Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto mayoral candidates take note: It's time to get serious about streetcars

By: Metro Published on Mon Jun 02 2014

There’s been lots of focus on subway trains and highways during these early stages of Toronto’s mayoral campaign. We’ve even heard a bit about bus service.

But there’s not been a whole lot said about Toronto’s iconic, venerable, love-’em-or-hate-’em streetcars.

That’s a shame, because any real plan to address gridlock in this city really has to include a strategy to improve streetcar service. More than 250,000 people ride Toronto’s on-street rails every weekday — a daily ridership greater than all of GO Transit.

But plans to improve the reliability and speed of streetcar service often get derailed. Last week, a move by TTC staff to improve service by eliminating some stops along streetcar routes — mostly those located very close to other stops — got twisted into a mini-controversy when some city councillors objected to elimination of stops in their wards.

They cited a range of concerns: everything from accessibility to access to tourist spots to concerns that eliminating some stops would make other stops too crowded.

Some of those concerns were reasonable, but the whole process stands as a frustrating example of something way too common in Toronto. There seems to be a collective civic timidity that comes whenever this city considers change. We too often end up sticking with status quos that nobody really likes.

With streetcars, the number of riders who rely on them every day should mean more willingness to make big changes to help streetcars work better.

So if TTC staff think eliminating some stops will help, then let’s stop arguing and just try it. Pick a streetcar route and operate it on a very limited-stop service for a month or two. Collect headway information and passenger feedback on the change — and release it all publicly.

Let us have the debate based on real information. There’s no substitute for good data.

But streetcar improvements shouldn’t be limited to stop spacing. Toronto also needs to take a hard look at the other factors causing streetcar delays.

That means addressing things like whether it makes sense to remove some parking on streetcar routes. It means getting tough on delivery vehicles that block transit vehicles. It means finally acknowledging that taxi stands should not be located along busy transit corridors.

It may even mean looking at closing major routes like King to car traffic, giving transit the complete right-of-way.

That probably sounds like a terrifying idea to some drivers, especially the ones who frequently complain that they find themselves stuck behind slow-moving streetcars. But that’s entirely the wrong way to look at it. Drivers aren’t stuck behind streetcars — they’re stuck behind 250,000 riders just trying to get somewhere.

We’ll all benefit if we get serious about moving those riders more quickly.

This post was originally published at on 2014-06-02T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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