular with the public, but they do take a long time to charge – taking up lots of depot space.

    Steve: There are various competing technologies including battery-electric, hydrogen and “renewable” natural gas, the latter pushed here by the natural gas industry. Hydrogen has issues with production and storage, and the disadvantage that it does not have an existing infrastructure or corporate advocacy. The balance has changed with improvement in batteries and in fast charging technology. I noticed that the Guardian article you linked is from 2019. Moreover, the “greenness” of the hydrogen produced for London depends on having a source of clean electricity: “green hydrogen produced via North Kent offshore wind farms”.

    Something that is long overdue is a comparative analysis of various energy sources including provision for extraction/generation, delivery/transmission, storage, fueling and eventual on-vehicle use.


  21. One of the things that has repeatedly messed up transportation in Toronto over many years is the bad habit of senior levels of government to cram their latest pet technology down our throats. I cannot think of a single instance in which this has turned out well.

    What governments should do is establish the goals they are trying to achieve, but be technology-agnostic about how to achieve them.

    Steve: The problem is that the goal has less to do with transit than with industrial development (sometimes with good lobbyists pushing a “solution”) or real estate speculation by friends of the government in the case of transit corridors, not to mention consultants who make themself “useful” to pols by saying “have I got a plan for you”. SmartTrack is a good example.


  22. I think that people are tired of endless streetcar track construction. These streetcar tracks and dangerous for cyclists as well. Trackless streetcars solve this problem. Overhead wires are also prone to damage from storms which can result in power outages as well and shuttle buses have to be hauled in from other parts of the city just to replace streetcars causing headaches for everyone. I think that hydrogen powered trackless streetcars are the perfect solution. Trackless streetcars are also much cheaper to implement and will save money as we will not need endless streetcar track construction. The problem is that our politicians and TTC board members are not aware of the existence of hydrogen powered trackless streetcars in China. To this end, we should all contact emailing our city councillors and TTC board members and the mayor’s office asking them to consider hydrogen powered trackless streetcars for Toronto.

    Steve: I also believe in unicorns.

    Frankly I am tired of cyclists dissing streetcars. You want the world reordered to suit your bias when there are cities all over the world with many cyclists and streetcars too. It’s a question of street design, not of getting rid of streetcars because you don’t like the tracks.


  23. Steve says

    “It is worth noting that the charging infrastructure is generally more expensive than the vehicles and, therefore, is a significant part of the capital cost of conversion.”

    This is true of the 450kW on-route chargers, but not the other technologies. Overnight charging, even for a bus, is cheap, in the $10,000-$25,000 range at the high end, but usually less than $5k. At the same time, you don’t need a 450kW unit per bus, just one per route or routes that share the bay in question. Given the TTC’s love of schedule padding I bet they can get away with overnight chargers and a few 150kW units to top up in the trickier spots! [Only half kidding]

    Steve: The price you are quoting is well below the cost of installing infrastructure in TTC’s garages for the trial of 60 buses, let alone a complete conversion. The amount involved is large enough that one option under consideration is that Hydro would finance the infrastructure and recoup this through power charges. This has implications for capital vs operating budget tradeoffs because there is a much higher subsidy on the capital side.

    As for Robert Wightman’s comment:

    “Has anyone done and published a study of all the external problems (I am sure it has been done but not published) as to the effects on the power grid, the damage caused to the environment from the mining, the problem with getting rid of used batteries, how extra power will be generated? The TTC’s new ebuses have diesel heaters. I am afraid that this is a new panacea that will die out in the end.”

    This has been studied, not quite as intensely as electric cars, but it is extremely settled science. The lifecycle environmental impact of an electric bus is far better than for diesels, even after accounting for the mining and other concerns. As the grids around the world get cleaner & the battery tech matures the advantage for e-buses only gets bigger. For example, this article.

    Steve: I am not sure that this article takes any account for the battery infrastructure, only the power consumed by the bus and how “clean” or not it is. Ergo, Robert’s question is not fully answered although the numbers there are certainly interesting.


  24. Street design, cyclist taking his chances, London circa 1935.

    Steve: A few things worth noting in that video. First, the track has a narrower flangeway than streetcar track in Toronto. Second, there is almost no special work (switches, crossings) enroute. Third, t’s a complete free-for-all. Fourth, the power pickup uses a third rail conduit system. This tends to work ok except in snow which is comparatively rare in London.


  25. A diesel bus life-cycle is estimated in 13 years or 14 years. Trolleybus usually have a life-cycle of 20, 23, and 19 years, depending upon the source. E-buses are too new to quote, but some of the batteries are said to have a lifespan of 10-12 years, before recycling.

    Steve: I think that “some” is the operative word here and depends on development of the technology. Batteries in the hybrid buses certainly did not last anywhere near that long.


  26. Steve, what is your obsession with having tracks in the middle of the street? Trackless streetcars are much cheaper to implement and do not involve closing roads and intersections for months and months and months on end? The additional benefit is that trackless streetcars do not pose a danger to cyclists but I am not a cyclist. The TTC should also consider bi-articulated buses which are in use in many parts of the world.

    Steve: On most streetcar routes in Toronto, there are only four lanes available, and the curb lane is used at least some of the time for parking and loading activities (not to mention snow storage in winter). At intersections, the curve radius to make turns is such that any turning vehicle will have to move into the central lane.

    Moreover, if there is going to be room for cyclists, it is they who have first claim on curb lane space, not transit vehicles.

    The length of some reconstruction projects, notably the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles project now underway, is often caused by work on utilities like water mains that are 100 years old. The TTC typically does intersection replacements much more quickly, and even tangent track replacements are now sped up by the way the previous generation of track was laid so that only the topmost (of three) layer of concrete needs to be removed. I have documented several of these rapid replacement projects on this site.

    Your bias is showing up in exaggerating these projects as if they occur all the time everywhere. They do not. The replacement cycle for track is 25-30 years, and the TTC is actually nearly at the end of the current cycle in which all track will have been built to modern standards. One major pending job is on Broadview from Gerrard to Danforth where the track dates from 1999. However that work will not occur until 2022 because this year’s project is a major water main replacement.

    And please do not call them “trackless streetcars”. They are buses with a guidance system.

    When I look worldwide, there are hundreds of streetcar and LRT systems, and they are not disappearing.


  27. Hi Steve,

    As a long time follower of your blog (almost 10 years!) and first time poster, I must say that the push for eBuses definitely has a strong resemblance to the CNG and first gen hybrid fiascos which were also tied to conditional CapEX funding.

    The battery-electric technology, no matter how it’s taking hold of the personal vehicle market does have a strong resemblance of the past technologies and I fear that regardless of what manufacturer is selected, we’ll be repeating what has happened in the past by being part of the early adopters club. While some of the CNG buses worth keeping were converted to diesel and the hybrids could operate in diesel-only mode, I’d imagine that we’ll have an egg on our face with e-buses which with the ever growing stigma of using fossil fuel-based propulsion sources would mean that if the batch turns out to be lemons, then we’re stuck with terrible reliability until there’s a budget to replace those vehicles.

    On the point of bus service, I believe there was a transit city bus plan that was supposed to go along with the LRT plan which was unfortunately scrapped and replaced with (so far) horrendous service cuts that haven’t been seen since the ’90s. Its disappointing that while there is some focus on resuming some operational subsidies, there isn’t any focus on increased service or even sufficient funding to hire the operators to run said service. It feels like our motto will always be to provide less service than required so that the taxpayer can feel like they saved a dime.

    For some reason, it reminds me of when there was media outcry a number of years back over bus operators sitting at the garages waiting for an unplanned subway shutdown so that shuttle buses can be deployed immediately. Funny that since those positions were eliminated through attrition, people complain about how long it takes for shuttle buses to be deployed as well as their local bus route being poached since its an “all hands on deck” situation.

    Steve: Yes, there is a problem with the TTC actually having more buses and streetcars than they use today, nominally because of service reductions for Covid and for major maintenance programs, but if they ever want/need to build back to full utilization, they will need more operators. The TTC dodges around this by saying that they are running close to full service now, but that is simply not true as one can see by comparing vehicle hours operated today with values in past years. Schedules for the first half of 2021 have been cut slightly from planned levels because riding has not returned to expected levels thanks to the “second wave” over the winter. It remains to be seen what will happen through the summer and fall.

    I suspect that the 2022 budget year will be a challenge because much of the provincial and federal special covid funding will evaporate, and yet other revenues like fares might not be back to pe-covid levels.

    As for the eBus technology there are two challenges. First that it will work as well as hoped (the TTC has already reported that some of the manufacturers’ claims were on the rosy side), and whether the TTC will lock into a single large purchase from one builder who may be hungry for the contract and politically connected to ensure that they win the bid, or spread the work among two or three vendors so that if any one is problematic, they can redirect orders without going back through a full tender.

    Thanks for reading for all these years!


  28. “These streetcar tracks and (sic) dangerous for cyclists as well.”

    There is no danger when streetcar tracks and cycling infrastructure are both correctly designed and maintained. Amsterdam is laced with streetcar tracks and cycling is the most popular means of transportation. Yet 8-year-old children riding to school have no problem. See [this article].

    Cycling infrastructure should ensure that streetcar tracks are always crossed as close as possible to a 90 degree angle. The Dutch CROW standard recommends a minimum 60 degree crossing angle. There are numerous intersections in Toronto where the angle is well below this safe minimum for someone who is simply riding straight through the intersection. This makes it necessary to engage in some bizarre maneuvers to ensure safety. See [this article]

    Whether through incorrect design, installation or maintenance, there are cases in Toronto where the streetcar track sticks up out of the pavement. This is extremely dangerous.

    Steve: There are always going to be streetcar intersections where the geometry and crossing angle of tracks is dictated by the placement of curves and this is impossible to avoid especially with our 4-lane streets where a cycling lane may be close to the streetcar tracks and therefore cross curves before they have a chance to turn to a sharp enough angle. It is self-evident that a 60 degree crossing is only possible “late” in the curve where it is close its alignment in the cross street. For example, if one is cycling eastbound and crossing an east to south curve, the track will not get to a 45 degree crossing until half way through the turn, and a 60 degree crossing could well lie fairly close to the south edge of the eastbound curb lane given that the curves will likely begin and end outside of the “box” of the intersection.

    In the photos from Amsterdam, only two show a streetcar crossing and there is no curve. In any event, the locations in question are six lanes (at least) wide and with the cyclists in the curb lane, they would encounter track at an angle above the 60 degree threshold. I went rummaging on Google Maps for a streetcar junction in Amsterdam that is not on a wide boulevard, and found this one. Even here (and there are zillions of bikes in the picture) the roads are wider than our standard four lanes, and the point where the cycling lanes cross the streetcar tracks are in areas where the angle of crossing is clearly above 60 degrees. It’s also worth noting that the quality of the track and overhead is very good!

    Here is another location where the streetcar lanes are on one side of the road, but even so the intersection is large enough that the crossing can be set up so that cyclists cross the tracks at 90 degrees half way around the curve (the red pavement is the cycling lane).

    At another location the geometry is such that a 45 degree crossing is unavoidable.

    It is quite easy to conduct your own “tour” of streetcar junctions in a city like this because the routes are clearly marked on the maps and you can find junctions and curves where streetcar tracks will cross other traffic lanes.

    My point is that Amsterdam is a wonderful example of what can be done with cycling infrastructure, but the street geometry is more generous than Toronto and they start with a premise that dedicated space is available for cyclists, not an afterthought. The streetcar tracks are taken into account as part of an overall design, not treated as something to be reviled.

    As for track sticking out of the pavement, this is an issue of maintenance. One of the common problems is that the strip of concrete on the “outside” of the streetcar track is narrow and often subject to breaks and frost heaves. This has been commented on fairly regularly by others here. In these cases, the problem is not the track per se, but the quality (using that term generously) of road maintenance.

    The first of your linked articles cites the cycling death on Wychwood where a southbound cyclist’s tires were caught in the southbound track. The problem in this location (like much of the city) is that on a four lane street with parked cars cyclists are forced to ride in or very close to the streetcar lane. The extra wrinkle in this case was that the track was inactive because St. Clair Carhouse was no longer an operational site. The track remains exposed to this day.

    The city claims that it cannot simply pave under the track because this would foul up the road elevation for drainage, but there are other locations where streetcar track has been buried for years and is occasionally “mined” out of streets during paving or utility construction. The only other major piece of exposed but inactive track is on Adelaide from Charlotte to Victoria. This area suffers from appalling condition of the road itself from many pavement cuts and all of the condo construction over several years. There are plans to either remove or possibly rebuild this track (as a diversionary route) in 2022 when the road is rebuilt. If the track is replaced, only the eastbound rails would be installed comparable to what we see on other rebuilt one-way streets such as Richmond and most of Wellington (the remaining chunk from Church to Yonge will be rebuilt this year).


  29. Sorry to bang on about bikes, but regarding track crossings and geometry, one key difference to other major streetcar cities is how Toronto approaches its streetcar service in the old city. There is a large amount of turn tracks on some very narrow intersections which are also shared with car traffic. This is apparently because Toronto’s approach is to aim for maximum flexibility in streetcar operations for barn access and diversions.

    Part of the reason for the desire for having lots of options for diversions is that we have single-ended streetcars that mostly don’t have their own right of way and thus cannot easily be turned around when a street is closed.

    As a basic example, Queen and Spadina is a full grand union with turns in all directions, but none of these turn tracks are used in regular service. If the turn tracks weren’t there, cycling – at least through that intersection – would be safer. (And streetcar service would be faster, not having to slow down for special work.) For example, when was the last time the westbound-to-northbound curve was used for a scheduled diversion? Or any of the track on McCaul north of the loop? On Victoria north of Queen? And as far as I know, the track on Ossington is only used during the one weekend of Taste of Little Italy. Still, we keep them just in case.

    But observe that with the current upheaval of 501 and 504, it ended up easier to just do one large-scale service change by using existing loops at McCaul and Dufferin respectively, rather than try to get too clever with smaller diversions shifting over time using some of the other service tracks like Dufferin north of King, Bathurst, or Shaw.

    This wish to have streetcars meander around on diversions, and the fact they share road space with private cars, are examples of Toronto streetcars being thought of more as longer buses than as smaller subways or trains – with resulting service quality as can be observed. We don’t send Danforth trains down the University line to Union when Yonge line is closed south of Bloor, instead we keep service patterns simple and have people transfer if needed – that’s a lesson that city leaders haven’t absorbed for streetcars.

    Mind, this is all mostly a moot point for cycling safety right now, since streetcar tracks in Toronto are overwhelmingly on main streets, and cycling on most of Toronto’s main streets is a safety nightmare even without tracks.

    Steve: You are out of touch on two counts here. One is that the plethora of tracks and turns is rooted in the history of the streetcar system in the pre-subway era. The other is that the tracks you cite, and others, are used a lot more than you appear to be aware.

    Before the subway opened, there were many more streetcar routes, and the system was more radial than today, particularly in peak periods, with many routes coming in from various parts of the city and looping through the core. There simply was not enough room for all the streetcars on Yonge, and there were frequent parallel services on Bay, Church, Sherbourne and Parliament, among others. These routes had various loops when they got downtown, hence the many tracks and curves.

    The track on Ossington is a remnant of the Dovercourt car (as is the track on Shaw), and Ossington is used quite regularly for diversions of the Carlton and Dundas routes, not just once a year, most recently on February 20. You should pay attention to the TTC service alerts.

    Shaw is routinely used both for diversions and for short turns, as is Dufferin from King to Queen. McCaul Street similarly sees diversions and short turns from time to time, also Bay and Church. Victoria north of Queen has been impassible for several years thanks to the never-ending construction at St. Mike’s Hospital, but the track to the south is often used for diversions and short turns on both the Queen and King services. I believe Victoria will finally reopen north of Queen next year. There has been a road and track rebuilding project pending here for some years but thanks to the horribly late hospital project, it has been delayed.

    Richmond is a commonly-used bypass for events at City Hall. Wellington, nominally part of the 503 Kingston Road’s downtown loop, has been under construction thanks to both Hydro and Toronto Water for several years. Work there will finally be completed later this year. Parliament is used often for diversions and short turns, and the Carlton car is running there right now. I have already mentioned the track on Adelaide which is in appalling condition and has not be usable for years. It is scheduled to be either removed or replaced in 2022. This would be a useful diversion for TIFF, and will be an important alternative to Queen Street during construction of the Ontario Line. You can probably look forward to more, not less track on that project’s account.

    It is a common attitude to say “this track isn’t used, and the roads would be safer if it were gone”. That ignores the fact that the streetcar system carries a lot of riders, and the flexibility in routings provided by remnants of old routes is an important part of keeping the system operating.

    We don’t send subway trains on diversion (most of the time) because this is a complex operation that would steal capacity from places it is needed, but it has been known to happen. Today, it is impossible because trains on Line 2 do not have ATC equipment and cannot interact with the signal system on Line 1. When Line 2 is converted, it will again be possible to “borrow” trans between lines, and will actually be easier to do thanks to ATC. However, Line 1 trains do occasionally show up on Line 2 to fill gaps.

    If you want to blame someone for the narrow intersection, blame the British Army two centuries ago when they settled on a standard road allowance of 66 feet.

    Frankly, I am tired of this sort of argument. You invent a supposed justification for the track configuration that is fundamentally wrong, and set this up as a straw man.


  30. I’m gonna say it … #JustStringWires

    No battery charging, no battery maintenance, no “range anxiety”.

    Figure out how to get whatever is left of Ontario Hydro to own and manage the distribution system and pay a per-kWh fee at the trolley pole shoe.


  31. As someone who spends more time on a bike than on transit (or in a car), I feel I should chime in that this idea that streetcar tracks are the predominant hazard for cyclists in this city is absurd. The biggest danger for someone on a bike is a car and its driver. Now, that being said, just about everyone who’s an at least occasional cyclist in Toronto has more than likely had at least one run-in with streetcar tracks, and I count myself in that group. But the data shows that this risk is marginal compared to other causes of injury (or worse). Further, I would add that much of the hazard related to streetcars is not the track itself, but poor maintenance; it’s the gap between the asphalt and the concrete track bed that scares me more than the rail itself.

    Now to Steve’s initial point, I wholeheartedly agree. No matter how much I support electric buses (and I do, for a host of reasons!) the pros and cons of a propulsion technology should be considered distinctly from those of infrastructure/mode decisions. Unlike rail, buses do not offer a meaningfully different performance profile based on engine type.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I think I remember the cycling incident on Wychwood. If memory serves, the man in question was riding in a manner which compromised his own safety. Unfortunate but full caution must be exercised when around tracks.

    Steve: I am not sure that was the case, but in any event we must avoid offloading all responsibility on the cyclist considering that the tracks in question were not active and represented a hazard with no offsetting reason for their existence. That said, the streetcar tracks are not going away and, indeed, we will be getting more of them although generally on private rights-of-way. This is a design challenge to ensure we do not create inherently unsafe conditions. It is not a justification for tearing up tracks everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Steve: please do not call them “trackless streetcars”. They are buses with a guidance system.

    Do you stand for good transit service or streetcars no matter what? Who cares if they are called buses with a guidance system or trackless streetcars? You should be looking for good, affordable, fast, safe, environmentally friendly transit and whether that means trackless streetcars or flying saucers, it should NOT matter.

    Steve: My objection is that they are being called something they are not. There is a history in Toronto of misrepresenting technology to make it acceptable. The “SRT” was originally dubbed ICTS (Intermediate Capacity Transit System) but later referred to as ALRT (Advanced LRT) which it is not, although the term has been so warped over the years that there is now a continuum of meanings.

    Also, there are a lot of snake oil salesmen trying to sell us on their product as a “solution”. When I see cities around the world ditching their streetcar/LRT systems for trackless streetcars, then we can talk. Meanwhile, it’s marketing.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. You’ve made the remark the Trolley buses are down but not out which may well be true but it’s only a matter of time before battery technology improves to the point to the point where overhead wires are seen as totally unnecessary. Look at the streetcar lines that have sections with no wires. As Bachman Turner Overdrive used to say: “You ain’t seen nothin” yet.”

    Steve: Overhead wiring still has a place where demand is high and as a recharging mechanism. Sending power to the motors via batteries includes energy losses that are avoided going straight from an ovehead feed. There would also be vehicle savings by charging while vehicles are in motion rather than having to stop. I think that particularly for rail vehicles, we have not seen the end of wires. Trolley busescan survive where the infrastructure already exists, and as a charging-in-motion option although I acknowledge that stationary fast charging stations are far more likely for new builds.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Sorry Steve, but I feel that your response to my comment on the 13th was based on a pretty uncharitable reading.

    I am decently familiar with the history of streetcar services in Toronto (including your role in it – for which a sincere thanks). But the fact is we haven’t had the Dovercourt car for well over half a century now and it’s not coming back, so regardless of the reason why tracks were built, it’s fine to ask what role do they serve now (which is the flexibility which you’ve described), and also what role would they serve if we ran our streetcar service with priority deserved by routes carrying 30k+ people daily: with designated space (enforced by physical features) and signal priority – not as a 19th century omnibus on rails now fighting for space and time with SUVs and making unexpected detours whenever a driver parks poorly or scrapes another car.

    At Queen and Spadina and all other examples of rarely-used tracks, I specifically wrote “scheduled diversion”, implying not an impromptu “City doesn’t keep our lane clear because transit is not taken seriously” diversion.

    It’s good that we don’t send subway trains on diversion because this is a complex operation that would steal capacity from places it is needed. But then why prize the ability to send streetcars on diversion given this is a complex operation (just making a turn often takes minutes) that steals capacity from places it is needed?

    When history gives you 66 foot road allowances, some cities curb private vehicles, and Toronto curbs transit operations.

    As another example of TTC not using its less-used tracks, consider the service alerts up on the evening of March 27: “506 Carlton: Detour eastbound via Spadina Ave, Dundas St and Parliament St due to emergency road repairs. Shuttle buses are running. Last updated 5:45 AM” and “506 Carlton: Detour westbound via Broadview Ave, Dundas St and Spadina Ave due to emergency road repairs. Shuttle buses are running. Last updated 5:43 AM” (the 506 is currently scheduled to turn back at Broadview returning clockwise via Dundas and Parliament)

    Between Parliament and Spadina there are three sets of service tracks connecting College/Carlton to detour onto Dundas: on McCaul (eastbound diversion to Dundas/westbound return to College), on Bay (both ways), and on Church (eb diversion/wb return). None of them were used in this case, although geometrically, at least one could have been. Google Maps indicates that the blockage is between St. George and McCaul. If that’s the case, the detour could have been Spadina to Bay, and you’d keep the stop at College subway station where a fair amount of riders expect to board and all the stops on Carlton.

    Why keep tracks if you’re not going to use them?

    Steve: In some cases streetcar diversions appear to be implemented without a knowledge of the available tracks, but armchair critics would do well to dig a little further.

    A quick check of Google Street View, with photos dating from October 2020, shows that the overhead on Bay has not yet been converted for pantograph operation. McCaul and Church as of October 2020 also still had pole-only overhead. (My apologies for relying on Google for this, but under current circumstances, I am not bopping around the city to check on the status of the infrastructure. I am sure that others who read this blog can provide first-hand confirmation.)

    There is an ongoing problem with our streetcar network’s infrastructure in a half-and-half state. Parts of some routes now require pans (for example, Dundas west of Parliament), some support both, and some are trolley pole only. I despair of the length of time this conversion is taking and the fact that important links such as these are still pole-only when they connect two pan-operated lines. In a pinch, for a short-lived diversion, operators can switch back and forth, but for a long-running one like this, I suspect that staying on pans all the way was a consideration.

    Ossington, a remnant of the Dovercourt car, has seen diversions a few times just in the past week. So have Shaw and Dufferin north of King. The overhead on Ossington is pan-friendly. Shaw and Dufferin are in trolley pole territory, although that will change over the coming year as the west end of Queen is converted.

    I agree that Toronto could do a better job of providing more room for everything but autos, but the fact is that the city does not. This does not justify tearing out streetcar track. The political job is to fight for better road design everywhere. There is a huge amount of the city that needs better transit, cycling and pedestrian priority. Pulling up a few blocks of streetcar track is not going to advance that cause.

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