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Toronto's new streetcars were on display at the TTC's Hillcrest complex in Toronto , Ontario Tuesday, July 23, 2013. The new streetcars will accommodate 70 passengers seated and 181 standing and will feature low-floor access for easier entry, a deployable wheel-chair ramp when required and an area for bicycles.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Transit Commission unveiled its new custom-designed, accessible and – best of all – air-conditioned streetcars for a media tour Tuesday.

The TTC will start rolling out the new vehicles in mid-2014, beginning with the 510 Spadina line and followed by the Dundas and Bathurst lines later that year.

At almost 100 feet long, the new streetcars are twice the length of the current cars and will have room for up to 251 passengers. They are equipped with four doors, all of which can open at every stop: a convenience for transit-riders but a potential hinderance for motorists attempting to pass the massive vehicles.

Mayor Rob Ford, a vocal opponent of streetcars, attended a separate event on the other side of downtown while the TTC showed off the new vehicles on Bathurst Street. Mr. Ford announced a pilot project to paint city curbs red to better indicate no-parking zones to motorists.

The fleet of 204 streetcars will replace the 247 aging vehicles currently on routes.

"But we will reach our ridership capacity within the next 10 years and we will need to order more," said Brad Ross, spokesman for the TTC.

The streetcars will cost $1.2-billion; the province will cover a third of the bill while the TTC foots the rest of the tab. Each streetcar works out to about $6-million. An additional $800-million is required for upgrades to the infrastructure, including a new overhead wire system, curb cutting to make stops more accessible and a new car house at Leslie Street and Lake Shore Boulevard.

One feature of the streetcars is a ramp system, similar to the one used by TTC buses, making them the city's first wheelchair-accessible streetcars. They're also lower to the ground, eliminating the stairs.

In the new cars, the stop-request pull cords are replaced with buttons staggered throughout the car and door-opening request buttons are available on the outside of the cars – a move that could potentially cause delays as passengers racing to make the streetcar gain control of the doors. Ramp-request buttons are also available for passengers with restricted mobility.

The new streetcars – which were custom-designed for Toronto by Bombardier Inc. – will run on a proof-of-purchase system and, eventually, a Presto pass system. This will allow the operator, who is seated in a separated booth, to focus on driving rather than collecting fares.

"The operator is now an operator," Mark Knackstedt, the training co-ordinator for the new cars, said.

"They're concentrating on what the operator really should be doing all the time, which is operating the vehicle effectively and watching traffic. Traffic is a challenge in Toronto."

Mr. Knackstedt said the proof of purchase system would be monitored through random checks by TTC employees, similar to how passengers entering at the back of the vehicle are treated now.

About 20 operators have already begun training on the new vehicles. They're required to complete five days in a simulation module before they begin on-road training.

One of the bigger changes for the drivers is a shift from foot-pedal to manual controls as well as adjusting to the added length of the vehicles, according to Stephen Lam, TTC's chief rail vehicle engineer.

"You need to know the placement of the pole at the back end when you go into the curves of the track. That's where I would say the most challenging situation is."

The high-tech controls sense when the driver's hand is on the throttle and use multiple camera systems to give the operator a 360-degree view of the inside and outside of the car.

The air-conditioned cars are an added perk that requires additional power, part of the motivation for the new wiring system. Only a few slender emergency windows open, meaning if air conditioning failed, the 251 passengers could be in for a sticky ride.

While the new streetcars will require some infrastructure upgrades, the construction that will close intersection of King Street West and Spadina Avenue from August 6 to 31 is not related to new cars but part of a scheduled upgrade of tracks.

How do the new streetcars stack up to the old vehicles?

Number of seats:

Old 46

New 70

Standing room capacity:

Old 86 people

New 181 people

Total passenger capacity:

Old 132

New 251


Old 15.22 m long, 2.54 m wide, 3.62 m tall

New 30.20 m long, 2.54 m wide, 3.84 m tall

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