Last week, Rob Ford released his transportation platform. It has already been torn apart many places – by Torontoist, Toronto Life, BikingToronto, even the Toronto Sun! – but it did open up a long-running debate about transit in Toronto, that is, whether we should replace Toronto’s streetcar fleet with bus service. A lot of numbers are being thrown around, and a lot of conjecture and rhetoric. Well, let’s look at the facts, shall we?
The TTC regularly publishes its Service Summary document, outlining the expected levels of service (including the number of vehicles operating) on all of its services. The Service Summary for September 5 – October 9, 2010 is available from the link, or if that is offline or you’re reading this after it’s been updated, it is available from the TTC website’s Transit Planning section.
Page 67 of that document shows the total number of vehicles the TTC expects to operate at any given time, broken down by weekday/Saturday/Sunday and the time of day. The highest service is provided during the Morning peak period, when the TTC operates 157 CLRVs sand 38 ALRVs, 195 streetcars in total. I’ll come back to these numbers.
According to the TTC’s service standards (available here from Transit Toronto) the desired maximum load for an Orion VII bus (currently the most common in Toronto) is 55 passengers. For a CLRV streetcar it is 74, for an ALRV 108. Note that this document is several years old, and I hear that the standard for the Orion VII has been reduced, but I’ll use these numbers since I don’t have anything more recent.
By these numbers, the 195-car streetcar fleet can carry 15,722 passengers. This load would require 286 Orion VII buses. That’s a lot of extra large vehicles on highly congested core streets.
Of course, anyone who’s ever tried to ride a streetcar in Toronto at peak time knows that vehicle loading standards are a myth at best. At busy stops, and for much of the routes in the core, streetcars are loaded until no more people can physically enter the vehicle. This is known as crush load, a fitting name if you’ve ever been in that situation. I can’t seem to find any published stats on crush load for the Orion VII buses (hybrid or otherwise) but some sources suggest the crush load of these vehicles is anywhere from 55-60 passengers. Having been on a bus loaded this way as recently as today, I figure that’s about right. However, stats for the aging C/ALRV streetcars are readily available, for example Transit Toronto reports the CLRV has a crush load of 132, the ALRV 205. With these numbers, it would take 476 buses to replace our 195 streetcars, just to maintain our already pathetic level of service in the core.
Now, this is just to replace the existing fleet. Rob Ford (and others) are proposing to scrap the purchase of badly-needed new Flexity streetcars, and replace the entire fleet with buses. There are 204 Flexity streetcars on order, intended to fully replace the C/ALRV fleet. Flexity has a crush load of 260 passengers, providing fleet-wide crush capacity for 53,040 riders once the already-ordered streetcars arrive. Replacing these 204 streetcars with hybrid buses would take 884 buses. That’s a huge number of extra vehicles in the core!
One more myth about streetcars that opponents keep trotting out is that they move slower than buses. While a bus operating in the suburbs can clearly move faster than a streetcar in thick downtown traffic, the comparison gets a little muddy when you talk about running in the same areas. To illustrate: during the morning peak, 501 Queen cars run at an average of 16.3 km/h, 504 King at 13.7 km/h, and 506 Carlton at 15.2 km/h. Some bus routes in the same area: 6 Bay buses average 12.5 km/h, 75 Sherbourne runs at 11.7 km/h, and the 72A Pape (Union Station branch) at 13.5 km/h. Even the 142 Avenue Road Express only averages 16.3 km/h, exactly the same as the Queen Street cars. It isn’t the capabilities of the vehicles that limits their speeds, it’s the volume of traffic around them. Adding 100 or 700 large vehicles (depending on which numbers you use) is not going to help the situation, and it is certainly not going to improve service OR congestion.
A fair bit of material in this entry was collected from the excellent archives at Transit Toronto. If you have any interest in the history of transit and/or Toronto, it’s worth a good look.