News / Toronto

New TTC streetcars to offer better ride, but longer waits

Will TTC streetcar riders accept slightly longer waits — two minutes on average in the rush hour — if they get more reliable service?

The TTC plans to widen the headways — the gap between streetcars coming down the line — on most of its routes at rush hour once the fleet of 204 new, accessible Bombardier streetcars comes online by the end of the decade.

Off-peak headways will mostly remain the same, as will the problematic Queen route.

On other routes, however, rush hour waits will increase slightly. Transit officials say riders will be rewarded with more reliable service and, because the new vehicles are bigger, they won’t have to wait two or three cars to board.

But city Councillor Gord Perks (Parkdale-High Park) doesn’t accept the trade-off. He sees is as a customer service setback and says he will argue at council in favour of approving the purchase this year of an additional 60 streetcars — a move that would cost $366 million, starting with $53 million this year. TTC officials say the decision can wait a year but Perks fears that pushing off the purchase puts it at risk.

With those 60 cars, the TTC says it wouldn’t need to increase wait times or, even if it did so temporarily, it could roll them back as the extra cars are introduced.

It doesn’t matter that the waits will only be a minute or two longer, said Perks. “When I’m waiting on a cold day, I don’t care that there’s an empty seat further up the line,” he said.

On busy routes, “The standard you should be aiming for is, if you’re running to a stop and you miss one, you should be able to see the next one coming,” said Perks.

The new longer streetcars can carry up to 251 riders, nearly twice as many as one of the current standard CLRV streetcars and even more than the 204 people who can pack onto one of the TTC articulated cars.

The wait for a streetcar has been climbing since 1990. Twenty-five years ago, the gap between streetcars on Dundas was three minutes, 15 seconds. Today it is five minutes and 15 seconds. When the new streetcars come online, the TTC plans gaps of six minutes, 45 seconds in the morning peak.

“It is a daily occurrence to watch somebody give up and take a taxi,” said Perks, who admits that two or three times a month he offers to split a cab with other people at his stop.

The TTC says that with fewer cars on a route — 204 new cars compared with the existing fleet of 247 — the service will be better managed. Riders won’t have the frustration of waiting a long time and then having two or three cars show up at their stop.

But Perks doesn’t believe that.

“You have to accept there will be idiots making left turns and delivery vans inappropriately parked and two people with strollers at the same stop . . . One little mistake creates the bunching and when you have bigger headways the likelihood of something going wrong between two cars is increased,” he said.

TTC commissioner Joe Mihevc agrees that longer headways are a negative. But they make the most difference during the off-peak, when waits tend to be longer anyway, he said — and those waits won’t change.

“The issue in the peak is crowding. In the off-peak it’s waiting,” said the Ward 21, St. Paul’s, councillor, who championed the separate streetcar lane on St. Clair.

Headways for that route are expected to widen by a little over a minute once the new vehicles arrive. He doesn’t see that as a problem, given the greater capacity of the new streetcars, but Mihevc said the TTC needs to monitor and evaluate that schedule.

He agrees, however, with TTC board chair Josh Colle, that ordering more cars can wait at least another year. It wouldn’t be financially responsible to extend Bombardier’s contract, given the company’s late delivery of the original $1.25-billion streetcar order, said Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence).

The TTC has until the 60th new streetcar is delivered to exercise the option to buy more. So far only three cars have arrived.

“The reality is, they still haven’t got the fourth car,” said Colle, who added that he was less concerned about Bombardier meeting the 2019 deadline for the entire order than he was in getting the delivery sped up immediately.

Transit officials have talked to Perks at length about the service plan for the new streetcars. “There’s an unwillingness to accept there is a significant service enhancement,” said Colle.

“The reality is, because of the sheer size of the car, to run them in the same way on the street is just not practical,” said Colle.

TTC streetcar headways

The TTC plans to increase the gaps between its streetcars — known as headways — during the morning and afternoon rush periods, once the new Bombardier fleet arrives. Here’s a sample of some of the planned morning changes.

505 Dundas:

Current: 5 minutes, 15 seconds

Planned: 6 minutes, 45 seconds

504 King:

Current: 1 minutes, 51 seconds

Planned: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

512 St. Clair:

Current: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Planned: 4 minutes, 10 seconds

510 Spadina:

Current: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

Planned: 3 minutes, 30 seconds

511 Bathurst:

Current: 4 minutes, 15 seconds

Planned: 5 minutes

Source: Briefing note from TTC to Toronto City Council budget committee

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