Streetcars are beautiful but are also the worst

I am a huge fan of public transit and I’ve always loved streetcars. They let you see the city while traveling and are a bunch cheaper to make than a subway line. They also often look beautiful and have this old-timey feel.

But that brings me exactly to my point – they feel old-timey because they are. They are an out-of-date mode of transport that is extremely inefficient in Toronto.

Aside from Spadina and St.Clair West, which have dedicated streetcar lanes, streetcar tracks are shared on major downtown streets. This is a headache for those driving cars and bikes, who have to know to stop when a streetcar stops, and super dangerous for commuters because of the potential of getting hit while leaving the streetcar!

They run on electricity, but as soon as the streetcar’s antenna loses connection with the electrical wires, power is lost and the driver has to manually go out and put the antenna back to the right place. When you have a billion wires running because of a 6-way intersection (see: King W & Queen W, where one of the streetcar depots lives), you have traffic stopped because every single streetcar loses connection going through the intersection. It is someone’s job to walk out and put the antenna back. SMH.

Then you have my favourite issue of ‘what happens when a streetcar breaks down’. Nothing, actually. Like in my photo, the streetcar is stuck and all subsequent streetcars are stuck behind it. It is extremely difficult for streetcars to detour, as there are only so many tracks, and at least one broken-down streetcar means one less lane. It’s also difficult to let those waiting at subsequent stops know that there’s a delay or that streetcars are short-turning or detouring. It’s a total breakdown in communication and efficiency.

We’ll have streetcars for many years yet – we’re still waiting on all of those new Bombardier streetcars that were supposed to be ready last year – and maybe I don’t want to see with what the TTC chooses to replace it.



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