Why Toronto Needs to Be More Thankful for the Streetcar

What spans 83km, has 600V running through it, and lets roughly 250, 000 Torontonians ride it per day?

It’s the one, the only, ever-popular Toronto Streetcar System.

Hating public transit is an easy thing to do. Sometimes it doesn’t come when you want it, sometimes it’s unbearably stuffy and crowded, and don’t even get me started on the number of TTC tokens I’ve lost at the bottom of my purse/mistaken for dimes.

But despising the Streetcar system on these terms alone isn’t enough of a claim to get us all up in arms about it. So just how effective is Toronto’s famed electric mode of transport?


Streetcars first arrived in Toronto in 1861 in the form of a horse drawn cart, but by 1892, we had already upgraded to the very first electric powered vehicle (which looks pretty similar to the “Red Rockets” we know today). Currently, the fleet is made up of 195 cars which now includes the Bombardier 30 meter cars that were promised back in 2014 in a $1.2 billion dollar contract.

Those who are against streetcars (predominately, commuters from outside the city) make the argument that they are no more efficient than buses and are simply an outdated 19th century piece of technology. Ignoring the fact that subways and buses are also rooted in 19th century technology, the argument itself is largely untrue from almost every angle you look at it. And here’s why:

Streetcars can hold more passengers

According to TTC’s stats, the standard streetcar holds 74, whereas a standard TTC bus holds only 53 – the new streetcars can hold up to 130, with the new generation of buses only holding 77.

Streetcars are a greener option + more cost effective

People are often quick to dismiss streetcars but rarely come up with a better/alternative source to replace this method of transit. Because streetcars can hold more passengers than buses, to replace the daily streetcar ridership of 250,000 would take approximately 4700 buses which would mean a heck of a lot more money (and diesel) funnelled in to satisfy the same citywide transport. Also, imagine 4700 extra buses driving around. No thank you.


Streetcars last longer

Say what you will about those stuffy old cars (currently in the midst of being slowly retired), but they’ve done the job for Torontonians since 1972. That’s over 40 years of service compared with the bus system, which introduces new vehicles almost every decade.

They’re smoother.

Because streetcars ride on smooth, jointless steel rails, they generally avoid road bumps and potholes that you’d otherwise feel whilst riding a bus.

And if you’re still not convinced, it’s likely for 1 of 2 reasons:

You think streetcars are slower than buses.

This is false.


Metro news created this graph comparing streetcar and bus speeds collected in 2014 by transit expert Steve Munro who found that they travel at pretty much the same rate actually.

Streetcars aren’t air conditioned.


But thankfully for you, the new Bombardier streetcars are fully air conditioned or heated as appropriate. So at least we’re getting somewhere.

Streetcars aren’t accessible

Okay, this one’s actually true. Mostly.

While some Toronto streetcars are accessible (noted by a wheelchair symbol on the side of the car’s second door or by the blue lights on the front of the car), not all of them are. This is obviously a huge problem for Torontonians, but the TTC has promised that by 2019, all of Toronto’s streetcars will be fully accessible. This will begin with the new 30 meter Bombardier cars which are all low-floor accessible streetcars.


So yes, like all public transit, sometimes the streetcar is annoying. But it’s a symbol of Toronto – one we quite frankly don’t know how to detach ourselves from. And maybe that’s a good thing.

At least the necessary steps are being taken to fill in any gaps in our streetcar system so that they can cater to a diverse audience’s needs.

And though the process may be slow, perhaps you’ll be whistling a different, more streetcar-positive tune in 2019 when the whole fleet is made up of sleek Red Rockets.

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