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.

15 thoughts on “TTC Contemplates the Future of Streetcars: 1952, 1971, 1972

  1. Steve, thank you for your work with the Streetcars for Toronto Committee. If it had not been for you and your fellow activists, Toronto would be much worse off than it is today. Everyone in Toronto owes you a great debt of gratitude.

    Toronto had an era of civic activism that saw everything from saving the streetcars to cancelling the Spadina Expressway as the first part of a planned US style car expressway network.

    It is my sincere prayer that this same spirit and vision of building a better city will inform and animate people today to continue building a better Toronto.

    Steve: You’re welcome! There is an unhappy parallel today with a period 30 years ago and the 1990s recession. When people are just worried about getting from one day to the next, activism and advocacy wane. Now the problem is compounded by the whole right-vs-left culture and a polarization we did not see before coupled with blatant exploitation of people’s concerns to advance political ends.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Can you imagine the great service that would have rivalled streetcars if they had ever gone with swan boats?

    Steve: In 1972, I had not yet hit upon Swan Boats as the solution to all transit problems. Imagine Scarborough with a network of canals!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice summary of streetcars in Toronto! Might have mentioned expansions downtown–Waterfront, extension to Exhibition, Spadina LRT. Cheers, Andy

    Steve: As I said in the presentation, there was to be another speaker two weeks after me from Waterfront Toronto, and so I left that out, although in the lecture I did bring in a few points, notably the way that transit was lagging rather than leading development, a complete reversal from a century earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Is it true that most American cities had to pay the cities “rent” to lay streetcar tracks? And that buses did not pay “rent”? Since Toronto owned the Toronto Transporation/Transit Commission, they would be paying themselves?

    Same with taxis, they pay fees (rent) to the city. While Uber or Lyft doesn’t (for now).

    Steve: Toronto charged he private companies that preceded the TTC fees for use of the streets, but did not do this with the TTC itself. I do not have an encyclopedic enough knowledge of other cities to say that “most” charged private street railways rent, but it would not surprise me at all.

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  5. Thank God not just for you but also Andrew Biemiller, not to mention others as well. Too bad there wasn’t a similar movement to save the trolley buses many years later. Too bad also that there wasn’t some kind of rabble rousing in York to save the Rogers Road line and even the Mount Pleasant line.

    Steve: We tried to save the TBs, but TTC management wanted rid of them and some of the formerly heavy routes no longer had the demand they once did when they served industrial areas. Ironically, these areas are now filling up as new residential communities. There was talk of expanding the network, but one key route, Dufferin ran into problems with Downsview Airport. Of course the airport is history now three decades later.

    There was a big push by a cabal of TTC management, Ontario Bus Industries, Consumers Gas (as it was then called) MTO and others to push CNG buses as a “green” alternative and that really doomed the TBs. The CNG buses are long gone, but so are the TBs and the big push today is on electric (battery) buses.

    We did not face the same opposition to streetcars beyond the loss of the suburban proposals to the failed promise of the “RT” technology.

    Don’t get me started on the damage the province has done to Toronto’s transit technology debates and lost opportunities for growth.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I think that Steve likes to bloat his role for the Streetcars for Toronto Committee but it is important to keep in mind that Steve was an ordinary member (a backbencher) and not a leader.

    Steve: I will let this comment from a regular troll through to set the record straight.

    I was a member of the SFTC but not its chair at the time of the streetcar fight. That was Andy Biemiller and I have always corrected anyone who tried to give me sole credit on this.

    However, Andy retired after that battle was over and I took over as chair for many years afterward fighting issues such as the madness of the ICTS/maglev and later SRT systems, as well as the attempt to save the trolley buses and the attempt to get a streetcar on Spadina. That was mired in local politics for years, but eventually the TTC and City picked up the idea and the line opened in 1997. We disbanded in the mid-90s, and I continued as an advocate for better transit to this day.

    Trolls who hide behind constantly changing pseudonyms, insults and occasional obscenity are not leaders in any sense of the word.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Re: rent. Not certain. Most or all non-municipal companies had some sort of franchise agreement in order to run tracks and cars in the city’s streets. Whether they had to pay rent or not, I’m not certain. Certainly cities would extract value from the franchisees – The Montreal Street Ry and successor, Montreal Tramways Co, were responsible for clearing snow beyond the space needed for the cars and, IIRC, watering unpaved streets to keep dust down. I’m sure similar things happened elsewhere. I really need to find a good history of early horsecar operations in Boston or Philadelphia where there were multiple companies running tracks and cars. Boston fixed part of the problem by having the “General Court” (the Commonwealth’s name for their bicameral legislature) allow the West End St Ry to buy up most of the other companies. I don’t know what happened in Philadelphia (No, not SEPTA!). Philadelphia was the home of Alexander Easton who built Toronto’s initial lines and was contractor for the Montreal City Passenger Railway, both c.1861.

    It’s amazing how the story in Toronto (where I have never lived) is always the same – the province with or without cronies interferes in what should be a municipal service. Of course, it isn’t simply a municipal service, it’s regional, but Queen’s Park never seems to want to come up with a durable special-purpose regional governance structure to manage it properly.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Steve and his team, the people of Toronto owe you one, I couldn’t imagine a Toronto today without streetcars.

    Great job with your articles too! Great way to pass some time and get to know about the inner-workings of the TTC, this info would not have been available if it wasn’t for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. It is interesting reading people’s comments about “rent” for streetcar tracks. This is actually an important issue today in determining operating costs of rail vs. free-wheeling public transit vehicles. But the cost accounting issues involved pretty much guarantee that the average person’s eyes will glaze over long before the issues are understood.

    I will assume that the readers of this blog are sufficiently sophisticated transit enthusiasts to bear with me, particularly if I start with the following statement: The way that the City of Toronto calculates operating costs of streetcars vs. buses distorts those costs in a way that disadvantages streetcars.

    This is done in two ways. The first is maintenance. 100% of the cost of streetcar track repairs and maintenance is allocated to streetcars. But I have never, ever seen any estimate of the repair and maintenance costs due to damage to Toronto’s streets caused by buses. If anyone has seen such an estimate, please let me know.

    Some people may think that this cost is low. Not so. The damage caused to a street by any particular vehicle goes up as the fourth power of vehicle weight. In other words, doubling the vehicle weight results in 16 times the repair and maintenance costs. The second chart here gives a good comparison of the damage done by various vehicles.

    So if an average automobile weighs 4,000 lbs, then a big truck that weighs 18,000 lbs will do 410 times as much damage to the road as an average automobile. But buses, even unloaded, weigh more than that. The Orion VII bus weighs up to 31,610 lbs.

    With a reasonable passenger load, a bus will weigh twice the weight of a big truck and therefore do 6,560 times as much damage to the street as an average automobile. In Toronto, we can see at some frequently used bus stops a “bus knuckle” that sticks up almost 15 cm above the adjacent road surface.

    And yes, potholes and other road damage are also caused by buses. So the cost of road maintenance is the first way that the operating costs of streetcars vs. buses are misstated by the City of Toronto in a way that disadvantages streetcars.

    The second way is the health care costs. Thanks to their cancer-causing fine particles and other lethal poisons, motor vehicle operators impose mortality and health-care costs of over $4.6 billion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Source is page 20 here.

    Diesel engines are a notorious producer of cancer-causing fine particles. Fortunately, the planned advent of battery powered buses will eliminate these cancers. However, we are not there yet, and the history of Toronto is littered with examples of much-ballyhooed transit technology that did not work out.

    I have never, ever seen an analysis of how much of the $4.6 billion mortality and health-care costs caused by motor vehicle operators poisoning people in the GTHA is due to diesel buses. Obviously this is an argument in favour of implementing battery buses, but I have not seen any such estimate in the current battery bus material. Once again, if anyone has seen such an estimate, please bring it to my attention.

    So road maintenance costs and health-care costs are the two ways in which the City of Toronto’s cost accounting system distorts the operating costs of streetcars vs. buses in a way that disadvantages streetcars. Successful implementation of battery buses will eliminate the health-care costs of the fine particles produced by diesel engines. But the repair and maintenance costs imposed upon Toronto’s streets by the weight of heavy buses is not going to change.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Successful implementation of battery buses will eliminate the health-care costs of the fine > particles produced by diesel engines. But the repair and maintenance costs imposed upon Toronto’s streets by the weight of heavy buses is not going to change.

    The anti-electric types will say “yabut making electricity generates carrrrrbbooooon”. They aren’t wrong but they are just being butts.

    I am anti-battery *especially* in a city that had proper electric buses less than 30 years ago. #JustStringWires is my thing … regardless … what is the weight of a bus full of batteries? I have to think that the tare weight of a full-sized bus must be higher for a battery bus than for a Diesel bus.

    If the TTC insists that it’s 1960 and that Diesel is the only possible option, folks should at least insist that any buses purchase meet or exceed the US EPA’s “Tier IV” standards. And don’t let them whine about DEF.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Plaws0 wrote: The anti-electric types will say “yabut making electricity generates carrrrrbbooooon”.

    Kevin’s comment: Very little. Ontario’s electricity sources are 94% carbon-free.

    And note that the remaining 6% is entirely due to the burning of natural gas. Ontario’s electricity generation has been coal-free since 2014.

    Plaws0 also wrote: I am anti-battery *especially* in a city that had proper electric buses less than 30 years ago. #JustStringWires is my thing …

    This is not an either/or type of thing. There are battery buses that have the capability of recharging themselves from trollybus-style overhead wires while they move. And can also use charging stations. This has three advantages:

    1. The bus does not have to be taken out of service for recharging.
    2. It is only necessary to string trollybus-style overhead wires for the central part of the bus routes. Buses then recharge themselves when running on the central part of their routes and run off the batteries for outer parts of their routes.
    3. Since the buses are being regularly recharged on the central part of their routes and do not have to run off their batteries all day long, it is possible to use a smaller battery.

    Please note that the proposed buses for Toronto have the capability of charging themselves along their route, but not while moving. The bus must be taken out of service and plugged into a stationary charging station along their route. This saves the time, energy and wear-and-tear required to deadhead the bus back to a central charging station. But the bus is still out of service while it charges.

    I predict that this will cause logistical problems here in Toronto as the batteries lose capacity due to age and the buses have to be taken out of service more and more frequently for recharging. This prediction is fully reinforced by Toronto’s lengthy and repeated history of fouling up the introduction of new technology.

    Steve: I really think the TTC fouled up originally by concentrating on a model with large batteries and garage-based charging. This is not surprising considering that:

    1. The original proponent of battery buses was BYD who are first and foremost a manufacturer of batteries. More and bigger batteries suit their outlook.
    2. The TTC did not appear to be aware of hybrid trolley/battery vehicles and also wanted to get into a deal with Hydro to provision the charging facilities and associated substations. This suits hydro’s business model and plays to the idea of charging with off-peak power.
    3. There is a long-standing bias against trolley coaches at the TTC.

    Recently, they have acknowledged the need for some sort of charging during the duty cycle of buses, not just on return to the garage, and have also recognized that initially at least they will be constrained on where they can use these buses by their range. I hope that we will get far enough and sensible enough with the technology to understand that there will probably be a mix of trolley/battery and all battery buses with the latter for use on minor routes that are not suited to having overhead.

    I suspect that the TTC is in for a surprise when they find out that going green is not quite as simple as they think, especially for the cost of all those operators standing around waiting for their buses to charge up.

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  12. I suspect that the TTC is in for a surprise when they find out that going green is not quite as simple as they think, especially for the cost of all those operators standing around waiting for their buses to charge up.

    Was it a TTC-led initiative or a directive from city council? By the way it’s not like the TTC isn’t already paying for a lot of operators to stand around doing nothing with the way the schedules are padded.

    Steve: Council wants all of its agencies to “go green” but the bus industry, especially BYD, was in there lobbying hard to the point one might think that they had “friends at court”. There is also the bizarre presence of the gas industry who see themselves with a role both for production of hydrogen (which is dirty coming from them) or generating capacity. They just don’t give up.

    The whole thing has the earmarks of any project where there is lots of money sloshing around and political imperatives that might short-circuit hard-nosed “respect for taxpayer dollars” we might otherwise be hearing about.

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  13. Steve wrote: “The TTC did not appear to be aware of hybrid trolley/battery vehicles…”

    Such ignorance is disturbingly unprofessional. I have a certain feeling that real transit professionals such as David Gunn, Gary Webster and Andy Byford are fully aware of the existence of these vehicles.

    “There is a long-standing bias against trolley coaches at the TTC.”

    Once again, disturbingly unprofessional. There is no such thing as a “silver bullet” or one technology that is always right. Different technologies have their roles to play. Being biased against any particular technology is foolish. Even a niche technology such as gondolas forms part of the City of Hamilton’s Transportation Master Plan, because of Hamilton’s weird niche geography as a split-level city divided by the Niagara Escarpment.

    The point is that every technology must be looked at on its own merits and suitability for the particular transportation demand that needs to be satisfied. Failure to do this can result in the use of a bad technology that is not appropriate to the situation but that is some politician’s pet technology.

    Liked by 1 person

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