Wednesday, January 05, 2005 - Fight goes on over streetcars

It should be no surprise that the community group Save Our St. Clair is asking Ontario Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky to reject the City's environmental assessment regarding the establishment of a streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue. See the following for the story in The Star. - Fight goes on over streetcars

Margaret Smith of SOS questions the integrity of the process - and rightly so. The EA was a complete sham. The TTC never intended to assess alternatives - and staged a disinformation/propaganda campaign to cram its preferred solution down the neighbourhoods' throats.

Here are some examples:

The lie

TTC Commissioner Howard Moscoe stated in an email to me that the St. Clair streetcars could carry 100 passengers - whereas buses could only carry 40 people.

The truth

In response, I pointed out that TTC planners use a capacity of 74 for streetcars and 57 for buses. In reality, this vastly overstates the difference. TTC's own numbers show:

Streetcar boardings / hour = 81
Bus boardings / hour = 76

Since the streetcar number include the articulated vehicles (ALRVs), the effective capacity of the CLRV's on St. Clair and standard buses are actually very close.

The lie

TTC is circulating a wad of PR material from the light rail lobby titled "The Streetcar Renaissance". In this document, the trumpet the success of light-rail systems such as the C-Train in Calgary in attracting passengers. This document asserts that the C-Train is a '2nd generation streetcar'.

The truth

Calling the C-Train a 2nd generation streetcar is beyond the pale. This is preying upon people's ignorance. The C-Train is much more like a subway system that a streetcar system. Very limited portions run on former streets.

The lie

The same document puports that the C-Train has been more successful than Ottawa's busway system in attracting passengers. They base this on ridership statistics from 1991-1996.

The truth

This uses statistics very selectively. In the early 90's, tens of thousands of jobs were lopped from the federal civil service. In contrast, Calgary's economy added close to 60,000 jobs. Since 1996 - when the newest phase of OC transit's busway was put in service, ridership on OC transit has grown faster that Calgary's:

Ottawa (OC Transit): + 35%
Calgary: +27%

(APTA figures from 1996 to 2002)

..and Ottawa residents use transit much more that Calgarians:

Ottawa: 113 annual rides per capita
Calgary: 84 annual rides per capita

(IBI Report for TTC - 2003)

My take is that either a system of bus lanes - or a modern LRT could work on St. Clair. The trouble with the current proposal is that the TTC will be using streetcars rather than ligh-rail vehicles. The streetcars operate like buses - only at far greater cost, and without the flexibility.

Councillor Joe Mihevc has written to me stating that his next priority project will be to have the CLRVs replaced by modern, standard ligh-rail vehicles. The problems here are that:

1. The current plan is for the TTC to rebuild the existing CLRVs - at over $1 million each - to keep them in service for an additional 10-15 years. (TTC could purchase 2 buses for the same price.)
2. It hasn't been determined if any of the LRV's currently on the market can be run on the TTC's system of surface track. At a minimum, ant LRV will have to be modified for gauge - and to use poles instead of pantographs. But what about turning radius, length of platform etc. ?

The sensible thing to do would be to wait for the study on this issue to be completed. Mihevc expects the report to be ready 'in a few months' (as of Nov 14th 2004.)

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