Queen 501 Operational Review

The supplementary agenda for January’s TTC meeting includes a report on the various experiments with Queen car operations.  Unsurprisingly, it concludes that the split route operation was an abject failure, and recommends that the “step forward” crewing technique be formally implemented on the route during periods when the line is subject to disruption.  This scheme keeps operators on time but allows vehicles to continue without short turning.

I will not comment in detail on this report until after the Commission meeting and any discussions there.  At this point, I am still waiting for vehicle monitoring data for October and November 2009 so that I can perform a detailed analysis of the split and “normal” operations.

Because this report deals only with the various operational models actually tried to date, there is no discussion of alternative route structures such as splitting off the 507 in some form as a dedicated Long Branch service.  I suspect that any mention of this would trigger a “we tried to split the route and it didn’t work” response even though the Dufferin/Broadview split was a completely different design than, say, a 507 service to Dundas West Station.

This post will be updated with further comments or information when available.

About Steve

Steve thanks you for reading this article, even if you don't agree with it.
This entry was posted in Queen Car, Service Cost and Quality, Transit. Bookmark the permalink.
RSS for Comments

30 Responses to Queen 501 Operational Review

  1. Robert Wightman says:

    I agree with your earlier comment that they did not want this to work. A lot of the complaints were from the lack of communication and the refusal of many operators to carry passengers around the loop. I think the fact that their track map still show tracks on Wychwood and Townsley loop is telling. You think that they could update this.

    Steve: To be fair, the map is dated October 2007, although the intersection at Wychwood came out in 2004 and Townsley was taken out of service in 2003. If you magnify the map a bit, you can see that these junctions are both hashed in the symbol for “track out of service but still in place”.

  2. Nick W says:

    I’d like to see that vehicle monitoring data once it becomes available.

    I “experimented” along with the TTC during the split, twice every weekday, and during its first week of operation it felt like the greatest thing to ever happen to Queen West. I travelled from Bathurst in the west to Yonge in the east and since I was covered by both loops I feel I had a fairly balanced perspective on the whole route.

    By the start of week three something had drastically changed. Morning car frequency seemed to drop to pre-split levels, which was noticeable more with the packed ALRVs than with actual car timing (especially since I am still comatose at 8:30a), but evenings westbound showed a definite change. I would arrive to catch the 501wb, 5:20p or so, at either Yonge or Bay, and my wait time steadily grew to about 40 minutes on average. As well, cars started increasingly short-turning at McCaul to the point where I had to regularly wait for 4 or 5 cars to pass before I could catch one heading to my destination. Folks travelling to Etobicoke had waits that occasionally approached one hour, and this was during peak times.

    I would *love* to see those numbers. Traffic volume and ridership didn’t change between weeks one and three — …and, wow. I should’ve rtfa from the start and saved my breath. It mentions all the service disruptions I just described. I’ll shut up now. It’s still worth mentioning that week one was fantastic. When did the construction at Queen & Church start? Was it around week two of the split?

    Steve: Queen Street was back to normal operation (although Church was under construction) well before the split operation started. The construction prevented Church from being used as a short-turn point (this is mentioned in the report), but did not contribute to traffic congestion. Once I get the data, the location of any problems or changes in operating strategy will be obvious.

  3. Ed says:

    The report says:

    “1. Implement the Step Forward Strategy Monday to Friday from 12 to 8pm including:
    a. Simplified crewing and scheduling for weekdays
    b. Additional run time Monday to Friday
    2. Staff will investigate strategies to expand Neville Loop to accommodate a longer recovery time”

    The running time is already excessive for competent operators. This results in streetcars crawling along at 20 km/h along the Queensway to soak up time.

    It’s not uncommon to see two 501 streetcars sitting in Long Branch loop, with a third 501 pulling in. So they think this should happen at Neville as well?

    Finally, the complaints should be taken with a grain of salt. A lot of riders have probably given up complaining no matter what happens. On the other hand, there are always people who complain about any changes, such as discovering that they had to get off a streetcar at Shaw or Parliament.

    Personally, I think the split strategy worked not too badly, especially given that, whether or not staff was working to make it succeed or fail, it was still a new operating model and would take a lot longer for operation to stabilize. Doesn’t the TTC give six months to test out much more minor route changes?

    Steve: The layovers at Long Branch are inexcusable on a line that “needs more running time”, but are also a side effect of such a long one-way trip. If the line were broken up with the Long Branch service (say to Dundas West) as a separate route, they wouldn’t have to be so generous with recovery time fro each trip.

    I am hoping to get the monitoring data for the Queen route soon and we will see just how the line actually operated before, during and after the split.

  4. A.J. says:

    How many streetcars do you thunk it would take to even run something like a 507 and where would it go, Dundas west already seems pretty busy. Do we even have enough to run a decent operation?

    Steve: A round trip on a 507 to Dundas West service would probably about 85 minutes at peak, a bit less off peak. Just to duplicate the current scheduled service west of Humber, every 12 minutes, would require 7 cars, although this should probably be improved to bring the headway down below 10 minutes. Hence 9 cars. Many of these would be released from the 501 which would (a) no longer run past Humber and (b) no longer require immense recovery time allowances. That would free up about 5 cars.

    At Dundas West, I would put the 507 on the same platform as the 504 because both routes serve Roncesvalles Avenue, and riders are already used to the idea that cars running back to the carhouse (505′s for example) use the 504 platform when they are going to Ronces, not Dundas. One car every 9 minutes at peak is not going to be the end of the world at this location.

  5. If only the 501 could be fixed properly, but I personally do not believe the TTC is taking the issue seriously. It is far easier to do nothing then to fix the problem.

    I totally agree with the 507 idea between Long Branch and Dundas [West], although I do add that one car should be dedicated for Long Branch-Humber. The car will still connect with the 501 (at Humber), as well as the Shorncliffe, Kipling, Islington, and Royal York buses.

    Steve: One car is only going to give a 50′ headway. If practice on other lines is any indication, it will spend a lot of its time running nose to tail with one of the through cars from Dundas West. Better to have all of the cars on one 507 service.

  6. Ray Kennedy says:

    Like you said. They didn’t want this to succeed. Bring back David Gunn!

  7. M. Briganti says:

    I thought all trials were supposed to run for a standard six months? — when did this change? The fact that it only ran for a month pretty much says it all.

    The only way to solve this problem is to …

    - keep the line unsplit
    - force all runs to complete, even if they’re behind
    - force operators into overtime on this route
    - parachute in standby buses dynamically to fill service gaps

    It’s amazing that the TTC’s “we really don’t like this, but let’s make it look like we’re trying as hard as we can so they really won’t know we set it up to fail” attitude still exists today, and has transcended a full generation of employees. I’m reminded of a similar experiment decades ago which was also pushed upon them by politicians and which the TTC also tried to abort after just 5 days. The circumstances are incredibly similar.

  8. Robert Wightman says:

    Queen is going to get even more screwed up along with King as Dufferin St. is off limits to street cars for the foreseeable future. There is no overhead north of King and there is a sewer going in south of King which has forced the north bound overhead to be pushed to over the south bound track so it looks like trolley bus overhead. I heard the supervisors turning some King cars at Wolesley.

    They were also turning Bathurst cars there. That has to be the stupidest idea unless the line is really screwed up. Turn it twice at Fleet if you need to, at least then it would serve some passengers. Bathurst needs a southbound loop at King a la Spadina. Go east on Adelaide and south on Portland. It works at Spadina so it should work here. The Bathurst service to the Ex is not as important as it used to be.

  9. Wow… this reeks of 1966… I said this before on the original post on the matter Steve but this is the interlining trial all over again. The TTC did not want this to work because they knew that it would be “too complicated” and therefore concocted a way to sabotage it like they did in 1966 with the Y-U-B and Y-U-D lines. I swear anything more than a straight line and the TTC will claim its not possible. I mean think about it. Most bus routes run on a straight line, the Subway systems all run in a straight line, streetcars run on a straight line. When the 501 was split it had to loop and voila! No more straight line. See where I am going with this Steve?

  10. David Cavlovic says:

    Richard White said :

    “Most bus routes run on a straight line, the Subway systems all run in a straight line, streetcars run on a straight line. When the 501 was split it had to loop and voila! No more straight line. See where I am going with this Steve?”

    This is very true for most routes south of the 401, but in Suburbia, the TTC has no choice but to run winding routes, which may explain the poor levels of service.
    TTC planners must have conniptions when they see route maps of other major cities and the amount of “milk runs” that are provided.

    Steve: I don’t agree with the premise. The TTC has operated streetcar and bus routes with branches, scheduled short turns, etc., for decades. Some of them even loop on street because there is no alternative.

  11. Vic says:

    And what a coincidence this story is as the TTC is now wasting their money trying to “improve” customer service by hiring consultants (possibly one from the airline industry) to fix several riders’ complaints. I find this to be a really big joke as the TTC likes to call any new service they are forced to implement a failure. I’m surprised the 145 express bus hasn’t been reduced or even canceled. We know that the solution to the 501 problem is reintroducing some form of the 507 but until the TTC gets:

    a) more streetcars and
    b) Smarter people working in the head office

    This will never happen.

    Steve: In fairness to TTC management, the only reason the Humber Bay Express Bus exists it that Commissioner Milczyn supported it.

  12. DavidC says:

    I may be naive but I cannot understand the TTC’s reluctance to move, at least on frequent routes, from schedule based surface transit to headway based. From a customer point of view I would rather know that a bus will arrive every x minutes rather than be told a bus is due at 11.42 (but may be short-turned if things are not going according to plan.)

    It would seem to be easier to manage headway-based scheduling. Is the TTC management’s obvious reluctance due to “we have always done it that way” or “it would increase need for supervision” or ???

    Steve: Headway based operations will require a rethink of how work is crewed and operators are managed. This is something the TTC and ATU should have been talking about for years, and I suspect that a combination of labour-management antagonism plus the burden of centuries of TTC past practice get in the way.

  13. Robert Wightman says:

    David Cavlovic says:
    January 20, 2010 at 8:32 am

    “Richard White said :

    “Most bus routes run on a straight line, the Subway systems all run in a straight line, streetcars run on a straight line. When the 501 was split it had to loop and voila! No more straight line. See where I am going with this Steve?”

    “This is very true for most routes south of the 401, but in Suburbia, the TTC has no choice but to run winding routes, which may explain the poor levels of service.”

    Don’t forget those “straight line” street car routes like, King, Dundas, Carlton, Spadina and Bathurst. [... deleted for clarity ...] St. Clair is the only street car line that runs truly in a straight line. Queen makes that big curve around Humber Bay and 502 and 503 run up Kingston Road and have such poor service as not to count. The TTC runs non-grid service where the road system makes it useful, but a grid system for the main provides better service in the suburbs, especially if you want to go across the the top of the city.

    In many cities all the bus routes meet downtown and if you want to go from one suburb to another you must go downtown and then back out. This was how the suburban bus routes ran until the early 60′s. All the suburban bus line went to streetcar loops and ran very convoluted routes. The only place to transfer was at the street car loops. If I wanted to go from Warden and Lawrence to Don Mills and Lawrence I had to take a bus to Luttrell and Danforth then take the Bloor car to Pape and a bus from Pape up Don Mills.

    The grid system is much better but the TTC does know how to operate branches off regular service. Look at 32 Eglinton West, 96 Wilson and 35 Jane for a few examples.

  14. george Bell says:

    I like the idea of giving the on street supervisors buses … if the system starts to fail they must jump in their bus and fill any gaps … this would give them more incentive to not have gaps.

  15. Gord says:

    Steve, as a TTC Operator (buses), I will submit my two cents worth to a couple of comments made here.

    M. Briganti said:

    “The only way to solve this problem is to …

    - keep the line unsplit
    - force all runs to complete, even if they’re behind
    - force operators into overtime on this route
    - parachute in standby buses dynamically to fill service gaps”

    Steve said:

    “Headway based operations will require a rethink of how work is crewed and operators are managed. This is something the TTC and ATU should have been talking about for years, and I suspect that a combination of labour-management antagonism plus the burden of centuries of TTC past practice get in the way.”

    “Forcing” overtime will not happen under the current contract, nor do I see the Union accepting this in any future contract (as a matter of fact, I believe that such a condition would cause a total failure to ratify a contract).

    Article I Section 4 of the contract covers this:

    “When an emergency requires employees to continue at work for extra time, the parties hereto agree that the employees represented by the Union shall perform the necessary work at the premium rates as set out herein, provided that such extra work is kept to a minimum consistent with the emergency, and if employees have adequate reasons they shall be excused.”

    As well, Article II Section 6 would also apply in this circumstance:

    “Effective June 1, 2005, all Surface Operators on scheduled or special crews will be paid double time (two times the basic rate) for any extra time caused by being late when relieved or running vehicles into surface carhouses or garages when such delay is ten minutes or over.”

    The other aspect is that this would cause a lot of Operators to actually exceed hours of service as well as causing problems with their hours of rest. These are major violations of the Provincial Employment Standards Act which can entail severe fines being imposed on the employer. The contract also lays out “spread limits” (Article II Section 3 Clause 6).

    Steve: As I said, the TTC and ATU need to figure out how to provide a workforce for major routes where the payroll is not tightly linked to specific runs and locations of vehicles, but rather to the availability of crews to operate service. I make no claims to having a magic solution, but the discussion needs to happen. One issue here is that very long round trips may need to disappear as much as possible so that an operator is always geographically close to and passes “home base” frequently.

  16. David Cavlovic says:

    re: Headway vs. Schedule:

    I distinctly remember way back in the late 60/s early 70′s some routes like 1 ARMOUR HTS. or 62 MORTIMER only have the first and last bus times posted on the schedules that appeared at their terminus points. I always wondered if that implied that the bus, or buses arrived when they arrived and departed when they departed, and that could differ from hour to hour and day to day.

    Steve: “Frequent Service” at other times. There was a schedule, but the buses ran, allegedly, often enough that you didn’t need to post the details.

  17. Gord Adams says:

    If the idea of Route 507 going to Dundas West Stn goes ahead, what is he fate of Routes 145 & 508 travelling downtown?

    Steve: Remember that the 507 proposal is only a proposal, and different people have different ideas. My own preference would be to retain some 508 trippers, although there should be more of them. The 145 is, by all reports, carrying very light loads and should not be operated. Give people reliable service on the streetcar.

  18. David Aldinger says:

    Ray Kennedy says to bring back David Gunn. Sounds like a wonderful idea except for one question: What did he do or say about the situation on the 501?

    Steve: Sadly nothing. He was concentrating on the subway and vehicle maintenance.

  19. Ross Wright says:

    I wish more Operators would contribute to this and other forums that may help to explain their actual experiences and problems.

    Maybe top brass may learn more here to fix problems, than what reports show up on their desk.

    Do they lurk here often?

    Steve: Yes, I believe that I have lurkers.

  20. I am with Steve on the 507 proposal – increase cars on the 508, and scrap the 145. The buses and drivers can be better utilized on other routes.

    Steve: This is the position taken by the Lakeshore Planning Council today, and also it appears in a request to the Commission from Councillor Mark Grimes. The TTC asked staff to report on the proposal. Whether we will see a response is quite another matter.

  21. Andrew M says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is the difference between a headway based service and the frequent service moniker used on many of the bus routes now?

    Steve: “Frequent service” means that the scheduled headway is 10 minutes or better. However, if a line is managed to the schedule and it is chronically late, then there will be a lot of short turning and service considerably worse than what is advertised. Headway based service throws away the schedule, in the sense that car “X” is always at location “Y” at time “Z”, and simply runs vehicles on regular spacing. When the weather (or other relevant conditions) is good, the headway may be 5 minutes. When the weather is bad, this might stretch to 6 or 7, but at least the vehicles will be evenly spaced.

  22. Karl Junkin says:

    I agree with the notion that some routes need to be shorter. The question becomes “what makes for a practical maximum?” Of course, there’s also a question of resource management associated with it.

  23. Mark Dowling says:

    Is there scope to increase 508s or any other route beyond their existing number without cannibalising another route? Since the current service summary demands ~80% availability on both fleets presumably every extra car is going to be harder and harder to scare up.

    Steve: The TTC has talked about operating some services with buses in the AM peak, the time of greatest demand for streetcars, pending the arrival of new vehicles. One candidate is Bathurst as this would not require too many buses. Personally, I would prefer that they address the maintenance backlog, and to some extent this is happening with the CLRV rebuilds now in progress.

  24. David Cavlovic says:

    Steve said :

    “Frequent Service” at other times. There was a schedule, but the buses ran, allegedly, often enough that you didn’t need to post the details.”

    Well, if that isn’t proof of deterioration of service, I don’t know what is. The fact that a route like 62 Mortimer had ten minutes or better service, even on the weekends, and now runs much less frequent than that even during peak service, well, no wonder the car rules Toronto.

  25. Karl Junkin says:

    Steve: The TTC has talked about operating some services with buses in the AM peak

    Talk? I see buses sporting 500-series route numbers very regularly now all across downtown. Half-a-year ago, it was a novelty. Now it’s commonplace. It’s not in the service summary, but it is definitely in practice.

    Steve: The distinction was to explicitly schedule service this way.

  26. Vic says:

    O my goodness the TTC provides the most arrogant excuses for calling their experiment “failures”. According to the supervisor 1 single left hand turn at the route split is the reason why the experiment failed because “the streetcars were causing their own delays”. Are they serious? How foolish can these people be. The TTC just found their way to lie to thousands of Torontonians with a pathetic excuse.

  27. David Cavlovic says:

    “The TTC just found their way to lie to thousands of Torontonians with a pathetic excuse.”

    ….again!

  28. Gord says:

    Steve said:

    “Frequent service” means that the scheduled headway is 10 minutes or better. However, if a line is managed to the schedule and it is chronically late, then there will be a lot of short turning and service considerably worse than what is advertised. Headway based service throws away the schedule, in the sense that car “X” is always at location “Y” at time “Z”, and simply runs vehicles on regular spacing. When the weather (or other relevant conditions) is good, the headway may be 5 minutes. When the weather is bad, this might stretch to 6 or 7, but at least the vehicles will be evenly spaced.

    Every run has a scheduled departure time from each terminus. If the headway on the line is every three and a half to four minutes during peak (such as 25 Don Mills) and there are 50 buses on the line, you can imagine what the schedule on the stop pole would look like. Every run on every route does have a particular schedule to follow (verified with the timing points).

    Steve: But if the line is managed to a headway (something you would only do for routes running so often they don’t have a posted schedule anyhow) the timepoints are meaningless for customer info. The problem then becomes one of keeping service spaced as it moves along the line.

  29. NF says:

    Gord wrote “If the headway on the line is every three and a half to four minutes during peak (such as 25 Don Mills) and there are 50 buses on the line, you can imagine what the schedule on the stop pole would look like.”

    Why does one have to imagine what the 25 Don Mills stop pole would look like? All the runs are on the schedule at the stops! Because the 25D to 16th Avenue is less frequent, the entire schedule is shown on every stop. It fits just fine.

  30. Rapidtransitman says:

    Spacing.ca magazine did an online article on the 507 split off from the 501 route. Lots of positive comments, including Steve Munro’s. Check it out.

Comments are closed.