Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

TTC's big streetcars are a big step forward for Toronto

By: Metro Toronto Published on Mon Apr 01 2013

Looking through some of the headlines since the first of Toronto’s new streetcar fleet arrived in town from Bombardier’s factory in Thunder Bay, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this city’s new ride is a streetcar named disaster.

First there were trumped-up claims that the new cars, set to enter regular service in 2014, wouldn’t fit into the recently-installed right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue.

Then there were various statements made by members of Toronto City Council, with worries that the cars, at 30 metres in length, are too big, or that the TTC hasn’t ordered enough of them to provide good service.

Finally, there was a flurry of complaints about costs: $58 million to make existing stops accessible, and more than $100 million tagged to a project set to build track to a new streetcar storage facility.

And yeah, those are big numbers and some of the logistical concerns aren’t entirely off the mark, but let’s take a step back for a moment and remember why the city ordered these new vehicles in the first place.

Toronto’s eleven streetcar routes carry more daily riders than the entire GO Transit system — more than 250,000 each day. And the current fleet of red rockets are just plain old, with parts so hard to source that the TTC actually has an old-timey blacksmith on staff to manufacture custom fittings.

The new streetcars, on the other hand, are the best of modern technology. They’re air conditioned, whisper quiet, and will finally offer all-door boarding and proof-of-payment, so passengers won’t be stuck shuffling past the driver to deposit tokens. Plus they’re fully accessible.

That last part shouldn’t be understated. Accessibility may not mean much for those of us who can bound up stairs without thinking, but making transit fully accessible is both no small feat and something that’s long overdue, even if it comes with a cost.

So long as those costs are expected and budgeted for, I don’t see any reason to run the TTC over the coals. Nor do I think there’s much merit to panicked concerns that these vehicles are too big — they have been custom-engineered for Toronto’s streets.

In fact, the only thing about the new streetcars that I think deserves scrutiny right now is planned service levels. With all eyes on the city’s streetcar network with these new vehicles, and the roll-out set to happen in the midst of the next municipal election, it’s worth taking the time to really make sure the TTC has the right service mix and doesn’t leave anybody waiting too long at their stop.

But mostly, let’s remember what these new streetcars really represent: a step forward. For a quarter-million daily streetcar riders, that’s no small thing.

This post was originally published at on 2013-04-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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