TTC Contemplates the Future of Streetcars: 1952, 1971, 1972

From time to time, I am asked about the TTC streetcar replacement policy and some of the history. To flesh out some of this, I have scanned three reports of interest.

1952: Buying Used Streetcars

In 1952, the TTC was still acquiring second-hand PCCs from other cities, but planned eventually to replace all of their streetcar lines by 1980 when subways downtown would make the streetcar lines obsolete.

This is a scan of a photocopy of a carbon copy of a typewritten report. [26MB PDF]

This report shows the TTC’s thoughts on the future of its streetcar system from just before the Yonge subway opened, and how it would be an important part of the network until about 1980.

The importance of the Bloor-Danforth corridor can be seen in the following text:

The Service Change Committee estimates that after the subway is in operation the Bloor service will require 138 cars for through service over the whole route, plus 36 cars for short-turn service between Yonge and Coxwell, or a total of 174 cars.

No present-day route comes close to requiring this much equipment to handle passenger demand.

A longer extract is worth highlighting:

At the present time … there are available good, used, P.C.C. cars of recent manufacture which are suitable for operation in Toronto. This situation will obviously only continue for a limited time. It is believed that the Commission should seize the opportunity to protect its future by the purchase of some of these cars.

It might be asked why Toronto should consider buying additional street cars when so many of the transit properties on this continent are giving them up and turning to trolley coaches, buses or rapid transit operation. It is, therefore, necessary and useful to examine the practice as to vehicular service, past and present, of other transit properties to determine what course should be followed in this city.

It is more or less true that there has been a gradual abandonment of street cars in a substantial number of large American cities and some smaller Canadian cities.

There is obvious justification for the abandonment of street cars in smaller communities but the policy of abandonment of the use of this form of transportation in the larger communities is decidedly open to question. In fact it is hardly to much to say that the results which have occurred in a good many of these larger cities leaves open to serious question the wisdom of the decisions made.

It may be not wholly accurate to attribute the transit situation in most large American cities to the abandonment of the street cars. Nevertheless the position in which these utilities have now found themselves is a far from happy one. Fares have steadily and substantially increased, the quality of the service given, on the whole, has not been maintained, and the fare increases have not brought a satisfactory financial result. Short-haul riding, which is the lifeblood of practically all transit properties, has dropped to a minimum and the Companies are left with the unprofitable long-hauls. Deterioration of service has also lessened the public demand for public passenger transportation. The result is that the gross revenues of the properties considered, if they have increased to any substantial degree, have not increased in anything like the ratio of fare increases, and in most cases have barely served to keep pace with the rising cost of labour and material. It is difficult to see any future for most large American properties unless public financial aid comes to their support.

These facts being as they are, Toronto should consider carefully whether policies which have brought these unfortunate results are policies which should be copied in this city. Unquestionably a large part of the responsibility for the plight in which these companies find themselves is due to the fact that the labour cost on small vehicles is too high to make the service self-sustaining at practically any conceivable fare.

Why then did these properties adopt this policy? It is not unfair to suggest that this policy was adopted in large part by public pressure upon management exerted by the very articulate group of citizens who own and use motor cars and who claim street cars interfere with the movement of free-wheel vehicles and who assert that the modern generation has no use for vehicles operating on fixed tracks but insists on “riding on rubber”. If there is any truth in the above suggestion it is an extraordinary abdication of responsibility by those in charge of transit interests. They have tailored their service in accordance with the demands of their bitter competitors rather than in accordance with the needs of their patrons.

The report goes on to talk about both the deterioration of physical plant and equipment in many cities, but not in Toronto, as well as the very high demands found on our street car routes.

Even if the Queen subway were to open “in the next decade”, the initial operation of this line would be with streetcars and the TTC would continue to need a fleet. This statement was made at a time when the Queen route, rather than Bloor, was seen as the next rapid transit corridor after Yonge Street.

The report recommends purchase of 75 used cars from Cleveland, 25 of which had been built for Louisville but barely operated there before that system was abandoned. The TTC already had second-hand cars from Cincinnati, and would go on to buy cars from Birmingham and Kansas City.

1971 and 1972: The Beginning of the End?

In 1971 and 1972, the TTC was still discussing their plan for a Queen Street subway, although it was looking rather uncertain as a project. As we all know, it did not open in 1980.

The 1971 report sets out a plan to discontinue all but the core routes of King, Queen (including Kingston Road) and Bathurst, with even these up for grabs should a Queen subway open in 1980, rather far-fetched idea for late 1971 and an era when all rapid transit planning focused on the suburbs.

This is a scan of an nth-generation photocopy and it is faint in places because that’s what my copy looks like. [6 MB PDF]

The 1972 report set in motion the political debate about the future of streetcars, and led to the formation of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee. Had its recommendations been adopted, the removal of streetcars from St. Clair would begun the gradual dismantling of the system.

It is amusing to see the sort of creative accounting by the TTC that we in the activist community associate with more recent proposals. There is an amazing co-incidence that the number of spare trolley coaches exactly matches the needs of the streetcar retirement plan for St. Clair even though this would have actually meant a cut in line capacity. Moreover, the planned Spadina subway would lead to an increase in demand as St. Clair would be a feeder route.

There is also the wonderful dodge that if the TTC abandoned the streetcars and claimed it was for the Yonge subway extension, they hoped to get Metro Council to pay for some of the conversion cost out of the subway budget.

In this report (as well as in the 1971 report above) we learn that the Dundas car just had to go because its continued operation would interfere with the planned parking garage for the then-proposed Eaton Centre.

Note: My copy of this report was in good enough shape to scan with OCR and convert to text rather than as page images. The format is slightly changed from the original, but all of the text is “as written”.

The Streetcars Survived, But the Network Did Not Grow

In November 1972, the TTC Board, at the urging of Toronto Council, voted to retain the streetcar system except for the Mt. Pleasant and Rogers Road lines. The former would be removed for a bridge project at the Belt Line, and the latter was in the Borough of York who wanted rid of their one remaining streetcar route.

The TTC had a plan for suburban LRT lines in the 1960s, but this was not to be. While Edmonton, Calgary and San Diego built new LRT, Toronto’s transit future was mired in technology pipe-dreams from Queen’s Park that bore little fruit and blunted the chance for a suburban network while the city was still growing. It is ironic that growth in the streetcar network, if it comes at all, will be downtown thanks to a renaissance of the waterfront when it could have happened decades ago while much of suburbia was still farmland.

TTC November 2021 Service Changes Update

This article follows on from TTC Announces Widespread Service Cuts Effective November 21, 2021. When that article was written, the TTC had published an overview of the service changes, but many specifics were omitted.

Since the article appeared, more details have been released both through the TTC’s standard memo describing service changes, and by the detailed schedules available on NextBus. Another source, the GTFS version of schedules used by many apps, has not yet been updated on the City’s Open Data website as of 7:30am on November 22. The TTC’s Scheduled Service Summary usually appears on their Planning page a few weeks after a schedule change, and it is not yet available.

Using the available information, I have updated the spreadsheet of changes (below). Because there is so much detail showing existing and planned service, as well as data for periods where there is no change, the cells with new headways (the time between vehicles) or new vehicle assignments are shown in bold italics.

Types of Schedule Changes

The TTC has described these changes as an effect of their staff shortage accentuated by Covid vaccine mandate.

As a result of operator workforce shortages, Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, one streetcar route, and 57 bus routes will experience temporary service reductions and/or period of service suspensions.

There is definitely a reduction in total scheduled level of service as shown in the table below.

Source: TTC Board Period Service Memo for November 21, 2021

For most of 2021, the regular service has operated at 3-4 percent below the planned level, although this is partly offset by a requirement for more construction-related service than planned. In November, the regular service will be about 11 percent below the planned level with a small offset in construction service. The reduction in the holiday schedules (“December” in the chart) is lower because there would normally be less service then.

In past months, the TTC was already short-staffed and cancelled some crews rather than filling them using overtime.

A change that reduces operator needs but does not affect service levels is that One Person Train Operation (“OPTO”) which will be introduced on Line 1 Yonge between Vaughan Centre and St. George Stations. This has been used as a trial since August 2021 on Sundays, and this will expand to 7 days/week.

Bus – The bus service hours include 190 open crews that will be assigned on overtime.

Subway – In the November 2021 board period, on Line 1, one-person train operation will be implemented on weekdays and Saturday in addition to Sundays which was implemented in the August board period. The reduction in service hours represents a reduction in operator requirements. There is no change to service levels on Line 1. This service change was budgeted to be implemented in the December 2021 board period.

Source: TTC Board Period Service Memo for November 21, 2021

Another change is that the “Run As Directed” crews which required about 100 operators per day have been cancelled.

Some schedule changes do not involve a reduction in the number of vehicles (and hence operators) assigned to routes, but are due to schedule revisions that would normally be described as “reliability” updates.

In those cases, scheduled travel times are adjusted, usually increased, to reflect on street conditions. When this occurs with no change in vehicle assignments, headways get longer. For example, if a route were served by 10 buses on a round trip of 50 minutes, the headway would be every 5 minutes (12 per hour). If the round trip is changed to 60 minutes with no additional vehicles, the buses would come every 6 minutes (10 per hour), but with no change in staffing.

In some cases, the previously scheduled travel times were too long causing vehicles to bunch at terminals, and new schedules trim back the running time usually with a reduction in vehicles, but not necessarily a reduction in service level.

Changes to running times would not be backed out when the TTC restores service levels.

A related issue is that traffic congestion is building on major routes and this will require longer scheduled travel times and more vehicles over the coming year, in addition to whatever service is needed to cope with return of demand to pre-pandemic levels. This is an added pressure on the need for operators, but not (yet) vehicles as the TTC has a surplus of equipment in all modes going into 2022.

The total number of buses in service will drop with the November schedules as shown below. Note that the “Max In-Service Capacity” reflects garage capacity and the fleet is actually over 2,000 vehicles. The TTC is only using about two-thirds of its fleet and has a wide range for service growth without buying any new buses. The real problem for some time has been a shortage of operators.

Source: TTC Board Period Service Memo for November 21, 2021

For the streetcar fleet, peak requirements remain at 140 vehicles out of 204. By sometime in 2022, the major repair project for the Flexitys will complete, and the TTC will be able to operate more of its streetcar network with streetcars. Delivery of an additional 60 cars on order from Alstom will not begin until 2023.

The remainder of this article gives a route-by-route overview of the service changes, and the fine details are in the spreadsheet linked below:

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