Here + Now

A Streetcar to be Desired: Toronto’s Transit Troubles

The Beaches neighbourhood is a charming area. Historic houses with wraparound porches sit beside modern designs on the quiet, tree-lined streets. House cats dart across the road as SUVs pull up with young families on their way to various extracurricular activities. Queen Street East features a bustling but quaint main street with boutique clothing stores, bookshops, and numerous pubs with large patios. “The best thing about the Beaches is probably the sense of neighbourhood. The people are generally very friendly—they’ll stop and say hello. It feels very closely knit,” says Darren Smith, a local resident of seven years.

But as idyllic as the neighbourhood may seem, there is a downside to living in the Beaches. Although the area is geographically close to the downtown core, the congestion caused by the cars, buses, and streetcars means it can take over an hour to travel those six kilometres.

When Darren first moved to the neighbourhood, he took the TTC to his workplace downtown. He says that the streetcar would take about 35–40 minutes in the morning, and that getting home was “nightmarish.” “I was getting out at rush-hour time—and I’m coming from where I’m right in the middle of the line as opposed to getting on at the end—so there was no space. Oftentimes I would have to wait for several streetcars before I could even get on.”

So how do TTC commuters in the area deal with their less-than-desirable daily commute?

According to Darren, most people give up on public transit and buy a car. Having bought a car just two years after moving to the Beaches, he states that he simply “got sick of the TTC.” Overcrowding, unreliability, and waiting for long periods of time in inclement weather were just a few of his reasons for abandoning Toronto’s public transit: “Every once in a while, when I needed one before, I would just use a car share or rent one from a car rental, so I was able to get away without having a car. But I just got so sick of the TTC and all the problems that plague being a regular user. It just made more sense.”

Unfortunately, this is not a unique problem to the Beaches community. Many pockets of Toronto either lack sufficient service or are too overcrowded to make commuting by TTC a reliable method.

The TTC won the prestigious American Public Transportation Association award last year. According to their website, this notable award suggests that the TTC is “the best of the best,” and that it “made a significant contribution in the public transportation industry and is a role model of excellence.” However, the TTC, whose slogan is “The Better Way,” doesn’t appear to see the irony in its catchphrase.

Five years ago, the company launched a plan to modernize the business and transform the customer experience, concentrating on punctual service, new vehicles, and delay reduction. But adding more streetcars to the road only leads to the ever-increasing congestion.

So, are there any solutions to the car-versus-transit conundrum?

On Queen Street East, there will always be competition for space between cars and streetcars, so to fix the transit problem, a more efficient use of street space appears the only feasible solution. One such example is to limit the parked cars along Queen Street and dedicate those lanes to streetcars only.

If the TTC is indeed the “best of the best” in North America, it should be continually updating and upgrading the transit efficiency in all neighbourhoods. Yet the Beaches area has not seen a change in transit for at least ten years.

So, does the TTC’s self-image as “The Better Way” truly reflect the service it provides? Right now, the Beaches area exemplifies how the TTC is failing certain neighbourhoods and forcing residents to buy cars, leading to more traffic congestion in the city. As Toronto’s population increases, transit efficiency will become an even more pressing issue. There is only one way this cycle can be broken: for the transit authority to seriously consider new developments to increase transit efficiency for the benefit of all Torontonians.

Image from Wikimedia Commons — no copyright infringement intended

Elana Dublanko, originally from Vancouver, recently moved to Toronto to pursue a career in publishing. She enjoys coffee with almond milk, long periods of travel, and trying out new restaurants.

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