The TTC has spent months trying to winter-proof its aging streetcars, in a maintenance "blitz" aimed at reducing their failure rate when cold weather hits.
Brad Ross, spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission, said it was trying to do more preventive work, rather than tackling failures once they occur. "They've really gone through the entire fleet to get it prepped," he said. "We've done this in the past but not to the degree we're doing it now. This is sort of a blitz that we've done over the summer months to get ready for winter."
The city's fleet of older streetcars can fall victim to the cold that compromises seals meant to keep out moisture. That can damage the pneumatic systems, which affects functioning of the brakes and doors, and the traction system that relies on a form of powdery grit.
With the streetcars playing a key role in the city's transportation patterns – carrying more passengers each day than the entire GO rail network – each failure can inconvenience large numbers of people. Last winter was particularly cold and the streetcars suffered. In January alone, a cumulative total of 203 streetcars were knocked out of service. On about one-quarter of the days that month, at least some of the vehicles failed.
Jess Bell, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group TTC Riders, was pleased to hear about the transit agency's efforts to prepare the streetcars for winter, but argued that the problems with these vehicles were part of a broader issue.
"The issue is, the TTC is not being properly funded," she said. "If it was just the streetcars breaking down, then we could say, look, you need to fix the streetcar problem. But it's not. Every rider knows that, when they get up in the morning and they're going to catch the TTC, they need to give themselves an extra amount of time because breakdowns and delays are becoming so common."
Mr. Ross blamed the streetcars problem in part on the delays getting new vehicles from Bombardier, which has kept some of the oldest of the streetcars in service longer than anticipated. Within weeks the TTC is expected to serve formal notice with the streetcar maker, under the terms of the contract, for the delays and is continuing to tabulate costs for an eventual lawsuit.
The spokesman warned that there was only so much they could do to prevent streetcar problems this winter. "There will still be failures, I'm going to manage that expectation," he said. "But there will be hopefully fewer of them."