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Commentary: A Possible Improvement for the Spadina Streetcar

The recent controversy over the St. Clair Private Right-of-Way Decision has focused debate on the merits of the Spadina streetcar line. Opponents of the St. Clair project have claimed that Spadina has been harmed by the project, that the street is a mess, and riders are ill-served by bunching streetcars. Not surprisingly, supporters of the St. Clair project have sung Spadina’s praises.

Having been a long-time resident of the area, I remember Spadina Avenue before construction began on the Spadina streetcar line. To say that it’s a mess now may be accurate, but it’s always been a mess. And while bunch-ups on the streetcar line are frustratingly common, I can say with certainty that the line represents a substantial improvement over the service provided by the 77 Spadina bus.

But just because the line and the current state of the street are substantial improvements over what happened before doesn’t mean we are blind to the Spadina streetcar line’s flaws, or not looking for suggestions on how to improve the situation. A few months ago, a TTC driver on the Transit Toronto mailing list threw this idea on the floor, and I think it’s worth considering:

  1. Install fare gates on the Spadina station loading platform, like what they have at Union, only wider.
  2. Cut back Spadina streetcar service from Union Station to Queens Quay loop. Redeploy the resulting extra streetcars onto the 509 Harbourfront route.
  3. Take two streetcars off of 510 Spadina and redeploy these on 509 Harbourfront as well.
  4. Replace all CLRVs on Spadina with ALRVs.
  5. Offer no transfers and accept no fares. Essentially, run the service for free, with boardings allowed at all doors.

The TTC won’t lose all that much money on this. There will be the cost of installing the fare gates at Spadina station, and the cost of extra drivers on the extra CLRVs required to replace the ALRVs that get redeployed to Spadina. And the TTC would accept no revenues from Spadina. However, the line is pretty short, and the overwhelming majority of riders transfer to and from other routes. The TTC would obtain its fares from there. And with boardings at all stops proceeding more quickly, service could speed up dramatically, increasing ridership, and possibly increasing revenues (on connecting routes or at Spadina station).

I don’t know if this is the magic bullet this appears to be, but I think it’s worth studying. If approved, it would be a substantial improvement to transit service on Spadina Avenue — which is already receiving very good transit service, in my opinion.

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