Posts Tagged: Toronto



Toronto Downsizes Streetcar Fleet Due to Winter Storms

Toronto Ice Storm.

In my neighbourhood. Creative Commons image by flickr user Bad Alley.

Over the holidays, a particularly nasty ice storm wreaked havoc in my hometown of Toronto (and much of the surrounding area for that matter). The storm was so bad it left hundreds of thousands of people without power over Christmas. The problem was then compounded by several wicked cold snaps that saw the mercury plunge into the minus 20’s celsius on several occasions.

Like the transit nerds that we are, we couldn’t help but note the fact that the city had to downsize its fleet of streetcars to cope with the frigid temperatures. According to the linked article, the city’s (admittedly very old) streetcar fleet cannot cope with temperatures that cold. Which is interesting because to people in the Great Lakes, winter weather such as this is nothing unfamiliar. Minus 20 (30 with the wind chill) is par for the course.

And as any Torontonian knows: There is nothing worse than waiting for a streetcar in a frigid winter storm — because in all likelihood it just won’t ever come.

Astute readers will immediately point out that — obviously — such a problem wouldn’t happen with a gondola or cable transit system. But hold on there, tiger, because that’s not the point. We’re not braggarts and we’re not about to say to Toronto “hey, Toronto, why don’t you just replace all of your streetcars with gondolas.” That would be ridiculous. That would be illogical. And that would smack of techno-zealotry — a character flaw we try very hard to avoid. 

The point instead is this: When you choose to use winter weather as an argument against cable cars (as a surprising number of people do), understand first that an urban gondola or cable car is basically a souped-up ski lift. And you know what works really well in really bad winter weather? Ski lifts.

And you know what doesn’t work really well in really bad winter weather? Streetcars in Toronto. Yet people rarely ever take the time to realize that.

It’s a strange paradox that has less to do with transit and more to do with people in general. People will almost always hold the unfamiliar to an irrationally higher standard than that which they’re (un)comfortably accustomed to.

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Understanding Travel Decisions—A Human Perspective

Like many people of my generation, I put myself through two university degrees working in restaurants and bars. The last spot I ever worked at was a high-end Irish Pub in Toronto’s financial district.

Thankfully, the pub was located exactly 25 minutes’ walk from my apartment. I knew, because I’d meticulously timed it, measured it and shaved off every potential minute by finding every potential short-cut I could find—demonstrating the kind of meticulous attention to detail that makes us transit geeks so popular with the ladies.

The question then before I walked out my front door was whether to walk or to take transit.

Seems like a simple question, right? It wasn’t. Let me explain:

The most direct transit route from my apartment to the pub involved (in order of sequence of events):

  • a 2 minute journey from my front door to the streetcar stop;
  • an undetermined wait time for the streetcar;
  • a 6 minute streetcar trip;
  • a 2 minute transfer time from the streetcar to the subway;
  • an undetermined wait time for the subway;
  • a 4 minute subway ride;
  • a 2 minute journey from the subway to the pub.

You see the problem right away.

While the trip itself (let’s say the fixed journey time) was 16 minutes long, the wait times for the two vehicles in between were completely undetermined. Generally speaking, those wait times ranged any where from 1 minute to 10 minutes, and predicting them were nigh impossible.

That meant that my actual travel time by transit would be any where from 18 minutes to 36 minutes. Sure there were some situations where transit was a faster option, but that only occurred in 28% of all the possible wait time combinations.

Here’s the most interesting part: If I had to wait 8 minutes or more for either the streetcar or (not both) the subway, travelling by foot always yielded a shorter travel time. I know this because I built a spreadsheet to understand it for myself.

Assuming that an 8 minute wait time for any transit vehicle in Toronto is 50/50 proposition (at best) and given the $3.00 fare, is it any surprise then that I almost always walked?

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Christmas Subway in Toronto – Passengers Sing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

Since Christmas is now less than 2 weeks away, it’s only appropriate if we have some yuletide content on this blog. And thanks to the video sent in by one of our readers, we found some holiday spirit in one of the most unexpected places in the world: Toronto’s subway.

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Pearson vs. Klotten: Transit Connectivity

I recently read an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail that made me smile.

The article, entitled Air-rail link to boost travel – and ‘wow’ factor, discusses how my hometown of Toronto “has been waiting for decades for a direct link between the airport and downtown” and how “at last . . . it’s finally taking shape.”

As anyone in Toronto will tell you, Pearson International Airport is woefully unconnected to the Greater Toronto Area by transit, and the Air-rail link won’t do much to change that. Consider the current situation:

  • The Toronto Transit Commission runs two bus routes to the airport. One is circuitous and basically useless (the 58A Malton) and the other is somewhat useful. The TTC also runs two late night buses to the airport.

With that one additional transit line, the Greater Toronto Area will have a total of six public transport connections to Canada’s busiest airport. The Globe and Mail estimates that users of that that additional transit line can expect to pay $15 to $35 to use it.

Now let’s compare that to Zurich Klotten Airport:

  • A tram services the airport along two separate lines.

In other words, Zurich Klotten Airport has 17 different public transit connections compared to Toronto’s current five.

And just to put that into perspective: Zurich proper is roughly 350,000 people. The greater Zurich area is 1.5 – 2.0 million people. Toronto proper is around 2.5 million people and the Greater Toronto Area is well in excess of 5 million.

To further reinforce the point, if you were to include the greater Zurich area – which you should – then you’d also have to include the myriad of regional bus routes and commuter rail lines that also service the airport. At which point the number of transit connections servicing the airport would be mind-bogglingly large.

Toronto would still have only five.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here.

It’s important for Torontonians to celebrate our accomplishments, but it’s also important for us to recognize we’ve got a whole lot of catching-up to do.

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Skyride – Toronto’s newest Chairlift at the CNE (The Ex)

If you happen to live in Toronto, Canada, you’ve probably heard on the news or from friends/family that the CNE or “The Ex” opened its doors last Friday. For those not from Toronto, The Ex is an annual fair that runs during the last weeks of August until Canadian Labour Day Monday. It’s the country’s largest exhibition and 7th largest in North America with a yearly attendance of 1.3 million visitors.

This year the CNE travelled back into time and brought back a similar ride from the 90s. Dubbed as the fair’s “spectacular new permanent attraction”, Skyride is an amusement park chairlift which takes you from one end of the exhibition to the other. The Ex was previously home to another aerial lift, known as the Alpine Way Gondola but that system was dismantled in 1994 (after 28 years in service) to make way for the Direct Energy Centre.

So on opening day, I decided to venture into The Ex to experience what this new ride had to offer.

Novelty mixed with nostalgia makes for very long line ups. Image by Nicholas Chu.

After lining up for about 10 minutes, I was finally able to hop on the 2-seater lift. Once onboard, the ride gently whisks passengers above and across the exhibition grounds at a height of 40 feet.

Panoramic views of all the attractions and venues at the CNE. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Ride fits in nicely with the rest of the carnival attractions. Image by Nicholas Chu.

So after a breezy but refreshing 8 minute ride, I was dropped off near BMO field. Overall, the trip was fun while it lasted and with a one-way ticket cost of only $5 dollars, it’s certainly well worth the price considering that boneheads like me typically waste a minimum of $50 on carnival games alone.

Even the carnies themselves can't beat this game. Image from

However, as mentioned by commenter’s on the Toronto Star, some consider the Skyride as a rather half-hearted and disappointing attempt at bringing back an aerial lift to the CNE. Comparatively speaking, the Alpine Way Gondola was 700m long operating at a height of 100 feet while the Skyride is only 500m long operating at a height of 40 feet.

On the bright side, the Skyride is certainly a welcome addition to the myriad of midway rides at the CNE. However, from a pure public transit perspective, the optics and size of the system may further perpetuate and reinforce that cable is only suitable for carnival purposes. And who can blame them? This chairlift is really the only exposure that Torontonians ever get of cable technology.

If one day The Ex somehow regains its former glorious status as the preeminent venue to display the world’s newest innovations, CNE organizers may even convince and partner with a ropeway manufacturer to showcase the recent technological improvements made by cable systems. One can only dream what a demonstration 3S system would do for a city like Toronto.

A demonstration gondola system using 3S technology would certainly help people understand why CPT is viable. Not to mention that it'd give The Ex something to really boast about. Image by CUP Projects (Steven Dale).

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Urban Gondola Transit in Toronto?

Dear Toronto:

You might have heard today on CBC’s Metro Morning an interview with myself, Steven Dale, the Founder of The Gondola Project and Founding Principal at Creative Urban Projects.

Typically, such press causes The Gondola Project to experience a rather large surge in traffic from whatever given geographic region is discussing the idea. As such: Welcome to the conversation.

The Gondola Project is an ongoing participatory planning project to help explain and spread the idea of Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit throughout the world. It is meant to be accessible, user-friendly and informative.

As most of today’s new readers have probably never contemplated the idea of using what is – let’s be honest – ski lift technology as mass public transit, don’t worry – at first it was totally ridiculous to us as well! We get that the idea is foreign, bizarre and strange.

But after exploring The Gondola Project we hope you’ll see that it’s not so strange and bizarre a notion after all. Feel free to comment, ask questions and generally engage us on the topic – that’s what we’re here for. And if you’re interested, take a look at our concept for an Urban Gondola in Toronto.

And please be rest-assured, The Gondola Project doesn’t suggest cable transit, cable cars or urban gondolas are the solution to our collective public transit woes.

Our cities are increasingly complex entities and the more tools we have to tackle coming challenges, the better. We’re not here to say gondolas are the best tool to the exclusion of all others, but we are here to say gondolas are a viable, valuable tool worth exploring.


– Steven Dale

PS: We’re currently working on site updates, so if there are a couple of things that aren’t working, please give it a day or two.

PPS: A good place to start with The Gondola Project is in our ABOUT section and our LEARN ABOUT CABLE TRANSIT sections (accessible through our the header bar above).

PPPS: To save you the hassle of wading through months of old blog posts, we’ve also hand-selected a group of older posts to get you up-and-running:

In order to broaden the scope of the site more, we will often discuss issues peripherally-related to public transit and urban gondolas. To get a feel for those kinds of discussions, we’ve hand-selected a group of older posts that should give you a reasonable understanding of The Gondola Project’s worldview:

  • Forcing Functions – Humans make mistakes constantly. Forcing Functions help prevent those mistakes. What forcing functions do we need to see in transit to make it better for everyone?
  • A Minute Is Not A Minute – Are our transit models undermined by the fact that people perceive time in very different ways?
  • Inflexible Inventory – Everyone wants to travel at the same time in the same direction. Can that problem be solved?
  • Never Mind The Real World – Do our planning models sufficiently take into consideration that which actually occurs in the world, rather than what we hope will occur?
  • Our Outsourced RailsDo North Americans really deserve all the credit for the massive rail projects they’ve built in the past?
  • The Ten Day Traffic Jam – If the Chinese are more willing to sit in a 10 day traffic jam than ride transit, what does that tell us?
  • Canadian Prosciutto – If you don’t believe something to exist, does that mean it doesn’t?


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