[Updated December 8: I have added a link to James Bow's post with his observations of the meeting.]
For the benefit of those who could not attend last night’s forum, here are a few comments from a rather jaundiced participant.
The meeting was well-attended (about 90 people) Even though the original venue was changed to a larger room in anticipation, we were full around the edges. I was pleased to see that we had folks from both The Beach and from southern Etobicoke so that we had the flavour of both ends of the line.
Ed Drass started off with introductions, and managed to keep the meeting rolling along. We consumed a full 2 1/2 hours.
James Bow talked about his personal history with the Queen car going back to the days of PCC trains when he first rode the line. His major point was that a once proud line, one of the heaviest in the system, had been reduced over the years to just another busy route.
I talked about the history of service cuts, route amalgamations and ridership losses (this has been described elsewhere in the “Queen Car” subject thread on this site), and how this route is a textbook example of how to drive riders away. The TTC has managed to lose half of the riding from the routes formerly known as Queen, Downtowner, Kingston Road and Long Branch through their ill-advised changes in service levels, and their inability or unwillingness to manage what remains on the street.
I also talked briefly about my work on the CIS data and how important good route management will be to any solution (all of this has appeared here in much more detail already).
Adam Giambrone, TTC Chair, introduced the team from his organization saying that, yes, they accept that there are problems on the Queen line and they’re working to fix them. He also suggested that if the TTC had conscription powers, they would have me doing the work. Alas, I’m already doing their work for them pro bono, and it’s about time the TTC’s professional staff did what they’re paid to do — understand how lines work, run good transit service, not find excuses.
Rick Cornacchia, General Manager of Operations, was up next along with Paul Millet from Rail Operations (responsible for both surface and subway rail services). Between them, they acknowledged that there’s a problem and they are hoping to bring some of the operating strategies from the subway to bear on surface routes. We shall see. These are very different worlds and, in particular, the option of just stopping the whole line when something goes wrong is not viable aboveground.
Mitch Stambler brought up the rear with the TTC’s common complaints about traffic congestion, signal priority, banning turns and controlling parking. I am sympathetic to all of these but with two huge caveats.
First, delays are a fact of life on surface routes, streetcar or bus, due to the amount of traffic and the widths of the roads. Many streets operate de facto one lane, each way, thanks to parking. Transit priority and changes in traffic regulations will not be politically viable in most locations, and the TTC has to learn how to live with conditions as they are. From my own reviews of line operations, chronic congestion is far more common than actual blockages, and predictable congestion should be allowed for in operational plans.
Getting rid of congestion will shorten trips and allow the TTC to provide more service with the same number of cars (not that this is their usual reaction to improvements in operating conditions), but there will always be some congestion. Moreover, some delays are caused by long loading times, and that really won’t be sorted out until the TTC changes the way it serves stops both through low-floor, all-door loading, and through the use of a longer stopping area as a valid place for boarding.
In the name of “safety”, most TTC vehicles won’t open the doors until they are right at the stop. This adds a huge amount to stop service times and often prevents more than one car from serving a stop at the same time. Oddly, the same two cars, coupled together, or re-engineered as a new, longer streetcar, can serve a longer stop area “safely”.
This is related to the TTC’s claim that running cars more often than every 4 minutes is counter-productive because they get bunched up in traffic. One major source of that bunching is the practice of only letting one car serve a stop at a time, and another is the lack of working transit priority at many intersections.
Finally, rather than griping about the non-enforcement of traffic regulations, the TTC and City Council should actively pursue the ability for TTC staff to tag and tow. Indeed, this could be a lucrative source of revenue for the City. The current situation, where this task is reserved to the police, is not the situation across Canada, and changes require only Queen’s Park’s approval.
The TTC was roundly criticized (I am being kind here) by several people who queued with questions for the appallingly bad service. People reported walking very long distances twice a week before a streetcar passed them. Delays of 20 to 40 minutes are commonplace to riders. This is not a fiction I or any other activist invented, and the TTC has known (or should have known) about the situation for years. They chose to do nothing claiming they were powerless to change things.
The TTC is now at the beginning of its own very public “twelve step” program to improve streetcar service. The first step is admitting that there is a problem. The harder part comes with accepting that all those excuses, honed over the years to justify inexcusable behaviour, really are empty and must be discarded.
This won’t be pleasant to watch, and we can expect lots of backsliding along the way. But some day, some bright, shining day, I will attend a meeting where the phrase “traffic congestion” isn’t the transit equivalent of a cork popping out of a bottle.
[The following is the original announcement from Roger Brook of Rocket Riders.]
Sponsored by: Sierra Club & Rocket Riders (Toronto Environmental Alliance)
Tuesday December 4th, 6:30 – 9:00 pm Metro Hall, Room 310 55 John Street (at King W.)
The Fix the 501 forum will examine rider concerns and seek solutions for the troubled Queen line, the backbone of transit service in the south end of the City. The meeting will tend to have a focus on operations as well as some planning issues. More short term, rather than capital heavy solutions.
Context: The TTC was to bring the issue to their December 6th board meeting. Councillor Bussin whose ward would be affected by any changes has rescheduled the issue for the January TTC meeting to prepare.
6:30 Intro: Moderator Ed Drass (Metro reporter)
6:40 James Bow (Transit Toronto)
6:45 Steve Munro
6:55 TTC: Adam Giambrone (chair), Mitch Stambler (service planning), Paul Millett (operations)
7:25 Panel discussion, questions & coments from audience (panel includes speakers).
There will be a wrap up when most questions/comments have been exhausted before 9pm.