They're shiny, they're sleek, and they looked pretty good on a recent late night test run. But are the TTC's new streetcars too big?
Absolutely not, says commission CEO Andy Byford, who held a press conference Monday afternoon to address concerns that the vehicles won't fit on Toronto's streets.
Byford assured reporters that the streetcars - 204 of which council ordered in 2009, at a cost of $1.2 billion - are being built to fit the unique characteristics of Toronto's transit system, including its sharp turns, steep inclines, and existing infrastructure.
"These vehicles have been designed specifically for Toronto," he said.
Earlier in the day, a report in the Toronto Sun revealed that the TTC is being forced to undertake modifications to platforms on its St. Clair route in order to make way for the light rail trams.
But it turns out that work is only a sliver of the modifications that will need to be done before the new fleet can be rolled out across the system.
The commission has set aside $58 million in anticipation of making alterations to almost all of its stops.
According to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross, around 700 curbs and platforms will need to be restructured.
The problem isn't with the size of the streetcars, however, which at 30 metres are 20 per cent longer than the biggest vehicles the commission currently operates.
Instead, the changes are necessary to make use of the streetcars' wheelchair ramps, which are designed to deploy either onto stop platforms or, at stops where there is no platform, onto the street.
Where passengers board from raised concrete islands, sections of the platforms will either need to be raised or lowered so that the ramp can be used. On other routes, city crews will have to cut away sections of curb to allow people using mobility devices to safely get down onto the street and then access the ramp.
Byford stressed that the work was not unexpected and the TTC has set aside the required money in its 10-year capital plan, which has already been approved by council.
"This is not a problem that has taken us by surprise. This is an issue that we've always known about," Byford said.
"This is an inevitable consequence of bringing in state-of-the art vehicles, which I'm very pleased that we'll be doing," he added.
Byford also deflected criticism about the TTC having to redo the stops on St. Clair, which were completed only three years ago as part of the controversial streetcar right-of-way project. The CEO said that while it was regrettable to have to do more work on the street, it was unavoidable because the design of the streetcar ramp wasn't finalized until last year.
"The key point to note is that at the time the streetcars were ordered we did not know, and we could not have known, the actual design of the ramp," Byford said.
The commission is undertaking a survey of all of its streetcar stops to determine what kind of work needs to be carried out, and where. There is no timeline for completing the job, but Bombardier is expected to deliver all of the vehicles by 2018.
Despite the suggestion that the vehicles might be too long for existing stops, Byford said he's confident most of the streetcar platforms can accommodate them. Nonetheless, some councillors are still raising concerns about the trams' extra length.
Adam Vaughan says that he would rather see smaller cars deployed more frequently, instead of larger streetcars that arrive less often. The commission has indicated the new vehicles won't run as frequently as the current ones because they have more capacity.
Vaughan is also worried about the TTC's plans to remove stops, some of which the commission says will become redundant as a result of the larger vehicles.
"I love the streetcar, but if it takes too long to come to me, and when it comes to me it's too stuffed, and the stops get further and further apart... I stop using the streetcar," Vaughan said in an interview.
"I think we need two different streetcars in this city. The new order is going to be great on Queen's Quay, it will be great on Spadina... but for Dundas and College and Queen and King, we need lots of little streetcars that keep the city moving."
Asked about Vaughan's concerns, Byford said it was crucial to get the bigger vehicles in service.
"The whole point of this new order is to get new streetcars that have additional capacity to deal with the ever-growing numbers that we're carrying on the TTC," Byford said.
"A constant criticism at the moment is there's not enough space, so surely it's a good thing that we're buying bigger vehicles."