Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A New Streetcar Everyone Desired

The Toronto Transit Corporation (TTC) had been teasing us about the new streetcars for a year now. They were supposed to be accessible, air conditioned, quieter, smoother and so on. I knew that they would be rolling out the new streetcars on the Spadina route on Aug 31, 2014. Two days before that, I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the new streetcar while they were testing it.



It really looked slick. It was futuristic and looked completely different than the streetcars currently used in service. I couldn't wait for Aug 31 to come.

On September 1, Labour Day, my brother and I decided to head downtown for some work. We would be using the Spadina route. As we waited for our streetcar to come, I was disappointed to see they were still using the old streetcars on the route. I asked someone with a TTC badge, and they replied initially there was only 2 new models on the route; the rest would be rolled out gradually. Something about a workers' strike at the Bombardier plant. Ah, strikes - the price of freedom and labour equality and all that stuff. Grunting a sigh, I boarded the old streetcar.

Today, September 3, I stepped off the subway platform at Spadina and saw a huuuuuuge lineup for the streetcars. What was going on?



It turned out that it was just a regular rush hour crunch. We were all waiting for streetcars. I was wondering - would I get to ride the new streetcar?

YES! Suddenly the new streetcar rolled into the station. Almost immediately everyone headed for the doors. There was no time to take a picture - I had to board. I was in! Once seated, I noticed just how big (and spacious) this new streetcar was. This one streetcar had almost four times the capacity (or even more - I am estimating) of the old streetcar. It was crowded, but not suffocating.


And then, it was my stop. My ride lasted a mere 4 quick stops, and it was over before it had begun.



Hmm. I thought. That was great (it was a very smooth ride) but how do I get to ride one again? I had the lunch hour coming up, and I have a transit pass that allows me unlimited rides, but I knew there was only 2 new streetcars on the route. I didn't want to spend 30 minutes waiting streetcar after streetcar until the one I wanted came by.

Enter the Internet. So there is this website that lets you know where the next streetcar is, and if it's the new one or not. I love living in the First World where this sort of thing is possible. I picked a time a little after lunch hour, when I thought the car would be less crowded, monitored the map, and then headed out for the stop.

And old streetcar came ambling by.


I let it go. I noticed that they had installed new fare machines on each stop, and there was a TTC person on hand to explain the machine to riders. And then I saw the new streetcar come into view.



I got in! My plan was to ride it to the Spadina station and then back again to my stop. Boy was it spacious inside. It almost felt like I was in a train or an LRT instead of in a streetcar. There was a streetcar route map on board. By 2019, every one of those routes would have these modern streetcars.

 
Surprisingly the streetcar was fairly packed. Not quite full, but not empty either. Talking to some people I found that like me, they had especially waited to board this new streetcar.


There were displays for the street name, and even an announcement of every stop. Besides, if someone requested a stop, you would see the signal light up. Very good UI.


 There was that familiar yellow strip bar to press in case of emergencies. Just like the train.




Big windows and doors let in maximum sunlight, thus creating a roomy feeling. The floor was quite low, and yet the ride was very smooth. You would not even hear the wheels against the rails. I guess the true test would come in the years ahead - the older streetcars had been plying the roads for over 30 years.


And then the streetcar got to Spadina station. This was the terminus stop. I would probably have at most a minute as the passengers unloaded, and moved away, before the next set of passengers would load. Time to take some pictures of the now empty streetcar.


It was long. The new streetcar has 5 modules, and is almost 30 metres in length. This is more than 4 times the length of the older streetcar.


The driver no longer collects the fare. You pay your fare on these new machines that takes tokens or cash. You can board through any of the doors now (which prevent the jamming up at the front problem that occurs on regular streetcars as people don't move to the empty space at the rear). I wondered what would happen on a really crowded car - how would you get to the fare machine? The answer - every stop on route has a fare machine, as well as the stations.
 

See the blue seats? That's part of the new designated Priority Area for customers with wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Besides, the new streetcar has a low floor, and is accessible to all by a ramp that is deployed by operators when requested (you push the illuminated blue accessibility button on the second set of doors). As folks were now starting to board, I got to see the new ramp in action.


It soon got busy again as the streetcar started to head back down Spadina.


Everyone was taking pictures of the new ride and enjoying the roomy seating and the bright, big windows.


I moved to the end of the streetcar and saw a button on the door. I asked one of the TTC folks (helpfully seated there to orient riders with the features of the new car) on why this button was there. He replied that this will open the door of the car at the stop. On busy routes at rush hour, all the doors automatically open, so I wouldn't need to press the button. However, at night or if the streetcar isn't on a busy route, doors may remain shut unless there are passengers waiting to exit. I like it.


Soon it was my turn to exit. All in all, it was a great ride, and makes for a much better transit experience. And to think this is what some people who hated streetcars fought against! I can't wait until they replace the whole fleet on every route with these new vehicles.


Note: All pictures taken with my Google Nexus 4 phone camera.

3 comments:

Yawar Amin said...

Nice. I wonder when they will roll out the Presto card readers on these things.

The reference to Tennessee Williams almost writes itself, doesn't it? :-)

mezba said...

Yawar, looking back at this after a couple of years, looks like the Presto rollout has been botched badly!

Yawar Amin said...

Well ... yes and no. Presto the system is working great in several GTA cities (plus Kitchener/Waterloo and Ottawa), if you set up autoload. But I agree that the TTC has not made it easy on themselves. First, they fought hard against it and argued for a MasterCard-based system which wasn't a clear win over Presto. Second, they badly miscommunicated the rollout timetable. Third, we all got royally screwed by Bombardier reneging (I don't know what else to call it) on its new streetcar contract.

On the matter of streetcars (and transit in general), City of Toronto has been taken for a ride.