Q Can you comment on the eco-ness of streetcars? I personally hate them. They?re slower than buses and their tracks discourage cycling.
A Oh, come on. Really? You hate streetcars? I've rejigged my route to work to avoid the dark, dingy subway and gaze out at the world from the Queen car when I'm not cycling. Sure, you can count on the subway coming every four minutes or so, and the streetcar has a way of testing your gag reflex on a hot stinky day (which is when cycling comes in handy), but still....
On a purely superficial level, buses' seat positioning and tinted windows make it harder to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. Plus, drivers crank the AC so high on warmer days, it's like commuting in a meat locker.
Beyond comfort, buses and streetcars are like apples and oranges. Streetcars are much-needed workhorses that carry a lot of bodies on high-density routes like Queen and College, and buses offer way more flexibility, fanning out across lower-density 'hoods.
But while I champion all forms of public transit, if we're talking smog, streetcars and subways win over buses hands down. The good news is that buses are running on cleaner fuel then they used to: 95 per cent ultra-low-sulphur diesel mixed with 5 per cent soy. (The combo is better acid-rain- and smog-wise but only lowers the CO2 count by about 2.5 per cent.) Still, anyone who's biked behind a bus as it chokes out black soot knows "clean" is a relative term. Also, we'd be better off ecologically getting that biodiesel from agricultural waste instead of energy-hungry crops.
By the way, of the 1,500 buses on Toronto roads, 150 are hybrids (producing roughly 25 per cent less greenhouse gases), and 415 more hybrids are on order. If you're wondering why you haven't spotted any natural gas buses of late, they're gonzo. The TTC dumped them a few years ago when it concluded that the multi-million-dollar price tag for compressed natural gas fuelling stations needed for every 100 buses was just too high.
"But what about the pollution emitted by the coal-fired plants needed to keep those streetcars and subways running?" you cry. Keep in mind that coal makes up about 16 per cent of Ontario's energy mix. (Nukes and hydro account for most of the rest.) While any amount of filthy coal-burning is too much, you have to consider that only one-sixth of a streetcar's power comes from these foul polluters. And if you ride the Rocket during non-peak energy times (i.e., in the evening or on weekends when ACs aren't blasting), coal isn't actually part of that power mix.
Not that nukes are a guilt-free way to ride (if only), which is why you need to hassle your MPP and the premier's office about shifting us over to green energy in a serious way.
In strict carbon terms, streetcars consume less CO2 than buses, but both are way better than cars. (See chart; and note that these stats don't take into account hybrid and biofuel buses.) In fact, at peak hours streetcars are estimated to take about 60 cars off the road and buses 45. Bottom line is that the better a city's transit system, the deeper its citizens can inhale without going to the ER.
Could the system be more efficient? No doubt. The T-dot has North America's second-largest transit system but comes in fifth in the first Canadian national ranking of sustainable urban transportation practices, released last month. (See www.appletonfoundation.org for full report.) That's why we need more cash for the Transit City plans, another thing you should bug your MP and MPP about.
I didn't forget about your streetcar track complaint. It's true, they suck for cyclists, especially when construction forces your bike within centimetres of these wheel-catchers. But if you take them at a good angle and remember that cyclists have the right to hog a whole lane, you might learn to love Toronto's trams, and then we can be one big happy family.
|Which transport wins the green race?|
( grams per passenger-km )
|COMPACT CAR( 1 passenger )||214|
|DIESEL BUS ( 50% full )||56|
|DIESEL BUS ( 100% full )||32|
|SUBWAY ( 40% full )||17|
|SUBWAY ( 100% full )||8|
source: Hydro Quebec adapted for Ontario by Toronto Environmental Alliance