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Queen West streetcar riders loving replacement buses

Last Updated Jan 24, 2017 at 7:09 pm EDT

Queen Street West has been plagued by construction, including TTC streetcar track repairs, for months, but some area residents are singing the praises of their alternate transit.

Buses have been running on the 501 line since last summer, and while they carry fewer passengers, transit users say they’ve actually improved service.

“Oh my God — It’s amazing! Night and day. They need to get rid of the streetcars for sure,” transit user Angela Griffith told CityNews.

Ameya Deshpande takes the TTC to work every day and says she’s getting to work quicker thanks to the buses.

“It’s actually more convenient at night,” she explained. “As well, the buses are faster than the streetcars.

“Normally, (it) takes me an hour (by) streetcar, but it takes maybe 45 minutes to reach from downtown.”

Riders say the buses come more frequently and the fact that the vehicles can weave in and out of traffic makes their commute a lot easier.

Their reaction isn’t surprising to one transit expert.

“This is the most well-kept secret about public transit — that buses, in fact in many circumstances, perform better than streetcars given the flexibility that they have,” Murtaza Haider, transit expert and associate professor at Ryerson University, explained.

“Streetcars, by default, are fixed-route guided transit systems, so if one streetcar is stuck, all the ones behind it will also be stuck because they can’t overtake it. So, for all sorts of operational efficiencies, in many places buses have been much more proficient and efficient.”

But would the TTC consider ending its bid for more streetcars and return to buses? Spokesperson Stuart Green says no.

“It’s not something that we’re going to start taking away. We’ve got a bunch of new streetcars on order, as you know, and so we’re quite committed to running streetcars,” he said.

According to Green, each new streetcar delivered by Bombardier takes three buses off the road.

“If we were to replace the new streetcars with buses, we’d be having three times as many vehicles on the road, which only adds to congestion, which adds to gridlock,” he said. “It adds to poor air quality, and that’s not something we’re prepared to do.”

It isn’t just the amount of people streetcars move that make them a better choice for downtown streets, according to Green.

Streetcars last a lot longer than a buses do, which means the TTC replaces vehicles less frequently. As well, fewer vehicles are required, which means cheaper operating costs.

Plus there’s the environmental impact.

“The streetcars have no emissions the way a bus would and they actually, in their own rights of way, can reduce congestion quite considerably,” said Green.

The construction on the 501 line — including track replacement on Lake Shore Boulevard and accessible improvements to the Humber Loop — is expected to continue through 2017.