For a Better Brisbane

Canada Transit Special: Next stop Spadina subway (Toronto)

Video: Diving into the Spadina Streetcar station, Promagstyle (YouTube). For a sequel, click here.

Here’s something you won’t see a Melbourne tram do. Look at how much effort has gone into making this streetcar connect to the subway system. The closest Brisbane has to this is the busway at Roma St Station. We need more of this kind of thing in Brisbane, properly connecting buses to trains. Toowong and Indooroopilly spring to mind.

Toronto is the benchmark for rail-bus and rail-tram interchanges with ‘free-body’ transfers at most subway stations outside the CBD. Trams and buses are actually brought inside the ticket gates on special roadways and stop at the top of escalators serving the station platforms. Similar arrangements are provided at the main railway station in the German city of Freiburg, and at key stations on the new Southern Railway in Perth, Western Australia…

– Dr Paul Mees, Transport for Suburbia, Planning a network, p173

The 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront streetcar combined carry around 48,000 passengers per day (source: TTC service improvements for 2008). That’s roughly 12.5 million passenger trips per year. To get a feel for this number, this is roughly the same number of trips carried by the entire Adelaide or Auckland train network in a year or roughly four times the patronage of Brisbane’s 199 BUZ. After midnight on Sunday (so early Monday morning) there is a streetcar every 6 minutes feeding into Spadina station. The off-peak frequency is a service roughly every two minutes all day.

Image: Toronto Streetcar map, E Pluribus Anthony (Wikipedia). Note how almost all streetcars serve as extensions of the subway system, starting, finishing, passing through or near subway stations.

With only eleven lines, Toronto has a much smaller streetcar system than Melbourne, and Toronto’s streetcars are mainly found in the downtown area. Despite this, the streetcar system carries around 285 600 trips per day or around 70 million passenger trips per year, which, for scale purposes, is roughly what the 200+ route Brisbane bus network carries in a year. Streetcars are not Light Rail because of stop spacing and there is much mixed traffic running. Toronto’s streetcars are also unusual since, unlike Melbourne’s trams, they use trolley poles rather than pantographs and can only be driven from one end, like a bus. They are also high-floor, however there are moves to modernise the vehicles.

If you don’t have connections, you don’t have a network; You have a bunch of lines.


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May 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

5 Responses

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  1. Hi, thanks for your comments.

    I’ve provided the links to the streetcar section of the TTC website with all the routes listed.

    Would I be correct in saying that problems with streetcar network has much to do with the level of traffic priority and frequency given to the service and stop spacing rather than the specific mode / type of vehicle itself?

    Much of the issues it seems, as Steve Munro writes is due to interaction with cars and retention of car parking, so the problem lies with the cars, congestion and parking which turns streets effectively into one lane in addition to work practices such as not opening doors until a full stop has been reached, front door only boarding, cash payment for fares to the driver and route supervision (or lack therof) to allow even headways

    He writes this:

    First, delays are a fact of life on surface routes, streetcar or bus, due to the amount of traffic and the widths of the roads. Many streets operate de facto one lane, each way, thanks to parking. Transit priority and changes in traffic regulations will not be politically viable in most locations, and the TTC has to learn how to live with conditions as they are.

    From my own reviews of line operations, chronic congestion is far more common than actual blockages, and predictable congestion should be allowed for in operational plans.

    So it’s likely that if this were a bus, it would also be operating in mixed traffic (ROW C) it would have similar problems. If you want reliability you need to get proper separation from traffic and prioritisation. Brisbaneites have their own experience of this with the removal of bus priority on Coronation Drive, a main artery leading into the Brisbane CBD.

    I am aware the TTC has tried to prioritise its streetcars, particularly on St. Clair avenue by placing streetcars in their own reserved lanes, but this has been controversial because no-one wants ‘their’ stop removed and thus it has been next to impossible to remove stops so that the stop spacing can be wider and the service faster.

    It is going to be hard to get proper service if you don’t give proper priority and separation. And this is true for all modes of transport, anywhere in the world, be it streetcar, bus or train.

    Steve Munro is person who campaigned to save the Toronto streetcars and writes the Steve Munro Blog does talk about how parking and transit priority much in your link.

    An interesting reading:
    The Future of Streetcars in Toronto by Steve Munro

    None of what the BrisUrbane blog has posted is to put one mode above another. The purpose of the last few posts were to look at:

    * The network design
    * Service characteristics such as frequency and span of hours well late into the night (like after midnight on sunday, we can only dream about that here!)
    * And integration measures such as interchange design and infrastructure

    None of that has anything inherent to do with mode.


    May 2, 2011 at 7:49 am

  2. Ah yes, the mythical 5 minute TTC streetcar “schedule”.

    Since you are writing from out of town, and perhaps not entirely familiar with the ‘on the ground’ situation here in Toronto, you should be aware that the streetcar ‘schedules’ are very wonderful works of fiction.

    It’s been known for literally decades that they are frequently works of fiction, and their former riders have heard nothing but “it’s because of traffic congestion”. After oh, say the first 20 years or so(!?!) perhaps the transit planners might consider taking that into their plans to come up with schedules (and a design!)that actually work in mixed traffic?

    Some parts of Toronto’s transit system are great, and you are entirely justified in citing them as examples to follow. However, vast swaths of it (primarily the streetcar system and some bus routes) are abysmal. It’s not by accident that Toronto has the longest commute times in North America and quite possibly the entire Developed world – with the commute times for transit riders 50% higher than for those commuting by car. And Transit City would have laid LRT throughout most of the City, but only improve transit commute times by an average of 2-4 minutes!!!

    Much of this is because of the TTC’s intransigent attitude to customer service and operational ‘design’ on the streetcar and light rail systems. But they talk a good game to internation transit and urban planners, which is why it’s so important for their riders to set the record straight. To assist in disabusing you of the notion that what the TTC publishes (and publicly promotes internationally) is actually what it does, I’d suggest a gander at the following – all of which occurred while the ‘schedule’ was for 6 minute service:

    Some excerpts:
    “WHEREAS the TTC posts a schedule on the 501 Queen Streetcar line, listing service delivery at the frequency of every 6 minutes. The TTC routinely does not perform service as scheduled, […] On a regular basis there are no streetcars for 12-45 minutes at a stretch, and then two to four streetcars coming out of the loop back to back due to “schedule management””

    “The Queen streetcar used to carry 70,000 passengers a day. Now it’s down to 40,000, and there are large gaps in service.”

    “The TTC was roundly criticized (I am being kind here) by several people who queued with questions for the appallingly bad service. People reported walking very long distances twice a week before a streetcar passed them. Delays of 20 to 40 minutes are commonplace to riders. This is not a fiction I or any other activist invented, and the TTC has known (or should have known) about the situation for years. They chose to do nothing claiming they were powerless to change things.


    So I hope you’ll continue to promote what is genuinely good (and works) about Toronto’s Transit systems, because there are parts that truly merit that visibility. However, I hope you’ll also apply an appropriate degree of skepticism and critical thinking in regards to any TTC self-promotion.


    May 2, 2011 at 2:09 am

  3. TTC Streetcar Routes:

    * 501 Queen
    * 502 Downtowner
    * 503 Kingston Rd
    * 504 King
    * 505 Dundas
    * 506 Carlton
    * 508 Lake Shore
    * 509 Harbourfront
    * 510 Spadina
    * 511 Bathurst
    * 512 St Clair


    May 1, 2011 at 6:54 pm

  4. Thanks for your comment! Not all of them are like this, granted, but wait until you see what we have for interchange down here. *Chuckle*.

    Shows that services generally every 5 minutes or so all day. However, like Melbourne, much of the TTC streetcar network is in mixed traffic so bunching and interaction with cars might be a problem there- and hence the wait.

    As I understand it the Transit City Light Rail plan was to have standard gauge LRT. The difference between that and streetcars were that LRT would be operating in ROW Class B (unlike the legacy streetcars operating in ROW Class C/mixed traffic) and also have wider stops, higher capacity and be separate from traffic.

    Transit City will be featured later to give context to what’s been happening. I understand Mayor Rob Ford has gotten Eglinton LRT into a tunnel all the way.

    Once thing I notice about Melbourne is their trams are much much newer, larger and more modern. Melbournians love their trams.

    Thanks again for your comment. There will be a ride on the 512 St Clair West! And then maybe some BRT…


    May 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm

  5. The Spadina streetcar/subway interchange is truly well-designed, and a good example to follow. And a good number of Toronto’s subway/bus interchanges are equally well-designed, and most of the rest are at least adequate.

    But DON’T, I repeat DO NOT drink the Kool-aid profered to you by Dr. Paul Klees in regard to the tram/rail interchange (as you put it), or for the ‘trams’ at all. I have to wonder what Dr. Klees himself has been drinking to try to sell you such bunk.

    Toronto’s streetcar/subway interchanges are NOTHING like you see in the video above, and the trams are genuinely hated by many who ride them. Not, however, by the fanatics that blindly fanatically support them at (and for) every transit opportunity, regardless of circumstance or suitability. It should also be noted that Spadina is an extremely busy street – at all hours -in the downtown core and service there is not at all representative of the rest of the city.

    As for me, I can happily now say “Thank GOD Transit City is dead!!!” What tookya so long to leave, already?!?

    There are countless articles devoted to Toronto’s love/hate relationship with streetcars (as in love to hate them), and I could be here all night listing them. But this is my favourite:

    But if you’d like a bit more history, try googling 501 streetcar petition, and read a few of the comments to see just how some Torontonians feel about them. And when you’ve done that, remember that service on the 502 is worse than the 501.


    May 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm

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