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Success and Challenges in Modernizing

Streetcar Systems
Experiences in Melbourne, Australia, and Toronto, Canada

Graham Currie and Amer Shalaby

On-street running in mixed traffic has been identified as the least desirable • Policy initiatives, and
right-of-way for light rail and tram systems. While most cities in the devel- • Policy assessment.
oped world have withdrawn streetcar systems, substantial networks have
been retained in Melbourne, Australia, and Toronto, Canada. Although
some commentators have seen the retention of these systems as visionary, STREETCAR SYSTEMS IN CONTEXT
there are substantial challenges to be faced in addressing conflicts between
streetcars and rising road traffic. Poor running speeds, unreliability, Melbourne and Toronto were chosen for this analysis because they
safety, and difficulties in providing universal access are significant issues are the largest streetcar systems in the western world, where traffic
for modern streetcar systems. Experiences are described in regard to volumes are large and growing. Melbourne has some 167 km (104
planning and operating the Melbourne and Toronto streetcar systems. mi) of mixed track running, and Toronto has 71 km (44 mi). These
The types of challenges being faced in providing services are contrasted. are the two largest streetcar systems in Australasia, North America,
Programs to address the challenge of creating modern high-quality tran- and the nations of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom (3).
sit systems out of streetcars are compared. Finally, success strategies in Tables 1 and 2 present a series of comparative data on the
modernizing streetcar systems are identified. Melbourne and Toronto systems. More similarities than differences
exist between the two systems. Both have high shares of track in
mixed-traffic operations with resultant low operating speeds and
Of the many types of right-of-way (ROW) that light rail and tram
poor on-time performance. Both systems have short tram stop spac-
systems can operate, street running is least desirable because “oper-
ing (270/250 m or 885/820 ft), which also reduces speeds. Also,
ating on the streets with congested traffic causes considerable fric-
both systems have center lane operations with a high share of curb-
tion with other vehicles, impeding both the streetcars and the auto
side stops. At curbside stops, passengers wait on the curb until trams
traffic” (1). While most cities in the developed world have with-
arrive. They walk across the curb lanes in front of stopped traffic to
drawn streetcar systems, substantial networks have been retained in
access trams in center lanes. Both systems have ticketing policies to
Melbourne, Australia, and Toronto, Canada. Although some commen-
expedite fare collection. In Melbourne, tickets were sold on trams
tators have seen the retention of these systems as visionary (2), there
are substantial challenges faced in addressing conflicts between by tram conductors, a practice that was abandoned in favor of onboard
streetcars and rising road traffic. Poor running speeds, unreliability, ticket machines and increased off-system sales of tickets. In Toronto,
safety, and difficulties in providing universal access are significant passengers deposit tickets, tokens (both purchased in advance), or
issues for modern streetcar systems. exact change in the fare box; or they show another proof-of-payment
This paper details the experiences of planning and managing the (transfer or transit pass) to the driver. However, service time is slower
Melbourne and Toronto streetcar systems. The types of challenges than for a pure proof-of-payment system, particularly because only
being faced in providing services are contrasted. Programs to address the front door is currently used for boarding at most locations.
the challenge of creating modern high-quality transit systems using An obvious difference between the systems is the national driving
streetcars are compared and success factors identified. This paper is rules (left-hand drive in Australia and right-hand drive in Canada).
structured as follows: Both systems face traffic conflicts where turning movements (right
turns in Melbourne and left turns in Toronto) in front of trams at
• Streetcar systems in context, intersections are permitted.
• Challenges of street running, Although Melbourne is the larger of the two systems, to some
extent the operational context in Toronto has wider challenges. Larger
proportions of the Toronto ROW are in mixed traffic, and tram stop
G. Currie, Institute of Transport Studies, Department of Civil Engineering, Monash spacings are shorter than in Melbourne. Melbourne also has new
University, Building 60, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia. A. Shalaby, Depart-
ment of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto, 35 St. George Street, Toronto, low-floor trams that now comprise 19% of the fleet.
Ontario, M5S 1A4 Canada. Corresponding author: G. Currie, graham.currie@
eng.monash.edu.au.

Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board,


CHALLENGES OF STREET RUNNING
No. 2006, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington,
D.C., 2007, pp. 31–39. Two major challenges are discussed: traffic interference and the
DOI: 10.3141/2006-04 problem of universal access.

31
32 Transportation Research Record 2006

TABLE 1 Comparative Data: Melbourne and Toronto Streetcar Systems

Measure Melbourne Toronto

Population (M, year) 3.6 (2003) 2.5 (2001)


Operator Yarra Trams Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)
Total streetcar track length (km/mi) 250/155 79.6/49.5
Share in mixed traffic (km/mi/% share) 167/104/67% 71/44/89%
Main track location Center lanes Center lanes
Average operating speed (kph/mph) 15.0/9.3 15.0/9.3
Headways Typical = 7.5 min Typical = less than 5min
St. Kilda Road = less than 60 s King Street = 2 min
Reliability Poor Poor
27% not on time (more than 1 min early or 6+ min late) 50% within 0–3 min of average headway (5 mins)
Traffic driving direction Left side of road Right side of road
Tram traffic signal priority All 600 intersections At 160 intersections with at least 58 to be installed
On-board driver ticket sales No No
Ridership per year (M, year) 135.9 (2003) 88.6 (2005)
Car km/mi p.a. (M) 22.5 km/14.0 mi 12.2 km/7.6 mi
Total tram stops 1,800 715
No. curbside (%) 1,200 (67%) 590 (82%)
Average tram stop spacing (m/ft) 270 m/885 ft 250 m/820 ft
Operating performance measures:
boardings per car km/mi 6.0/9.7 7.3/11.7

Traffic Interference 270 m (885 ft) (5). This is very low compared with the European
practice of 400 m (1,312 ft) (unpublished data from South Yorkshire
Melbourne Passenger Transport Executive, 2004). The implication is that trams
do not have enough distance between stops to attain and maintain a
The operation of streetcars in mixed traffic reduces operating per- reasonable top speed. Losses due to deceleration, door opening and
formance for the Melbourne system, resulting in 15 kph (9.3 mph) closing, stop dwell time, and acceleration further reduce average
average speed and poor reliability. Some 27.4% of trams do not run operating speeds. A higher than average number of stops also implies
on time (4), where on time is defined as less than 59 s early or more that the frictional impacts of stopping on road traffic movement is
than 5 min and 59 s late. That is a high share of services to be running increased. The balancing factor is that passengers do not have to
unreliably even with this very broad definition of on time. walk as far to access the system.
Although traffic impacts are generally considered the main reason Curbside stops are a major feature of on-street running services and
for lower than average tram speeds in Melbourne, the number of tram have been identified as a major passenger safety concern in Melbourne.
stops in the system has also been suggested as an influencing factor. They generate pedestrian–road traffic accidents at a rate of 25 annu-
Melbourne has some 1,800 trams stops and an average spacing of ally (one accident per 5.4 million boardings per year) and are
thought to result in a far greater number of near misses (unpublished
data on VicRoads R&D Project; Booz Allen Hamilton, 2003). Sur-
TABLE 2 Fleet Details: Melbourne and Toronto
Streetcar Systems veys of passenger perceptions of safety indicated that some 20% of
passengers consider curbside stops the most significant safety issue
Road 1st Additional on the Melbourne public transport system (VicRoads R&D Project).
Step Height Steps to Curbside stops also have an impact on the efficient use of the road
Type No. (mm/in.) Floor
space. During each boarding and alighting, all road traffic behind the
Melbourne tram must stop. Traffic simulation has shown this reduces average
tram and traffic speeds by as much as 8% to 12% compared with roads
C Citadis 36 330/13 0
without curbside stops (Currie et al., unpublished data on VicRoads
D Combino 59 300/11.8 0
R&D Project 799, 2004). The same modeling has shown that curbside
A class 70 338/13.3 2
stops cause trams to run unreliably because following trams are slowed
B class 132 338/13.3 2 by delay wave impacts caused by tail backs of traffic queuing behind
W class 53 347/13.7 2 trams stopping at curbside stops.
Z class 150 334/13.2 2 There is a traffic safety rule particular to Melbourne which is
Total 500 specifically designed to assist trams when traffic is turning in front
Toronto of the tram. Called the hook turn, traffic rules ban turning movements
CLRV 196 252/9.9 3 in front of trams at key [mainly central business district (CBD)] inter-
ALRV 52 252/9.9 3 sections but lets traffic make the turn from the curbside lane instead.
Figure 1 shows a diagram of this maneuver (which occurs in left-hand
Total 248
drive conditions and hence affects right-turning traffic).
Currie and Shalaby 33

Tram
Operating
Direction

Traffic Sign

WAIT HERE
UNTIL THE TURN AND
LIGHTS IN CONTINUE
THE STREET STRAIGHT
RIGHT TURN YOU ARE AHEAD
FROM LEFT ENTERING
ONLY HAVE
CHANGED TO
GREEN

YOU MUST BE IN
THE LEFT LANE
TO MAKE A
HOOK TURN
INDICATE
THAT YOU
ARE TURNING
RIGHT

Tram
Operating
Direction

FIGURE 1 Melbourne traffic rule: hook turn stops turning traffic from interfering with
tram operations (traffic operates in left-hand lanes in Australia).

Traffic turning right must wait in the left-hand lane on red. When tram speed had declined 8% in the previous 4 years. If that trend con-
the lights turn green they can wait across the intersection but not in tinued, there was real danger that the tram system would be aban-
front of the tram. When the lights change they can make their turn. doned by many of its patrons” (10). By comparison, peak road traffic
This traffic rule assists tram operations considerably but is not in speeds have declined by 3.4% between 2000 to 2005 (7) and suggest
place in Toronto and may be unique to Melbourne conditions. This that trams are more affected by congestion effects than by traffic.
road rule is well accepted by both road users and the road manage- There is some evidence that reliability of trams is also affected.
ment authority in Melbourne. However, it only applies to Melbourne. Between October and December 1999 and October and December
Anecdotal evidence suggests it is a challenge for visitors who are 2003, the share of a section of Yarra Trams services that were not
unfamiliar with this rule, however there is no accident data suggest- on time increased from 20% to 37%, suggesting reliability is getting
ing it is a significant concern. worse (4). However, more recent performance data show a leveling
A range of evidence suggests traffic congestion is growing in off of on-time performance.
Melbourne: There is evidence that traffic congestion will continue to grow.
• Car travel in Melbourne has increased at a rate of 1.9% per year Modeling suggests that the length of a.m. peak roads with a volume
to capacity ratio of over 1.0 will increase from 640 km (398 mi) in
between 1996 and 2000 (6).
• VicRoads, the Road Authority, has reported a general decline 2001 to 1,300 km (808 mi) by 2021 (7). Overall, it is clear that the
in peak road travel speeds between 2000 and 2005 (7 ). mixed traffic operation of Melbourne’s streetcar system is not a good
• The costs of traffic congestion in Australian cities is forecasted environment for fast and reliable services and that, in the future,
to grow from AU$ 12.8B (US$ 9.8 billion) in 1995 to AU$ 29.7B performance will continue to deteriorate.
(US$ 22.8 billion) in 2015 (8).

This exacerbates problems that Melbourne’s streetcars are facing. Toronto


Hubert Guyot, former chief executive officer of the tram company has
suggested that average a.m. peak hour travel times of trams on the Generally, on-street running in Toronto creates the same problems
major Collins Street link have increased by 8.4% between 2003 and that exist in other systems with similar operation: low running speed
2005 (9). Yarra Trams has also stated that “by late 2003, the average and large variability in headway. The magnitude of these problems
34 Transportation Research Record 2006

is amplified by Toronto’s exceptionally small proportion of dedicated which the existing infrastructure must become accessible to 30 years.
ROW operation. The year 2032 is the target date for full accessibility, and there is a
In Toronto, the average streetcar speed has been measured at approx- rolling program whereby parts of the system must become accessible
imately 15 km/h (9.3 mph), whereas new light rail systems within (e.g., 25% system compliance by 2007 and 55% by 2012).
dedicated ROW routinely attain averages of 30 km/h (18.6 mph) The special dispensation for Melbourne’s trams was granted largely
(11). In addition to the effects of operation in mixed traffic, slow because of the considerable difficulties the system faces in becoming
travel speeds have been associated with the use of curbside stops fully accessible. A program for provision of low-floor trams [with
which, as in Melbourne, lead to delays in car traffic that further delay initial steps heights of 300 to 330 mm (11.8 to 13 in.) from the road]
upstream streetcars. has been fast tracked. However, these vehicles do not in themselves
Reliability also plagues Toronto’s streetcars. Headway reliability provide for full access. Most tram stops in Melbourne are curbside
has been identified as one of the most important factors influencing stops (Figure 2); hence, even with low-floor trams an initial step
customer satisfaction. The 504 King streetcar route, Toronto’s busiest, height of at least 300 mm (11.8 in.) is required, which does not meet
represents the culmination of both speed and reliability issues and the requirements of the DDA.
serves to illustrate the difficulties affecting the entire system. The two main approaches for providing access for persons with
The King streetcar line has a scheduled headway during peak disabilities on trams involve platforms or lifts (14). Platforms aim
periods of only 2-1⁄2 min. During these periods, excessive headway to create level entry between platforms and vehicle entrances. Lifts
variability is often experienced, with the standard deviation of head- can be either on-vehicle or on-platform. Either can be expensive to
ways exceeding the mean headway. In addition, due to the length build and maintain, and they cause delays. Lifts on vehicles cause
of the route, headway variability progressively increases as street- delays during passenger loading and unloading. They also reduce
cars approach the end of the line. Near the terminal stop, headway vehicle seating and standing capacity. There is a view among mem-
variability can be five times that experienced at the beginning (12). bers of the Melbourne disability lobby that vehicle lifts will not meet
Capacity issues further complicate the issue. Because some passen- the requirements of DDA legislation because not all people with dis-
gers are left behind at stops, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) abilities can use lifts. Lifts on platforms are rare and have a poor
actually decreases the headway to 2 min between streetcars during operational delay record; platform mounted lifts on the San Jose light
the peak periods. Despite increasing capacity, this strategy only exac- rail system result in train delay of 4 to 6 min per person (15). This
erbates the problem of headway variability, since even a small delay would be unacceptable performance for streetcar lines operating at
of 1 min can put a vehicle 50% behind schedule. In addition, bunch- short headways.
ing, in which one streetcar ends up almost immediately behind another Ramps, a lower-cost solution, are not practical because the grade of
without the ability to pass, is a frequent problem (12). Thus, traffic ramps from road to even low-floor trams is higher than that required
interference, as well as curbside stops, contribute to making the King by DDA standards.
streetcar line one of the system’s slowest and most unreliable routes. Overall, platforms appear to be a less expensive and more effec-
The experience of the King streetcar line is extreme, but in many tive solution. However, platforms are not always feasible. Curbside
ways typical. All streetcar lines experience these problems to some platforms are feasible only if tracks are next to the curb. With center
degree, and as ridership and congestion continue to rise in the down- lane operations, platforms are possible only if roads are narrowed to
town core, they can be expected only to increase in magnitude. The a single lane using a curb extension, or bulb. This reduces road widths
King streetcar line also demonstrates another difficulty shared by many to a single lane in both directions, which limits road capacity for
downtown routes: the width of the existing roadway and presence other road users considerably. There is a single example of this type
of buildings at the curb line make provision of a dedicated ROW of stop, called a curb access stop. It has been introduced as part of
impractical at this point. Although options such as a pedestrian mall the Box Hill Tram Extension on Whitehorse Road.
have been discussed, for the foreseeable future, the King streetcar For wide roads at high traffic volumes, a platform could be designed
will be operating in mixed traffic on a busy roadway. either as a set of side platforms or an island platform in the center of
As in Melbourne, Toronto’s problems with streetcars are probably the road (termed “super stops” in Melbourne). In both cases, road
at least partially attributable to the short distance between stops. The traffic surrounds the platforms and passengers must cross traffic lanes
average spacing between stops in Toronto is 250 m (820 ft), but there
are no efforts currently to reduce the number of stops.
A final challenge of on-street running is the difficulty of banning
traffic from streetcar route segments where turning traffic prohibitions
and exclusive transit lanes are in place. It is noteworthy that extensive
enforcement initiatives have been attempted along the King streetcar
line, but they failed to lead to significant and lasting improvements
in compliance rates.

Universal Access

Melbourne

The 1992 Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) requires


that, within 20 years, all public transport be made fully accessible
for persons with disability. Trams in Melbourne have been given a FIGURE 2 Typical Melbourne curbside tram stop, not fully
special dispensation under the act (13), which extends the period by accessible even with low-floor tram.
Currie and Shalaby 35

to access and egress services. These options are not always feasible platforms will have the platforms retrofitted, if required, to adjust
where road widths are confined. Around 20 of these stops have been the height and width to allow for level boarding and alighting of
developed in Melbourne, mostly side platforms in the center of the low-floor vehicles. In addition, all new streetcar facilities are built to
road within the Melbourne CBD. accommodate low-floor vehicles. For example, the dedicated ROW
An innovation is the easy access stop being tested in Danks Street, reconstructed along St. Clair Avenue has platform stops that conform
Port Melbourne (3). The design incorporates a speed hump in the to accessibility standards.
curbside lane which also acts as a level entry platform to a center Although low-floor streetcars and continuing efforts to increase
road operating tram. Tram tracks are not raised, and traffic is excluded the proportion of dedicated ROWs and platform stops will increase
from the center lane. This solution has proven successful in the system accessibility, these efforts alone would still leave large portions
Danks Street application but still reduces road widths to a single of the system out of the reach of Torontonians with disabilities. As
lane, effectively providing a solution with similar performance to in Melbourne, the issue of accessibility at curbside stops needs to be
that of the curb extension or bulb option. addressed. Ultimately, even under the most optimistic prediction of
While solutions are still under development the stark fact is that Toronto’s transit future, including dedicated ROWs and pedestrian
1,200 curbside stops remain inaccessible. Only a handful of solutions, streets, curbside stops will still constitute a large portion of the street-
fewer than 30 in total, have been found in the first 4 years of the car system for the foreseeable future. Therefore, as in Melbourne,
30-year accessibility program. This leaves more than 1,100, or more there is a need to provide access along these corridors.
than 40 a year, to complete in the next 26 years. TTC is currently assessing various options to make the new street-
The vast majority of curbside stops are in roads where super stops cars accessible at curbside stops, probably through the use of ramps.
are not feasible due to road width constraints. Curb extensions (or This is the only solution with a realistic chance of opening up the
easy access stops) are probably feasible in most cases. However, if entire streetcar system to use by all. No design has yet been selected,
implemented, the implication is that the majority of Melbourne’s but the addition of ramps will not be the only modification. Toronto’s
inner urban CBD access roads would be narrowed to a single lane streetcar system presents numerous challenges that will make cus-
in each direction at more than 1,000 locations. These roads represent tom design a necessity: an atypical track gauge (4 ft, 10-7⁄8 in.), tight
the most congested parts of the road network. Impacts on congestion curves, and steep slopes mean that no off-the-shelf design will work
and accessibility would be considerable. These difficulties are com- for TTC.
pounded by the likely need to remove local parking in busy shop-
ping strips so that these trams stops, which are wider than traditional
stops, can be provided. Local resistance to such measures has been POLICY INITIATIVES
high, as will be discussed.
Overall, this leaves Melbourne with a difficult problem in achieving Melbourne
full accessibility. It must narrow its busiest inner urban streets to a sin-
Think Tram
gle lane in each direction or replace trams with a more accessible alter-
native. Curbside track relocation is not feasible given the size of The main tram policy initiative in Melbourne is called Think Tram.
conversion required [more than 167 km (104 mi)], considerable cost This is a AU$ 30 million (US$ 23 million) joint program between
involved, and considerable removal of curbside parking. Although con- the Victorian Department of Infrastructure, VicRoads (the road
version of the system to bus is a feasible and cost-effective option, there management authority), and Yarra Trams aimed at improving tram
is little interest in this option due to the popularity of trams in Mel- travel times, reliability, and safety along the busiest parts of
bourne, regardless of their performance. Policy initiatives have there- Melbourne’s tram network. The program includes a package of
fore been examined to find ways of improving existing tram service. on-road infrastructure developments and deployment of new tech-
nology to improve traffic flow. The program focuses on eight prior-
Toronto ity routes through Melbourne’s CBD and on major approaches to the
CBD, including many of Melbourne’s shopping strips. The first
Streetcar accessibility is also a challenge in Toronto. In 2005, the phase of the program finishes in 2006 although it has recently been
province of Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with extended to 2010 with an additional investment of AU$ 47.3 mil-
Disability Act (AODA), which updated and enhanced the Ontarians lion (US$ 36 million) plus some AU$ 500 million (US$ 384 million)
with Disability Act of 2001. The AODA mandates that all public for 100 new low-floor trams. To date, the elements of the program
transit must be universally accessible by 2025. In 2003, TTC issued fall into three main categories (10):
the first Accessible Transit Services Plan (16). This document,
updated annually, details efforts to provide universal access to the • Priority—including traffic signal priority to ensure trams are
transit system. Streetcars operated by TTC are included in the plan. given priority over road traffic where possible;
As in Melbourne, the streetcar system has been identified as the most • Separation—installing physical barriers using kerbing or raised
difficult component of the transit system in which to provide access tram tracks to prevent road traffic encroaching on to tracks; and
for persons with disabilities. • Tram stops—installing platform stops to reduce passenger
Numerous efforts have been undertaken recently to plan for com- loading times, facilitate access, and improve safety. Optimization of
pliance with the timeframe set by the AODA. As with the situation in stop location is also included in this category.
Melbourne, it was deemed too expensive and operationally inefficient
to outfit the existing streetcar fleet with lifts, at the cost, per lift device, The stated target of Think Tram is to reduce tram journey times by
of approximately AU$ 90,000 (US$ 70,000) (17 ). (The price was 25% (18). Initiatives undertaken in the program include the following:
computed for 2006 values at the current rate of 1.3.). Instead, TTC
is currently proceeding to procure new accessible low-floor streetcars • Greater priority at intersections,
that are expected to be acquired starting in 2010. Existing stops with • Traffic turning bans in front of trams,
36 Transportation Research Record 2006

• New hook turns introduced for the first time outside the CBD, and new platform stops plus the curb access stop in Whitehorse Road have
• A series of tram curbing measures aimed at segregating the also been provided. However, these are new stops, not a replacement
tram ROW from traffic. of existing curbside stops, which is the major challenge for the system.
There are likely to be travel time and reliability improvements
Think Tram is yet to be completed. However, generally it has had resulting from the program, and at least some tram stops have been
mixed performance compared with its stated objectives. Although a removed. However, public reporting on the impacts of the project
target of 25% improvement in tram travel time was set, it is clear on tram performance has been limited so little is known about the
that improvements have not been of this order. The only published outcome of the project, which is continuing. Clearly, only a handful
improvements to date have been around 5% on Route 19 associated of stops have been made accessible, and although the program has
with the Sydney Road corridor (10). been running since 2001, it has taken 5 years of consultation to achieve
A far more comprehensive set of measures was tested in Clarendon the outcomes on this route so far. Significantly, two large sections of
Street, including the use of new hook turns, claiming of road space for the route remain to be implemented. The rollout of the consultation
future provision of platform stops that have a curb extension model, program in the city of Yarra has yet to commence (18).
right-turn bans, and separation curbing. Several tram stops were It is difficult to comment on the performance of the Route 109
relocated from the approach to the departure side of intersections to project, given the lack of publicly available performance impact data.
facilitate signal priority. This package of measures met significant However, it is clear that adoption of a consultative approach to
resistance from local traders who successfully campaigned to remove making changes to tram infrastructure is a time-consuming activity.
most of these initiatives. Traders suggested that removing parking In 5 years the program has not completed upgrades to a single route,
was reducing trade and that traffic measures were unsafe and caused with another 24 major tram routes to address. What is clear is that
congestion. The trial evaluation showed only modest tram travel the program has not found an answer to the accessibility question.
time improvements, between 15 and 45 s (19). Significant negative Again, only a handful of stops have been converted. The current
feedback on the trial was found in consultations. The tram stop mea- timetable (March 7) shows only 12 (48%) of the 25 stops on Route 109
sures were effectively removed from the program because the trial to be accessible.
had not sufficiently met its objective of improving tram performance
and reliability. Parking removed by the trial tram stops was replaced,
and preexisting curbside stops returned. The trial was not a complete
Toronto
failure, though. Tram priority measures, including hook turns, have
been retained. Dedicated Right-of-Way
The experience of the Clarendon Street trial has led to a more con-
sultative approach being taken. Performance has been weak to date, The City of Toronto and TTC have identified the separation of car
as shown by the following results: traffic and streetcars by means of dedicated, physically separated
ROW as a priority (20). Benefits of this type of operation are clear.
• Relatively minor improvements in travel time have been gener- It is the only mode of operation that realistically “gives streetcars the
ated (on the order of 5%). They affect only a small proportion of routes. speed, safety and time advantage necessary to compete effectively
Systemwide data suggest that tram speeds have declined by 8% in with the automobile and shift commuters to transit” (11).
4 years. This suggests the program is playing catch up as opposed to The most important dedicated ROW construction completed thus
improving base performance. It is likely that reliability improvements far is the 510 Spadina line, which opened to traffic in 1997 (Figure 3).
have been of a similar order. Previously, this line, extending south from Spadina Station to Queen’s
• Fewer than 10 platform stops have been provided in on street Quay, had been operated as a bus route. The results of this conversion
sections. Although they are in the CBD, a major traffic generator have been positive. Since implementation of the new line, ridership
and hence an important part of the system to convert, more than along Spadina has grown from 26,350 passengers per day in July 1997
1,100 curbside stops in the system remain to be converted for DDA to 35,730 in April 2004, according to the most recent statistics (21).
access. From this perspective, the program is a drop in the ocean. Data also demonstrate increased line capacity through use of fewer
• The program has shown some success at reducing the number of
vehicles and increased average speed, and consequently less time to
tram stops. However, fewer than 10 have been removed. If European
stop spacing is to be achieved, more than 500 stops would have to
be removed.

Route 109 Project

The Route 109 project is a related and older Melbourne tram improve-
ment initiative. This is a premium route strategy in which planning
and design activity is concentrated on a single service to scope out
what is possible for performance improvement.
The 109 project is highly consultative, including a comprehensive
program of public meetings and surveys. The program is based on a
consensus approach that is used to select measures for implementation.
As part of this initiative, new low-floor trams are deployed on the route.
The Box Hill tram extension and infrastructure improvement works
have been provided. At least four existing stops have been replaced
with super stops (three of them are within the Melbourne CBD). Three FIGURE 3 Toronto Spadina line right-of-way.
Currie and Shalaby 37

travel the route. In addition, evidence points to improved reliability rently, 58 intersections along major surface transit routes remain
of service and a reduced need for short turning. without TSP.
There are also other, less quantifiable benefits that have been Issues exist with implementation of TSP. In some instances, the
identified on the Spadina line. A survey of businesses after opening city of Toronto has rejected implementation of the technology because
revealed that streetcar volumes were too low, or operating conditions made its
use difficult. Some of the intersections without TSP are located at
• 36% thought business was better, important components of the system, for example, along the dedi-
• 50% believed there was no change, and cated ROW at Queensway/Lakeshore, on Kingston Road, and along
• 14% thought business was worse (11). a significant portion of the new line on Spadina. In addition, some
transit signal algorithms were restricted by city staff, rendering them
Given that opposition from businesses can be a significant obstacle less effective. Ongoing efforts currently address these problems.
to new construction, these results are significant. The opening of the For example, TTC is currently designing a new TSP algorithm for
Spadina line also sent a message to the people of Toronto that the city the Spadina line, and applications are being filed to remove existing
was serious about retaining and modernizing its system of streetcars. TSP restrictions at some intersections.
To some extent, the Spadina line policy is an example of a premium Benefits of TSP on streetcar performance are significant. In regard
service strategy as adopted for Route 109 in Melbourne. It acts to focus to the 504 King Street line, a study revealed that the current TSP
strategy, operations, design, and investment, as well as media and system reduced the round-trip cycle time by 11%, increased transit
public opinion on a single route to identify what can be achieved with speed, and reduced headway variability, among other benefits (23).
a systemwide problem. In addition, there have been other locations TTC performance data show an average delay reduction of 6 to 8 s
where the city of Toronto has planned or is currently constructing per intersection approach, as well as a small reduction in travel time
dedicated ROWs for streetcars. The most significant ROW currently variability.
under construction is the St. Clair Avenue line. The combination of a left-turn ban at intersections equipped with
The St. Clair line extends approximately 7 km (4.4 mi) along TSP suggests a synergistic effect (23). Modeling and experimental
St. Clair West Avenue, from Yonge Street to Gunns Road, and it will evidence points to transit vehicles frequently being stuck behind
be completed in 2007. The line will feature a dedicated ROW in the turning traffic, essentially wasting the effect of the extended green.
center of the street, alongside two lanes of traffic in either direction. Traffic turn bans in conjunction with TSP further decreased round
Tracks will be on a segregated portion of the road, elevated by 153 mm trip cycle time by 13%, increased speed, and increased headway
(6 in.) relative to car traffic. During peak hours, no parking will be reliability (23). However, implementation of left-turn bans, like traf-
allowed to provide two lanes of traffic in each direction. During fic prohibition from transit tracks in general, suffers the same prob-
off-peak hours, on-street parking will be available. The 153-mm lems as enforcement does. Perhaps the hook-turn model operated in
(6-in.) elevation was chosen because it is pronounced enough to sep- Melbourne could generate benefits of this kind in Toronto.
arate the streetcars from the traffic, but it permits use by emergency
vehicles. Improvements will also include 13 new platform stations
on the far side of intersections. Multiple-Unit Operation
Despite these improvements and willingness of the city of Toronto
to explore ROW construction, there are numerous streetcar lines where Maintaining uniform spacing between streetcars is of paramount
it is currently unfeasible or even impossible to construct dedicated importance to the operation of high-frequency transit routes and can
ROWs. Several of these routes, for example, the 504 King streetcar, be assisted using a multiple-unit operation (MUO) strategy. It involves
are approaching the practical capacity limit for mixed traffic operation enhancing vehicle capacity by coupling two streetcars while doubling
(22). Many of these streets have been designated for further growth the headway between streetcars to maintain capacity. This should
and development in the city of Toronto’s official plan. Therefore, reduce the effects of service disruptions on shorter headway trams
congestion and demand can be expected only to grow in the future and should reduce bunching by providing a time cushion between
(22). More radical solutions, such as the conversion of King into a successive streetcars. It should also help to absorb small variations
pedestrian and transit mall, have been proposed, although none have in headways, leading to more stable service.
been adopted by the city (22). Therefore, plans for increasing speed The primary benefit of MUO is to lower headway variability,
and reliability of streetcars operating in mixed traffic must be devel- although simulation tests have shown that route speeds also improve
oped to help maintain and increase ridership in the Toronto core. (12). This is the result of many factors, including the reduced impact
Several such strategies have been identified. The most important of of fewer streetcars on traffic speed. In addition, simulation tests
those in the Toronto context are discussed as follows. have shown MUO to increase the effectiveness of TSP, indicat-
ing the benefits of implementing a so-called bundle of strategies to
improve streetcar performance.
Transit-Signal Priority The 504 King Street streetcar is a prime candidate for MUO due
to its short headways. Microsimulation studies have suggested MUO
A substantial portion of streetcar delays occur at intersections. Street- benefits on the King Street streetcar as well as on the St. Clair Avenue
car performance can be improved by reducing traffic signal delays West line. This is significant because the two lines demonstrate
using transit-signal priority (TSP) by either the extension or quick markedly different characteristics: King operates in mixed traffic
restoration of the green phase, to improve the running time of transit and has the highest ridership of the streetcar system whereas the
vehicles. A TSP implementation program is under way in Toronto. St. Clair line operates on a dedicated ROW with fewer passengers.
Some 160 intersections on transit lines have been equipped with This benefit across lines with different operating characteristics points
TSP. Every year, one new route is equipped with TSP, as well as to the robustness of the measure.
several other “infill” intersections along other transit corridors with The only drawback to MUO is that the doubling of headways can
typically 30 to 40 new intersections being equipped annually. Cur- sometimes create unsuitably long waits. For example, the St. Clair
38 Transportation Research Record 2006

Avenue streetcar currently operates at a peak-hour headway of 3 min POLICY ASSESSMENT


45 s. Doubling this headway during peak periods could create an
unacceptably long headway for a major transit corridor. Table 3 presents a synthesis of the policy approach and operational
To enable MUO, TTC is currently building coupling capabilities in strategies attempted in Melbourne and Toronto. There are opportu-
its entire streetcar fleet, under the vehicle rebuild engineering program. nities for both systems to benefit from the lessons learned by their
partners. First, hook-turn provisions and some of the innovative
tram stop designs in Melbourne could be tested in Toronto. Second,
Proof of Payment increased streetcar capacity (via articulated vehicles or multiple unit
trains) as a strategy to manage bunching is an approach considered
The purpose of a proof-of-payment (POP) fare system is to reduce in Toronto but not fully appreciated in Melbourne.
vehicle dwell time at stops. Passengers boarding with valid POP Both systems view route segregation as the single most success-
(i.e., transit pass, paper transfer) can board through any of the doors ful strategy to apply to solve the problems of streetcar operations.
of the vehicle. Passengers entering through the front door and paying However, both also recognize the considerable community and
a fare also receive a paper POP. This differs from the system currently trader constraints associated with the reductions in curbside park-
used on the majority of Toronto streetcars, pay on entry, in which each ing implied by these measures. A consultative approach has been
passenger must enter through the front door and either show a valid followed in both cases. However, achieving consensus has proven
pass or transfer or pay a fare (exact change, ticket, or token). The pri- difficult. In Melbourne investment, and government commitment is
mary advantage of the POP system is that all doors can be used for high. However, community resistance is holding back any significant
boarding, thereby further reducing dwell times and the corresponding progress.
streetcar speeds. This system is currently in use on the Queen Street TSP is a new technology solution that has proven beneficial in
streetcar. both cities. However, achieving a high share of green time has been
A microsimulation-based study of the King Street and St. Clair difficult due to congested traffic and reticence of road authorities to
streetcar lines indicated that POP not only improves streetcar speed limit traffic capacity in these conditions. Both systems are developing
but also has potential to reduce headway variability, thus enhanc- new technologies to optimize signal priority to get the most out of
ing service reliability (24). The benefits of POP extended, like these technologies.
MUO, across both the King and St. Clair line, pointing to its effec- Toronto is still developing its approach to universal access and is
tiveness with varying streetcar operating characteristics. heavily constrained by funding uncertainties that have limited fleet
Despite being a low-cost measure with proven benefits, the use replacement. Nevertheless, their strategy is not unlike the Melbourne
of POP has been limited in Toronto to the Queen Streetcar only. approach, although there is consideration of access ramps (however,
However, TTC will likely implement POP at other streetcar routes this has not been fully committed).
with the acquisition of new streetcars, because the European models Ramps are still an option in Melbourne, though strategies have
being considered do not accommodate fare collection. targeted platform stops and the easier to convert locations so as to

TABLE 3 Synthesis of Policy and Operations Strategies: Melbourne and Toronto Streetcar Systems

Approach Aims Outcomes

Hook turn Removes turning traffic from in front of streetcars. Successful in Melbourne. Not tried in other operations.
No delay ticketing Vehicles not delayed during boarding. Successful in both Melbourne and Toronto. Being considered for full
introduction in Toronto.
Premium route Concentration of strategy, planning, resources, and Successful in both cities; Route 109 in Melbourne, Spadina in
strategies investment on a single premium route to test out and Toronto. Consultative approach can be frustrating as it takes a long
demonstrate good planning before systemwide rollout. time to achieve results.
Route segregation Separation of tram right-of-way from traffic including Very successful for tram operations; however, difficult to achieve in
use of raised track beds, tram curbing. practice. Trader and some local resident reluctance to remove
parking is a major issue to be tackled.
Traffic signal Provide priority at signalized intersections. In operation in Melbourne for 20–30 years and being rolled out in
priority Toronto. Has proven successful in improving operation but has
limited benefits in congested traffic conditions.
Increase streetcar Use larger vehicles or multiple-unit trains to ensure less This is being followed with the articulated streetcars and proposed
capacity buildup of demand when services are unreliable and to multiple-unit approach in Toronto and also with the use of the
even out headways to avoid bunching. 5000 series of Combino trams in Melbourne. Noted as successful
in Toronto; evidence in Melbourne is unclear where the wider
benefits of larger vehicles were not considered in this context.
Low-floor trams Adopt a fleet with low floor to assist in universal access. This has been successful in Melbourne and is an approach being
planned for Toronto. However it does not solve the disability
access standards (in Australia) since steps are still required.
Platform stop Introduce platform stops to improve safety and provide Successful in both cities but not a solution for narrow roads in busy
approach universal access to low-floor trams. streets.
Curb extensions and Remove pedestrian walking in front of traffic and provide Limited success in Melbourne. Yet to be tried in Toronto. Not likely
easy access stop universal access with curbside platform stops. to be a complete solution in most environments due to parking and
road capacity reductions.
Currie and Shalaby 39

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