Transportation Deployment Casebook/2022/Ontario

Introduction to StreetcarsEdit

Technological CharacteristicsEdit

The streetcar is a light rail transit vehicle running on a fixed track on the road, which is usually operated in single units and driven by electricity.[1][2] The low rolling resistance of the steel wheel on the rail and the simple guiding mechanism make the streetcar more comfortable and efficient, which has a strong attraction in the application of urban transportation.[3][2] The early streetcar began to operate in Canada with horse and steam as power, but it was eliminated due to insufficient power and polluting the urban environment.[2] With the maturity of power technology, streetcars obtain electric energy through pantographs or contact shoes and drive them through electric motors.[4]


  • Compared with cars, carriages and walking, streetcars run on steel rails with lower rolling resistance, higher energy efficiency and more stable driving.[3]
  • Compared with cars, streetcars have a greater passenger capacity.
  • Electric streetcars are driven by electricity, which has no exhaust emission and is more environmentally friendly.
  • Compared with buses, due to the larger passenger capacity, the labor cost per passenger of the streetcar is lower.
  • Compared with the subway, the investment cost of the streetcar is lower.

Main MarketsEdit

The streetcar market is mainly passenger transport market, originated in Europe, and has large markets in Asia, America and Oceania.[1] At the same time, with the development of electrified streetcars, the market of streetcars is not limited to the city center, and the suburbs have also become the market of streetcars.[5]


Transportation mode before the streetcarEdit

Before the birth of the streetcar, carriage and water transportation were the main means of transportation.[6] The carriage has some limitations, such as low passenger capacity, slow speed, low comfort, limited running time, and environmental pollution of the street (dung). Water transportation is greatly limited by natural conditions and cannot be applied to inland cities. Due to the limitations of low Passenger capacity and poor comfort of carriage, the streetcar powered by horse was born. Due to the use of steel rail, the driving resistance can be reduced, the passenger capacity can be increased, and the vehicle can travel faster and more smoothly. However, the streetcar powered by horses still has the limitations of polluting the street environment and limited operation time, so the steam driven streetcar was born. In 1875, due to the increase of transportation demand and the limitation of insufficient power of steam streetcar, the electric streetcar was born. The electric streetcar is driven by the electric motor, which improves the power, and can go to further areas by laying wires, which also expands the market scope of the streetcar.[3]

Invention of the StreetcarEdit

Horse-drawn streetcarEdit

The horse drawn streetcar is the first important improvement to the carriage. Horse drawn streetcars are also pulled by horses, but the wheels of the vehicle are made of steel and roll along special rails placed in the road. The low rolling resistance of steel wheels on steel rails, plus the simple guidance mechanism offered by flanges, can not only improve comfort but also increase passenger capacity. [5]

Steam streetcarEdit

With the birth of the steam engine, the steam streetcar gradually replaced the horse drawn streetcar. The steam streetcar uses the steam engine as the power source, pushes the piston through the steam pressure, and then rotates the wheel through the connecting rod device, which largely solves the shortcomings of the Horse-drawn streetcar polluting the street environment and limited operation time.[7] However, there are still some defects, such as insufficient power, low passenger capacity, air pollution.

Electric streetcarEdit

With the invention of the electric motor and the popularization of power grid in cities, the electric streetcar was invented in 1875. Electric streetcars are driven by motors, usually powered by pantographs on overhead lines, and in some cases by contact shoes on the third guide rail.[4] Due to its strong driving force, large passenger capacity and low operating cost, electric streetcar has largely replaced other forms of power in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Birthing phaseEdit

Early Market DevelopmentEdit

The first streetcar in Ontario was born in Toronto in 1861.[6] At first, the streetcar market was aimed mainly at passenger transportation in the city center. Due to the high price and the limitations of Horse-drawn streetcar, it was unable to provide services for all residents of the whole city. Until 1894, 12 cities in Ontario operated streetcars with a total length of 194.41 miles. At this time, there were both horse-drawn streetcars and electric streetcars in the streetcar market. The emergence of electric streetcars has gradually reduced the price of streetcar tickets and expanded the scope of streetcar services. The streetcar market has gradually expanded, and more residents in the city center and suburbs can enjoy streetcar services. The rise of electric streetcars makes streetcars the main mode of transportation in cities, provides a new way of life for residents, and also provides the accessibility of urban transportation under the condition of allowing low-density housing.[3]

Policy in the 'Birth Phase'Edit

With the growth of urban population, the carriage service in Ontario is very popular. Compared with the walking, carriage service is more comfortable and faster. A carriage can accommodate nearly 10 passengers. The operation of the carriage is mostly self-employed.[4] And the popularity of the carriage proved the feasibility of urban public transport to the City Council and various commercial interest organizations. However, in 1861, with the birth of Horse-drawn streetcar, an enterprise group composed of local business owners in Toronto built the first streetcar in Ontario and obtained the franchise of streetcar from the government.[8] Although the carriage service tries to compete with the new service, because the enterprise group has stronger financial resources, Greater passenger capacity and policy support, the streetcar service operated by the enterprise gradually replaces the self-employed carriage service. At the birth stage of streetcar, the government's promulgation of franchise right not only protects the operating income of streetcar company, but also avoids the vicious competition between many enterprises and individual merchants entering the streetcar field.

Growth PhaseEdit

Private Sector ContributionEdit

The private sector has played an important role in the rapid development of streetcars in Ontario. As the main means of transportation in the city at that time, the streetcar was considered a profitable industry by the private sector. According to the requirements of the franchise agreement, the private sector raised a lot of funds to start the construction of the streetcar, which laid the foundation for the expansion of the scale of the streetcar market.[4] However, the greed of the private sector for profits prevents the healthy development of streetcar in Ontario. The routes of each company have different fares, different schedules and different operation modes, which are difficult to give full play to the maximum efficiency.[4][8]

Public Sector ContributionEdit

The public sector has played a role in controlling and standardizing the development of the streetcar industry. The public sector needs to issue franchise license agreements for enterprises to operate streetcar business.[8] The franchise license agreement will require the maximum ticket price, operation scope and operation period.[8] Under the supervision of the public sector, more people can afford the ticket price and expand the audience of the streetcar market.

Policy IssuesEdit

Although the franchise license agreement issued by the public sector can curb high ticket prices, it limits the profitability of enterprises. The construction of electric streetcars requires a lot of investment, and the lower ticket price limit makes it difficult for enterprises to make profits. In addition, the policy does not clearly indicate how the city obtains the control right and how entrepreneurs transfer the management right after the franchise right expires. This has also led to many legal problems. Due to the inability to make profits and many legal problems, the Toronto municipal government made an attempt to public ownership of streetcars in 1891.[4] However, due to the increased financial risk of streetcars, the Toronto railway company obtained a new franchise after the municipal government operated the streetcars for eight months.[4]

Mature PhaseEdit

After 1920, the development of streetcar in Ontario gradually became stable and mature. By 1920, 25 cities in Ontario had 1083.526 miles of streetcar lines. Due to the price restrictions imposed by the lock-in policy, it is difficult for the streetcar to make a profit.[6] Private investors lost interest in the investment in the streetcar and the growth of the streetcar began to slow down. At the same time, with the expiration of enterprise franchise rights, many streetcar companies have merged to achieve economies of scale, optimize resource allocation and save operating costs.[6] The streetcar market in Ontario cities has gradually changed from multiple competition to one dominance. However, with the birth of buses, buses are regarded a strong competitor to streetcars. The cost of bus purchase is low and the flexibility is high. The cost of buying a set of buses is less than repairing aging tracks. Therefore, when the great depression in the 1930s accelerated the withdrawal of streetcars from the transportation market, some cities in Ontario, such as Windsor, finally cancelled the operation of streetcars one after another because they could not maintain the maintenance cost of streetcars.[9]

Opportunity to “Re-invent” the modeEdit

Although the traditional streetcar has gradually disappeared, the modern streetcar (light rail) which is more suitable for today and the future has been used and planned by various cities in Ontario. Compared with traditional streetcars, the light rail can run at a faster speed and higher passenger capacity, and has exclusive right of way, which should not interfere with vehicles.[10] With the gradual growth of the urban population, light rail can better meet the needs of the transportation market. In addition, to better meet the urban transportation market, trolleybus has also been invented. Compared to streetcars, trolleybuses have the advantages of low starting cost, strong climbing ability, avoiding traffic congestion and strong flexibility. In addition, although it is difficult for tram operators to obtain large profits by charging ticket prices, tram operators can obtain higher profits by changing their business model, such as participating in real estate development around tram lines and earning income through real estate appreciation.

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

The data collected in "McGraw electric railway manual - the red book of American street railway investment " was used to fit the track lengths of Ontario's streetcars from 1894 to 1920 to determine the three stages of development of the streetcar: birth, growth, and maturity. The three-parameter function fitted to the data is:



  •   is the status measure (e.g. Passenger-km traveled)
  •   is time (years)
  •   is the inflection time (year in which  is achieved)
  •   is the saturation status level
  •   is a coefficient

Due to the limited time available for the data used, estimation using Ordinary Least Squares Regression is required for K and b. The coefficients were estimated using the following formula:






Ontario model results
Variable Description Value
  Saturation Status Level 1500
  Coefficient 0.11448
  R-squared 0.93059
  Inflection Time 1910

The prediction has a good fit. The total mileage of all systems shows a clear growth and maturity life cycle phase. However, due to the short study period, there are no clear signs of decline. The growth phase in Ontario was approximately 1894 to 1910. The maturity phase entered after 1910, and the birth and decline phase was beyond the time frame measured.


Ottawa model results
Variable Description Value
  Saturation Status Level 65
  Coefficient 0.07786
  R-squared 0.85452
  Inflection Time 1898

The prediction has a good fit. Ottawa went through the birth stage very early. It showed a clear growth and maturity life cycle phase between 1894 and 1920. However, due to the short study period, there are no obvious signs of decline. Ottawa's growth phase was from about 1894 to 1898. After 1898 it entered the maturity phase until it reached 65 miles to reach saturation.


Toronto model results
Variable Description Value
  Saturation Status Level 500
  Coefficient 0.08656
  R-squared 0.90300
  Inflection Time 1913

The prediction has a good fit. Toronto went through a birth phase very early. It showed a clear growth and maturity life cycle phase between 1894 and 1920. However, due to the short study period, there are no clear signs of birth and decline. The growth phase for Toronto was approximately 1894 to 1913. After 1913 it entered the maturity phase until it reached 500 miles to reach saturation. The decline phase exceeds the measured time frame and there are no clear signs of decline in the graph.


London model results
Variable Description Value
  Saturation Status Level 185
  Coefficient 0.08958
  R-squared 0.87876
  Inflection Time 1919

The prediction has a good fit. It showed a clear growth and maturity life cycle phase between 1894 and 1920. However, due to the short study period, there are no clear signs of birth and decline. The growth phase for London was approximately 1894 to 1919. After 1919 it entered the maturity phase until it reached 185 miles to reach saturation. The decline phase exceeds the measured time frame and there are no clear signs of decline in the graph.


Hamilton model results
Variable Description Value
  Saturation Status Level 2000
  Coefficient 0.06491
  R-squared 0.57183
  Inflection Time 1950

The possible reason for the lack of good fit of this prediction is due to the rapid decline of the Hamilton streetcar in 1912 after rapid growth. The S-curve does not fit this atypical development pattern well.


  1. a b "streetcar | Facts, History, & Development |". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 13 March 2022. 
  2. a b c "Key challenges in tram/streetcar driving from the tram driver’s perspective – A qualitative study". Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour 49: 39–48. 1 August 2017. doi:10.1016/j.trf.2017.06.003. ISSN 1369-8478. 
  3. a b c d "Streetcars". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2022. 
  4. a b c d e f g Toronto Sprawls: A History. University of Toronto Press. 14 January 2019. doi:10.3138/9781442685062. ISBN 978-1-4426-8506-2. 
  5. a b "Streetcar projects as spatial planning: A shift in transport planning in the United States". Journal of Transport Geography 54: 383–390. 1 June 2016. doi:10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2016.02.005. ISSN 0966-6923. 
  6. a b c d "MASS TRANSIT AND THE FAILURE OF PRIVATE OWNERSHIP: THE CASE OF TORONTO IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY". Urban History Review / Revue d’histoire urbaine ([Urban History Review, Becker Associates]) 6 (3): 3–33. 1978. doi:10.7202/1019498ar. ISSN 0703-0428. 
  7. "Comparing the Steam Engine With a Horse-Drawn Carriage?". Anesthesia & Analgesia 104 (4): 994–995. April 2007. doi:10.1213/01.ane.0000256081.65451.2c. ISSN 0003-2999. 
  8. a b c d "MASS TRANSIT AND PRIVATE OWNERSHIP: AN ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE ON THE CASE OF TORONTO". Urban History Review ([Urban History Review, Becker Associates]) 7 (3): 60–98. 1979. doi:10.7202/1019407ar. ISSN 0703-0428. 
  9. When Windsor ruled public transit, 2014,, retrieved 13 March 2022 
  10. Light Rail Transit (LRT), Toronto Environmental Alliance,, retrieved 13 March 2022