Over five decades, I’ve had a hand in many of the issues described here, but I didn’t want this piece to give the impression of a one-man band. Many people contributed along the way including other activists, media, politicians, and professional staff within various agencies and consultants. My thanks to them all for being part of this journey.
Updated October 17 at 12:25 pm: Corrected opening date of Spadina streetcar (oops!)
When I was very young, I liked streetcars. A lot. Trains were OK, but streetcars were the genuine article. My Dad and I would go for rides around Toronto on most weekends exploring where all the lines went. Through him I got to know the world beyond Mount Pleasant and Eglinton and the loop where my local streetcar line ended.
I’m willing to bet that a lot of “transit advocates” and their equivalents in subways, buses and the mainline railways got their start that way. As such, I’m proud to be called a “railfan”, but not the pejorative term “trolley jolley” concocted by the anti-streetcar elements of the transit industry.
Roll forward to 1971. Toronto was a hotbed of citizen activism with the big focus of the Spadina Expressway, a road that would tear through downtown and provide the justification for even more destruction including the Crosstown, Scarborough and 400 South Expressways, not to mention conversion of local streets like Dundas and Front to serve as arterials through the core. This was an era when fighting City Hall was very much part of the body politic, and this was the context for my entry into transit activism.
The TTC planned to dismantle the streetcar system line-by-line up to 1980 when, yes, the Queen Subway would take over the heavy lifting of getting people into the business district and the streetcars would disappear.
TTC held on to its streetcars longer than most cities by buying up used vehicles as others disposed of them, often under the influence of a cabal of bus-gasoline-tire companies more than happy to finance the conversion. Streetcars came to Toronto from Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville (almost brand new, those), Birmingham and Kansas City. But the policy of streetcar abandonment had been in place for years, and the early 70s were to see the first lines go – St. Clair, Earlscourt and Rogers Road.
What would replace them? Trolleybuses. With the opening of the Yonge Subway north to York Mills Station, the TTC no longer needed a very frequent trolleybus service between Glen Echo Loop and Eglinton Station, itself a remnant of the Yonge streetcars that disappeared with the original subway in 1954.
Although this might have been the beginning of the end, the TTC made a crucial mistake: the level of service they planned for St. Clair was sized to the available trolleybus fleet, not to the existing capacity of the streetcar lines. In that era the peak service between Yonge and Oakwood ran every 60 seconds, and this was not a trivial route for service cuts.
The summer of 1972 saw the birth of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee under the leadership of Professor Andy Biemiller with political support from Aldermen (as they were then called) Paul Pickett and William Kilbourn. Later, Mayor David Crombie’s office lent support.
By October, the Committee was issuing press releases, making deputations and gaining political support from City Council. On November 7, 1972, the TTC board voted to reverse management’s position and to retain most of the streetcar system. The only exception would be the Rogers Road car that operated outside of the old City in York (a remnant of York Township Railways), and later the service on Mount Pleasant (a victim of bridge reconstruction at the Belt Line Railway).
This was not just a fight to save one car line, but for streetcars as the backbone of the old City of Toronto’s transit network, and as a basis for expansion into the suburbs, something the TTC had planned in the late 1960s.
Here are some of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee members at the TTC Board meeting.
From the left along the wall: the late Mike Filey and John Bromley, Chris Prentice, Steve Munro, Professor Andrew Biemiller and Alderman William Kilbourn. In the foreground at the table are Commissioner Gordon Hurlburt and Pat Paterson, General Manager of Engineering.
Not shown: Howard Levine, Robert Wightman, Ros Bobak.
In those days, the estimated cost of a new streetcar was quite low, and the TTC had already been working with Hawker-Siddeley (then proprietors of the Thunder Bay plant now owned by Alstom) on a design for an updated streetcar. These would be used both on exiting streetcar routes, pending the Queen subway, and on suburban lines to what is now Scarborough Town Centre, across the Finch hydro corridor, southwest through Etobicoke and even with a branch to the airport.
But Queen’s Park had other ideas, and in the same month, November 1972, Premier Bill Davis announced his scheme for a network of maglev trains that would criss-cross the city and make subways obsolete. The premise was that subways were too expensive, and buses were limited in speed and capacity. The “missing link” would be “GO Urban”.
The Rise and Fall of LRT
That provincial plan ran aground, but not before it killed any hope for the TTC’s suburban network of what, by then, was named “LRT”, or “Light Rapid Transit”, a gussied up name for streetcars running largely on their own rights-of-way. I will leave it to readers to imagine what our suburban transit network might look like today if Toronto had built this LRT backbone fifty years ago.
Note the word “proposed” for some entries on this map. Much of what is now heavily developed suburbia, particularly in Scarborough, was then farmland. A rapid transit network would make “transit first” development possible, something Toronto failed to achieve in the decades since.
With the streetcar system saved, Andy Biemiller retired as chair and I took over. Often I am erroneously credited as “the man who saved the streetcars”, but it was a group effort under Andy’s leadership.
There was a lot to do. An obvious first need was for a new fleet, but in the interim the TTC rebuilt many existing PCCs for extended service. A great strength of the PCC design, a product of the 1930s, was that it was simple to maintain with robust, long-lasting technology. The same cannot be said for more recent vehicles of all types whose electronics evolve faster than the planned life of the streetcar, bus or subway train.
The TTC already had their design-in-progress, but it was co-opted by the Provincial mandarins and modified for the type of service they expected to run: high speed, limited stop suburban lines. The heavy CLRVs were the result, a major change from the lightweight PCCs. They never operated at their potential top speed, and even on trial in Boston were limited to 50mph (80kph). In fact no urban rapid transit car needs to go this fast most of the time because typical stop spacing limits the usefulness of very fast operation. Even the subway, for the brief period it operated in “high rate” rarely hit 50mph.
The new fleet stabilized the streetcar network, but other challenges remained.
The province repeatedly stated that there was nothing between a bus running in traffic and a subway in its own tunnel. In response, Streetcars for Toronto produced a detailed brief advocating that Light Rapid Transit be the mode for suburban expansion of rapid transit. The problem was not that some new technology was needed to rescue transit from the cost and complexity of subway building, but that an existing technology was ignored.
Although development of the provincial maglev-based system ran aground and was abandoned by its government partners in West Germany, the idea of a “missing link” technology never disappeared. Too many careers depended on building something new, and eventually what we now know as the SRT, initially ICTS (Intermediate Capacity Transit System), was born.
Like the maglev system before it, this would be the new technology for a city-wide network of inexpensive rapid transit routes. Although the TTC planned to build a Scarborough LRT line using CLRVs, and construction began on that basis, the ICTS system prevailed thanks to provincial pressure and pliable Scarborough politicians. Other North American cities, notably Edmonton and Calgary, built LRT networks, but progress stalled in Toronto because that mode was pushed off of the table.
LRT advocacy was challenging when the received wisdom, locally, was that only new technology would do, and failing that a conventional subway network. Former Mayor Mel Lastman said to me “Real cities don’t use streetcars”, and that made any LRT plan an uphill battle.
The mode would surface again, decades later, in David Miller’s Transit City scheme, but even that hit a political brick wall named Rob Ford.
The Eglinton-Crosstown line is a now-and-forever construction project with a ludicrously expensive underground extension to placate the sensitive voters in Etobicoke. Scarborough will get a subway, but the eastern leg of Eglinton to UTSC and Malvern is only a fading hope, a memory of how Scarborough voters were conned over and over about their transit future. The Sheppard LRT likewise has become a subway plan, one that will stay a dotted line on maps for decades to come.
The one line that will open more or less as proposed will be the Finch West LRT.
With the decision to keep streetcars, the Streetcars for Toronto Committee turned its attention to the trolleybus fleet. The TTC had already rebuilt its fleet with new bus bodies using the electrical gear salvaged from older vehicles. Without St. Clair to soak up their vehicle surplus, they needed another route, and we strongly advocated for the Bay bus, then a frequent and very well-patronized service.
The advantage of this route was that it had been a streetcar line, and was located in territory easily served by the existing power distribution system. 6 Bay converted from diesel to trolleybus operation in 1976.
The TTC studied other routes for possible conversion including 94 Wellesley and even 29 Dufferin whose hills and frequent service made it a good candidate. Alas, no expansion beyond Bay nor a larger trolleybus fleet ever materialized. In time, the TTC and Toronto were seduced by supposedly clean natural gas buses, and trolleybus operations ended in 1993.
There was a marriage of convenience between TTC management who wanted rid of the trolleybuses, technology boffins trying to justify their existence at the Ministry of Transportation, a bus builder looking for an untendered contract, a would-be supplier of gas storage tanks, and last but not least the natural gas industry which, at the time, had a surplus of product looking for a market. Try to imagine someone trying to replace electric buses with natural gas today.
Service Quality and Short Turns
In 1972, service on the streetcar network was very frequent, but an ongoing annoyance was the common “short turn” where a vehicle would turn back without reaching its destination. Most galling were the “surprise short turns” where, for example, a Queen car might leave Yonge Street signed “Neville”, but midway through the trip passengers would hear the dreaded announcement “this car is short turning”. They would be turfed off to await the next through car, wherever it might be. This was a burning issue as shown in the cartoon below from that era.
The TTC was in denial about the level of this activity, one which bedeviled major routes. A group of City Councillors working with Streetcars For Toronto organized a survey of the actual behaviour of the streetcar routes. Volunteers stood on street corners keeping track of passing cars and their advertised destinations for three days in May 1984. Once the data were consolidated and analyzed, the results were not pretty, and the true scope of the problem was well documented in our December 1984 report.
What was the TTC’s response? For a time they placed larger fleet numbers on the streetcars to make a Route Inspector’s job easier. I am not kidding. (This was before the era of automated vehicle tracking and GPS.)
In the early 1990s, the TTC installed the first iteration of its vehicle tracking system (known then as “CIS”, since replaced by “VISION”), but its ability to accurately locate vehicles was shaky, particularly if they were not on their advertised routes. The system was not upgraded to use GPS tracking until 2009.
Although one promise for the new system when it was approved was the ability to analyze service in detail, this was never implemented. My own analyses began in 2007, and readers are now familiar with chart-filled articles showing the (mis-)behaviour of many routes. This work proved useful on City projects to review schemes to improve streetcar flow on major streets, and especially on the King Street transit project. For the record, that is the only work for which I have been paid, and the vast majority of my analysis is pro bono.
The TTC’s primary response to service reliability issues has been to wring their hands about traffic congestion, and to pad schedules so that running late is, in theory, almost impossible. That service can be unreliable even on a clear, snowless Christmas day is never acknowledged.
Padded schedules produce long layovers and bunching at terminals all in the name of eliminating short turns. In practice, they are still quite common, but simply are not reported as this does not fit with the TTC’s mythology about its service quality.
I have written extensively about the shortcomings in both line management and reporting elsewhere, most recently here and here. There is no world in which service can be perfect, but the TTC is willfully blind to just how bad their service can be. A laissez-faire approach to line management needlessly turns small problems into major cock-ups that drive riders who have a choice away.
The TTC Service Standards are problematic in many respects, but they did not start with the TTC. Over four decades ago then-Mayor John Sewell and City Planning staff proposed standards for the evaluation of service changes. At the time, the concern was that “squeaky wheels” with good political connections would get service improvements that might be less deserved than in other parts of the city. This is a perennial transit “planning” problem: the money and the service go where the votes are.
Spadina and Harbourfront Streetcars
Saving most of the streetcar network was not enough for Streetcars For Toronto because our aim was to advocate for significant expansion. Over the years this has been longer to come and hard fought with the Harbourfront and Spadina routes being comparatively small additions, and both within the 1972 network’s scope.
We proposed the Spadina car in mid-1973, but it was not until 24 years later that service would actually operate on a street ideal for a central reservation. The idea of a new route was misrepresented by its opponents on a few counts including the business effects of converting angled to parallel parking, the inability of (fictional) garment dealers to wheel racks of clothing across a Spadina right-of-way, and the horror that a new streetcar was only a tool for massive development in the railway lands.
The TTC did not help much by emphasizing how quickly a streetcar could get from Bloor to the railway lands, especially if selected stops were deleted from the line. Their portrayal as an express Spadina streetcar gave the image of a line rammed through a neighbourhood, not serving the very heavy demand already on the 77 Spadina bus.
The first route to appear was actually the Harbourfront car (originally route 604, now 509) from Union Station to Spadina and Queens Quay opening in June 1990. Tracks were later extended west to Bathurst with service launching in July 2000.
The 510 Spadina car replaced the 77 Spadina bus in July 1997. Despite the TTC’s attempts to create an express route, stops remained at Sussex, Willcocks and Sullivan Streets. As it had been on the bus service, most demand originally lay north of Dundas, although with development in the Railway Lands and along Queens Quay, there is now a strong demand at the south end of the line too.
After an initial rather drab, bare-bones right-of-way implementation on Queens Quay, the street got a major makeover to provide more cycling and pedestrian space and reduce the importance of cars.
There is a similar plan eastward from Bay Street, but it is still mired in planning and funding at the City. This would be one of two links to the new “Villiers Island” and the Port Lands.
The Cherry Street branch from King is the only part of the eastern waterfront network that has actually been built, and it has been in operation since 2016. At first, the line ran through a lot of abandoned industrial space and parking lots, but most of this has now been replaced by condos, a trend that will continue south of the rail corridor along Keating Channel and on Villiers Island.
From Activist to Advocate
The early 70s saw activism on many fronts in Toronto and elsewhere, and a polite, deferential mode of dealing with the powers-that-be was not always a recipe for success. Streetcars For Toronto was lucky to come along just at a time when the activist culture was boiling away. We had a popular argument, and we were listened to. The same would not be true today with the overwhelming influence of “communications” staff, spin doctors and an all but vanished local media.
Sometimes I am asked “Steve, why must you be so confrontational”? To that, I have a simple answer: nice guys finish last. Those who are on the receiving end of my ire tend to be puffball politicians and “professionals” who spend more time justifying old plans than contributing to better transit. Anyone who has been active in municipal politics and activism knows that asking for something politely rarely gets you more than a pat on the head. As for vitriolic explosions, I confine those to private conversations.
I started out very much in “activist” mode and evolved through much experience on several issues to someone respected, if not always agreed-with, as a commentator on transit affairs. A lot of my advocacy has been behind the scenes or to small groups such as community organizations, academics and even transit/planning professionals, and some of that off the record. That takes time, and more than occasional soul searching of “why am I doing this?”
I make no pretense to formal expertise (my professional life was in IT, not planning), but hope to synthesize decades of watching and learning from others. Along the way, I’ve done countless interviews, some edited with more grace than others, and helped several journalists navigate the complex policy tangle around our transit system.
Another question I’m asked is “why not be on the TTC Board”? Mayor John Sewell actually nominated me for the position, and there was a chance I might have been appointed, but for the machinations of Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey. His pal “Brother” Jeff Lyons, a man with no previous interest in the post, was Godfrey’s candidate, and easily won. In due course he became chair of the board. His tenure ended abruptly thanks to conflicts of interest, although the details of an investigation were never revealed. This also marked the end of “citizen” members of the TTC Board for many years.
Had I been successful, I would have been less than productive. The depth of my experience was nowhere near what it is today, and frankly I could be more use “on the outside” unconstrained by the need to advocate policies as a member of the board.
In 2005, I was honoured by the Jane Jacobs Prize as an “unsung hero” of the City. This was the last year that Jane was still alive to have a hand in the award, and that was very special day.
The early 2000s saw a new wave of citizen activism, a desire to learn how the city works, and how to make it better. This evolved into, among other publications, Spacing magazine and its website. Several writers and activists from that era are now established in the Toronto media scene.
There was a clear need for better coverage of and technical discussion of transit in Toronto, and in 2006 I started this blog. As I write this, there are close to 2,700 articles and 57,000 moderated comments. We have all been busy chatting here about, mostly, transit issues.
(Again, for the record, I was paid for articles in the late NOW magazine and in Spacing, but not at a rate that would significantly augment my lifestyle. I say this because there are trolls who assume I have a network of unseen sponsors. And, no, I don’t have a Patreon account.)
Particularly heartwarming has been the regard extended to me by the working media, notably the City Hall Press Gallery. I grew up as a techie who had a strong interest in the arts, but who never expected to devote much of my time to the creative side of my life. I would be in many audiences, but never on stage. This blog gave me a chance to be a commentator, a writer, bringing transit issues (and occasional whimsy) to a loyal audience. To those who do this for a living, I tip my hat.
One story is worth retelling because recent arrivals scratch their heads on the subject: where did the Twitter handle @swanboatsteve come from?
Back in early 2005, there was a scheme afoot to get more capacity out of the Don Valley by widening the DVP. One advocate for that was the same Councillor who more recently pressed strongly for the elevated option on the Gardiner-DVP rebuild so that he would save a few minutes driving into downtown. I thought that there must be an alternative, and in a flight of fancy born in front of Greg’s Ice Cream (now sadly departed) on Bloor Street, the idea of swan boats on the Don river was born. You can read all about it here.
Many hopes for transit came crashing down with the election of Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto. Not only did he kill the Transit City plan, he tried hard to kill the order for new streetcars, and he began an era of austerity, of just barely getting by, in transit generally for anything that was not part of his subway fixation. We still suffer from the fallout 12 years later, and despite billions for new construction in Toronto and beyond, there is no money for simply operating better transit service. Asking for more is almost sacrilegious in a town where keeping taxes low takes precedence over everything.
The Covid era blew a big hole in activism generally with the media and politicians understandably pre-occupied with the pandemic and the fiscal chasm facing the City and all of its services. Participation in Zoom meetings is not the same as showing up in person at City Hall, showing common cause with each other, and giving pols and their staff the haranguing they often richly deserve.
In the process we have lost something that was a Toronto tradition reaching back to the 60s, and I hope in time it will return. Many would prefer that the citizenry stay cooped up at home watching streams on their computers, but that does not build a good city.
Where Will Transit Go?
Toronto’s transit took a heavy blow from Covid-related ridership losses, and the TTC does not expect to be back to pre-pandemic demand levels until 2024. The recovery has been uneven, with the slowest growth on routes serving the core area formerly a dense node for employment. Exactly how work trips and their associated peaks will return in this area remains to be seen. This disproportionately affects the subway and streetcar networks.
A related change that was beginning before the pandemic is the growth of a “shoulder core” area where residential growth will occur either via high rises at major nodes, or by the “missing middle” building form. The question, however, is where these new residents will work and what sort of transit demand they will generate. A long-standing problem with transit, and especially with regional transit, is that it aims straight at King & Bay. If your destination lies further away, and if your travel lies in the traditional “counter-peak” direction, transit is a much harder or even impossible option.
The degree to which transit does not serve potential demand affects political support. Why spend billions on routes that do not go where people want to travel? How can we convert drivers to transit, or make jobs, schools, shopping and entertainment accessible to non-drivers if transit will not take them them, or involves a burdensome journey fraught with infrequent service and poor transfer connections? What is the meaning of “park-and-ride” if it serves only one direction of travel, and then only for those with cars?
There is a danger of Toronto’s transit falling into a pattern seen in many US cities where transit is for “other people”, those who do not drive and are therefore regarded as a second-tier social class. Mayor John Tory already leans that way with an emphasis on transit for those who do not drive, as opposed to being an alternative even for those who own and can afford to operate a car. Voters who think of transit riders as “them”, not “us”, are much less likely to support spending on better service and more attractive fares.
Advocacy, activism, whatever you want to call it, faces years of restrained spending while misdirected billions go to capital construction. Advocates face organizations like the TTC where the mantra is “spend no more” and Metrolinx where “resistance is futile”.
At the Metrolinx board, secrecy is the order of the day, with significant policies coming more commonly from the Minister or Premier’s office.
The TTC Board is asleep at the switch on management performance and service quality. Many organizational improvements from former CEO Andy Byford (who was by no means perfect) have been dismantled by his successor, and institutional memory lost through retirements, resignations and dismissals.
Councillors may complain on behalf of their constituents, but at the end of the day, the City’s budget and the subsidies given (or withheld) from the TTC control the debate.
The next decade will be difficult if austerity becomes firmly entrenched. In place of a culture looking forward to what can be better we will count pennies and trim “inefficiency” as the only goal. People will not stop travelling, but as we already know from past decades, if transit does not keep up, its market share will inevitably fall. Even the new rapid transit lines and GO expansion will not stem this without strong support for the spaces in between those thick lines on the map, all day, everywhere.
I will keep up “the good fight” in the hopes of a better political and financial environment to come. We have been through downturns in both before with promises from the good years dashed by economic and policy shifts. I hope to see a renaissance, hard fought though it might be.
Congratulations on 50 years of fighting the good fight, Steve! Many of us struggling to ‘build transit better’ rely on your expertise, insights and willingness to publicly say what needs to be said. Keep it going!
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Your leader of the streetcar insurrection, Professor Andy Biemiller, retired from the Jackman Institute for Child Study (U of T/OISE) and moved to Barrie. After his arrival, GO extended its rail service to Barrie. Now I know guess why.
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Was a decade earlier
Steve: Ooops! Fixed. Thanks!
Steve, thanks for that great history of transit in Toronto. I commuted regularly on the 501 Queen car for over 40 years and remember well the letdown at hearing “this car will be short turning at…” Except that I was going west. It’s no comfort to hear that the same was happening on the eastbound cars as well.
Only once did I ever complain to the TTC. That was about the poor lighting in the streetcars. At the time it seemed like half the lights weren’t working in many cars. This being winter I wanted to read to make use of the commute time but was often unable to. So I wrote an email to the TTC to complain but never received a response.
Thanks for your years of advocacy for streetcars in particular and transit in general. Now if we could only get the 501 cars running again west of Roncesvalles.
Steve: January, maybe, but it depends on the construction from Sunnyside to Glendale. We are close to the point where the TTC has to write schedules one way or the other, and I suspect wewill still see buses in 2023 because they can’t be sure.
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Great article! Thanks Steve!
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50 years is a towering monument of commitment to your fellow citizen. Bravo.
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We saw an UN-reasonable facsimile in 2019, when Doug Ford proudly cancelled Ontario’s green energy projects in favour of natural gas electricity generation. See “Doug Ford’s cancellation of green energy deals costs Ontario taxpayers $231 million”.
Thank you for 50 years of service of advocating for public transit.
Steve Enjoyed your transit history. Maybe you forgot how with some friends I went on streetcars in 1972 to distribute fliers about the threat to streetcars, something that Paul Pickett certainly didn’t do.
Steve: Both Paul Pickett and Bill Kilbourn were Aldermen for the ward containing the Mt. Pleasant line, and they both participated one way or another. Sorry I didn’t include you in the list.
Thank you for a riveting article. Your history of fumbled “non-decisions” at both levels of government is lucid and trenchant. It will take a miracle to pull the TTC out of its current morass. Keep fighting the good fight!
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I went to a meeting on MagLev at Don Mills Collegiate in either 1970 or ’72 and the Minister of Transportation, Gordon Carton was there. His Boffins gave a talk about how great the system was as it had small, 30-foot long 7 or 8-foot-wide vehicles that could operate unmanned every 20 or 30 seconds and different cars could be switched rapidly from one line to another with stations off the main line. This would have been impossible to operate at that time with the computer systems available and impossible to operate today because of the switching problems. Personal Rapid Transit is a non-starter.
I asked what would happen if there were a power failure as the elevating magnets would have no power and how would they get all those vehicles to a station. They started with some lame story about evacuation ladders to get down from the “flimsy” elevated structures; their words, not mine. One boffin said to the other “Shall we tell him about the wheels?” Apparently, they had wheels that could be lowered to the guideway, like landing gear on an aeroplane, to allow the cars to be pushed home.
I asked what the main advantage of MagLev was and they said that it eliminated frictional losses. I asked them what the frictional losses on a subway car were and they said 10 hp per axle. I then asked what the power consumption of the elevating magnets was and they said 7.5 kW per magnet and there were 4 magnets. They were not going to answer my question as they said it was too technical for the average person. I was wearing, as they said at the time, my neon sign jacket that said Engineering UofT. Gordon Carton said that he believed I would understand a technical answer and to answer the questions. I also asked what the crush capacities of the subway cars versus the MagLev cars were. The answer was 300 vs 30. I then asked how much power the subway cars used for motion versus MagLev and the MagLev used 10 times the traction power because of the linear induction motors.
I then said that you are using 30 kW of power to eliminate 40 hp of friction but 30 kW equals 40 hp. (One hp = 0.747 kW.) they said yes. I then said you are using the same amount of power to move 30 passengers in a MagLev as to move 300 in a subway car. They sheepishly said yes. The look on Gordon Carton’s face was one of total disbelief. That was a Thursday night. The following Tuesday there was a new Minister. Don’t cross the powers that be with facts. I will always have a soft spot for Gordon Carton.
The meeting ended in total confusion shortly after and two research people from the Liberal party came running over to me. Davis won re-election anyways and totally screwed transit in the Toronto area for years.
Steve: Yes, I remember that meeting. Poor Gordon Carton was looking for a word to describe light, airy elevated structures, but grasping for words came up with “flimsy”. The meeting went downhill from there.
I consider Bill Davis a pox on Ontario’s transit history because of the lost opportunities of his maglev scheme blocking consideration of anything else. SmartTrack is a worthy, if I can use that word negatively, successor brought to us by someone who worked for David, John Tory. Metrolinx is overpopulated with arrogant people who think they know what’s best for transit while drawing obscene salaries or consulting fees. Very little has changed in fifty years.
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Thanks for all you do, Steve. Toronto is better off for having you on the good side of the fight!
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Fifty Years of Progressive Steve. There may be a book out of this yet!
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I think that any person of liberal bent remembers the many contributions of John Sewell to the betterment of the ‘old’ city of Toronto. Sadly, the old pols, whose descendants are still crippling the city today, often managed to get in his way, with Artie, Mel, and sometimes even The Tiny Perfect Mayor running interference for slick Willie the First at Queen’s Park.
I too was surprised to not see John’s name until a late breaking footnote, but there were many supporters at the time and there are bound to be a few missing from anyone’s list.
One very quiet and intelligent mentor to somein the group was the late Bohdan Myndiuk who was one of the nicest men I have ever known.
Steve: The people who were explicitly listed were those who wrote the streetcar brief, and later the LRT brief.
A great story on some great reporting through the years. I hope you can keep it up and that others will take it even further.
It is sad and depressing to go over the lost opportunities, the stupid mistakes, the vast overspendings, etc. But I guess that’s the only way to learn the lessons.
Thanks again, Steve!
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Great work Steve.
Your blog is titled Transit and Politics.
You have maintained the high road in framing transit, by using artisanal, hand made computer analysis methods to present meaningful statistical findings of TTC service. Using evidence based arguments is the honourable way to defy the mischievous measures of performance, presented by TTC management.
Your facts portray how actual TTC riders are captive victims of TTC service. This blog, publicly demonstrates the failures of the stewards of the public transit service, the politicians.
We need politicians who use the TTC, they would understand your work. There are riders who spend over 2 hours a day on the TTC. There are people who could earn a better wage if they could afford a monthly TTC pass. I haven’t met a councillor who understands this.
As a resident of Scarborough, I always cringe when reading things like “The one line that will open more or less as proposed will be the Finch West LRT.”
The Sheppard LRT was budgetted and scheduled to be the next transit project. One dark night Mayor Tory took the money budgetted for the Sheppard LRT and transferred it to the engineering budget of the Scarborough Subway Extension because it had run out of money. Why did it run out of money? Because it is a sinkhole.
Keep up the notable fight.
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When I moved to Toronto about 20 years ago (from Montreal) I was fascinated by the degree of public consultation here. Much is certainly ‘window dressing’ but a lot is not and I probably first saw you at meetings on the QQE streetcar in 2006 (?). Your knowledge, patience and vision is really an inspiration and you have greatly helped to drag the TTC into, at least, the early 2000s! Keep up the good work:, you really are irreplaceable (and appreciated.)
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Another alleged advantage for the system was the fact that there were no wheels as these cause noise at the rail-wheel interface. After they had to abandon Magnetic Levitation because the system was inherently unstable because it used magnetic attraction instead of repulsion, they continued with the Linear Induction Motors (LIMs) which at that time were extremely inefficient, about 25% on a good day.
They did this to reduce noise from the interface between driven wheels and rail and also from gear interaction and the wind noise cause by spinning motors. Anyone who has ridden the SRT knows that the system is not quiet.
The main noise source is the reaction rail which is made of laminated and insulated sheets of aluminum. Induction motors create an electric current, normally in a squirrel cage rotor, which induces a magnetic field that reacts with the magnetic field created by the electric coils that are in a cylinder surrounding the rotor.
In a (LIM) this coil is unwound and lies in a flat track suspended between the wheels on the trucks. The Squirrel Cage, which is very small is replaced by the Reaction Rail which has to extend the entire length of the line. This is made up of laminated sheets of aluminum just as there are laminated sheets of Iron in transformers fluorescent lights. Most of you have heard the hum in older fluorescent lights and this is caused because the sheets become loose and vibrate in sync with the inducing current.
They use laminated sheets to reduce the Short Circuit Current induced in the sheets and also to help reduce heat buildup. IIRC they use more and thinner laminates in and near stations because there are higher currents and more heat. This results in more things to vibrate, and thus more noise near stations.
The design results in a lot of Air Gaps on the sides and ends of the induction motor and in the 10 mm air gap between it and the reaction rail. Rotary 3 Phase Induction Motors operate at around 85% efficiency where LIMs back then peaked at about 25% and they were optimized for a specific speed. Below or above this the efficiency dropped.
I believe that they said the noise level at 25 feet was around 55 dBa. I did a computer simulation that predicted a level 10 dBa higher, but the actual level was even higher than that.
Since the gap between reaction rail and the LIM must be between 10 and 11 mm it meant that there could never be a level crossing on the line. Road salt, dust and small bits of grime could ruin the system.
The last justification for using LIMs was that with the Automated Train Controls ATC), the cars could stop at the same location every time. Toronto never activated this feature, but Vancouver did. You do not need to use LIMs to get this feature because many heavy and light rapid transit lines do this with ATC. Any line with platform edge doors like the London Tube probably does this. I rode some lines in London before they had ATC and the operator had to stop short of the desired point then inch forward to the final spot. This added 5 to 10 seconds per stop depending on the ability of the operator.
Moisture on the reaction rail, especially as snow, reduces the tractive effort. This is so bad on the SRT that they sometimes cannot get the trains out of McCowan yard to the main line.
It has been fifty years since I did these items so I cannot guarantee my numbers as being accurate, but the relationships between them are.
Another advantage of three phase Rotary Induction Motors is that they can increase tractive effort by up to 50% over rotary DC motors. That lesson waits for another day.
Steve, congratulations on 50 years of transit activism, advocacy, investigation and continuous reporting on behalf of all of us in Toronto wanting a better transit system. I am honoured to have known you more than 6 decades, and very grateful for your tireless and endless efforts.
Hopefully you will be able to keep up “the good fight” for many more years to come, although you have more than earned a deserved peaceful retirement. You said it was a team effort, but in my opinion the one person most responsible for saving the streetcar in Toronto is you, and thanks to you I can continue my 80+ years of enjoyable street car riding !
Thank you for this article, not only a history lesson but an enjoyable explanation about your ongoing efforts and insight into what “makes Steve ticks”. My regular reading of daily, weekly City news is not complete within reading your blog.
Thank you, thank you,
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Thanks Steve for your decades of advocacy and opinion.
It was a pleasure bumping into you at St. George Station a few years back.
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Any achievements to show for these 50 years?
Steve: Media who understand the details of transit issues much better than they would if depending only on TTC or Metrolinx. A whole new generation of transit activists. Politicians who will fight for better transit armed with hard data to counter the bogus claims from TTC management. I contributed to the King Street and Waterfront projects. Argued for the Relief Line when nobody wanted it. Had a hand in designing Transit City – it’s not my fault that our coke-head mayor killed it in revenge against a “David Miller” project, and parts of it live on. The Spadina car. More detailed analyses of transit service than you can count, some of which went straight to councillors and community groups fighting for better service. Detailed analyses of TTC budgets that are used by many others in advocacy.
Overall, a sense in the body politic that transit can be better, and the bumpf we are fed by transit agencies cannot always be believed. Lots of stuff behind the scenes, not photo ops or bylines, but very worthwhile. People who have been there know what I have done, as opposed to trolls like you.
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On the topic of Byford, listening to the recent TfL Board meeting (his final as commissioner) he commented that “I’ve dealt with some different boards in my time … very political boards and boards where I really didn’t feel I had support”
Made me think of you Steve and your previous comments!
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Others have said it be it should be repeated as much as possible. The good you have done for this city cant be understated. You’re an inspiration and a role model. Your integrity, tenacity and dedication to your cause are truly incredible. If there were more people as selfless as you in this world. No doubt we would be in a far better place. Please never give up the good fight. You’re Toronto’s “Batman” of transit. “Swanman”…. or maybe the “RocketRider”… no that last one is a bit cringe worthy. Stick with [it] Steve, truly though, thank you.
Steve: You’re very welcome. The name “RocketRider” is already taken … hmmm … a searchlight panning over the Toronto skyline with the silhouette of a swan.
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A bit late, but also many many thanks Steve. It is a very valuable public service and resource when the well-paid staff/pols/bureauCARicies have the resource and thus, it’s all tilted as cars are subsidized in a myriad of obscure ways, and the vtpit/Littman work is another good beacon. There are so many billions in play, it’s truly a shame that there’s not more support with tax monies for the public interest; maybe the credit rating agencies are the best hope?
Like the NOW site, hope there’s a back-up for all this depth.
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I was wondering why the SRT trains, and even the Vancouver SkyTrain, sound really rough when they enter the station (like they’re suddenly dragging chains, and all the other ugly mechanical noise that drowns out the inverter sound).
I am an immigrant and came to Canada and Toronto in 2018 and discovered your blog only in 2021 so a bit late to the party. Thank you for going on as long as you have, and hope you go on many more years. I truly admire your work and most importantly your humour and sarcasm.
Steve: Many thanks for reading and enjoying the not always serious text!
TTC running on time everybody happy but that’s very rare. What is very common: delays, bunched streetcars buses, security or lack of security, subway not running w riders going up to catch bus. Now reading your article no wonder the mess.
Impressive images from the 1960s. Kodachrome?
Always enjoy your posts Steve – an interesting and important perspective that is otherwise rarely or never communicated.
Boy, lots to say here. First and foremost – thank you so much for all you’ve done for the city. Many people in Toronto that don’t know any better love to hate on the TTC, but having travelled to many cities in North America, it’s arguably the best system there is – and objectively the most effective from a dollars spent perspective. Personally, I have always had a deep soft spot for the streetcars more than anything else. They bring back very, very early childhood memories…trains! On the street! That you can ride! How amazing is that for a kid – or a teen – or an adult. Only getting to ride the Yonge line with an open driver cab the whole way from Lawrence to Union when I was a small kid compared, and even then it was second fiddle. There’s just something about surface transit on rails that can’t be beat (even though the TTC’s bus network is also fantastic, it just doesn’t hold the same appeal).
Incredible to think it’s been 50 years… I’ve barely been alive for half of that! But the impact is so massive it’s hard to imagine. I’ve had the privlege to travel around North America and Europe and I don’t know of any city, anywhere, on any continent, that has *streetcars* like Toronto does. San Francisco has the one line, and there’s a few other fringe movements in North America. And then in Europe, well, they’re everywhere…but more as “trams” or light rail than streetcars. The rolling stock might be nearly identical, but the ethos is singular and unique in Toronto.
Even more important to me personally though is the CLRV and ALRV. As many know, those are the vehicles created because of Steve and everyone else’s efforts. No other city had anything like them, or ever will, and they would not have existed at all – full stop – if not for the concerted effort these few men (and women?) that made it happen. And the CLRV / ALRVs are *THE BEST*. Sure, the Witt and PCC cars have some history, and the Flexity cars are fully accessible and in theory “better”. But the CLRV / ALRV have a few things going for them that no other vehicle I’ve ever been in can hold a candle to:
1. They are the most uniquely “Toronto” thing imaginable. They were an instantly recognizable symbol of Toronto, and no where else, while they were here. We have lost some of our identity now that they’re gone, and I’m sad for it.
2. They were *comfy*. Designed for high speeds (see #4), they were built like tanks and completely overqualified for regular streetcar duty. The air ride suspension was exceptional. Not a trace of hunting to speak of. You could fall asleep in one easily, they were that good. I also have a soft spot for the windows that could open…brings back memories. Speaking of which…
3. I’m biased, but these are the streetcars I grew up with. They defined my childhood and formative years. I have so, so many memories made with friends riding the 501 at the very back (being mostly well behaved, I swear) I can’t even count. When I have nostalgia for better times, it more often than not includes these wonderous vehicles.
4. Holy crap, could they move. I think I’ve mentioned this before but about 15 years ago I was heading to visit a friend in Etobicoke late at night on a week night on the 501, well past dark. It was clearly end of shift and the driver wanted to make time. Between Sunnyside and Humber loop, we clocked close to 110 km/h. This was the mid 2010s so my phone had GPS to verify, but I noticed that we were keeping pace with the traffic on the gardiner. The ALRV barely noticed. What a phenomenal machine!
Anyways, Steve, a massive thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do for the city. I read every article you post, and very occasionally try to add my two cents (mostly useless!), but the city is fundamentally better off for your efforts. I – and the literally millions of people who take all of this for granted in the city – are eternally thankful.
Steve: Many thanks to you for this. My early cars, of course, were the PCCs including the 4500s on St. Clair whose windows could be opened all the way up. “KEEP ARM IN” was the warning, but oh the breeze and the ability to see and smell the city as we travelled along.
Congratulations on fifty years of helping to sustain streetcars and surface transit while also inspiring new generations to see that transit can be better for riders and communities.
Where does one find a golden streetcar award to express our thanks to the activists and advocates of Streetcars for Toronto? Where should the heritage plaque go?
Thank you for sharing your world with us, your life’s work, and answering some FAQs. And you’re right… many transit enthusiasts and city planners start by being fascinated by passing trains, riding the streetcar, and exploring the city. My passion for planning, architecture, and transit started in the same way when I was a kid.
One era you forgot to mention is the Harris era. His election and subsequent reelection certainly didn’t help matters any. I’ve always referred to his so-called common sense revolution as the common nonsense revolution.
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Somehow I think the streetcar phaseout program or whatever one wants to call it was adopted in 1966. Am I right about this? I know that my dad complained a few times that everytime the TTC opened a new line or extension, it was an excuse to abandon streetcars. He may well have been right. Anybody with any interest at all in Toronto’s transit owes you one colossal amount of gratitude for all of your efforts, not to mention those of SFT. I’m sure you’re aware of your name being mentioned in a book by a certain Stan Fishler. I found that book to be quite a read.
Steve: Many thanks. Yes, it was on November 1, 1966 that the TTC adopted the plan to phase out streetcars based on the premise that the Queen subway would open by 1980.
Thank you Steve for your years of dedicated work towards improving transit in the city. There is certainly room for improvement in terms of route scheduling, levels of service, etc. However, I have personally experienced how much worse the “driving” experience has gotten in the last couple decades. For this reason, I am optimistic about transit’s future long term. But the battle continues. Thanks again.
Steve: You’re very welcome!