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cityscape

Taking the TTC’s Brand New Streetcar for a Ride

In which we ride the TTC's new streetcar for the very first time.

The TTC’s new streetcars, which Toronto media got to ride for the first time today, will bring many new things to the transit-riding experience. The cars are big—huge—and riding them feels as much like being on a subway as on a current surface vehicle. With five articulating sections (“don’t lean on the bellows” warn signs on the bendy bits between each section) and all-door loading through four doors, they represent the first major investment in streetcar infrastructure in nearly two decades.

But perhaps one of the most notable things these new streetcars will do is quite literally give passengers a much more expansive view of the city. The windows are, like the cars themselves, enormous—full panels that begin at seat level and extend straight up, uninterrupted by framings and handles and other doodads. It’s the panoramic view you get from a train, but of Toronto streets, and it makes for a much nicer ride.


First, some logistics—

  • Capacity: 70 seated and 181 standing, for a total of 251 passengers per vehicle. (The current cars hold 132.)
  • Dimensions: 30 metres long, 2.5 metres wide, and nearly 4 metres high.
  • Maximum speed (though of course this is constrained by road conditions): 70 km/h
  • Rollout schedule: you’ll be able to ride the new vehicles by mid-2014 on the Spadina, Bathurst, and Dundas routes; other streets will follow, about one per year, until the full rollout is complete by mid-2018.
  • Service: the streetcars will arrive at 671 stops on 11 routes, providing a total of 82 kilometres of service.
  • Doors: One of the much-vaunted features of these new cars, meant to decrease the time spent at each stop, is all-door loading. Each streetcar has four doors, and payment can be made at all of them.
  • Payment: when the streetcars first enter service, there will be a mixed bag of payment options—existing fare media (such as Metropasses and tokens) will be accepted, as will the new Presto system. Some major stops will be equipped with fare-dispensing machines during this transitional period. Eventually, the entire system will move over to Presto.
  • Accessibility: all vehicles are low-floor and come equipped with a ramp at one door, which means that passengers using mobility devices, people using rolling shopping carts or strollers, or anyone who has difficulty managing stairs, should be able to board easily.
  • Bike storage: each streetcar has one rack that holds two bikes.
  • Operator booth: As with the new subways the operator gets a separate section at the front of the vehicle. Unlike the subways though, the door between the operator section and the rest of the streetcar is transparent, and there’s an intercom so you can communicate.
  • Cameras: there are cameras mounted on top of each door, which feed into displays on a screen in front of the operator, so that the operator can check for drivers creeping up as passengers board, see if anyone needs the ramp extended, and check out traffic behind the streetcar.
  • Infrastructure upgrades: In order to accommodate the new vehicles, the TTC is spending about $700 million to cover everything from a new maintenance facility (the Leslie Barns) to altering curb cuts and platform heights to match the new low-floor streetcars.

As for how the streetcar feels: as far as we could tell under the very limited road test, it’ll be a pretty good ride. We travelled very slowly, so we weren’t able to judge how the cars will handle under real-world conditions. The turns were smooth and the ride was very quiet. If you sit directly above the trucks (the wheel units that are under the streetcar) you do notice some vibration, especially when rounding corners, but between those sections the vibrations faded significantly. There are gentle slopes in the floor to accommodate those trucks, which will take a bit of getting used to as passengers walk the length of the vehicle. One addition we really did like: the backs of many seats now have handles, so you can easily grip them for support as you walk rather than reaching for overhead poles.

One of the biggest concerns raised by readers when the TTC first previewed the cars were the facing seats—they seemed a bit cramped, and the worry was that riders would start bumping knees or otherwise be forced into rather un-Canadian public interactions. Having sat in them with several other travellers, we can say that if you’re about 5’10″ or under you’ll be okay; if you’re taller than that, or carrying larger bags, best to sit elsewhere. Families with children will no doubt appreciate the spaces; how strangers feel—well, Torontonians are known for being a bit uptight, so this will either lead to a lot of polite staring over your seatmate’s left shoulder, or help break the ice.

Those seats, you may notice, are also a bit harder than in previous vehicles. Padding in all transit vehicles has been reduced in recent years, due to stringent new international standards: the padding adds to a vehicle’s fire load, and the new standards were introduced in the wake of several major international subway fires.

The big, gorgeous windows don’t open—that’s because the streetcars all have air conditioning systems, which should be a help during August heat waves. Those windows really do reinvigorate your sense of the streetscape though—it was striking how much more open the street felt during the drive.

Besides that, the streetcar’s length and width are the things riders are most likely to notice. On the test ride we took, virtually nobody was sitting down—there were a lot of standees, plus cameras and mics and all kinds of gear—and there was still a lot of room to move around. Worst case, imagine that these people, riding in actual conditions, all had bicycles or baby carriages or shopping carts—as best as we can tell, everyone should still be able to dodge around everyone else. The all-door loading should really help here, because even if you’ve got one congested part of the vehicle, the whole car won’t be blocked.

Aesthetics aside though, there’s only so much pretty new vehicles can do to mend the public’s fractured relationship with the TTC. What’s far more important than the fact that there are new cars is the fact that the service plan—although there will be fewer cars than there are now—means that because the cars are bigger, the net result will be more capacity on the lines.

This will come with some challenges of its own, however. The TTC is almost certainly going to discover that it has a lot of latent demand—demand they’ve been more or less ignoring for the past 20 years. Since the Spadina car opened in 1997, there’s been very little service increase on the system anywhere. The pent-up desire for better access to better service is likely to explode once these shiny new cars hit the rails.

Right now, the TTC doesn’t have a satisfactory plan for accommodating this need. According to the current plan, the TTC wants to start withdrawing some of the existing fleet as soon as possible, after these new cars start deploying into service. Instead, they should be redeploying the older cars as the rollout of new cars occurs, so that when Spadina goes live with the brand new fleet in April, they would take the old cars that had been running on Spadina and use them to improve service on other routes that need it.

That’s something that we haven’t heard a word about yet, and it’s going to be a particular issue on Queen, because the current plans are to retire the articulated (bendy) cars that run on Queen early because of maintenance problems. If the TTC doesn’t replace them right away with a lot more service…the people on Queen think it’s bad now? Just wait. There really needs to be a rethink of the whole process of rolling out the new cars, and of providing service across the whole system: even if people are waiting four or five years for their route to come up for the new cars, buying these new vehicles gives the TTC some options in terms of bolstering service across the board, since some of the existing cars are still perfectly functional.

Similarly, the TTC has the potential to order and house 60 more of the new cars, though it hasn’t done so at this time. This would allow them to run the larger new cars at the same schedule as they currently maintain, rather than the reduced one they have planned.

Unfortunately, it’s only once we get a transit-friendly administration at City Hall that we will stop starving the streetcar system for ideological reasons, rather than just address the fact that they are heavily-used routes that need consistently better service.

Based on today’s trial run, as far as it went, we’re happy. But the real tests—in scheduling and bunching and route management and operating in real-world traffic conditions—still lie ahead.



Comments

  • simonyyz

    I feel like this must have been discussed elsewhere already – but given the length of these babies, is there any concern how they’ll do on narrower streets like King and Queen in mixed traffic? Is this new design going to deployed on all lines, in the same configuration? Or will some routes have shorter versions of these cars?

    • vampchick21

      While King is/feels narrow (I think more feels, between the tall business buildings and the excessive cars on the street and the higher number of people on the sidewalks), it has long needed longer streetcars like Queen has. Trust me. I pick up the streetcar at King and Bay now due to my recent move and those babies cram up PDQ at that stop alone. I thought Queen was bad!

      • simonyyz

        I guess I’m also thinking of intersections along the eastern parts of College – little Italy and ossington.

        • vampchick21

          That’s west young man. Little Italy and Ossington are in the west end.

          • simonyyz

            I’m starting to feel troll like. I am generally pro-street level transit, and making the changes to streets to make them work best for a mix of transportation modes. (Just wanted to get that out there…)

            But that said, if street parking and taxis make a street narrow, it’s still narrow until changes are made to clear things out.

          • vampchick21

            Well, most major streets in Toronto are 4 lanes, two lanes one way, two lanes the other way. The changes that need to be made would be 1) don’t park on the street at all or obey the no parking during rush hours and 2) remove standing taxis. Also people to rethink when they drive and when they walk/take transit. So in essence, it’s US that need the changes, not the streets.

  • Syn

    Those facing seats are going to start fights, mark my words. And uncomfortable for anyone over 5’10″? That’s idiotic. Everything else about it seems very nice. Four door entry will be a huge benefit and there seems to be a giant amount of interior space. A shame they could face all the seats forward and given another 2 inches of leg room. Might have cost them 4 or 8 seats, but it would have saved them 20 pissed off customers on every car.

    • rich1299

      As someone who is 6’3″ I can’t use many of the seats on the back end of the new buses. I wish they’d post signs like the please move back signs (I know they really don’t do much good) which indicate how tall of a person a seating area is designed for so hopefully it would make people 5’10″ or shorter more aware of the space constraints for taller people and hopefully they’d start taking up the seats for average height people first leaving the few seats people of my height can squeeze into available for us to sit too. Many times even when there are many seats available I still have to stand just because I cannot squeeze myself into those smaller seats, at least not without taking up two seats by uncomfortably sitting sideways.

    • Guest

      Gee how do people on buses and trains elsewhere in the world keep themselves from getting into spontaneous street brawls on public transit? We’re just a bunch of wild apes that can’t control ourselves here in Toronto!

  • OgtheDim

    Will be interesting to see if anybody, let alone 3 people, will move so a bike can be parked, while the rider takes up another seat. Somehow I can’t see that working during rush hour.

    • HotDang

      Bikes aren’t allowed on street cars during rush hour.

      • OgtheDim

        Yes, I knew that, but how is a driver up front behind a door going to stop this from happening with all door entry?

        • HotDang

          This is Toronto. We are aware of and follow the rules.

        • http://www.corbinsmith.ca Corbin Smith

          Maybe. There are cameras at each of the doors so driver can see who is entereing and exiting at each stop.

          • Paula

            And there are collectors at most subway entrances but that doesn’t mean people don’t bring bikes (and pets) on during rush hour when they’re not allowed.

  • wklis

    To those who complain that the new low-floor streetcars will be too long, they are not when you look back in history. One LFLRV is about the same length as two CLRV’s or two PCC streetcars or one Peter Witt streetcar and its trailer.

    Peter Witt streetcars and trailers ran on Yonge Street and other routes as well, until the 1950′s. There was one driver and two conductors (one in the lead streetcar and one in the trailer).

    PCC streetcar trains consisted of two PCC MU (multi-unit) streetcars coupled together, during the rush hour. They ran on Bloor and Danforth until the 1960′s, and on Queen until the 1970′s. There was the lead operator in the front streetcar and the operator who acted as a conductor in the following streetcsr.

    ALRV’s were the first articulated streetcars for Toronto, and the LFLRV is a natural evolution in articulated streetcar design. There is also an advantage of being able to walk the entire length of the new streetcar, unlike being stuck in either the lead streetcar, or the following streetcar or trailer, in the olden days.

    With the new LFLRV’s, we are actually going back in time to when double-length streetcars and/or trailers ran successfully on the streets of Toronto. Only that one operator will be used, and no conductor to collect or check fares.

    • vampchick21

      But…but…war on car! Roads for Drivers! *insert Ford Agenda drivel here*

    • simonyyz

      Traffic volumes have changed over the last 50-60 years.

  • Serpiginous

    Air conditioning! AIR CONDITIONING!!!

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    Your Unicode is borked in the TITLE of the slideshow. Poles are poles and not polls.

    We’ve basically been told that air conditioning will not operate when driving under wires not converted to pantograph usage. Picture, if you will, a full streetcar heading eastbound on a summer afternoon at quitting time under such conditions. Does anyone remember sweltering peons pushing out the windows on then-new ALRVs, and the head of the TTC at the time calling overheating “psychological”?

  • Steve Munro

    The capacity for the old car is for a CLRV, but it’s a crush capacity almost never reached in service (the same will be true of the number for the new car). TTC service design is based on 74 riders per old (regular) car on average over the peak hour, and they will use 150 for the new cars. Service is never planned on the basis of crush standing room as this leaves no leeway for surge loads, gaps, etc.

  • MER1978

    No… is this where you suggest that 2.5 buses for every one of these would be better though there isn’t a transit expert alive that would agree with you?

  • Chud

    Looks great, but is there any reason why streetcars don’t have a flashing stop sign like a schoolbus to remind drivers not to run over people boarding or exiting?

    • dsmithhfx

      No, they have tire cutters.

      • wklis

        Lasers will slice cars that dare pass open doors.

    • vampchick21

      Because Ford Nation has a right to run over the evil lefty transit riders.

  • dsmithhfx

    Put on your zombie face.

  • simonyyz

    Thanks Tom!

  • maybeitsrapture

    Because that wasn’t the point of the article. The photos are of the streetcars, not the views of Toronto. If you want to see views of Toronto you can just go outside.

  • OgtheDim

    Yeah, its funny because almost all the press talk about this but nobody bothered to try to take a shot out the windows.

  • vampchick21

    You don’t know what the city looks like?

    • OgtheDim

      Perspective. Its Like riding in a car and looking backwards for awhile. (or for a whole trip if you grew up in the 70′s and went on holidays in the family station wagon). Things look different.

      The more angles you see the city at, the more you appreciate it.

      Which is one reason why it would be good for Rob to get a driver – man only looks at the city through his front window and only in terms of how its getting in the way of him getting somewhere.

      • vampchick21

        I suppose, but still….

  • vampchick21

    Eeewwww! People! Gross!

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Those four rear seats look very narrow. Is it a trick of photography, or have they narrowed the seats?

    • wklis

      Where’s the cup holders?

      • dsmithhfx

        What’s the in-flight movie?

        • vistarox

          I want my mani pedi.

  • http://www.corbinsmith.ca Corbin Smith

    Expect that the city will pretty much look the same from inside the streetcar as it does from outside the streetcar.

    Jokes aside, here are a couple extra photos that might give you a better idea of what the feel of the new streetcar and view/windows is like from the inside:
    1) https://twitter.com/corbinsmith/status/360042971820875776/photo/1
    2) https://twitter.com/corbinsmith/status/360043639348547584/photo/1

    • OgtheDim

      Thanks for those.

      That first pic.

      That’s a lot of space/plastic beside and above those particular seats. A place to put your bag, or phone. Or scrawl a tag.

      • http://www.corbinsmith.ca Corbin Smith

        Hmm. Interesting that you pointed that out. The double seats the next row back don’t have the same plastic/space.
        I’m sure there’s a reason, I just don’t know what that reason is.

        • rich1299

          From the photo it looks like the rear facing seats behind the front facing ones are higher off the floor so all that plastic is the rear of the seat behind it.

        • Paul Lloyd Johnson

          Wheels?

        • Steve Munro

          There are a few extra wide seats on each car for extra wide people. How reliably they will be used that way remains to be seen, but that’s the idea.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    I’ve always wondered why we haven’t installed a way for streetcars to pass a stalled vehicle in the lane. Paired switches at various locations, combined with a GPS system aware of vehicle locations, should make it possible for a streetcar to use the neighbouring tracks as a passing lane. (It probably comes down to cost/benefit – millions for the switches/system, versus hundreds (if that) lost waiting for a tow per incident.)

    • rich1299

      I’ve seen photos of such switch overs on some lines in other cities, even having one every so often would make a huge difference though I’d think they’d also require a system of streetcar signal lights to avoid say an east bound streetcar coming head to head with a west bound streetcar on the same track. Or failing that have more parallel tracks on side streets where a streetcar could bypass an accident or whatnot.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    Yes, I know that’s the plan. Do you not agree that waters were muddied by TTC engineers’ telling us the cars could run at effectively half power at the cost of air conditioning? Isn’t that what happened on this week’s test run?

  • innsertnamehere

    well It is true, Toronto is the only city on the planet with this width of gauge. it is also the city with the tightest required turning radii, at least in NA. (mind you it is also the only city to retain the vast majority of it’s network) Whether that is a good thing, I don’t know. Probably not, as it meant we had to order specialized vehicles. There is a reason that the Transit City LRT lines will operate with standard gauge instead of Toronto gauge and use off the shelf LRVs.

    • wklis

      Actually, Philadelphia has even tighter streetcar curves.

  • Kakash

    I like these new cars. Toronto still has 3rd world quality transit system, but looks like its slowly improving.

  • Paul Lloyd Johnson

    No, the TTC didn’t think about this. They spent millions on new streetcars, but didn’t check if they could pass each other. /s

    What a stupid question.

  • Ric Shorten

    Please answer one question…what does it really cost to move one passenger per trip? All year every day? My guess is $10.00 to $20.00 per trip…am I wrong? Be completely honest and include ALL subsidies to manufactures…by the Federal government EVERYONE! And therefore given this fare subsidy how can this be justified?

    • Testu

      Can you tell me how much single occupant vehicles cost to move one person per trip? Including, of course, tax subsidies for road maintenance, vehicle manufacturer bailouts, etc.?

  • Ric Shorten

    Fair enough. The real cost is where all dialogue must start. Add this thought. Toronto and suburbs say 200 square mile transport grid with door to door client delivery 24/7/365 with no private cars allowed. Only commercial delivery’s allowed. All Buses, handy darts, limos privately owned, something like Becks 30,000 taxis all maintained, insured independently and most importantly for smog issues the very latest models…electric or high efficiency gas, dispatched so as to run full capacity as often as possible? Private vehicles are for out / away from town travel. I love Europe’s TGV trains.

    • Testu

      What on earth are you writing about? That doesn’t even approach a coherent sentence, let alone an arguable point.

      • Ric Shorten

        These new electric street cars like the ones I rode as a child in the 1950′s here in Toronto but much fancier. My point is in metropolitan areas like TO – solve the grid problem not just one very expensive downtown issue. No need for personal digs – just reason and logic and dialogue please.

        • Testu

          Nothing personal. Perhaps it’s my fault, but I still have no idea what you’re saying here or in your earlier post.

          • Ric Shorten

            With my background being mechanical engineering and accounting I have grown very tired of half truths and market validations that are incomplete. I have been the GM of Yellow Cab and Comptroller of Victoria Taxi here on Vancouver Island BC and so I am biased. Trying to ‘mash’ all transport systems with out the overall grand scheme is a hopeless bandage fix and very costly! My son lives in Mississauga and works in Scarborough. My other in LA, CA…talk about congestion and traffic. Please imagine a large fleet of taxis, handy darts, limousines, airport shuttles and grande European style buses AND lovely electric buses by Bombardier all dispatched from the old city hall the way your traffic lights are centrally computer controlled. I believe the Toronto 200 square mile traffic grid all privately owned by small companies / individuals could give ‘door to door’ individualized services that would bring amazing ridership numbers at very reasonable un-subsidized rider rates costing the taxpayer nothing.

          • Testu

            The problem there is routes with low ridership would be discontinued leaving people in the lower density suburbs relying exclusively on fairly costly taxi fares to reach a transit hub. There’s a big difference between paying a $3 TTC fare and a $10+ dollar cab fare, followed by a TTC fare just to get to your destination.

            Transit privatization just increases costs for riders outside of high traffic routes, placing increased burden on suburban transit users. Even then, your scenario relies on a completely centralized system that still has to be paid for, either with increased fares by the providers or with tax revenues (fare subsidies).

            We’re talking about a transit system that handles an average of 2.6 million riders per day. (http://www.ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Operating_Statistics/2012.jsp )

          • Ric Shorten

            Excellent insights…the modern dispatch we used at Yellow Cab incorporating GPS in all vehicles and a computer assignment of the grid ‘trips’ as we called each client… the passengers to closest pickup vehicle and then messages both the p/u driver a map of the best ETA and client with an email or call on arrival. A ‘speedpass’ card system bills ‘start to destination’ for one, two.three…ten zone travel fees and then splits the proportional fees by service provider & driver rendered c/w expected fees. A prepaid T.O. Public Travel Pass Card can be bought by the hour, day, week or month…It can be that simple.
            The central dispatch …the rent on offices, phone services, computers and upgrades and 24/7/365 staff IS paid for by the vehicle owners usually $800 to $2200 per month. And allservice, maintenance and vehicle depreciation. An owner/driver expects $40K / annum.

          • dsmithhfx

            And assumes roads are free…

            **cough Gardiner Expressway**

          • Steve Munro

            A perfect example of private sector transit provision can be found by anyone waiting for a taxi. Downtown they are everywhere. In the burbs you can wait and wait and wait expecting one to just show up cruising for a fare.

  • Elaine Harley

    One addition we really did like: the backs of many seats now have handles, so you can easily grip them for support as you walk rather than reaching for overhead *polls*.

    I have to conduct polls to reach overhead? WHAT are you talking about? Poles? Pulls?

    • TorontoistCopyEditors

      We were, indeed, talking about “poles”—and thanks to you, the article now reflects that!

  • Elisa Jed

    That looks fantastic! They seems to have everything from great view windows to air conditioning. Toronto is definitely stepping up in public transport.

  • Dwight J. Seufert

    There’s no other way to do it with this ultra-low-floor design – the boogies (wheels) are under the seats. There wouldn’t be enough room with single-seat rows.