Railway tracks are not a modern invention. They were used in mines in the Middle Ages and almost 200 years ago, the first public railway line carried people in steam powered trains. The whole point of railway and tram lines was to create a level surface so that heavy vehicles didn’t get bogged down in the frequently muddy and rough roads of the time. Rails provide an ultra smooth surface and can accommodate vehicles carrying large loads at high speed.
In Toronto, street railways arrived in the form of horse drawn street cars in the 1860s. They were able to conquer the terrible road conditions common before modern day road paving. Street cars as we know them today began in Richmond Virginia in the 1880s using an electric motor fed by a single overhead power line (the internal combustion engine was not as reliable as electric motors at that time). Toronto began using electric streetcars in 1892 and has done so ever since. In 1966, plans were made to eliminate the fleet by 1980 but a strong opposition played up the fact that Toronto was one of the few remaining cities to use the (by then considered old fashioned) vehicles. They were kept thanks to effective and vigorous campaigning, possibly because they’re quaint, for their tourist appeal and just maybe because Toronto is notoriously slow to change. Incidentally, many readers will know there was a line that extended to Weston until 1948 when the streetcars were replaced by trolley buses.
Trolleys were used until 1993 in Toronto when the fleet became too decrepit to continue. Trolley buses are electrically powered but run on rubber tires and require two overhead wires instead of one.
The great thing about street cars and trolley buses is that they run on relatively clean energy (only about 10% of electricity generated in Ontario comes from carbon based sources). They don’t pollute the air with toxic and dangerous gases and particles. Their motors are quiet.
Over the last few years, there has been a streetcar boom (often called light rail) in cities throughout Canada and the U.S. and they are seen as the latest thing in transit. They also benefit from novelty and nostalgia and some equate them with theme parks. The downside of streetcars and trolleys is that they need to be attached to overhead wiring and streetcar tracks are very expensive to build and maintain, especially in our climate with its potential for frost and salt damage. Another negative is that tracks usually run down the middle of a street with the potential of being blocked by cars and forcing boarding and alighting passengers to cross at least one lane of traffic.
Where am I going with this?
Asphalt roads became common about 100 years ago and helped make car travel possible. They form a resilient, level surface that can also accommodate vehicles carrying heavy loads at high speed. Public transit no longer needs rails to provide a smooth ride. On the other hand, modern day buses are loud and polluting – even diesel-electric ones.
Battery power has come a long way recently and is also about to revolutionize transit. The TTC has promised that it will be 100% emissions free by 2040. Unlike Metrolinx and its bizarre hydrogen fuel cell boondoggle the TTC has seen the future and decided that it’s battery powered. Thirty battery-powered buses have been purchased with the help of the federal government and will join the TTC fleet beginning in the fall. These are from three competing companies, Xcelsior, BYD and Proterra. The buses will be put through trials to see if they can manage in our winter conditions, have a range of around 250km and will be charged overnight using cheaper power. There is a proposal to increase the number to sixty buses.
Three demo buses have just arrived in the city to allow staff to familiarize themselves with the technology.
If the trials are successful, replacing 2000+ conventional buses will be expensive and will need to happen over several years.
Fuel and maintenance costs will decrease.
Carbon tax will be lowered as more vehicles are bought.
In time, battery capacity will improve, buses will have a longer range and cost less.
Streetcars could be converted to battery power eliminating expensive, overhead wires.
We may not need streetcars and their tracks anymore. Instead, we could dedicate lanes to electric buses.
Street noise levels will decrease.
Carbon monoxide and dioxide levels will decrease.
Dangerous particulate matter from diesel fumes will decrease.
People will be healthier.
What do readers think? Is the TTC on the right track?
Update: This historic footage from New York City at the beginning of the motor car era in 1911 is fascinating. Note the street cars have no overhead wires and are cable cars like the ones in San Francisco. They are pulled along by an underground cable.
A coat drive in 12 Division, run by the good people in the Police Liaison, the LEF, the TTC, and the TDSB, has given out more than 400 coats to chilly people in York South–Weston—including 100 kids. Now they’re looking for some hats, mitts, and scarves.
If you have any you can donate, bring them by 12 Division, at 200 Trethewey Drive.
Many people are taking advantage of the rapid link to downtown that we enjoy here in Weston. It’s only 6 minutes to Bloor station and 14 minutes to Union from where TTC connections can be made. Some people find the combined cost of the GO/UP Express and the TTC too high and have felt that a discount should be offered. The Liberals will announce today that people who use a Presto Card to pay for fares will soon get a break when using both transit modes.
For example, people taking the GO train or UP Express will get a $1.50 discount on a TTC ticket when a Presto Card is used. Similarly, in the reverse direction a GO or UP Express ticket will be discounted $1.50 for those transferring from the TTC. The fare subsidy is designed to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and will save commuters up to $720 annually.
Steve Munro is an influential blogger who knows more about the TTC than anyone on council (not a large achievement) or at the TTC for that matter. Mayor Tory has listed a set of claims about the TTC and under his leadership, the alleged ‘new’ spending on transit in the 2017 budget. The mayor’s claims are systematically picked apart by Mr. Munro in his latest opinion piece. Read all about it here.
BTW, under the mayor’s watch, the 89 Weston bus now operates at 111% capacity in the afternoon and evening peaks.
There’s a lot going on in Toronto transit-wise and especially in our neck of the woods. Six meetings are being held across the city to discuss transit – the closest will be at Richview Collegiate this Saturday.
Come and hear the latest transit ideas, updates on transit planning and construction going on throughout the city and contribute opinions on the direction the city, Metrolinx and the TTC should be taking. No doubt there will be considerable interest in the new UP Express fares as well as electrification of GO Trains.
Date: Saturday February 20
Place: Richview Collegiate, 1739 Islington Avenue
Time: 9:30 am to 11:30 am
Frances Nunziata says “My office has organized one to be held at the York Civic Centre on Feb. 29th at 7 pm.”
The UP Express is close to becoming a reality. Beginning today, Monday, March 30, Metrolinx will be testing its service at 15 minute intervals between 8:00 pm and 3:00 am, moving to daytime towards the end of April.
In early April, a footbridge across Lawrence just east of Weston Road will be installed to steer passengers safely to the train platform for UP Express and GO Train users. The big lift into place will occur on Saturday, April 11th and should be worth watching.
As for the John Street footbridge, this will be installed in the summer.
The UP Express and GO stations are almost complete and are next to each other.
It has been a long haul since the airport link was first proposed. The UP Express is seen by many to be an elitist project for the rich while the transportation needs of the many are unchanged. The trains will be diesel which is a disappointment as it was hoped that the new train would provide an opportunity to electrify the line. Sadly, the much hoped for all-day electrified GO service is still a far off dream.
What’s good about the changes that the UP Express is bringing?
First, the good citizens of Weston showed their political muscle by arguing for and receiving one of only two stations along the route. The fight galvanized the community and has ensured that Weston has a voice and can no longer be relied upon to meekly accept whatever planners and politicians decide is best for us.
Second, although the GO station moved further away from many people in Weston, its replacement is modern, visible (unlike the old station) right on Main Street (Weston Road) and is a visual reminder of access to an incredibly quick ride downtown (and frequent once all day GO service is launched). As has been pointed out before, even on the currently limited GO Train service, Westonians can glide downtown in comfort in 21 or 23 minutes while commuters from the much coveted Royal York subway area have a 34-minute journey and have to change trains, battling the crowds at St George.
Third, the old station was hidden and the new visual reminder and the upgrading of transportation infrastructure has begun to revive interest in Weston as a place to live. Real estate prices, once depressed are starting to recover and businesses are investing in our commercial areas. While the old GO station occupied virtually no real estate, its parking lot that doubles as the home of the Weston Farmers Market (and surrounding property) will be developed to be the focal point of an exciting ‘Community Hub‘.
The lesson we have all learned is that a community has to be vigilant and fight for good infrastructure. It won’t arrive by itself. In addition, developers want to make money regardless of the social cost to the community. We need continued citizen involvement and active and responsive politicians who will represent us regardless of the cost to their career ambitions or political beliefs. We also need to believe in our own community by patronizing local business. Only then will Weston achieve its awesome potential.