The Evolution of Service on Queens Quay

The new, improved transit right-of-way on Queens Quay has been in operation for a few months, and it has had its share, and then some, of problems. These included confused motorists, pedestrians and cyclists who could not figure out the new lane arrangement and signals, more than a few autos stuck in the tunnel entrance at Bay Street, and a streetcar collision thanks to an open switch at the Spadina/Queens Quay Loop.

When the design for the new road was still on the drawing boards, a red flag went up for transit watchers with the number of traffic signals, some fairly closely spaced. The “old” Queens Quay’s signals had their problems, and just to get a semblance of “priority” the detectors for approaching streetcars were moved further and further away from the signals in the hope that they would be able to cycle to a transit green before the streetcar actually arrived.

The streetcars returned, but the signals were, at first, on a standard program with no provision for detecting transit vehicles, although this changed in mid-June with the installation of the new, permanent traffic controllers.

Has there been an improvement? This article reviews current and past operations of the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina cars running on Queens Quay.

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TTC Service Changes Effective September 6, 2015

September 2015 brings a long list of service changes that will begin the restoration and expansion of TTC service promised earlier this year. A few changes were slipped through in earlier schedules, but the bulk of the changes will come now. These include:

  • The “Ten Minute Network”: Scheduling a network of major routes so that they will always operate at least every 10 minutes (except for overnight service). For most affected routes, this only means adding a bit of service around the edges (notably weekend evenings), but for a few, this is a major change.
  • The “All Day Every Day” services: In the early Ford/Stintz days, service was hacked away on routes with less ridership, although the actual dollar savings were small. Much of what was cut has now been restored.
  • Reduced off-peak crowding: Off peak crowding standards on routes with frequent service have been restored to Ridership Growth Strategy (a David Miller era initiative) levels triggering service improvements on many routes.
  • Expanded and restructured Blue Night network: Some new routes, and the restructuring of others, will take place over the September and October schedule changes (see my previous article for details).

Concurrently, the basic service levels move back from “summer” to “winter” levels, and all of the remaining temporary changes for the Pan Am Games end.

Seasonal services also end including:

  • Weekday service on 101 Downsview Park
  • Weekend service into High Park by 30 Lambton
  • Weekday evening service to Cherry Beach by 172 Cherry
  • Extended hours to the Zoo on 86 Scarborough and 85 Sheppard East

The “temporary” extra service and running time added to 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront for the reconstruction of Queens Quay has been left in place.

Although the Front Street reconstruction has finished, the TTC has not yet decided whether or how to recombine 72 Pape with 172 Cherry.

Some routes, notably 506 Carlton and 505 Dundas, are getting new schedules with extra running time to match actual conditions on the route in the hope that this will reduce short turns and improve reliability.

The new crowding standards for off-peak surface routes are based on a seated load regardless of the scheduled headway. Previously, routes operating every 10 minutes or better used the seated load plus 25% as the standard. This made the busiest routes operate with near-peak period standards most of the time.

Note that these standards are based on the average load over the peak hour at the peak point. Individual vehicles will vary with more or fewer riders, but the intent is to design service at this level.

201509_CrowdingStandards

The table linked below details the changes for September. It does not include the list of summer service cuts that are to be reversed (see June 2015 changes for the list).

Updated August 11, 2015 at 11:30 am: A service cut on 75 Sherbourne that was part of the June changes was inadvertently carried over into the original version of this table. It has been deleted.

Updated August 23, 2015 at 9:30 pm: The number of vehicles for the 315 Evans night bus has been corrected from 1 to 2.

2015.09.06_ServiceChanges

Blue Night Service Expansion: Fall 2015

The overnight “Blue Night” network will see many changes and additions this fall. These will be rolled out in two waves: first with the September/October schedules on Labour Day weekend, and the remainder with the October/November schedules at Thanksgiving.

This is part of a more extensive expansion of service beginning in September that relates to the Ten Minute Network, All Day Every Day service, and improved crowding standards on routes with frequent service. Those and other changes will be described in a separate article.

Here are maps of the network as it exists now, and with the two stages of additions:

BlueNightMap_201507

BlueNightMap_201509_Delta

BlueNightMap_201510_Delta

Several of the routes will be renumbered so that the night services match the daytime routes except for the using “300” series. In the case of the King and Spadina night services, they will run, at least initially, with the daytime route numbers because there are no roll signs for “304 King” or “317 Spadina” in the CLRV/ALRV fleet. This problem will vanish as the routes convert to Flexity cars with programmable signs.

All services will operate on 30 minute headways.

This implementation is a work-in-progress, and Service Planning does not expect to turn to the question of timing points until the routes are in place. This is a vital piece of work for a network with wide headways where TTC performance stats show that headway (and, by implication, schedule) adherence is very weak. Riders of these routes should be able to depend on vehicles appearing at expected times and connections to work in a predictable way. This is as important a part of the new service as simply putting the buses and streetcars on the road. If service is not predictable in the middle of the night, riders cannot be expected to use it especially for trips that are time-sensitive such as early morning work shifts.

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Service Analysis of 502/503 Downtowner/Kingston Road Tripper: 2013 to 2015

Recent articles on this site looked in great detail at the 501 Queen car and the problems with its service. Often, when people talk about Queen, they miss the streetcar routes that are, in effect, branch operations of the Queen line serving Kingston Road in The Beach:

  • 502 Downtowner (formerly Kingston Road) operates between Bingham Loop (at Victoria Park & Kingston Road) and McCaul Loop sharing trackage with 501 Queen west of Woodbine Loop (which is actually at Kingston Road, and is named for the old racetrack, which itself became “Greenwood” when “New Woodbine” opened in northern Etobicoke). This route operates weekdays until the end of the PM peak. Evening and weekend service is provided by the 22a Coxwell bus.
  • 503 Kingston Road Tripper operates rush hours only between Bingham Loop and York Street running into the core via King from the Don Bridge, and looping downtown via Church, Wellington and York.

This service design has been in place, with only a few changes, since 1948:

  • 1954: Streetcar service cut back from Birchmount Loop to Bingham Loop.
  • 1966: Coxwell bus replaced Coxwell streetcar and evening/weekend service on Kingston Rd./Coxwell (same as the 22A today).

The route name “Downtowner” arose from an ill-advised proposal to provide “relief” to the downtown subway by extending Kingston Road cars from McCaul Loop west and north to Bathurst Station in 1973. This didn’t last long. A year later the extended service became a peak-only operation, and that remained, on paper at least, until 1984. We have the name as a memento of that extension now 30-years in the past. The basic problem was that very little of the service actually reached Bathurst Station with many cars short turning either at Wolseley Loop (Queen & Bathurst) or at McCaul Loop.

The situation is not unlike what we see today because the 502 Downtowner schedule does not provide enough running time, and short turning is a chronic problem. This is particularly troubling because the short turns defeat the purpose of the route’s existence:

  • A short turn eastbound at Woodbine Loop removes service from the street which the route is intended to serve.
  • A short turn westbound at Church (looping via Richmond and Victoria) sends a car east without serving the major stops downtown from Yonge to University.
  • A short turn westbound at Parliament (looping via Dundas and Broadview) removes a car even more from downtown, and not even a clever rider walking a block east from Yonge (an “illegal” move with a regular transfer) can take advantage of the service.

This is compounded by extremely erratic headways that are far worse than I have seen on any other route I have analyzed. According to TTC route performance stats, the 502 is “on time” (that is to say, within ±3 minutes of the scheduled headway) 30% of the time. As we will see later, even that claim is a stretch.

As for the 503 Kingston Road Tripper, service on that route is supposed to be blended with the 502, and during AM peaks it can work out, sort of, there is a vaguely reliable headway of alternating 502/503 cars on Kingston Road. But it’s a hit-and-miss situation, and very large gaps in 503 service are quite common.

Anyone attempting to use transit on or to Kingston Road is well advised to get on the first thing that shows up and be prepared to transfer. This appalling situation is a mockery of what the TTC claims is its “customer service”.

Service on Kingston Road was substantially better in past decades, and it is no wonder that ridership and scheduled service levels have fallen given the unpredictable nature of these routes. Recently, there has been some improvement. In April 2013, off-peak headways of 502 Downtowner improved from 20 to 16 minutes, and in June 2015, from 16 to 10 minutes. However, the fundamental problem of headway reliability undoes much semblance of “improvement”.

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Service Analysis of 501 Queen 2013 to 2015: Part 2, Running Times

In the first article of this series, I reviewed the headways (time between vehicles) on route 501 Queen from August 2013 to May 2015. A pattern there is that headways on the outer parts of the route are consistently, at times extremely so, worse than the advertised frequencies. Even in the central part of the route, average headways are close to scheduled values, but the regularity of vehicle spacing is not – cars commonly run in pairs on a much wider combined headway than the schedule calls for.

With this route listed among those that will be part of the TTC’s “Ten Minute Network”, actually achieving that goal will be as important as the inevitable hype that will accompany the announcement. This is also a route destined for better service thanks to new loading off-peak loading standards.

This article turns to the question of running times – the period required for a typical vehicle to get from point “A” to “B” on a route. These are important for a variety of reasons:

  • If the scheduled time is commonly less than the actual time needed, then vehicles will always be late, and there will be a strong incentive for cars to short turn.
  • If the scheduled time is commonly more than what is needed, then vehicles will either dawdle along their routes, or take extended siestas at terminals.
  • “Congestion” is a routinely cited reason for the TTC’s inability to operate reliable service, but it is not a consistent phenomenon across the route, by time of day or by day of the week. Some of the worst disruptions arise not from chronic congestion, but from events such as construction projects or diversions around festivals. The location of the delays is not confined to the core area.

There is a lot of material here, and I don’t expect that most readers will go into all of the detail. The first part looks at the route overall, and then I turn to individual segments. If there is any overall message, it is this: the operation of a long, busy route like Queen is affected by many factors. Some are institutional (schedules, procedures). Some are chronic (predictable congestion). Some are transient (accidents, illness). Some of the worst are from relatively short-lived events such as construction work or event diversions where the resulting service leaves much to be desired. There is no one “magic solution” that will fix all of them with minimal pain for either for the TTC or for other road users.

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Preliminary TTC 2016 Operating Budget (Updated July 30, 2015)

Updated July 30, 2015: Comments on the discussion at today’s meeting have been added.

The Budget Committee met today and received the presentation linked from the main article. There was considerable debate, a welcome change from the Stintz/Ford years at the TTC where detailed knowledge of the budget was not of much interest to politicians. Now there actually is a Budget Committee, and its members take their job seriously. The idea is that by the time the budget hits Council, there will be a group of informed advocates beyond the senior staff who, in past years, have been left to fend as best they could as proponents of better transit in a hostile environment.

Among the topics that came up were:

  • the question of the “average fare” and the role of a monthly pass in the fare mix;
  • the future role of and arrangements for fare collection with Presto;
  • the implications of various possible fare schemes, including increases, and the resulting effect on the TTC budget and subsidy requirement;
  • the provision of improved service, its cost and its beneficiaries;
  • the staffing of TTC and especially the numbers of new staff and their cost for various functions.

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TTC Board Meeting July 29, 2015 (Updated August 3, 2015)

The TTC Board will meet on July 29, 2015, and various items of interest are on the agenda. These include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report (Updated August 2, 2015)
  • A presentation by Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (Updated August 3, 2015)
  • Faregates for PRESTO implementation
  • Purchase of new buses and implications for service growth (Updated August 1, 2015)
  • Improved service standards for off peak service on “frequent” routes
  • Proposed split operation of 504 King during TIFF opening weekend (Updated August 2, 2015)
  • An update on Leslie Barns
  • Excluding Bombardier from eligibility for future contracts (Deferred to September Board meeting)
  • Council requests related to Lake Shore West streetcar service (Referred to TTC Budget Committee)

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Service Analysis of 501 Queen 2013 to 2015: Part 1, Headways

Of the TTC’s many routes, 501 Queen is the longest and the subject of ongoing complaints about service quality and reliability. Two standard explanations are offered to the long-suffering riders: we cannot operate a reliable service thanks to traffic congestion, and we have no equipment with which to operate more service.

I have published detailed reviews of individual months of operation in past articles, but an accumulation of data for various periods and conditions now makes a retrospective look at the route’s behaviour possible.

The data used in this analysis come from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system which collects GPS information on the fleet every 20 seconds. The raw data are transformed by several programs I have developed over the years so that they can be presented in a consolidated format. Interested readers should see Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data for details of this process. The data were provided by the TTC, but the analysis and interpretation are entirely my own.

Service History

The last significant change to 501 Queen schedules occurred in Spring 2013 when weekday services were adjusted to address overcrowding. Since then, there have been only two basic schedules used on the route:

  • The standard schedule provides service between Neville Loop in the east and Long Branch Loop at the city’s western edge. Half of the cars are scheduled to short-turn at Humber Loop, and except for overnight service, from that point westward the scheduled service is half the level of that east of Humber.
  • On some occasions, construction has required that the line operate in two segments. One is from Neville to Humber, and the other (using buses) is from Humber to Long Branch. Service east of Humber is similar to that on the standard schedule. To the west, scheduled bus service is more frequent to allow for the capacity of low floor buses versus the two-section streetcars (ALRVs) used on 501 Queen. (A variation on this includes a shuttle service from Humber Loop to the condos east of Park Lawn, but it does not alter the service provided on the main part of the route east or west of Humber. This shuttle is not part of the service analysis.)

501_ServiceHistory

This table shows the two service designs for 501 Queen including the headways (scheduled time between vehicles), numbers of vehicles, end-to-end trip times and “recovery” time.

This last item deserves comment because it is not, as the name implies, intended to give operators on this extremely long route a break after their journeys. Instead, its primary function is to make the schedule work out so that the round trip time is a multiple of the headway. Because of the difference in trip times on the two branches of the route, this can produce long recovery times at periods in the day when they are not badly needed simply to make the schedule work out properly. I will turn to trip times and reliability in the second part of this series.

This article covers the following periods of operation on 501 Queen:

  • August-October 2013 (service split at Humber Loop after Thanksgiving weekend)
  • January-April 2014 (service split at Humber Loop for April)
  • September-October 2014 (service split at Humber Loop)
  • March-May 2015

As a general observation, service on much of the Queen route is very unreliable and, in some cases, to the point where it exists more in theory than in practice. Bunching is commonplace, and there is no evidence of any attempt to keep cars spaced apart from each other even long before they enter the most congested section of the route. If there is an operating discipline, its aim is to keep operators on time, with service to riders coming as an afterthought. In principle, if all of the service is on time, then reliability will take care of itself. However, in practice, the service routinely operates well off of its scheduled headways. This cannot be put down entirely to “traffic congestion” given how pervasive a problem this is and has been on 501 Queen for years.

Service on this route, particularly on its outer portions, has been an issue for as long as I can remember, and the TTC always has an excuse. If only they would expend one tenth of the effort to manage headways on this major route as they do to tell us about their latest of clean subway stations and other “customer service initiatives”, there would be many happy riders, and an incentive to bring even more. The route is developing medium and high intensity buildings along its length, but the service levels are unchanged since 2013 (and with only minor changes before that).

The TTC plans to introduce new schedules on Queen later in 2015 (or possibly early 2016) to address some of the reliability problems. However, without the will to ensure that vehicles on this very  long route maintain proper spacing, the concept of reliability, let alone the “ten minute service” network of which Queen will be a part, will be meaningless.

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