I’ve had a request from a friend to explain what’s going on at city council right now concerning public transit, and in doing so, I’ve decided that really, the best thing to do is look at the difference between LRTs and subways, and the way that they relate to Toronto.
So, what’s what? Is one really a better deal than the other?
Today: Mode of transportation. LRT and subways. Rather than copy and paste from Wikipedia, I’ll link the titles and summarize the information for you.
Light rail, or light rail transit (LRT) is a step between streetcars and subways. There are several distinctions that make it like that:
- lower capacity and speed than subways, but higher capacity and speed than streetcars and buses.
- usually in its own right-of-way (ROW), like a subway. However, that ROW can be on street level or underground (or above ground, I suppose). The ROW can also cross traffic if conditions dictate (though it’s not ideal)
- the stops for an LRT are spaced further than a streetcar, but closer than a subway. Imagine something like a stop every 800 metres or so.
LRTs are not streetcars. There is a very big distinction between the two, and like or not, Toronto’s current mayor has used the term streetcar to denigrate an LRT plan for the city, when he in fact should be using the term LRT. Perhaps he (and others) can blame the current set-up of the St. Clair streetcar, which was supposed to be more like an LRT, but because of community input and protest, kept many of the stops that were going to be eliminated, meaning that it is quite a bit slower (I live off St. Clair. The stops are about every 300m, which over a distance of 7km, is a big difference).
Phew. Now subways.
Subways are a different beast altogether. They must, with very few exception, run on their own right-of-way that is uninterrupted by other forms of traffic. This is because they are electrified below the train, meaning that the third rail (the electrified one) poses a danger to patrons. Some details about subways:
- they’ve got lots of capacity. Each train (in Toronto) can hold 1500 passengers (plus +10% for the fancy new Toronto Rockets!), which compares to about 300 for the new LRT cars, and under 200 for the current Toronto streetcars.
- they’re fast. Because they don’t have to compete with other methods of transportation, they tend to be the highest speed transit option (even compared to cars in most downtowns).
- they’re expensive, for obvious reasons. As you’ll see below, the cost per kilometre is significantly higher.
So we’ve got expensive, higher-capacity, higher speed vs. cheap(er), but not as fast or spacious. But that’s not the end of it. Depending on the situation, one is definitely better than the other. With that in mind, check back tomorrow for the second part: Toronto’s geographic situation.