Streetcars: New Orleans vs. Toronto

St Charles Streetcar

St Charles Streetcar

I live in Toronto and rely on transit to get around – specifically, the Toronto Transit Commission. Buses, subways and streetcars. So it’s always fascinating to visit cities that also still have streetcars on the rails. New Orleans is one of them. I took it every single day I was there – usually the St. Charles line, but also the newer Canal Street and the Riverfront ones. Fun to immerse oneself in the daily bustle of another city, when you’re not needing to be on time for anything, and you get to sit and people-watch.

The NOLA streetcar is not the same as its Toronto counterpart. Here’s how they compare:

Cost

New Orleans wins this one, hands down. With a single ride costing US$1.25, and a daily pass at only US$3, it beats TTC costs by a (pardon the pun) mile. A single ride on the TTC is CAD$3, a daily pass CAD$11.

Of course, I’d prefer NOLA transit prices. But when I consider that Toronto has more than ten times the population, covers a larger space, and the cars have to be heated and run in all weather conditions (including snow and ice and all that), I can see why the TTC costs more. Still. Even a $2 single ride would be nice…

Capacity

Sorry, NOLA. Toronto comes out on top here. A NOLA streetcar has a capacity of 52 people. The TTC website indicates that a regular Toronto streetcar holds up to 65 people, an extended streetcar, 100. However, as I’m regularly on Toronto streetcars during rush hour, capacity is essentially however many people can cram onto the damn car. No way there’s only 65 people – we’re stuffed on there like sardines.  I haven’t ridden one of the brand new cars that are coming into service – which apparently have 40% higher capacity – but I can’t wait!

Friendliness

Toronto streetcar (and bus) drivers take a lot of crap. They’re the face of the beleaguered and overly burdened TTC system, and they likely take more grief than they should from grumpy commuters complaining about fare hikes, delays and bad weather. Most TTC drivers are simply trying to do their job. They don’t tend to be too friendly (the roads are busy and frankly, I’d rather they pay more attention to the traffic), but I’ve usually found them to be happy to answer questions about the route or to call out a stop I’m unfamiliar with.

But not surprisingly, NOLA streetcar drivers (in my much more limited experience) are far friendlier. They seem less concerned with keeping to a timetable. They chat. They ask you where you’re visiting from. They smile. It was a bit of a culture shock for me 🙂

Timeliness

I frequently curse at Toronto transit. The streetcars bunch up and are often late. They Toronto fleet is old, very old, and they break down more often than they should. The colder than usual temperatures of the 2014-15 winter has forced the TTC to break out the buses to replace streetcars, which don’t operate as smoothly in -20C (and neither do I frankly).

I thought NOLA would be free of these issues, but in just my nine days of using the St. Charles car, I was cursing them too for taking too long. It’s supposed to pass by every 10-15 minutes, but there were more than a couple of occasions where I waited for 35-40 minutes for a streetcar. And I was on holiday, usually with a nice coffee in my hand. And it moves quite slowly. Much more slowly than a Toronto streetcar, if you can believe it.

Charm vs. usefulness for commuters

For my daily commute, I guess I’d rather have the TTC. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s a faster and more efficient service overall. But when you’re travelling around New Orleans on vacation, there’s nothing like these old St. Charles streetcars (many in operation were built in 1922-23!) with their wooden benches and open windows. They make a lot of noise. The lights come on and off. So completely charming.

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