Toronto’s new streetcars do much to symbolize the city’s incredible change. Their smartphone-like glossy front and back end match the new tech aesthetic and economy. Street photographers, TikTokers and other marketers love to have them cameo in their content.
The new streetcars were completely called for. They put Toronto on par with most other major cities and are more accessible. But while the old streetcars certainly needed to go, they have qualities that I’ll miss that have no place in the new Toronto. Let me play up the contrast between old and new.
Compare the massive windows of the new streetcars to the old rectangular windows a rider could open and close. In comparison to the new, that functionality is almost touchingly democratic. Remember that time you were on a streetcar, saw a friend, opened the window and yelled at them?
The lighting is more severe in the new streetcars and they have a wide open and washed out feel. In contrast, the old streetcars—if you were on board at the right moment—had a cozier almost den-like vibe complete with woodgrain. The new streetcars can sometimes put riders awkwardly at level and on display next to drivers—a rare event in the elevated old cars.
The harshly lit fishbowl effect of the new streetcars imply a drive toward full transparency but what does that mean in the current context? Increasingly—as a matter of degree, but a significant one—there is a class divide in terms of who actually takes the TTC. Uber, Covid-19 and Toronto’s stark inequality are the triumvirate of causes.
Economic inequality and the housing crisis—most pointedly homelessness—come to bear on everything that’s open to the public or at the street level. The new streetcars superficially match the new Toronto’s aesthetic and aspirations but arrive just as the ridership and rider experience is suffering.
The city’s problems are wide open for all to see.. but you can act like you didn’t see anything—or weren’t seen—thanks to the soft tint of the new streetcar windows.