Queen Street without streetcars? The city might give it a look

A city hall committee voted Thursday to ask staff to explore whether Queen Street would be better off if streetcars were permanently banished in favour of buses.

Coun. Mike Ford's motion to explore buses instead of streetcars on Queen Street approved by committee

The TTC says its streetcars offer greater capacity and fewer emissions compared to buses. (Shutterstock / Kiev.Victor)

A city hall committee voted Thursday to ask staff to explore whether Queen Street would be better off if streetcars were permanently banished in favour of buses. 

The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee approved a motion calling for the study, which would take place at the end of the summer construction season. The study would first need to be approved by city council.

"Over many years we have heard arguments of streetcars or buses being a better option on Toronto's streets, but much of this information is anecdotal," wrote Coun. Michael Ford in a letter to the committee. "We need to know what is truly best for our city, our residents, and our visitors."

Ford is the nephew of the late former mayor, Rob Ford, and former councillor Doug Ford. Both of them made their distaste for Toronto's streetcar system crystal clear during their careers at city hall, and campaigned hard for subway construction instead of building light-rail transit routes on the city's roadways.

The motion calls for the streetcars to be held off the route for an additional two weeks after construction is complete, and for buses to continue running in their place. Once the streetcars are put back on the tracks, the city would monitor the route for another two weeks and compare the two modes of transit.

The showdown will be determined in 10 categories, including reliability, delays, collisions, rider satisfaction and costs.

Whatever the outcome, the very chance to study the route is "a golden opportunity," according to Coun. Stephen Holyday, who supported the motion.

"We need to ask those questions and challenge the status quo," he said.

Coun. Michael Ford says bus-versus-streetcar arguments are often based on anecdotal evidence. (Facebook)

Streetcars 'make good sense'

The Toronto Transit Commission's numbers suggest that streetcars are the more sensible choice for Queen Street, which features North America's longest streetcar route.

This summer, the TTC is spending an extra $1 million per month to run buses on the route, according to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross. It also takes 60 buses to provide similar service to the 501 Queen's usual 45 streetcars.

"Queen is a good example of a route where streetcars make good sense because of the capacity that they offer you in the downtown to reduce congestion," Ross said, adding that Toronto's streetcars produce lower emissions than buses.

Others doubt if the motion is really a genuine attempt to study public transit.

"I understand the politics of this," said Coun. Anthony Perruzza, before he voted against the motion.

"The best hope would be that you produce a report that would say, 'Buses on Queen Street are the best thing since sliced bread,'" Perruzza said.

While Ford's motion passed at the committee, members passed an additional motion asking city staff to determine if the four week project would be "feasible."

The TTC says the plan would also need to be approved by its own board.