Media and politicians explore the first full-size test vehicle from Toronto's new streetcar fleet.
If you’ve been following Toronto’s transit saga then you know at least one thing: progress in the decision-making department is notoriously slow. But there is a glimmer of good news: the new TTC streetcars are well on their way to becoming part of our transit reality.
We got a first sense of how the streetcars would feel almost a year ago when we toured a partial model—which already made it clear the new form would be a sleek re-envisioning of the classic-era vehicles. We then glimpsed the real thing when a test vehicle was spotted gliding over CPR Lambton Yard in September. And today, the TTC officially invited the press to step inside for a better look.
Considerable excitement hung in the air at the TTC Harvey Shop. Besides being surrounded by four generations of streetcars, including the now full-length main attraction, TTC
officials had brought its transit celebs along for the show: Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), provincial Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli (Ottawa West-Nepean), and Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx.
Notable by his absence: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Notable by his presence: Peter Van Loan, leader of the government in the House of Commons (York-Simcoe), who was very glad to show up at the photo op even though the federal government contributed no new money to the streetcar project. (On the books they are contributing $108 million via the portion of the gas tax they give to the municipality. That is money we would have gotten anyway, however, so it represents no actual commitment to the project.) Stintz, still smiling, made a pointed joke about how she hoped the next time Van Loan came to an event it would be with a nice big cheque—perhaps for the downtown relief line?
Though we’ve already been introduced to many of the streetcars’ new features, some are worth highlighting again. The most noticeable is just how much bigger the new vehicles are: about twice as long as the ones we’re used to. There are fewer seats and more standing room, and a facing-seat configuration means we might all be chatting more on our morning commutes.
Key is the new Presto fare payment system, which will include open payment options—by credit and debit cards, and by mobile devices, as well as the Presto fare cards. Crucially, this will allow for all-door loading and hopefully cut down on the amount of time vehicles need to spend at each stop. Also crucial: the new low-floor design, which will make it much easier for people using wheelchairs and other mobility aids to board and exit. (With such accommodation now possible, one can only wonder what the future holds for Wheel-Trans. When we questioned Karen Stintz about this, however, she insisted that both services will coexist, though Wheel-Trans service is expected to be scaled back over time as the main service becomes more accessible.)
A couple of other features: currently the vehicle interiors don’t have ad panels, and the original plan was to have the new streetcars be ad-free. We’d be surprised if they ended up that way, given concerns about funding and lost advertising revenue, but it’s not yet clear how ads might be integrated into the new design. Riders who hate summer stickiness will be glad to ride on streetcars with air conditioning; those of use who like open windows are out of luck.
Some planning work still needs to be done before we’ll know exactly how service will change along the streetcar routes. A few stops will have to go, Stintz explained, since the new streetcars are twice as long as the old ones—long enough that with the current stop locations, the front of the new streetcar will be at one stop and the rear will be quite close to another. The TTC will also be making curb cuts at stops where they don’t currently have them, to improve accessibility.
When the streetcars roll out, after a few months of testing, it will be one whole route at a time. There’s not yet a final decision on which route will be first, but in September, TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said it would “very likely” be the Spadina 510.
The words “next generation” were tossed around quite a bit at this conference and, though other aspects of our transit system are still in need of a solid overhaul, it is clear that Toronto can still make progress when it wants to—and let’s face it; we do that in style.
Wheel-Trans will be scaled back as the main TTC service becomes more accessible, but it will not be phased out as we originally wrote, and we have corrected a mis-identification in one image caption.