Dinner at The Mandarin

Post by Steven Dale

I apologize to any reader of this post who is not from Toronto. This is going to be a very Toronto-specific post, but it should still be informative, enlightening and entertaining for others to see how transit planning is done in the city I like to call The City That Used To Work.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is not enamoured by my proposal for cable transit in Toronto, likely because their plan is a multi-billion dollar network of light rail lines throughout Toronto called Transit City. Fair enough.

But let’s actually break down the TTC’s argument and see why they’re not into the idea. Brad Ross, TTC transit spokesman was interviewed for the same story in the Toronto Star as I was. Let’s see what he said:

Brad Ross explicitly states “I don’t know how fast cable cars go.”

Then how can you make an effective comparison between it and Light Rail?

Brad Ross then states that “it’s not speed that makes dedicated rights-of-way (be it streetcar or other mode) so much better. It’s reliability – they don’t operate in mixed traffic and, therefore, are less likely to be delayed due to conditions beyond our control.”

No one was talking about dedicated rights-of-way in the article but, okay I’ll bite:

1) Toronto streetcars that operate in semi-dedicated rights-of way operate at speeds equivalent to those that operate purely in mixed traffic.  The Globe and Mail published an article on this matter a few years ago and the TTC’s own internal statistics demonstrate this. The reliability Mr. Ross speaks of is not due to the dedicated right-of-way. It’s due to the fact that there are far more streetcars on these routes than others, giving the impression that it is more reliable, when in fact it is not.

2) The Transit City Light Rail plan does not include vehicles operating in a dedicated right-of-way. Vehicles will operate in a semi-dedicated right-of-way. This means that at intersections, the vehicles will have to contend with traffic just like everyone else, whether they implement a Transit Signal Priority scheme or not. Only the Eglinton Crosstown will have a dedicated right-of-way and that will be in the downtown portion of the line where vehicles will run underground.

(Incidentally: I am very positive on the Eglinton Crosstown line. It is the only Light Rail line we should truly be considering in my opinion.)

3) Virtually every cable transit system in the world operates in a fully exclusive dedicated right-of-way. Shouldn’t the TTC prefer a technology that operates in a fully dedicated right-of-way rather than a semi-dedicated right-of-way?

Brad Ross states that the TTC’s new streetcars will hold twice as many riders, about 260.

Okay … The Sheppard Avenue LRT plan has one streetcar arriving every 4.5 minutes.  That means, every 4.5 minutes, 260 spaces will pass by a given stop. A solid, good gondola system, meanwhile can only carry 24. But let’s say you have a vehicle arriving every 25 seconds, which is totally doable with cable.  Over the course of 4.5 minutes you’d have (wait for it) 260 spaces pass by the same spot. If you had a vehicle pass by every 10 seconds (also doable) you’d have 648 spaces pass by the same spot.

Brad Ross also believes that cable “would be more expensive to build, maintain and operate.”

The facts simply do not support this statement. I’ll be in Toronto for a couple of weeks in January. I cordially invite Mr. Ross to prove his point of view over dinner at The Mandarin Chinese All-You-Can-Eat Buffet (neutral territory). My treat.


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Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. >>>>But let’s say you have a vehicle arriving every 25 seconds, which is totally doable with cable. Over the course of 4.5 minutes you’d have (wait for it) 260 spaces pass by the same spot. If you had a vehicle pass by every 10 seconds (also doable) you’d have 648 spaces pass by the same spot.<<<< There are so many things wrong with this statement that I don't know where to begin. You haven't taken into account loading times. You haven't taken into account waiting times, because vehicles carrying only 24 people mean that people will likely have to wait for multiple vehicles to pass to find one that they can get on. That's not even to mention security implications on unattended gondolas (are you going to have attendants on every 10-second-apart gondola?) Emissions free? Then how are you powering the motors that drive the cables? And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to practicality. There are so many things wrong with this gondola project and so many things that you haven't thought of, that I can't begin to imagine that you've really thought this through. With all due respect, you just don't know what you're taking about.
  2. You're more than entitled to your opinion, thickslab. I have, however, thought this through: I have been working with and studying this technology for almost 3 years now. Your argument about waiting for a vehicle to board is moot, as what I've demonstrated is that cable systems can carry the same (if not more) people than current Light Rail configurations over the exact same period of time. Is it possible that people may have to wait for a subsequent vehicle should one be full? Sure. But that problem already occurs with Light Rail and streetcar technology. Ask any Torontonian who waits for 20 minutes for a streetcar only to have 4 arrive at the same time bunched in a row (the last one, incidentally, is almost always empty, which dramatically reduces line capacity). Spreading capacity over the entirety of a line not only provides shorter wait times, but it also speeds the loading and unloading process. You can doubt this all you want, but I've toured systems that do just that. I'll address your safety concerns in December 1's post. And while I can't/won't enforce this request, it would be appreciated if you didn't post anonymously. Communication is about being open, transparent and honest and I believe most (if not all) the comments on this site have been done so non-anonymously. But again, that's your choice.
  3. Esmerelda Espiritu
    I think this idea is astounding. Further, I think if Toronto adopted a city wide system it would be the push they need to win a future Summer Olympic Games! To move that many people around the city, so efficiently, effectively, on time and through less energy use, is EXACTLY what the IOC is looking for from perspective host cities. Further, the cable cars do not create more street level traffic or dangers to pedestrians, and instead of being unsightly monoliths that drive down property values of the areas through which they move, they would be an interesting attraction, helping to define Toronto's identity. This simply is too good and too reasonable an idea not to implement. As long as cold temperatures and the possibility of ice on the cables is not prohibitive, then really, this should be the first new city engineering project of 2010.
  4. Ezzy (I'm guessing that's what you go by), Thanks for recognizing that this is a "reasonable" idea. Too often cable gets lumped in with the pie-in-the-sky-ridiculously-ludicrous crowd, and I'm thankful that some people see it the exact opposite way. As I've mentioned before, it's a process of debugging. Once people wrap their mind around the concept and acknowledge that it is is deeply reasonable and logical, they instantly begin to see its applicability in all sorts of situations. Thanks for the comment and support!
  5. The TTC has good reason not to fall for this idea. If Cable was so amazing and versatile, cities and transit planners would have adopted the technology, Yet cities wisely choose rail over a maintenance intensive technology. Why did Glasgow switch from cable to electric? Cable Technology is obviously more maintenance intensive due to the all the pulleys, and and shears need to guide the cable. And the I can imagine the cable would be pretty heavy also. This would require pretty strong towers. I cannot imagine the towers would be aesthetically pleasing. The stations would probably be massive to cope with the claim of one cable every 30 seconds. How do you plan to sell that to the public? I noticed that you haven't shown what a station would look like. 1 LRV every 4.5 minutes compared to 24 small cars every 4.5 minutes. Contrary to what you may think, riders are not going to complain about waiting for a LRV every 4.5 minutes. Also, the Sheppard LRT is being designed to allow 2 car operation, so a second car can be added easily to increase capacity. I agree with Thickslab. There is many things wrong with this idea. I am glad the TTC choose not to waste time with this idea, and stick with tried and true technology.
  6. Thanks for your perspective, Justin. 1) I don't think it's a case of "falling" for a technology. It's not as though I'm trying to trick someone. Sometimes quality technologies get missed. Remember the GM's electric car? How about Beta? When you think about it, streetcar technology was abandoned 50 years ago in favor of buses. Now look where we are, everyone's switching back. Are people "falling for the idea" of LRT this time around? What's to prevent some cities from switching back to cable? And why is it, then, that cable has found increased urban usage year-upon-year for the last decade? That sounds to me exactly like cities and transit planners adopting the technology. 2) Please present me with the statistics that demonstrate how cable technology is "obviously" more maintenance-intensive. I can assure you that the cost of maintaining a cable system is competitive with LRT. 3) Station size is about throughput. The less people you have waiting at a station/stop, the less space you require. By spreading capacity over the entirety of a line, you reduce the number of people queuing. I've just returned from visiting the Hungerburgbahn in Innsbruck. The station configuration is incredibly slim, one station is even underground. Station size is an issue that certainly needs to be addressed and one that I hope to get to next week sometime, please keep an eye out for it. 4) Cable technology is tried and true. Cable technology dates back to approximately 250 BC in ancient China. It's been suggested by some scholars that it was one of the first public transit technologies ever invented. I'm not saying LRT is not tried and true, I'm saying that Cable is too. 5) The Transportation Research Board in the US reports that riders find wait times to be 2-2.5 times more onerous than actual in-vehicle time. Every second counts, in other words. Your assumption about riders not complaining about a 4.5 minute wait time assumes that the system will run on schedule. Why should we assume that the TTC will operate the LRT's on time and on schedule? They've shown almost zero capacity to do that with their existing LRT/streetcar lines. As for using 2-car operation, that still only doubles line capacity, which is still less than a cable system running 24 person vehicles every 10 seconds. Thanks so much for commenting with your own name, Justin, I really appreciate that. Have I addressed any of your questions? Is there room for dialogue here? I'd rather engage in constructive debate with you instead of argument. Any chance for that?
  7. Esmerelda Espiritu
    What are all the cities that currently have a cable system similar to the one you propose for Toronto? Would Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton or Halifax also be good candidate cities for this type of technology?
  8. Ezzy, There's really three parts to your question: 1) I'm not proposing anything specific for Toronto. I just want Torontonians to know that they don't have to settle for Light Rail. There are other options. 2) I don't know enough about Calgary or Edmonton, but all the other cities are certainly good candidates. Vancouver's actually investigating a link between Simon Fraser University and the skytrain. Halifax is on a steep incline with significant traffic across the harbour; and Montreal surrounds a mountain and lives on an island. Of course, Montreal had to go through the disastrous Skylink proposal (even I don't support that idea, for reasons I'll write about sometime in the future). The point of The Gondola Project is not to have me pontificate about where cable should or should not go. The point is to tell you and everyone else that cable is a simple, wonderful technology that you, yourself should play with. The question is not do I believe it's suitable in those cities. The question is do you? 3) It would be very hard to name all the systems in the world with appropriate cable examples. There's just too many. Better to visit The Gondola Project's Flickr group. There you can cruise around and see hundreds of photos from dozens of urban-applicable systems from around the world. Thanks again, Ezzy!

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