It has been a bit of a mystery to me why the TTC (and Toronto for that matter) doesn’t take its transit history as seriously as it should. London, New York and Philadelphia operate transit museums and gift shops, and San Francisco practically operates a rolling museum of cable cars and a fleet of 1940s-era Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) and antique streetcars. Meanwhile Toronto can’t even muster a merchandise selection that pay our system justice, but many are delighted by the weekend diversions through Lower Bay.
The two PCCs the TTC maintains are conspicuously absent from our streets. Usually, they sit at the car barns on Queen Street East, used only for the occasional charter or special event. Toronto ran the cars in regular service until the Mike Harris era of the late 1990s, when 16 of the 18 PCCs left were sold for fire sale prices. The cars were deemed surplus after major service cuts when the province stopped directly subsidizing the TTC’s operations.
Five of those cars ended up in the small industrial city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, about half way between Chicago and Milwaukee. Like San Francisco, they decided to paint the cars differently, representing Midwest American systems (Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania), but kept one in Toronto’s colours. The TTC legacy was prominent in the one car running the day I was in Kenosha — the former TTC number (4617) was still used, and on the inside there were visible reminders of a time when transit fares were cheaper (according to the sign inside, a Metropass would set you back $76 or you could buy 12 tokens for $16.00) and the Ontario Government still in the business of subsidizing transit operations. Kenosha is hoping the streetcars will help revitalize its Lake Michigan waterfront, and connect new condos and townhouses by the water to its small downtown and the Metra station, where commuters can transfer to trains headed for Chicago.
Even though fares were only 25 cents – I felt weird paying so little – ridership this Friday afternoon was light. If you find yourself in Chicago, Kenosha might be worth a side trip. I combined this stopover with a visit to nearby Racine, where SC Johnson Wax offers free Friday tours of its famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed office building.
By the way, San Francisco bought another set of PCCs from New Jersey — one has just been delivered in the TTC colour scheme. And why not? Toronto once had the the largest PCC fleet in the world. We still have an extensive and interesting network of street railways, an idea that Kenosha and almost every other city on this continent disposed of by the 1950s.