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A Streetcar We Desire

Toronto finally gets a peek at the future of our streetcars—and they can't come soon enough.

On the day the TTC unveiled the future of its streetcar fleet, it seemed appropriate to begin my day on the Queen streetcar, trudging from Corktown to my downtown day-job. Taking the four steps from the street onto the McCaul-bound Canadian Light Rail Vehicle is a back-to-the-future experience. Even with the faded fluorescent light fixtures, there are glimmers of the optimism and hope for transit that the streetcars represented when they were first introduced in the mid-’70s. At that time, Toronto had just resisted the dismantling of the streetcar network. It had just resisted the push for urban expressways. And (unknowingly to Torontonians at that time) it was in the midst of the last major expansion of the City’s rapid transit network. The CLRVs and ALRVs were seen to be the vehicle for transit expansion across the city, with new light rail lines serving Etobicoke and Scarborough.

Today, a new beacon of hope and optimism lit up at Hillcrest Yard on Bathurst Street.

Approved in 2009, following a long and controversial process, Toronto is now getting a glimpse of the future of its streetcar network. The new vehicles, built by Bombardier in Thunder Bay, will be much welcomed by the 200,000 riders of city’s streetcar routes. A new look, larger capacity, air conditioning, and accessibility are all things we can look forward to.

A sleek new look

When the new streetcars enter service in 2014, the visual contrast with the CLRVs and ALRVs will be obvious, much like when the first CLRV was introduced amidst a sea of 1940s-era Presidents’ Conference Committee streetcars. Smooth curves replace the tank-like exterior of the CLRVs, graced by a familiar red, black, and white livery. The new streetcars will be much longer than the existing fleet as well, stretching to just over 30 metres in length, compared to a 12-metre bus, 15-metre CLRV, and 23-metre ALRV. Missing from the new cars, however, is the iconic middle lamp at the front of the streetcars, replaced by two strips of LED lights.

Higher capacity, more seats, faster boarding

With the added length, each streetcar will be able to hold more people, with a design capacity of 130 passengers, including 70 seated riders. The ALRV, by comparison, holds 108 passengers including 61 seats. The new design will also allow for better distribution of standing passengers along the entire length of the car. And to make boarding easier and faster, there will be four sets of doors, including two wide entrances in the middle. Combined with a proof-of-payment fare system, this will reduce the amount of time a streetcar spends at a stop, a benefit to riders and drivers.


One of the key requirements of the new streetcars was for a 100 per cent low-floor design. This allows for improved accessibility for everybody, including people using mobility devices like wheelchairs and scooters, parents with strollers, and cyclists bringing a bike on board. There is an “accessible module” with space for two wheelchairs or scooters at the front double door, which is equipped with a ramp that can extend to street level. At the rear double door, a “bicycle module” provides an open space for bicycles, grocery carts, strollers, and luggage.


One of the bolder changes in the new streetcar is the introduction of pod-seating, with several sets of facing seats. These will be great for people traveling in groups, but how will Torontonians respond to the group-style seating? Many transit agencies around the world use this seating style on buses and trains, including the buses on York Region’s Viva system and Edmonton and Calgary’s LRT systems. In addition to practicality—the facing seats are a necessity to accommodate the wheel wells—they will introduce a new element to the social intricacies of taking transit.

Accommodating the new cars

The introduction of the new streetcars will result in several changes off the vehicle as well. The new cars will be equipped with both traditional trolley poles and newer-style pantographs when delivered, as the TTC retrofits its streetcar wires to support pantographs (St. Clair Avenue was recently completed). The accessible features of the new streetcars will require modifications to the system’s 1,000-plus streetcar stops so that wheelchairs and scooters can move from the sidewalk to the streetcar doors. The TTC is working with the city to build curb cuts at many of these stops.

In addition, with the new proof-of-payment fare system, off-board fare vending machines will be installed at streetcar stops with more than 500 boardings to supplement the on-board fare machines. All the vehicles will also be equipped to support Presto, the new regional transit fare card. Also notable: the TTC intends to move to a time-based transfer system before or when the new streetcars arrive.

When are they coming?

The first operational prototype for the new streetcars is expected to arrive next summer for a period of testing on the TTC’s unique streetcar network, which includes many tight turns and steep hills. The delivery of the first car is expected by the end of 2013. New streetcars will enter service in 2014 on the Spadina, Harbourfront, Dundas, and Bathurst streetcar lines. By 2018, all of the TTC’s CLRV/ALRV will be replaced by the new vehicles.

You can have your first sneak peek at the new streetcars at the TTC’s Hillcrest Yard, located at 1138 Bathurst Street (north of Dupont), from Saturday, November 12 to Tuesday, November 15, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.


  • bud latanville

    Okay, who picked that seat cover pattern? DIE!

    Other than that, they look very good…open, articulated, accessible.

    • Anonymous

      You can’t actually kill someone for of their taste in fabrics. I suspect it was a pragmatic choice. The mottled pattern will hide discolorations from farts, piss, and barf.

      • Anonymous

        Your farts leave stains?

        I don’t think those are farts.

        • Mr. Tunes

          the real problem is: how do you actually clean those kinds of fabrics in a hurry?

          • Pedro Marques

            What’s everybody going on about the seat fabric? It’s the same exact fabric that is in use today.

          • Anonymous

            It’s a recurring complaint, but I’ve never seen the problem with the fabric seats. They’re as clean as any other seating on public transit.

          • bud latanville

            It’s not the fabric I was complaining about, it was that pattern.
            The seat covering on the new Rocket Train is probably the same material, just without the busy-busy pattern.

            Also: not ENTIRELY serious about the complaint, it’s a small thing, certainly, and this IS a pre-production model, right?

      • Bruce Gavin Ward

        tastefully put!

  • Eric S. Smith

    1. The facing seats are going to encourage those in the transit-riding population who figure that anyone who catches their eye owes them a conversation.
    2. It’s too bad that there’s no central headlight, since it’s a distinctive feature, but the broken bar of lights is sort of a negative-space version, clearly marking the spot where the headlight isn’t. I guess we’ll see how easy they are to spot in the distance.

  • Jaaaaaaaat


    lets get inert materials please

  • Gridlock

    Sweet Jesus, thank you. A/C in the summer! Prayers answered. Belief in deities created.

  • Nathan Kelly

    And the award for Best Streetcar-Related Article Title goes to…

  • Pedro Marques

    Did they actually deliberately leave out the centre head light? It must have been a conscious decision because we’re designing and building these to order. Why has Toronto’s history not been considered?

    TTC Co-Chair Peter Milczyn doesn’t seem to think history is that important:

    Let the Commission and your councillors know that history IS important.

    A modern LED lamp would be fine. You don’t need to keep it old fashioned to honour our history. The centre headlamp is iconic. Why simply ditch it for no apparent reason?

    • Nerfgun

      Honestly the giant blue LED in the top corner looks to be a lot more visible than the old “middle headlight”. Let’s not get overly nostalgic for a detail that wasn’t all that distinctive to begin with.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome. Someone deep in TTC headquarters actually seems to have a brain — off-vehicle payment, time-based transfers, smart card readers… jesus, even pantographs. Wow.

    Couple oddities — the Bombardier Flexity Outlook Cityrunner (its true name – this is just a rebadge) is usually bi-directional, hence the bi-directional seats. They are not really intentional as much as a leftover that remained even though the vehicles were converted to one-way operation. Odd, but works fine in other cities, so “meh”.

    Little nervous about the narrow aisles — they are REALLY narrow and will restrict movement. Is this a result of the custom too-narrow Toronto gauge on a 100% low floor vehicle? It’s a concern.

    The felt seats are no different than in NYC buses, etc. Not a bad compromise between soft vinyl and hard plastic.

    I too tried writing in about a faux PCC headlamp when they had the comment period. Missed opportunity.

    So now the focus needs to shift to all the other ops stuff — the vehicles themselves are swell. But who will clear the ROW from turning cars? Who will delete Victoria stop (it’s practically closer to Yonge than the vehicle is long)? Who will put the darn streetcar/LRT rail lines on the freaking rapid transit (read: “subway”) map? Argh.

    • car4041

      Toronto’s gauge is wider than normal, not narrower.

      • Anonymous

        Quite right, sorry about that. I really have no idea why the passageways are so narrow then.

        • qviri

          I’m not sure it’s any narrower than the current back aisle in CLRVs that haven’t had one column of seats removed, not that that’s awfully wide. It might look narrower since the seats are higher.

          • Joshua N Anderchek

            The aisle is that narrow because of the amount of rotation the trucks need to be able to accomplish. Remember, modern LRV’s aren’t designed for “legacy” networks and of those that did exist, Toronto had some of the tightest curves on the continent.

            It’ll be interesting to see how well these handle the streets. Here’s hoping we don’t have the issues Boston had with their new vehicles (and considering the TTC gave Bombardier a “laser map” of the entire track network and said “make it work on this”, I think we’ll be alright)

    • Sylvan

      The bi-directional seats are a necessary result of the LRVs’ 100% low floor design. The trucks stick up from the floor on either side of the aisle and must be accommodated underneath a pair of seats.

      Though TTC gauge is slightly wider than standard gauge, these vehicles will be narrower than Bombardier’s off-the-shelf LRV design (2.54 m vs. 2.65 m). Presumably this change was necessary for them to operate in the tighter parts of the legacy network.

      • W. K. Lis

        The streetcars we have are the same 2.54 m width as the Montréal Metro cars.

    • Anonymous

      I support the Victoria stop because of its proximity to St. Mike’s. It spares the infirm from having to walk an extra block.

      • qviri

        There’s also stops at Victoria on King and Dundas routes, and in any case, Victoria at Queen is far from the only stop with this issue. Simcoe and York on the King route come to mind.

        • Joshua N Anderchek

          It all comes down to demand over delay. I think there will be too much delay serving the stop at Victoria for the low ridership it gets, and amalgamating it with the stops at Yonge will likely happen. For sure WB, but only possibly EB. If they were bold, they’d move the EB stop to be on the east side of Yonge, but I think that’d have too many traffic implications.

  • M. Kerr

    It doesn’t matter how commodious these new streetcars are. If you’re riding the 501 and an automobile breaks down on the tracks, this lovely new streetcar cannot go around it as a trolleybus could. If a truck is turning left, the streetcar still has to wait for the truck to turn.

    I don’t look forward to these streetcars as no one in a car will be able to pass them on Queen. And how much time does it take for these new vehicles to turn a corner?

    I’m sorry, but in a city where more and more cars are on the roads, streetcars are an antiquated technology unless they can have a dedicated right of way. Perhaps double decker trolley buses were the answer. You don’t have costly track repairs…

    Let’s not blame the current administration for all of our woes. Let’s blame the Toronto decision makers of the 1960s for not having the foresight to plan for our city becoming as big as it has.

    • Eliot Rossi

      It doesn’t matter how many logical points and facts are presented that show streetcars are the way to go. It’s obvious that streetcars are the one and only vehicle to impede traffic, and the one and only vehicle to be held up by traffic, even though buses operating on downtown streets would be at a disadvantage because there would need to be five times as many of them to handle the demand, and it’s obvious that we should immediately destroy the streetcar system, wasting billions, rather than making traffic flow more smoothly. It’s obvious that one person in a car MUST have right-of way over a vehicle carrying more than 200 people. After all, the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many, right? Ir’s obvious that streetcars are antiquated even though cities all across North America are rushing to build streetcar systems. Why should we follow the example of a 21st century city? It’s obvious that in a city where there are more and more cars on the roads that we should immediately obliterate a highly efficient mode of transportation forcing even more cars onto the roads, and it’s obvious that no downtown street could ever be closed to automobiles, making the passage of bikes, pedestrians and transit vehicles easier and safer. Such an idea is ludicrous!
      It’s obvious that buses are always cheaper than streetcars even though modern buses last only 9 years while streetcars last up to 35 years meaning buses would need to be replaced four to five times as often, even though you would need five times the vehicles to handle current demand, even though buses burn expensive and dirty diesel fuel, even though streetcar track, when built properly as it has been for the past 10 years can last up to 40 years, even though asphalt roadways last a fraction of the time meaning they have to be replaced more often. None of that matters. Let’s blame the planners of the 1960s for not destroying neighbourhoods with gigantic expressways, for not reducing the TTC to a shadow of what it is today, for remaining progressive in their thinking and for learning from the mistakes of cities who decided to adapt to suit car culture, costing them their livelihood. And let’s slap labels on the streetcar, labels like slow, obstructive, antiquated, dangerous and expensive, even though streetcars are none of these things. Let’s destroy something that works instead of improving it and improving the way it interacts with other forms of transportation.

      • Bruce Gavin Ward

        so did anybody notice that getting cars of the streets, beside possibly sving the planet would eliminate ‘traffic’.

    • JayBee Gooner

      Cars are older technology than streetcars, and streetcars is a much more efficient transport mode than cars, so the solution is obvious: Ban cars from the tracks, and allow left truns only at key intersections for cars. It’s time this inefficent mode is relegated behind transit where it belongs.

      • Jacob Louy

        One drawback is that if there are fewer left-turning locations available, the left-turning traffic would make their left-turns at fewer locations, which may mean longer queues (assuming the amount of left-turning traffic does not change).

      • M. Kerr

        Then there would be no parking on Queen Street East and the shop owners would have a fit.

    • Bruce Gavin Ward

      actually no; lets indeed blame the current administration [at least 'gravyBoy']

    • Ava Murray Peters

      maybe the solution is to limit cars in the city centre. we need a way to move more people downtown not the private cars. street cars with the new design are an answer.

      • Joshua N Anderchek

        Every intersection along a streetcar route should have transit priority sensors. And if they already do, they certainly aren’t active!

        What I would propose is that all signalized intersections on streetcar routes have the ability to display an advanced green. Whatever direction the streetcar is approaching the light from, the next time it turns green, you get a 4-5 second advanced, to clear out any cue of cars in front of the streetcar. It’d likely work wonders, and over time it would balance out as you get the same (roughly) number of cars going either direction. If there are streetcars coming from both sides, the side that hasn’t had an advanced green longer would get it.

        That said, streetcars (when loading) do provide impromptu advanced greens for the opposite direction too, which can noticeably improve traffic flow at times.

    • Joshua N Anderchek

      A trolley bus, as attractive of an option as it is, is the worst of all worlds. You still need the expensive overhead, you still can’t divert off-route (save for a lane change), you still can’t pass other trolleys ahead of you (unless they build bypass overhead, which just adds to the cost even more) and you’re still stuck with the capacity of a bus.

      Face it … unless someone comes out of the woodwork and offers to pay for an entire installation of overhead/transformer stations, you’ll never see trolley buses in Toronto again.

  • Anonymous

    This is such a waste of taxpayers money. We should be removing streetcar tracks and replace them with a bunch of cars and busses(that is obviously the most logical thing to do; it would only take about five times as many busses to move the same amount of passengers). But if we MUST have public transit can we at least bury the entire streetcar system. They’re eyesores and it would only cost a few billion dollars.

    • Louiej5

      Your comment made me laugh.

    • Bruce Gavin Ward

      such a modelTO moment!!!

  • Bruce Gavin Ward

    oh my, so nice and close to the ground; sliding under one of these on your bike would be almost impossible.
    [now about those 'trucks']

  • Pingback: TTC finally seems to have done something right: new streetcars are pretty cool (but not quite pimptastic) | Streetcar Named Disaster |

  • Tylerdurdan81

    That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen. I hope everyone involved gets fired.