A Streetcar We Desire
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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.