Tuesday 12 August 2014

Toronto, Canada

Trams, or streetcars as they are known on the North American continent, are not a common sight on the streets of Canadian cities.  A number of cities had streetcar systems but, with one exception, all were closed by 1960.  That exception was Toronto, Canada's largest city.

Even Toronto had considered closing its streetcar system at one point, but the plans were dropped and the system survives to this day.

Toronto's streetcar system comprises eleven routes.  Most routes operate east-west across the city centre, and most use these single-car vehicles.

The streetcar routes are numbered 501-506 and 508-512.

At many stops, passengers board and alight from the streetcars in the middle of the street.  Other vehicles are prohibited from passing while passengers step onto and off the cars.

Some stops are segregated from the main traffic flow.  These examples are on route 511, one of two which operates on a north-south axis.

In this example (left), the stop is staggered.  Traffic flowing in the same direction as the streetcar passes behind the stop.

Meanwhile, here is an example of a stop with platforms facing each other.

Although much of the streetcar system operates on streets shared with general traffic, there are sections where streetcars operate on segregated infrastructure.

Not all of the streetcars are single-car vehicles.  On route 501, I found articulated cars in use.

The streetcars currently in use are high-floor vehicles with steps at their entrance and exit.  They do not provide access to passengers using wheelchairs.  However, this is about to change.

New low-floor, wheelchair-accessible cars are due to replace the existing streetcars over the coming years, with the first examples due to enter service shortly.  I found this one undertaking a test run through downtown Toronto in July 2014.  The new vehicles will provide greater capacity compared to those they replace.

The first of the new streetcars are due to enter service on route 510, which runs north-south on Spadina Avenue, slightly west of the heart of Toronto.  At the time of my visit, the 510 was being operated by buses to facilitate renewal and upgrade work to the tram infrastructure.

A replacement bus service was operating, at a very high frequency.

At Spadina station, where route 510 connects with Toronto's Subway (metro) system, the streetcars operate into an underground terminus.  The replacement buses were using a surface-level interchange station.

Replacement buses were also covering route 509, which parallels the 510 along Toronto's waterfront, during my visit.

As well as the temporary streetcar replacement services, buses also operate a number of regular services into downtown Toronto.  Some vehicles are powered by conventional diesel...

... while others use hybrid diesel-electric power.

Unlike the streetcars currently operating, the entire bus fleet is accessible to people using wheelchairs.  The blue lights either side of the route and destination display indicate that the vehicle is wheelchair-accessible.

Bicycles can be carried using the racks fitted to the front of the bus.

After an absence of ten years, articulated buses have recently reappeared in Toronto's bus fleet.  The first new vehicles entered service in 2013 with more routes due to receive them over the coming months.

A number of Toronto's bus services are limited stop.  They are branded as "Rocket".

Rocket 192 links Toronto's main airport, Pearson International, with the Subway system at Kipling station.  At the time of writing, there is no rail or Subway link to the airport, although a dedicated rail service between the airport and Toronto's Union station is due to open in 2015.

Wheel-Trans is the name for Toronto's dedicated transport service for disabled people.  Wheel-Trans minibuses are only available to registered users and their companions or helpers.

Toronto's buses, streetcars and Subway system are operated by the Toronto Transit Commission.  A single fare is currently $3, including transfer onto connecting services.

The ticketing and transfer arrangements are quite interesting.

As a rule, tickets are not currently issued.  Fares are paid on entering the Subway system or on boarding a bus or streetcar.  For some transfers, passengers must request a transfer voucher to present in lieu of payment.  But this is not always necessary.

At some interchanges, bus stops are within a "paid area", accessible only through a ticket gate.  Spadina (above left) and Bathurst (left) are two examples where, to be able to board a bus or streetcar, passengers must enter the Subway system and pass through a ticket gate.  Transfer vouchers are not required by passengers transferring from the Subway, or between buses and streetcars.  At these stops, passengers may board buses or streetcars using any door.

Other than at interchanges which are protected by ticket gates, passengers must usually board a bus or streetcar at the front door and pay the driver, or present a valid pass or transfer voucher.  The exception to this rule is streetcar route 501, and some sections of other streetcar routes which parallel the 501.  On these services, transfer vouchers are issued to all passengers paying a fare, while passengers who already hold a valid pass or transfer voucher can board at any door.  The new streetcars will have fare collection equipment by every door, allowing all passengers to board through any door.  These arrangements, with all passengers being required to hold a ticket of some description, allow for random ticket inspections to be carried out.

Smartcard ticketing is on its way.  The PRESTO card has recently been introduced by Metrolinx, a government agency established to improve transport co-ordination and integration in Toronto and surrounding parts of Ontario.  PRESTO already in use on a number of other transport networks in Ontario, and will be extended across the Toronto Transit Commission's network in due course.

While Toronto Transit Commission operate the Toronto's city transport system, longer-distance services from beyond the city boundary are generally provided under the GO Transit brand.  GO Transit is a division of Metrolinx providing the train services into Toronto from the suburbs and surrounding region, and also providing coach services into Toronto from points outside the city boundary.

Although the coaches are high-floor, they are fitted with wheelchair lifts and are therefore fully wheelchair-accessible.  Bicycles are also carried.

GO Transit's coach services converge at a terminus next to Toronto's main railway station, Union.


The Union terminus of GO Transit's services should not be confused with Toronto Coach Terminal, a kilometre away on Bay Street.  The coach terminal is the point at which longer-distance coach services arrive and depart.

As well as serving destinations within Canada, coaches from Toronto also operate international journeys to and from destinations in the United States of America.  This image (left) shows a Megabus coach leaving Toronto for Washington DC, an overnight journey taking around 14 hours.

The Toronto Airport Express also picks up close to the coach station.  This currently runs to Pearson Airport picking up at a number of stops in downtown Toronto.   With the opening of a direct rail link in 2015, however, the days of this service may be numbered.

Although Pearson is Toronto's main airport, there is a smaller airport closer to downtown Toronto, on Toronto Islands.

A free shuttle bus runs from near Union station to a ferry terminal, for a short crossing to Billy Bishop Airport.

Tourists wanting a sightseeing tour of Toronto have a choice of operators, although all appear to follow an identical route.

A number of the vehicles used on the tours are double-deckers retired from ordinary service in Britain, enjoying a second lease of life in Canada.  These examples were operating for ShopDineTour Toronto.


This vehicle (right and below) still carried a notice on the driver's cab door welcoming passengers aboard Ipswich Buses.  No prizes for guessing where that one came from, then!

The City Sightseeing tour is operated with a variety of vehicles.

As well as rear-engined double-deckers...

... I also noted at least one quite new open-topper.

Unlike the buses acquired second-hand from British operation, this one was left-hand-drive with entrance doors on the correct side for Canadian traffic.

A number of London's classic Routemaster double-deckers have been exported to Canada, where they operate on tours in a number of cities.  City Sightseeing uses several of them in Toronto, as open-toppers.

Although they were built for driving on the left, at least one has had its back end rebuilt, with the staircase and open platform reversed.

Others have not been modified, thus their platform is on the wrong side of the bus for Canadian traffic.

Gray Line is a third operator of Toronto sightseeing tours.

In recent years, a number of cities have introduced cycle hire schemes.  Toronto is one such city.  Originally branded as Bixi, the scheme is now known as Bike Share Toronto following a change of operator.
Pedestrians also have a network in part of the city centre.  The PATH network currently comprises nearly 30 kilometres of underground pedestrian walkways, although the network is continuing to expand.  PATH enables pedestrians to move around the city centre without the need to cross streets, and sheltered from the elements.  It links shops, offices and several stations on Toronto's Subway system.

I have seen a similar network of pedestrian tunnels, called Réso, in Montréal.

There is one part of Toronto which is not served by bus or streetcar, nor the cycle hire scheme or the PATH network.  Toronto is situated on the shore of Lake Ontario, with a small number of islands lying just offshore.  Ferries operate to the Toronto Islands from a quay on the city's waterfront.

The ferries are not included in Toronto Transport Commission's tariff system.  In Summer 2014, the fare was $7 (from the city to the islands, fares are not charged on sailings from the islands back to the city).

A separate ferry operates to Billy Bishop Airport.  A pedestrian tunnel is currently being built to provide a fixed link between the city and the airport.  The tunnel will be entirely separate from the PATH network.

As well as the scheduled services, the lake also hosts boats used for tourist and leisure cruises (below).  Tickets for the sightseeing tour buses generally include a trip on a short cruise on the lake, at least during the summer season.

Hiawatha, meanwhile, is one of two vessels which operate a ferry to and from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, based on the Toronto Islands.  This vessel (below) dates from 1895.

Although Toronto was the only Canadian city not to abolish its streetcar system, it is no longer the only one with street-running trams.  Calgary, some 2,700 kilometres to the west of Toronto, has introduced a light rapid transit system which includes some on-street sections.

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