DISCUSSIONS: 1- (June 16) Bus or streetcar, a dilema for Toronto councillors

 Ever driven behind a street car in Toronto? It’s an exercise in frustration and a test of patience.

Consider the bigger picture.

Delivery of these is another story

Bus vs. streetcar

Renown for being penny pinchers, Toronto Councillors Stephen Holyday and Michael Ford are proposing that the city spend $500,000 to more to conduct a two-week pilot study on replacing streetcars on Queen Street with buses.

This past May, the city had been using buses instead of streetcars on the Queen St. route due to construction. Ford’s motion is to keep those buses on the street for two weeks longer than planned after the construction is finished to study “apples-to-apples” how they perform compared to streetcars and to see whether they are more “efficient.”

The motion will be voted on by the city council in July.

Consider some facts:

The cost of running buses instead of streetcars during construction is $1 million a month; continuing the bus operation for two weeks longer than necessary is roughly $500,000. Add the cost of conducting the study Ford is asking for, monitoring traffic and whatnot, and then preparing the reports, and the bill for the project becomes clear. It will exceed a million dollars.

TTC CEO Andy Byford claims using streetcars on that line “inherently more efficient” than buses, and the price tag of the pilot hints at why: you need way more buses to carry the same number of passengers, and you need to pay people to drive them all.

The difference in these costs will only escalate as the new higher capacity low-floor streetcars fully roll out. Byford estimates the TTC would need three times as many buses as new streetcars on the line.

And you could add to that the cost of new buses, the gas to run them and possibly a $100-million new garage to house them.

In short, buses are way more expensive to run.

Some independent analysis of performance shows buses don’t really perform any better at moving people on Queen Street, either.

Toronto transit expert Steve Munro has compiled detailed data about the performance of buses on that route in May showing that buses move a bit quicker — a few minutes over an hour-long segment of the route, but quicker — at times and in places where traffic is light.

When traffic is heavy, as during rush hours on Queen Street, the buses do not go faster, and sometimes go slower than streetcars do.

And at all times of day, the buses are more likely than streetcars to bunch together, running in pairs in ways that drives riders nuts.

So: buses don’t move much faster, if they move faster at all. And they cost more to run.

There are other things to consider:

Streetcars are a noteworthy Toronto tradition

Running more buses means there are more of them, which means wait are shorter

A single disabled streetcar holds up the line

Buses take longer to load

The TTC favours streetcars on the Queen route (as do the politicians who represent most of the wards where streetcars run).

Another factor in the mix:
traffic flow for the car drivers sharing the road with streetcars, most often favours streetcars, as, if you need three times as many buses, and they pull in and out of the curb every block, then you have that much more traffic weaving around the road affecting the flow for everyone.

Following a street for blocks can be frustrating as you need to stop behind it every block while it loads passengers. However, the single driver of the car should remember the streetcar is carrying 100 people. Who should have priority as to the right of way?

Streetcars are a solution to traffic, not the cause of it, because they carry so many people at a time.

It should be easy, but that is not the Ford way. If Michael Ford could learn anything from his uncles’ example, it is that there are reliable political points to be scored in catering to the road rage of car drivers.

And that those drivers rage over nothing so much as streetcars.

No matter what common sense says.

No matter what math says.

No matter what the people who live along streetcar routes say.

No matter how much money is at stake.

In that way, Michael Ford is just building an addition to the family legacy.

A very expensive, wasteful addition.

Source: Michael Keenan, Toronto Star, June 10:

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