Even as testing continues for the TTC's next generation of streetcars, the transit service's chief is being forced to defend the vehicle from critics who say it is too big.
The TTC's new and considerably larger streetcar is expected to start entering service next year. But the vehicle, whose purchase was approved by city council, is facing new criticism at city hall. And its ability to use existing streetcar platforms is being questioned.
"These new streetcars have been designed specifically to accommodate Toronto's characteristics," countered TTC CEO Andy Byford at a news conference Monday. "They are not too long."
He said that platforms are long enough, but acknowledged that an unknown number of them will have to be modified to accept the new streetcar's ramp, which makes the vehicle accessible to people with mobility problems. The problem, according to the TTC, is that the ramp can't be used if the platform is too high or too low. And since the platforms were not built to uniform standards, spokesman Brad Ross explained, some will have to bulked up or shaved down.
Work to learn the full extent of those modifications is to begin soon. As well, curbs at around 700 spots will have to be changed to allow people with mobility issues to get from the sidewalk to the streetcar.
Mr. Byford said that $58-million had been set aside in the budget for the work and characterized the modifications as a by-product of buying new equipment.
He also was asked about criticism from downtown councillor Adam Vaughan, who suggested the new streetcars were too big for the core and criticized plans to remove some stops. Mr. Vaughan singled out several of the downtown streets, including the heavily travelled Queen and King lines, as inappropriate for the new streetcar, which will be bigger but come less often.
"If there isn't a streetcar coming all the time, you stop using streetcars," said the councillor, who wants some shorter vehicles as well. "We have got to have two different types of streetcars for two different parts of the city, the pre-war and the post-war parts of the city," the councillor said at city hall.
Mr. Byford suggested it would be "prohibitively expensive" to change the streetcar order at this stage, though. He said they will refurbish some of the old streetcars to get a bit more life out of them, but he made clear that aging, non-air-conditioned and non-accessible streetcars are not his preference.
"A constant criticism at the moment is there's not enough space," he noted. "So surely it's a good thing that we're buying bigger vehicles."
With a report from Elizabeth Church