Almost all of the TTC’s new streetcars have arrived, but the agency’s conversion to a sleek modern fleet isn’t entirely good news.
As a result of how the TTC will deploy the new vehicles, riders can expect to wait a little longer than they’re used to for one of the new cars to arrive at their stop, and on some streetcar routes passengers will be stuck taking buses for the foreseeable future.
The transit agency expects to take delivery of the last of the 204 new streetcars in its $1-billion order from Bombardier as early as Wednesday.
The new cars have undeniable benefits over the old model, the last of which was retired in December.
The new vehicles have low floors and wheelchair ramps, which are key to the TTC meeting its provincially mandated goal of creating a barrier-free transit system by 2025.
The air-conditioned streetcars are also significantly larger, with a service standard capacity of 130 passengers, compared with 108 for the largest version of the old cars. The new cars are more reliable than the 40-year-old vehicles they replaced, resulting in fewer breakdowns.
But because of their larger size, the TTC doesn’t need to deploy as many of the new vehicles to provide the same level of service. That means riders can expect to wait slightly longer for a new streetcar to pick them up than they did with the now-retired fleet.
“We plan service based on capacity and ridership, so to move the same number of people on any given route with a new streetcar, it requires fewer of them,” TTC spokesperson Stuart Green explained.
Green said the TTC is planning to ensure wait times for the new cars are no more than 25 per cent longer. For a route on which old streetcars used to operate at five-minute intervals, that would translate into a frequency of one new car every six minutes and 15 seconds.
Green said on some routes the TTC will also supplement streetcar service with buses at the busiest time of day.
He stressed that despite slightly longer wait times, the new streetcars will still offer superior service. In particular their greater capacity will make it less likely riders will encounter a streetcar that’s too crowded to board, a common complaint with the older vehicles, especially during morning rush hour.
“Really it’s about providing comfort and accessibility with those new vehicles,” Green said.
The new streetcars will also be better for the TTC’s bottom line.
Fewer cars means the TTC requires fewer employees to operate them. The agency expects to save about $45 million a year in operating costs with the new fleet, mostly attributable to lower spending on labour.
Herman Rosenfeld, a spokesperson for transit advocacy group TTCriders, said the decreased frequency of service under the new fleet is “not something that we’re happy about.”
He warned that while the TTC’s plan may be to increase wait times by no more than 25 per cent, that could grow longer thanks to traffic, road conditions or other factors outside the TTC’s control.
He called on the city and provincial governments to “dramatically” increase transit funding to allow the TTC to operate more service.
Even with all 204 new cars delivered, ridership demand is such that the TTC still won’t have enough vehicles to supply streetcar service on all of its designated streetcar routes.
The 505 Dundas route has already been operating with buses instead of streetcars since February 2018, partially as a result of the delayed arrival of the new cars caused by Bombardier’s production woes.
Streetcars will return to Dundas starting March 29, but at the same time the 511 Bathurst route will be converted to bus service.
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Green said there’s road work planned for Bathurst Street that would make it difficult to operate streetcars on the route. But even without that issue the TTC wouldn’t have enough streetcars to deploy them on all its routes.
The TTC has previously projected that starting in 2021 it would require a total of 60 new cars to meet ridership demand and expected growth until 2026. The additional cars are estimated to cost $420 million, and while money could become available through the recently approved property tax increase championed by Mayor John Tory, the purchase is currently not funded.
A TTC staff report expected to be published this week will make recommendations about the agency’s next vehicle purchase.