Category: Transit

How can Toronto streetcar service be improved?

“Why do the streetcars in Toronto break down so often?” asks Denise Ray in Toronto. She adds: “What makes them short turn? How can service be improved? Do they make their finances public for one to analyze where the money is being spent?” Oliver Moore, The Globe’s Urban Transportation reporter has this to say:

When the TTC was getting ready to roll out the first of their new streetcars last August, a senior executive called them “crimson beauties.” There was a palpable sense of excitement among transit fans in the city, but a feeling of gloom among Toronto’s many streetcar critics.

Transit can be a polarizing issue and maybe no part of the debate is more divisive than streetcars. To critics, the city has locked itself into another generation of the vehicle they blame for tying up traffic. But the importance of streetcars is laid bare every time one breaks down in the cold.

And their workhorse role is clear when one short-turns, disgorging far more passengers than could be carried on a bus.

But there’s good news afoot: The TTC has undergone testing of its King streetcar route,  as Moore reports here, as well as its Dufferin and St. Clair streetcars.

Some of the changes have included all-door boarding on the King Street streetcar and a greater focus on traffic enforcement.  The recently-published results of these tests were stunning: Short turns are way down and on-time departures have risen sharply, Moore reported:

In October and then again in January, the TTC made changes on the workhorse King streetcar route – which carries more people than the Sheppard subway – and the effect was soon clear: The number of short turns, which had ranged from about 300 to more than 600 a week, dropped to as low as 45.

The rate of on-time departures jumped from less than 50 per cent – and less than 40 per cent some weeks – to more than 70 per cent most weeks.

With these positive results, The TTC plans to make these changes across the entire streetcar system:

“It’s a system approach – it’s no one element,” chief service officer Rick Leary said. “We have to help our operators. We have to help tweak our schedules. We have to make sure the equipment is reliable. And we have to make sure there’s proper supervision out there.”

The TTC plans to study the entire surface network to establish where such changes are needed. The cost to make fixes will be identified this year and become part of the 2016 budget request.

The TTC hopes the improvements will lead to less operator frustration, fewer collisions, less overtime pay and better customer satisfaction as riders come to believe they can rely on posted schedules.

As to why streetcars break down – more often in the cold – check out this graphic. And yes – finances are made public as part of the budget process every year.

Follow Oliver Moore on Twitter, and read The Globe’s ongoing coverage of the TTC here.