07/23/2013 02:49 EDT | Updated 09/22/2013 05:12 EDT

5 cool things about Toronto's new streetcars

The Toronto Transit Commission's new streetcars made their daylight debut on Tuesday, taking members of the media for a short ride from Hillcrest Complex to Bathurst Station and back.

Until now, the new streetcars have only appeared on city streets for late-night test runs.

Set to enter service early next year, the new streetcars offer many upgrades from the crowded clunkers they will eventually replace. went along for the ride, and found these five things the TTC says will make the new streetcars a sweet ride for passengers.

1Capacity At 30.2 metres long, the new streetcars are about twice the length of the current single streetcars. While the old streetcars can carry 46 seated passengers and 86 standing; the new ones can hold 181 passengers, 70 of them seated. That should ease some of the passenger squeezing that currently occurs during rush hour, particularly on the overcrowded Queen and King lines.

2Accessibility Riders of the new streetcar will only have to navigate a single step. The new streetcars ride about 12 inches above the pavement and the floor is one level throughout the length of the vehicle.

That means only one short step for passengers boarding from the curb, so parents with strollers can rejoice. For wheelchair users, the streetcars' middle doors have a ramp that descends to street level and takes 20 seconds to deploy. A blue button inside the streetcar tells the driver when a passenger needs to use the ramp at the next stop. There's also on-board storage for oversize luggage, motorized scooters, even a few bikes.

3More doors About 20 per cent of every streetcar journey is currently spent standing still while passengers load and unload, with the front door a particular choke point. The new cars will speed this up because there are four doors in total (two of them double doors) and passengers can board or step off at any of them. Also, the driver does his job from inside an enclosed cab and will no longer have to verify fares. Passengers can pay using a Presto card or cash, tokens or a credit card using on-board vending machines. For those thinking this will mean a free ride, the TTC says it will be patrol the new cars, checking passengers for proof of payment.

4Stick control For drivers of the new streetcars, foot pedals are passé. Instead, the operator will use a joystick-style lever to control the car's movement. A light push forward gets the car moving, a sudden pull backward initiates an emergency stop.

5You're on camera, lots of them Video cameras are another upgrade. There are wide-angle cameras placed above each door, pointing down, and more inside the streetcar. The driver has a screen in the cab, showing exterior views from each of the four doors. Two more screens inside the cab allow the driver to look down the length of each side of the streetcar, much like a car's rear-view mirror.

Great. So when can I ride one? The TTC is currently testing the cars and training new drivers. Expect the new streetcars to enter service in 2014 on the 505 Dundas, 510 Spadina and 511 Bathurst lines. After that, they will enter service as follows:

- 509 Harbourfront: Late 2014

- 501 Queen: Early 2015

- 508 Lake Shore: Early 2015

- 504 King: Mid 2016

- 412 St. Clair: Mid 2017

- 502 Downtowner: Early 2018

- 503 Kingston Rd: Early 2018

- 506 Carlton: Mid-2018