Cable-Propelled Transit?

In some of my planning classes, we learned about doing environmental assessments and how often, transit agencies would have to consider every possible mode of transit before selecting what we called the “obvious choice”. In the real-world, it happened in Kitchener-Waterloo when they were conducting the EA for their new (now selected) LRT system; planners were forced to consider and research the viability of the Aerobus for the city. I don’t have to tell you how ludicrous that is. It became a running joke among planning students to suggest an Aerobus whenever transit projects were being considered.

Well, this morning I read a column in Eye Weekly discussing the future of Toronto transit. It began by making the dubious claim that the now-under-construction Spadina extension will “probably be the last subway we build”. Obviously, I disagree with that claim, but I digress. The author uses it as a launching pad into discussing alternative technologies to the soon-to-be-ubiquitous LRT– for no other reason other than they aren’t LRT.

The author focuses on Cable-Propelled Transit (CPT), or more commonly known as cable cars. That’s fine, I mean they have them in San Francisco, and a few other places, and I’m sure they are viable. But the leader of the CPT proponent brigade, Steven Dale, really rubbed me the wrong way when he went out to suggest that the SRT replacement is a perfect opportunity for CPT:

In Toronto, Dale says you could easily run either of these in the same lanes as streetcars, but the options are pretty much endless — and unexplored. For maximum efficiency, a dedicated line like the aging SRT is what he calls “the perfect environment to test this out.”

Anyone familiar with the SRT knows that it was a failed government experiment in new-ish transit technology. I’m beginning to think that SRT should be renamed to “The Line They Always Tinker With” (TLTATW), especially given the TTC’s early reticence to replace the ageing system with LRT.

The SRT is already isolated enough from the system, God forbid we end up with Scarborough Cable Propelled Rapid Transit (SCPRT, or as I like to call it, SCRAP IT).

  1. Hey Joel,

    Steven Dale here. Sorry to hear my position rubbed you the wrong way. What exactly was it about CPT that bothers you? When I first started my work on CPT I didn’t actually believe it was feasible either. It wasn’t until I did a little bit of digging that I realized it’s actually more than feasible as I describe here In fact in some cases it’s superior to what we’ve been doing. All I’m interested in is providing Torontonians with the best transit available which I’m sure is all you’re interested in as well. It’d be great to keep this conversation going. Feel free to check out And again, please accept my apologies for “rubbing you the wrong way.”

    All the best,

    Steven Dale

  2. Oh yeah, two other things. . .

    1. I was looking for info on the aerobus. I actually have a picture of it here . I knew nothing about it and thought it was totally ridiculous. Good to know, I’m going to update that page and link to you. Thanks for that.

    2. What planning school do you attend? I have a hunch it might be my alma mater.

    Steven Dale.

      • j
      • December 5th, 2009

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks for reading my blog. I hope I didn’t offend you, that certainly was not my intent. My issue with CPT isn’t with the technology necessarily, but with the suggestion that the SRT would be a perfect place to try it out. The line is already an “alien” to the TTC system so trying out CPT there would further exacerbate the problem. I would suggest to you that perhaps a mid-sized city without higher order transit would be a better place to try it out (like Kitchener-Waterloo, before they selected LRT).

      I have just graduated from the University of Waterloo, is that your alma mater?

      Thanks for putting ideas like this out there, Steven. I have bookmarked your blog and I look forward to learning more about CPT.

      Best Regards,

      • No offense taken, Joel. It’s good to talk these things out. Due to your knowledge of the SRT I was thinking you were a Ryerson grad (which I am). Waterloo’s got a great reputation, though.

        I totally understand your concern about it being an orphan line. I don’t think that will change unless the technology implemented is subway (which it won’t be). Check out something called the Perugia Minimetro. I haven’t had a chance to blog about it yet, but I will soon. I think less-than-a-minute (LT1M) wait times might change your mind about cable.

        And seriously . . . when I first started this work myself and everyone else thought I was insane. Now Ryerson’s hosting a studio project about it. Things change, sometimes quickly, and we as planners have to be willing and open to that change.

        Great chatting with you!


  3. A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I think that you need to publish
    more about this issue, it might not be a taboo
    subject but usually people do not speak about such subjects.
    To the next! Best wishes!!

  1. December 5th, 2009
  2. December 7th, 2009

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