Major construction at Toronto’s most complex streetcar junction will get underway on March 31, 2021. The City of Toronto issued a construction update notice on March 12 including the map below showing the configuration of traffic from March 31 to July 21.
During this phase of construction, there will be no through traffic on Queen Street west of Triller Avenue nor on Roncesvalles at Queen. The north gate of the carhouse will remain as a service access for streetcars and for a revised 504 King shuttle bus.
The King Shuttle will be broken into two segments:
504G Dundas West Station to Roncesvalles Carhouse
504Q Triller Avenue to Strachan Avenue
For service designs, please see my article on pending schedule changes effective March 28, 2021.
A single lane will be maintained in each direction for traffic between King Street and The Queensway. 501 Queen buses will divert via Dufferin and King Streets to use this link. Traffic on The Queensway will use the central lanes while construction in the curb lanes is underway
Westbound service on Queen from Dufferin to Triller will be provided by the 504Q shuttle looping via Dufferin, Queen, Triller and King. There will not be any eastbound service, and riders will have to go around the loop to travel eastward.
Pedestrian crossings will be shifted away from the intersection outside of the work zone, and there will be no crossing on the west side.
In the second phase of this project between July 22 and November 23, the connection to King Street will be closed off for construction and Queen/Queensway will reopen for through traffic. Details will follow in a later update.
March 28, 2021, will see revenue service begin from the TTC’s new McNicoll Garage. This will entail the reassignment of many routes between all garages as the TTC rebalances it fleet and service to relieve crowding and minimize dead-head times.
There are few service changes associated with this grand shuffle. The primary effect is that garage trips at the end of peak periods will change to reflect the shift of some routes to a new home in northern Scarborough.
For example, north-south routes that formerly had transitional peak-to-evening service southbound will go to evening service levels sooner because buses will dead head to McNicoll rather than making a southbound trip before running back to Eglinton or Birchmount Garage.
129 McCowan North
The short-turn point for 39 Finch East and 53 Steeles East off-peak garage trips will change so that buses do not double back on themselves. These trips will be shortened to end at Kennedy rather than at Markham Road. Trips on 39C to Victoria Park will end at McNicoll & Victoria Park rather than at 480 Gordon Baker Road.
The 45 Kipling and 945 Kipling Express move from Queensway to Arrow. Trips to the garage after the AM and PM peak will no longer make southbound trips. Trips at the beginning of the PM peak will no longer travel north from Queensway.
The old and new garage assignments are at the end of this article for those who are interested.
Fleet utilization continues to be well below system capacity. In January 2020, the total AM peak buses in service was 1,625. In March 2021, it will be 1,527. This does not include buses used in Run As Directed (RAD) service. Although the TTC now has an additional bus garage, its capacity is not included in the table below.
For comparison, here is the January 2020 (pre-pandemic) table.
The number of buses used on streetcar routes continues to be high. These vehicles are included in the counts above, and represent additional capacity available for bus routes when the construction projects now underway finish. 506 Carlton will return to all-streetcar operation in May, but other routes will be affected by construction for much of 2021 notably at KQQR and on Broadview north of Gerrard (starting in May).
Here is the streetcar peak service table. Note that there is an error in the afternoon peak “base going into Mar 2021” column where the streetcar total should read 127, not 142.
During the construction of McNicoll Garage, all trips on 42 Cummer were operated as 42A to Middlefield. This will continue, and the 42B and 42C services will remain suspended. An eight month long water main project on Cummer will require that westbound service divert via Leslie, Finch and Bayview. New farside stops will be added southbound on Leslie at Cummer, and westbound on Cummer at Bayview to serve the diversion.
At the King, Queen, Queensway, Roncesvalles intersection (KQQR) construction work will block transit service beginning on March 31. This will affect all services that pass through this busy location.
501 Queen buses (501L Long Branch and 501P Park Lawn) will operate via King and Dufferin Streets to route. The official east end of the route will remain at Jarvis Street. In current operations, many runs have been extended as far east as River because the schedule is very generous in anticipation of construction traffic delays that have not yet materialized. Buses are also taking extended layovers at Long Branch Loop because they arrive early.
The 504 King west end shuttle will be broken into two parts.
A 504G King shuttle will operate between Dundas West Station and Roncesvalles Carhouse (entering and leaving via the North Gate).
A 504Q King shuttle will operate between Triller and Strachan. The west end loop will be via Dufferin, Queen and Triller. The east end loop will be via Duoro and Strachan. This is a change from the current shuttle terminus at Shaw.
Operation of the 506 Carlton bus shuttle will be officially changed to use the loop that was informally implemented almost immediately after this service began in January. All buses will loop via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Parliament. Full streetcar service will resume on 506 Carlton with the May 9, 2021 schedules.
Miscellaneous Route Changes
Weekday scheduled round-trip travel time on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina will be shortened from 161 to 154 minutes in recognition of time savings with Automatic Train Control. This will address some of the train queuing problems at terminals. Headways will also be widened slightly to reflect lower demand.
43C Kennedy service to Village Green Square will be modified so that all trips begin and end there. Half hourly service will be provided northbound from Kennedy Station from 6:30 to 8:30 am, and from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. Southbound service will leave Village Green from 5:58 to 8:28 am, and from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.
The Amazon Fulfillment Centre at Morningside & Steeles will be served by two routes:
53B Steeles service to Markham Road will be extended via Passmore to the cul-de-sac at the site. This operation is already in place.
102 Markham Road service will be routed north on Markham Road, east on Select Avenue, south on Tapscott Road, east on Passmore Avenue to cul-de-sac, west on Passmore Avenue, north on Tapscott Road, west on Steeles Avenue, to south on Markham Road. This route will be changed when the the intersection of Steeles & Morningside fully opens later in 2021.
Trip times on 167 Pharmacy North will be standardized so that the weekday and Saturday schedules are the same. The first trips will run northbound from Don Mills Station and southbound from Pharmacy Loop at 5:30 am. Service at all times will be on the half-hour (:00 and :30).
Articulated and regular buses will shuffle between routes:
Three artics now used on 60 Steeles West will be changed to standard buses. The artics will return in late May.
Most runs on 89 Weston will switch from artics to standard buses. In late May, all 89 Weston local buses will be standard-sized, but the 989 Weston Express service will resume.
Six standard buses now used on 929 Dufferin Express will be changed to artics.
310 Spadina night service will be cut to half hourly. This route was missed in January when other night services reverted to a 30 minute service (previously every 15 or 20 minutes).
Updated January 7, 2021: Maps showing the revised operation of 501/301 Queen, 504/304 King and 506/306 Carlton have been added from the TTC’s Route Diversion pages.
Updated December 23, 2020: The operating schedules (in GTFS format used by various trip planning apps) for the January-February period have now been issued on the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal. These confirm two outstanding issues with the service as it was described in the change memo:
The 304C King West night shuttle will operate on a 20′ headway, while the main part of the 304 King streetcar route between Dufferin and Broadview Station will operate on a 30′ headway. This means that timed connections between the two services will not be reliably possible for each trip.
The 310 Spadina night service appears to have escaped the cutback from a 15′ to a 30′ headway. The January schedules show service every 15′.
The TTC memo detailing service changes for January is a long one, and in the interest of breaking this up into more digestible chunks, I will deal with the streetcar and bus networks separately.
The usual summary of schedule changes (for the streetcars only) is linked here:
Some routes will see major changes beginning in January and continuing, with modifications as the year goes on.
In addition to various construction projects, the TTC plans to accelerate the retrofit of its Flexity fleet with various fixes and the major repairs to the early cars with frame integrity problems. The intent is to substantially complete this work by September 2021 by which time ridership recovery in the territory served by streetcars will be recovering from the pandemic ‘s effects.
The total scheduled cars in peak periods will be 145 out of a total fleet of 204. As I reported in a recent article about the 2021 Service Plan, the TTC aims to field 168 cars in peak once they have the fleet back at a normal 20 per cent maintenance ratio.
Queen Street will take the brunt of construction work for the early part of 2021 with a shutdown of streetcar service west of McCaul Loop. This will allow conversion of the overhead system for pantograph operation and, when construction weather allows, the complete replacement of the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. See:
That project will also affect the King service west of Dufferin Street.
Streetcars will return to Bathurst and to part of the Carlton route.
Blue Night Service (Updated)
The overnight service on four routes (501 Queen, 504 King, 506 Carlton and 510 Spadina) was increased due to congestion at the carhouses when most of the fleet, including many still-active CLRVs, was “in for the night”. Service on all but Carlton operated every 15 minutes, while Carlton ran every 20, even when it was a bus operation.
The night service reverts to half-hourly headways in January, except for 310 Spadina which remains at quarter-hourly. Also, the 304C King bus between Dundas West and Shaw will operate every 20′ while the main 304 streetcar route will operate half-hourly.
The 501 Queen route will be split with streetcars running between Neville Loop and McCaul Loop, and buses between Long Branch Loop and Jarvis Street. The 301 Blue Night service will also be split, but the streetcar portion will loop via Church, Richmond and York to avoid causing noise from wheel squeal at McCaul Loop.
The western portion of the route will include a short turn with half of the buses terminating at Park Lawn during most periods of service. Buses will loop downtown via Jarvis, Richmond and Church Streets. The buses will be supplied by Mount Dennis and Birchmount garages.
Routings in the area of Humber Loop will vary depending on the branch:
Westbound 501L and 301L: From the Queensway, south on Windermere Avenue, west on Lake Shore Boulevard West to Long Branch Loop.
Eastbound 501L and 301L: East on Lake Shore Boulevard west, north on Windermere Avenue, east on the Queensway.
Westbound 501P: From the Queensway, south on Park Lawn Road, south on Marine Parade Drive to Park Lawn Loop.
Eastbound 501P: From Park Lawn Loop via north on Marine Parade Drive, north on Park Lawn Road, east on the Queensway.
501 Queen will operate from Russell Carhouse and will continue to use trolley poles as the east end of the route has not yet been converted for pantographs (that project is planned for fall 2021).
This route is still suspended and all streetcar service on Kingston Road is provided by route 503.
503 Kingston Road
The 503 Kingston Road streetcar will continue to operate to Charlotte Loop at Spadina. The City has just awarded the contract for reconstruction of Wellington and Church Streets from Yonge to King, and that will occur in the spring. This will complete the Wellington Street project which has been delayed by other utility projects in the same area.
503 Kingston Road will operate from Leslie Barns and, like 501 Queen, will continue to use trolley poles.
The 504 King route will be split with streetcars running east of Dufferin Street and a bus service operating from Shaw to Dundas West Station. Both the 504A Distillery and 504B Broadview Station services will terminate at Dufferin Loop.
To reduce congestion at Dufferin Loop, all service on 29/929 Dufferin will be extended to the Princes’ Gate Loop.
The 504A Distillery service will operate from Russell Carhouse, and the 504B Broadview Station service will operate from Leslie Barns. The route will continue to operate with trolley poles.
The west end bus service 504C and 304C Blue Night will loop via south and east on Douro Street, north on Shaw Street to King Street West. Buses will be provided by Mount Dennis Garage. Because service on the 304 streetcar and the 304C bus will operate at different headways, regular connections between them will not be possible.
The operator relief point for the 504B service will be shifted from Queen & Broadview to Broadview Station to avoid service delays on other routes caused by late arrivals of operators for shift changes.
The cutback of 505 Dundas service to Lansdowne has already ended (on Dec 9) and all cars now run through to Dundas West Station. This change becomes part of the scheduled service in January. Headways will be widened slightly during most periods to operate the same number of cars over a longer journey.
Operation of this route will be split between Leslie Barns and Roncesvalles Carhouse, and that will continue until spring 2022. Cars running to and from Roncesvalles will operate with trolley poles and will change to pantographs at Dundas West Station. Cars from Leslie already run on pantograph on their dead head trips.
The eight AM peak bus trippers will be interlined with buses from other routes. In the west, four trips will originate at Lansdowne from trippers on the 47 Lansdowne route. In the east, four trips will originate at Broadview Station from trippers on the 100 Flemingdon Park route.
The 506 Carlton route will be split with streetcars returning between Broadview and High Park Loop, and buses operating between Parliament and Main Station. Overhead conversion for pantographs is not completed yet on the east end of the route, and reconstruction of the bus roadway at Main Station is planned to start in March.
506 streetcars will loop in the east via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament. 506C Buses will loop via River, Dundas and Sherbourne Streets.
For the overnight service, the 306 streetcars will run to Broadview Station and will use the bay normally occupied by 505 Dundas which has no overnight service.
The looping shown for the 506B/306B buses is different from the version show in the service change memo. The TTC has confirmed that the map is the correct version.
All 506 Carlton cars will operate from Roncesvalles Carhouse. They will enter and leave service using trolley poles, but once on Howard Park Avenue will switch to pantographs as the west and central portions of the route have been converted. The 506 buses will operate from Eglinton and Malvern garages.
508 Lake Shore
This route remains suspended pending recovery of demand to the business district downtown.
This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules. Extra service that was added to compensate for the absence of 511 Bathurst cars will be removed.
This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules with minor changes in service levels.
Streetcars return to 511 Bathurst using the February 2020 schedules. If construction work on the Bathurst Street Bridge is not completed by January 3, streetcars will divert via King, Spadina and Queens Quay until the bridge reopens.
512 St. Clair
The 512 St. Clair route continues with the November 2020 schedules and a covid-era reduction in service.
Routes 509 through 512 will all operate from Leslie Barns and will enter service using pantographs from the barns to route via Queen and King Streets.
The allocation of streetcars to carhouses by route is shown in the table below.
Replacement of old water main and sewer infrastructure
Replacement of TTC overhead (this will make the wiring in this area pantograph compliant)
Reconstruction of streetcar track
Reconfiguration of Roncesvalles Avenue from Queen to Harvard (just north of the North Gate to the carhouse) with cycling lanes and transit platforms matching the section done several years ago from Harvard to Dundas
Revision to the existing loading islands on Roncesvalles for compatibility with the boarding ramps on the news streetcars
The construction will begin on September 8, 2020 on the underside of the Parkside Drive bridge. This will only have a minor effect on transit service, and the only change to the 501 Queen service is that it will not stop at Parkside during September and October.
2021 will see the main construction work on Queen and The Queensway beginning in February and extending to into 2022 as shown in the staging map below.
Stage 1 from February to July 2021 will affect the curb lanes of The Queensway as well as water main, track and overhead work extending east to Triller Ave.
Stage 2 from July 2021 to April 2022 will affect the middle lanes of The Queensway and King Street south of the intersection.
Stage 3 from April to August 2022 will affect Roncesvalles Avenue.
See the construction notice linked above for details.
There is no word yet on the TTC’s arrangements for service or what the interim configurations of routes will look like. Continued access to Roncesvalles Carhouse via the North Gate will remain available until the planned work in 2022 at which point all access will have to shift to the south gate during construction between Queen and Harvard.
However, there will be periods where the KQQR intersection is impassible in both directions while it is reconfigured and rebuilt. This will require Queen and King services to turn back somewhere further east TBA with bus replacements.
It is not clear whether there will be a period in fall-winter 2021-22 when streetcar service can be restored west of the carhouse. I will pursue details of the project staging with the City and TTC.
The City plans to have a project website available, but it is not up as I write this article on the evening of September 4.
The King Street Transit Priority “Pilot” has been in place since fall 2017, and is now a permanent fixture. Long time readers will know that I have tracked the changes in travel times through the affected area between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets for many years.
For some time, there has been little “news” because conditions on King were stable and the travel times were not changing even as the number of scofflaws grew. Basically, the street did not reach the “tipping point” where there was enough traffic, whether it should be there or not, to push conditions “over the edge” into the pre-pilot congestion. One notable exception was the effect of major sports events and traffic jams that plugged (mainly) University Avenue causing north-south traffic to back through the intersection preventing east-west movement.
With the steep decline in traffic downtown through the combined effect of work-from-home and the shuttering of much of the Entertainment District, I took another look at King to see what was happening.
Note: For one week in April 2020, track repairs at Church Street prevented King cars from running through, and no data appear for those days in the charts.
The reduced transit riding and auto traffic in Toronto during past months provides an opportunity to compare travel times during what used to be “typical” conditions with the situation when there is no congestion and stop service times might be shorter.
This article examines the 504 King route from January to May 2020. I plan to publish data for other streetcar and bus routes, but I am awaiting the May data extract from the TTC’s new Vision system which tracks all buses and a substantial portion of the streetcar fleet. (In May, the King route operated substantially with cars using the old CIS system from which I have already received data, and so there are enough data from that route to represent its operation.)
504 King operates with two branches: 504A from Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop, and 504B from Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop. Only trips late at night after service to Distillery and Dufferin Loops ends make the full trip between Broadview and Dundas West Stations. For this analysis, I have split the route in half at Yonge Street to measure travel times to that midpoint from the outer ends of the lines.
The change in travel times is quite obvious looking at month-by-month averages. In the charts below, travel times are averaged for all weekdays in each month, grouped by hour of departure from Danforth and Broadview. (The screen lines at terminals are located far enough from the loops to avoid including queuing times to enter crowded loops in the measured travel times to and from Yonge.)
January and February (red and yellow) are the highest because they represent normal pre-covid conditions. During March (green), the amount of transit riding and traffic began to fall as offices closed and non-essential travel was reduced. The King car was particularly affected because it serves the business district. April and May (light and dark blue) represent a “new normal” for travel times.
Note that in these charts, the Y-axis does not begin at zero so that the spread in the data values is clearer.
(A full set of PDFs of these charts is at the end of the article.)
Although the monthly averages show a clear pattern, the weekly values change within the two broad bands of pre- and post-covid conditions. Note that for this chart there are no data for the week of April 20 because streetcar service on Broadview north of Gerrard was suspended for track repairs.
Updated July 2, 2020: The contract award for this work will be before the City’s Infrastructure & Environment Committee on July 9, 2020, and then it will go to Council for approval at its meeting of July 28-29, 2020. This is a complex multistage project stretching over three years.
This includes the reconstruction of the TTC track allowance and platforms, roads, sidewalks; construction of new streetscaping; replacement of watermains, sewer relining; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge over Parkside Drive.
Part of the work is planned for 2020 and was already awarded under another contract. This will not affect streetcar or road traffic.
In order to reduce the overall impact of construction on all road users in the area around Parkside Drive, the underside of the Parkside Drive bridge at The Queensway will, therefore, be completed in 2020 in conjunction with the Dundas/Howard Park and Howard Park (Sunnyside Avenue to Parkside Drive) project. This bridge substructure work includes abutment repairs, recoating structural steel, reconstruction of the TTC stairs and concrete patch repairs to the TTC owned portion of the bridge.
Major works begin in 2021 and these are divided into phases. The TTC has not yet announced the transit service arrangements corresponding to each phase
Stage 1: February 2021 to July 2021
The Stage 1 of construction will be carried out on The Queensway between Parkside Drive and the KQQR Intersection and on Queen Street West between Triller Avenue [one block east of Roncesvalles] and the KQQR Intersection. This work includes watermain replacement, sewer relining, TTC overhead wire removals, TTC track work, road reconstruction and hydro works along The Queensway, the KQQR Intersection, and along Queen Street West; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge at Parkside Drive (outer lanes).
While this work is in progress, access to and from Roncesvalles Carhouse will be available only from the “north gate”. With the intersection closed, the 501 Queen and 504 King services will not be able to operate west of Dufferin Street. How much of the routes are converted to bus operation remains to be seen, but the TTC would be wasting vehicles if they converted two major routes for work that would not affect their entire length. Track replacement is also planned on Queen from University to Fennings (near Dovercourt) in 2021, and so it would make sense to retain streetcars at least on the eastern half of that route, and on King to Dufferin Loop.
Stage 2: July 2021 to April 2022
The Stage 2 of construction will be carried out on The Queensway from Parkside Drive to Sunnyside Avenue and on King Street West from the KQQR Intersection to approximately 100 m south thereof. This work includes watermain replacement and sewer relining on King Street West; TTC track work, road reconstruction and hydro works along The Queensway (Parkside Drive to Sunnyside Ave); reconstruction of the southwest corner of the KQQR Intersection including streetscape work at Beaty Boulevard Park (southwest corner of the KQQR Intersection); TTC overhead wire replacement along The Queensway, the KQQR Intersection and King Street West; and the rehabilitation of The Queensway bridge at Parkside Drive (inner lanes).
From this description, it is unclear which portions of the work will actually extend into 2022, and for what period the intersection will be impassible. That would determine the period during which streetcar service on the west end of Queen and King would have to be suspended.
Stage 3: April 2022 to August 2022
The Stage 3 of construction will be carried out on Roncesvalles Avenue from the KQQR Intersection to Dundas Street West. This work includes watermain replacement, sewer relining, TTC overhead wire removal and replacement, and TTC track work; and road reconstruction on Roncesvalles Avenue from the KQQR Intersection to Harvard Avenue. Stage 3 also includes minor work on Roncesvalles Avenue, from Harvard Avenue to Dundas Street West, to modify the TTC platforms for compliance with the Province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements.
This stage involves Roncesvalles Avenue north from Queen including the North Gate at the carhouse. While this is underway, streetcars would not be able to operate on Roncesvalles, but should be able to use the South Gate.
I have sent a query to the City for clarification of the staging of this project.
With the switch to buses on the 511 Bathurst, the 505 Dundas route will resume streetcar operation on Monday, April 20, 2020.
Service on the 504B King and 505 Dundas to Broadview Station will be replaced by buses for one week from Sunday April 19 to Saturday April 25 for track work on Broadview at Wolfrey and neighbouring areas. This could also include modification of the overhead on Broadview between Gerrard and Danforth for pantograph operation. New poles have appeared at several locations where curves that are not pan-compliant are still in place.
504B King streetcars will loop via Parliament, Dundas and Broadview. The 504A service will continue to operate to Distillery Loop.
505 Dundas streetcars will loop via Parliament, Gerrard and Broadview.
A shuttle bus will operate between Broadview Station and King & Parliament.
Work at Broadview Station on the extended 504 King platform is nearly complete, and this should relieve some of the streetcar queuing on Broadview outside of the station, an important consideration once the 505 Dundas streetcars are added to the traffic there.
This is the first of three articles updating information in my series of posts last fall [Part I, Part II, and Part III] with data to March 31, 2020.
In the first part of this series, I will review service reliability from the point of view of travel times across the “pilot” area between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets. In the second part, I will turn to reliability from the point of view of headways consistency and service gapping. Finally, I will turn to service capacity.
As I have worked through the data, I cannot help having the sense of looking back at a very different city, one that had busy streets full of transit riders. This will return, eventually, but it will be a long climb that has much more to do with scientific advances in disease control than transportation planning.
The effect of the city’s shutdown is evident in data for March 2020 as traffic and riding disappeared, and so, to some extent, did service.
Service changes during this period affecting the King Street corridor included:
November 25, 2019:
The 14x Express routes were shifted to King Street from Richmond and Adelaide Streets to use a less-congested path through the core area.
Two Christmas extras were added on 504 King between Charlotte Loop (Spadina) and the Distillery.
Service on 503 Kingston Road was improved by the consolidation of 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road as one route.
508 Lake Shore operated, for a time, with buses in place of streetcars due to a shortage of vehicles.
Mid-March 2020 (reduced riding and staff availability):
504 King service declined.
503 Kingston Road service was cut back to a shuttle between Bingham Loop (Victoria Park) and Woodbine Loop (at Queen).
508 Lake Shore and 14x Express routes ceased operating because they are peak period trippers.
With the retirement of the CLRV fleet on December 29, 2019, this is a good time to look back at how service on the streetcar network has evolved during the lifetime of those cars.
When they first entered service on the Long Branch route in September 1979, the new cars marked a real sign that Toronto was keeping its streetcar system.
Although Toronto decided to keep streetcars in late 1972, there was no guarantee that without renewal of the fleet and infrastructure the system could last very long. The last-built cars in the PCC fleet (the 4500s) dated to 1951 and, despite their simplicity compared to what we now call “modern” cars, they would not last forever. Second hand cars from other cities were older than the most recent “Toronto” cars. They were retired over the years even while the TTC undertook major overhauls on its own, younger fleet.
In 1980, the streetcar service was still dominated by PCCs as much of the CLRV order was still to come, and the ALRVs would not arrive until the late 1980s.
Yes, I know. What are all of those acronyms? Not every reader is a die-hard railfan with all of this information at their fingertips.
PCC: The President’s Conference Car was the product of work by a consortium of street railways to update streetcar design in competition with the rise of the private automobile. This was a large research project, especially for its time in the 1930s, and it produced a totally re-thought vehicle. The TTC was working with Hawker Siddeley on an updated PCC design in the mid-1960s, but nothing came of this thanks to a provincial fascination with new, high-tech transit. A license agreement for updated PCC patents held, in the 1960s, by the Czech manufacturer Tatra was never signed, and work on a new PCC for suburban routes stopped.
PCCs on King Street at Atlantic Avenue
CLRV: The Canadian Light Rail Vehicle. This car was designed partly by the TTC and partly by a provincial agency, the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation (later renamed as “Urban” to remove the explicit local reference). The design, from the Swiss Industrial Group (SIG), was very different from the car the TTC had worked on, but the UTDC needed a viable product after their magnetic-levitation project ran aground with technical difficulties. As a city streetcar, it was overbuilt in anticipation of high-speed suburban operation, notably in Scarborough. That scheme was supplanted by what we now know as the “RT”.
CLRV at High Park Loop
ALRV: The two section “Articulated” version of the CLRV was designed to run on heavy routes, notably the Queen car. These vehicles were never as reliable as the original CLRVs, and they were the first to be retired. At various times over the years, they ran on Queen, Bathurst and King.
An ALRV at “Old” Exhibition Loop
Flexity: This is the generic product name for Bombardier’s low-floor streetcars. It exists in many formats with Toronto’s version being designed to handle tight curves and steep grades. Delivery of the 204-car fleet was almost complete at the end of 2019.
Flexity on King Street at University Avenue
When the TTC decided to keep streetcars in 1972, they were still enjoying a long period of post-war ridership growth with constant expansion into the suburbs of bus and subway lines. Getting new riders was a simple task – just run more service. The downtown streetcar system was still bulging with riders thanks to a stable population and a robust industrial sector.
By 1980, however, the TTC hit something its management had not seen before, a downturn in ridership, thanks to the economic effect of the first Middle Eastern oil war and its effect on energy prices. Although the TTC continued to grow through the 1980s, a mindset of running just enough service to meet demand took over. This would be particularly unfortunate when the ALRVs entered service, and the new schedules merely replaced the capacity of former CLRV/PCC service on wider headways. With cars 50% bigger, the scheduled gap (headway) between cars increased proportionately. This combined with the TTC’s notoriously uneven service to drive away ridership, and the Queen car lost about a third of its demand.
The real blow came in the early 1990s with an extended recession that saw the TTC system lose 20% of its ridership falling from about 450 million to 360 million annual rides over five years. The effect was compounded when Ontario walked away from transit subsidies when the Mike Harris conservatives replaced the Bob Rae NDP at Queen’s Park.
The TTC planned to rebuild and keep a small PCC fleet to supplement the LRVs in anticipation of vehicle needs on the Spadina/Harbourfront line. However, when it opened in 1997 service cuts had reduced peak fleet requirements to the point that the PCCs were not required and the network, including 510 Spadina, operated entirely with CLRVs and ALRVs. This locked the TTC into a fleet with no capacity for growth, a situation that persisted for over two decades and which the new Flexity fleet has not completely relieved.
The combination of rising demand, in turn driven by the unforeseen growth of residential density in the “old” City of Toronto, and of commercial density in and near the core, leaves Toronto with unmet transit needs, latent and growing possibilities for transit to make inroads in the travel market, and a customer attitude that “TTC” means “Take The Car” if possible.
The problem with service inadequacy and unreliability extends well beyond the old city into the suburban bus network, but this article’s focus is the streetcar lines. I have not forgotten those who live and travel in what we used to call “Zone 2”, but the evolution of service on the streetcar system is a tale of what happens when part of the transit network does not get the resources it should to handle demand.
The evolution of service and capacity levels shown here brings us to the standard chicken-and-egg transit question about ridership and service. Without question there have been economic and demographic changes in Toronto over the years including the average population per household in the old city, the conversion of industrial lands (and their jobs) to residential, the shift of some commuting to focus outward rather than on the core, and the shift in preferred travel mode.
Where service has been cut, ridership fell, and it is a hard slog to regain that demand without external forces such as the population growth in the King Street corridor. The lower demand becomes the supposed justification for lower service and what might have been “temporary” becomes an integral part of the system. However, the level of service on any route should not be assumed to be “adequate for demand” because that demand so strongly depends on the amount of service actually provided.
This is a challenge for the TTC and the City of Toronto in coming decades – moving away from just enough service and subsidy to get by to actively improving surface route capacity and service quality.