A sneak peek of the next generation of streetcars to glide along Toronto city streets has revealed that the new vehicles will be sleeker, more spacious and lower to the ground.

The Toronto Transit Commission offered the public a glimpse of the new streetcars Thursday as it prepares to update a fleet that was brought into service in late 1970s and the late 1980s.

The newest streetcar has room for 142 passengers, 68 more than the current fleet accommodates.

But the focal point of the revamped vehicle is its so-called “low floor” feature, Ontario Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli noted at a news conference for the new fleet.

“Riders will no longer need to tackle stairs to get into this particular streetcar, because they’re lower to the ground making it easier for riders to get on board,” he told reporters.

The passenger-boarding system has also been revamped. The new streetcars are all-door loading, which means that travellers will board faster, but must purchase pre-paid tickets.

Though it might eliminate the time-honoured tradition for running for a streetcar as it arrives, TTC chief Andy Byford suggests that the method is a fair trade for smooth service.

“It’s a bit like going to the shops, you’ll have to make sure you’ve got money before you go in,” he told CTV Toronto. “We’ll get you from A to B, but you need to buy a ticket.”

The 204 red, air-conditioned streetcars will be phased into regular service in 2014. Before then, the vehicles will be tested at TTC facilities and on Toronto roads.

One of the streetcars on display for Thursday was so new, it still had plastic wrapping on its seats.

The vehicles were manufactured by transportation company Bombardier Inc. in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Transit advocate Steve Munro says he appreciates the design of the new streetcars, but is concerned that the more spacious vehicles will affect TTC service.

“One of the problems is that if it’s a larger car, the TTC runs less of them to carry the demand. And so the service becomes further apart,” he explained.

Munro added the TTC will have to ensure that streetcar service runs at regular intervals.

TTC chair Karen Stintz tried to allay those concerns Thursday, saying the Commission intends to make sure that service balances out.

“During the off-peak times, the streetcars won’t run as frequently because we just don’t have as many (passengers), but during the rush-hour period there will definitely be an improvement,” she said.

Peter Van Loan, MP for the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe, has hailed the project as a way to keep pace with the demands of a growing population while still stimulating the economy.

“Twenty-first century transit solutions like this keep our cities moving, help our economy remain competitive and make it easier for people to get where they need to go,” he said.

The new streetcars will allow commuters to swipe PRESTO fare cards, which will be accommodated on all streetcar lines by the time the new fleet is in service.

Toronto’s 11 streetcar routes are used by 250,000 riders every weekday.

With a report from CTV Toronto’s Austin Delaney