The head of the TTC is rejecting claims that this week's blast of arctic-like weather is proof that Toronto needs more subways and fewer streetcars.
Unseasonably cold temperatures knocked out 61 of the transit commission's roughly 200 streetcars Tuesday morning, when the pneumatics that operate the vehicles' doors, brakes, and other systems froze up.
On Wednesday, Councillor Doug Ford told reporters that the mass breakdown was "all the more reason we need underground transit in this climate."
Councillor Ford, who is running Mayor Rob Ford's re-election bid, said that one of the planks of his brother's campaign platform will be to "put every single penny we have to underground rapid transit, meaning subways, not streetcars that get frozen." The proposal was reminiscent of the mayor's 2010 campaign, which centred on an ultimately successful push to build a Scarborough subway.
Although the TTC is in the midst of accepting an order for 204 new streetcars, Councillor Ford said that if he had his way they would be replaced with extra long buses on downtown streets.
"Nothing is more frustrating for people driving downtown and they get stuck behind a streetcar on Dundas, on King, or on Queen. It's an antiquated system and I believe that at the least we should go with the articulated buses," he said.
But TTC CEO Andy Byford immediately rebutted Ford's assertion that streetcars don't suit Toronto's climate, saying that the new streetcar fleet will be much less susceptible to the cold than the commission's current vehicles, some of which are 30 years old. On average, the streetcars have travelled 1.3 million kilometres, according to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross.
"These new streetcars will come equipped with hydraulic and electric systems that will mean that they are way less vulnerable to the kinds of problems that we've seen in recent days on the old streetcars," Byford said.
The Bombardier Flexity trams that the TTC will start phasing into service this year have also been purchased for 27 cities around the world, including wintery European burghs like Geneva, Krakow, and Innsbruck. Byford said the vehicles have "a proven design" that "Bombardier have used successfully in very cold cities."
Byford also rejected the idea of using buses on downtown streets, arguing that streetcars have a higher capacity and are less polluting.
He does believe, however, that the city needs to do more to combat congestion in the downtown core, and reiterated his desire to undertake measures to allow streetcars to move faster on the frequently snarled King route, including possibly banning car traffic or on-street parking during rush hour.
In October, council commissioned a study on prohibiting car traffic from entering King streetcar lanes during the morning peak period. TTC and city transportation services staff are expected to report back to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in June.
Sections of King outside the downtown core already have reserved streetcar lanes during rush hour, but they are rarely, if ever, enforced.