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A Summary of the TTC's Report on the Opportunities for New Streetcar Routes

(summarized by James Bow, from the TTC Report Opportunities For New Streetcar Routes (January 21, 1997))

On October 1, 1996, the TTC commissioned a report from its staff examining the possibilities of expanding Toronto's streetcar network. On January 21, 1997, the report was submitted to the commission. This report received considerable attention in the February 1997 issue of the UCRS's news-magazine Rail and Transit, and I believe this report would be of interest to readers of Transit Toronto. I do not intend to plagiarize the UCRS report; I only wish to submit my own summary and commentary here. I would like to thank the UCRS's Scott Haskill, who summarized the report in Rail and Transit, for providing me with a copy of the original report.


The TTC is well aware of how important the streetcar fleet is to the health of its system. Although streetcars provide only four percent of the TTC's surface route kilometres, they carry 22 percent of all weekday passenger traffic. Before the opening of the 510 SPADINA streetcar, four of the TTC's busiest surface routes were streetcar routes (506 CARLTON, 505 DUNDAS, 504 KING and 501 QUEEN).

The TTC believes that streetcars generate more passenger traffic than would otherwise be generated had those routes been served by buses. Although few studies have been made, the TTC's own ridership figures for the HARBOURFRONT and SPADINA routes indicate a significant increase in passenger traffic once streetcars were put in. It is the TTC's policy to consider a traffic level of 3000 pphpd (passengers per hour per direction) to be the lowest level of traffic to justify conversion. Actually, the break-even point is considered to be 3600, but levels of 3000-3600 pphpd should be considered, the report argues, because of the 'inherent advantages' of streetcar use. These advantages include:

  1. Total annual costs on high demand routes are equal to or less than comparable diesel bus operation.
  2. A higher quality ride and a stronger transit image would encourage use.
  3. Permanence of the route would have greater impact on land use.
  4. The ability to 'MU' streetcar operation for higher capacity when needed. Streetcars already offer a higher capacity per vehicle than a typical bus.
  5. No diesel fuel required, ensuring power supply and conserving energy.
  6. No air pollution at the source.

Despite the fact that there are considerable capital costs associated with streetcar use, including the higher price of vehicles, and the cost of installing track and overhead, these costs are comparable to those of other technologies because streetcars and their capital infrastructure last longer, and thus their costs are divided over a longer period of time.

The reason why the TTC is considering expanding its streetcar network, however, is because a sizable portion of the fleet isn't being used enough. Currently, the TTC has 248 streetcars (196 CLRVs and 52 ALRVs), and current service requirements mean that only 141 CLRVs and 38 ALRVs are required to meet the schedules. Because of the longer life span for these cars, the first CLRVs will not be up for replacement until 2008, and the first ALRVs will not be due until 2018. This means that currently, the TTC is operating with 25 surplus CLRVs and 6 surplus ALRVs.

The report, therefore, looked at ways that the extra streetcars could be used. An inventory of the TTC's track network was conducted, and among the facts were the following: Approximately 92 route kilometres of streetcar track and overhead were in use, while a small amount of existing track and overhead is not being normally used (examples cited included the wrong way track on one way streets, like eastbound Wellington and Richmond, westbound Adelaide and southbound York). To save money, the wrong way trackage has not been replaced when the time came for maintenance. The report also mentioned the less than one kilometre of double track on Rogers Road between Old Weston Road and Bicknell Loop. Without overhead, without a connection to the rest of the system, and comprising only 3% of the length of the 161 ROGERS ROAD bus route, this track is less than useless.

Therefore, if the TTC is going to consider expanding the use of its streetcars, new track would have to be built, and established bus routes replaced. The question was, which bus routes would provide the most benefit through conversion, and which could be done with minimal capital expense?

509 Harbourfront (Queens Quay between Bathurst and Spadina)

509 Harbourfront

The strongest recommendation of this report was the construction of new track along Queens Quay West from Spadina Avenue to Bathurst Street. This service, tentatively named 509 HARBOURFRONT would operate from Union Station to the Canadian National Exhibition, reducing service on the Queens Quay portion of the 510 SPADINA route and replacing the Queens Quay leg of the 121 FRONT-ESPLANADE route. In the view of this report, such a construction could be completed for about $20 million and would provide a high quality link between the CNE and the Yonge Subway. It was also noted that the City of Toronto plans were already calling for stronger transportation on the Western Waterfront to coincide with a building boom in the area.

The report noted that a previous study had examined the proposal and recommended an ambitious project that would extend the streetcar to the Dufferin Gates area, following an alignment along Queens Quay, Portland Street and Lake Shore Boulevard (replacing the current Fleet Street tracks), entirely on private right-of-way. The current report came up with its $20 million figure, assuming that the TTC could follow a lower cost alignment, using the track already in place along Fleet Street, with the route branching off at Bathurst Street and operating to Spadina via Bathurst and Queens Quay. Private right-of-way would be in place from Spadina to Portland Street only, after which the streetcar would mingle with the cars. Terminals at Union Station and the CNE have already been built.

In the end, the report recommended that this particular proposal be submitted for a more detailed report. That report suggested that ridership would be very high on this new route and that it would make a profit, according to the TTC's accounting system. It was recommended for addition onto the TTC's 1998-2002 capital budget, which was recently approved. Construction has begun and the streetcar is scheduled to open in the spring of the year 2000.

The Belt Line and other Downtown Route Proposals

The report also looked into the possibility of adding a circular route through the downtown core. Such a route would serve significant destinations without requiring customers to change vehicles. The report noted that Toronto's downtown had seen a few versions of a Belt Line streetcar, including one route which operated via King, Spadina, Bloor and Sherbourne from 1891 to 1923. Most recently, the Belt Line Tour Tram operated in regular during the summers of 1973, 1974 and 1975, but was cut due to lack of use (it last carried an average of 172 customers per day).

Several alignments were considered by this report, with the lowest cost option being one which operated in both directions along Queen, Spadina, King and Church. Such a route, if operating at 10 minute intervals during the midday on weekdays, could benefit about 160 customers with a reduction of transfers, and up to 1100 passengers would take the route. However, it was calculated that the subsidy per boarding of such a service would be $10.29, well above the maximum permissible subsidy of $1.25. Thus the proposal could not be recommended, although the TTC did suggest that such a service could be run with the financial assistance of downtown business organizations.

The TTC did note, however, that the busiest transfer section between north-south and east-west routes through the downtown was at the corner of Spadina and Dundas. On every weekday, as many as 3400 customers make the transfer. This lead the report to suggest that the TTC examine a possible CHINATOWN streetcar route, operating from Spadina Station, down Spadina, east on Dundas, to loop via Church, Queen and Victoria. A subsequent report deduced that new service would not meet the subsidy-per-boarding criteria, and that if service were reduced in order to make up for costs, more people would be inconvenienced on Spadina and Dundas than would benefit from the reduction of a transfer.

Map of possible Coxwell Streetcar

The Coxwell Streetcar would require only 1 km of new track. From 5 a.m. until 7 p.m., it would operate between Coxwell station and Queen Street. During the evenings, it would replace the 502 and 503 streetcars on Kingston Road. This would be a complete restoration of the Coxwell and the Kingston Road-Coxwell streetcar routes which last operated in 1966.

Possible New Streetcar Routes From Old Bus Routes

Finally, the report turned to the possibility of converting bus routes to streetcar operations, as with 510 SPADINA. In considering various proposals, the TTC looked into the present ridership and service levels of bus routes throughout the system, as well as bus routes that required the least amount of new trackage to convert. The report narrowed down the selection to three possible new routes, which were 22 COXWELL, 29 DUFFERIN (south of Bloor) and 63 OSSINGTON (south of Bloor).

Of all the options, 22 COXWELL had the most to offer. Only one kilometre of new track would have to be constructed, from Gerrard Street north, and a loop was already in place for operation at the southern terminus at Queen. Conversion could also take into account the altered evening operation, wherein COXWELL buses replaced the 502 and 503 streetcars along Kingston Road, to Bingham Loop. This was especially good, as it provided 'consistency of vehicle type on Kingston Road.'

However, there were problems. Over and above the 1 km of new track, there was the question of the line's northern terminus. The TTC did not seem to believe that streetcars could use the current bus loop, either because its turns were too tight, or it feared noise complaints from the neighbours. The construction of a new loop would have added to the cost, even though one could be built on land already owned by the TTC (Danforth Garage exists just south of Coxwell station). Most importantly, however, 22 COXWELL only carried 7600 customers, with a peak hour ridership of 420, well below the 3000 per hour required. The narrow width of Coxwell, relative to Spadina, was another disadvantage, eliminating the possibility of private right-of-way operation, and limiting the benefit of streetcar conversion.

Map of possible Dufferin and Ossington Streetcars

The Dufferin Streetcar would use track already in place south of Queen Street, and the Exhibition West Loop. New track would be required in the 2.5 km stretch from Queen to Bloor, and a new terminal would be required at Dufferin. The Ossington Streetcar could use the facilities already in place at Ossington Station, and would require new track on Ossington Avenue north of College and south of Dundas. The southern terminus would require some property acquisition, unless the TTC extended the line south on Strachan to the Exhibition East loop, or if the line was extended to some on-street loop downtown.

The second favourable option, 29 DUFFERIN, had the advantage of a larger passenger base, 12000 customers per day. Only 2.5 km of new track would need to be built, from Queen Street north, and terminal facilities already existed at the southern end of the line. It too, though, was not recommended. Only 850 customers were carried in its peak hour and there was the issue of the 6800 customers who would be potentially inconvenienced each day by having to transfer from a Dufferin bus to a Dufferin streetcar. Then there was the northern loop; with no off-street facility in place, and no space to build one, the only option in the TTC's eyes was a new underground facility, which made the project too costly.

The third option, 63 OSSINGTON, could have carried at least 7600 passengers per day. Only 1.6 km of new track would be required, between Bloor and College, and Dundas and Queen. Streetcars would still have to loop at Bloor, but the TTC felt that the current Ossington bus transfer facility could be easily modified for streetcar operation. As for the southern terminus, there was the cost of a new loop, but this could be avoided if the streetcars were routed south on an additional 700 metres of track on Strachan Avenue to the current terminal at the CNE, or the cars routed along King Street to loop somewhere downtown. The Strachan Avenue option was made less feasible by the presence of the level crossing with the busy freight and commuter rail line just north of the Gardiner Expressway.

As with the other options, however, Ossington did not have the 3000 passengers per peak hour needed to make conversion feasible, carrying instead 700. There was also the issue of the 2400 customers inconvenienced with an additional transfer. Had all these proposals been acted upon, the TTC could have made use of an additional 16 CLRVs, effectively wiping out the surplus. The proposals simply weren't feasible, however.

Other Options.

The TTC then considered replacing other high capacity bus routes, regardless of the track in place. Of these 85 SHEPPARD EAST and 39 FINCH EAST consistently came out on top in their calculations. It was noted, of course, that this reality had already been recognized on Sheppard, with the construction of the Sheppard Subway.

As for Finch, 46 peak hour buses could be replaced with forty-one CLRVs to provide comparable service. Approximately 40000 customers-trips were made on this route, with 2500 passengers being carried in the peak-hour. Unfortunately, this and other candidates required more streetcars than were currently lying surplus, and there were additional costs from new track, carhouse and maintenance facilities, therefore no proposal could be recommended.

Map of possible St. Clair extension

After the opening of the 509 Harbourfront route, the next streetcar extension could bring the St. Clair Streetcar to Runnymede Loop. Concurrent with this extension could be the conversion of the Junction bus to streetcar operation, which would allow the TTC to save costs by reducing the amount of deadhead time for St. Clair Streetcars entering service. Such a conversion is at least ten years away, however.

The TTC did give consideration to a possible extension of the 512 ST CLAIR route from Keele Street to Runnymede and Dundas. Previously, the TTC examined this proposal and determined that such an expansion was desirable only after redevelopment of the former slaughterhouse lands had reached a point where ridership had significantly increased. Concurrent with this, the TTC also determined that the conversion of the 40 JUNCTION bus from Dundas West station to Runnymede, previously dismissed as not benefiting enough riders, should be re-examined. It was felt that cost savings could be achieved if ST CLAIR streetcars were able to reduce their deadhead time entering service via Roncesvalles, Dundas and Runnymede, instead of their current route. With this in mind, the report recommended that Dundas Street and St. Clair Avenue be protected to ensure that future streetcar construction could take place.

The right-of-ways of some of the freight railway lines were also examined as potential streetcar corridors. The issue had previously been examined in a Metro Planning report entitled The Central Area Transportation Review (January 1996). With the railways intending to abandon freight service on four lines in Toronto, these were deemed to be good prospects for future transportation corridors. This was not a short-term project, however, and the matter remains unresolved. The TTC supports any move that will protect these corridors for possible future transportation use.

Finally, the TTC considered using the current surplus vehicles to add service on the current streetcar routes. If done, it was estimated that ridership could increase by 1.02 million passengers, increasing revenue by $1.38 million per year. Costs, however, would increase by $9.9 million per year, and the approximate subsidy-per-boarding of the new service was estimated at $8.35, exceeding the maximum permissible levels.


The report was only able to recommend one short-term project (the construction of new track along Queen's Quay), and one long-term one (the extension of the 512 ST CLAIR streetcar and the concurrent conversion of the 40 JUNCTION bus to streetcar operation. It was, however, an interesting read, providing insight into the process the TTC uses in determining its service outlay, and providing an opportunity for this streetcar fan to dream. It was also comforting to hear the TTC restate its commitment to future streetcar operation, and its clear understanding of the importance that streetcars will play on the transportation scene in the future.

APPENDIX: Summary of rankings of existing bus routes:

Highest Number of customer trips in busiest single hour:
  1. 39 FINCH EAST
  4. 6 BAY
  5. 95 YORK MILLS
  6. 96 WILSON
  7. 29 DUFFERIN (south of Bloor)
  9. 35 JANE
Highest Customer-trips Per Peak Vehicle
  1. 22 COXWELL
  2. 47 LANSDOWNE (Bloor to St Clair)
  3. 63 OSSINGTON (north of Bloor)
  4. 40 JUNCTION
  5. 64 MAIN
  6. 29 DUFFERIN (north of Bloor)
  7. 72 PAPE
  8. 94 WELLESLEY (west of Yonge)
  10. 25 DON MILLS
Shortest route-miles of track required:
  1. 22 COXWELL
  2. 29 DUFFERIN (south of Bloor)
  3. 63 OSSINGTON (south of Bloor)
  5. 47 LANSDOWNE (south of Bloor)
  6. 126 CHRISTIE
  7. 94 WELLESLEY (east of Yonge)
  8. 90 VAUGHAN
  9. 47 LANSDOWNE (Bloor to St Clair)
Highest vehicle-miles per mile of track required
  1. 22 COXWELL
  2. 29 DUFFERIN (south of Bloor)
  3. 39 FINCH EAST
  5. 35 JANE
  6. 63 OSSINGTON (south of Bloor)
  7. 96 WILSON
  9. 95 YORK MILLS


  • Toronto Transit Commission, Report No. 7: Opportunities for New Streetcar Routes, The Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), January 21, 1997.

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