Measuring and Reporting on Service Quality

On September 30, 2014, the TTC’s Bloor-Danforth subway suffered a shutdown from just before 8:00 am until about 3:00 pm on the segment between Ossington and Keele Stations. The problem, as reported elsewhere, was that Metrolinx construction at Bloor Station on the Georgetown corridor had punctured the subway tunnel. While the weather was dry, this was not much of a problem because, fortunately, the intruding beam did not foul the path of trains. However, rain washed mud into the tunnel to the point where the line was no longer operable.

In the wake of the shutdown, there were many complaints about chaotic arrangements for alternate service, although any time a line carrying over 20k passengers per hour closes, that’s going to be a huge challenge. The point of this article is not to talk about that incident, but to something that showed up the next day.

20140930Stats

[Click to enlarge]

According to the TTC’s internal measure of service quality, the BD line managed a 92% rating for “punctual service”. This is lower than the target of 97%, but that it is anywhere near this high shows just how meaningless the measurement really is.

The basic problem lies in what is being measured and reported. Actual headways at various points on the line and various times of day are compared to a target of the scheduled headway plus 3 minutes. This may look simple and meaningful, but the scheme is laden with misleading results:

  • On the subway during peak periods, service is “punctual” even if it is operating only every 5’20″, or less than half the scheduled level. Off-peak service, depending on the time and day, could have trains almost 8 minutes apart without hurting the score.
  • There is no measurement of the actual number of trips operated versus the scheduled level (in effect, capacity provided versus capacity advertised). Complete absence of service has little effect because there is only one “gap” (albeit a very large one) after which normal service resumes.
  • There is no weighting based on the number of riders affected, period of service or location. A “punctual” trip at 1 am with a nearly empty train at Wilson Station counts the same as a train at Bloor-Yonge in the middle of the rush hour. There are more off-peak trips than peak trips, and so their “punctuality” dominates the score.

An added wrinkle is that the TTC only includes in its measurements periods of operation when the headway is unchanged. With the service being so often off-schedule, it would be difficult to say just what the value of “scheduled headway plus 3″ actually is at specific points along the route during transitional periods.

All the same, we have a measurement that has been used for years in Toronto and it gives a superficially wonderful score. Sadly, the formula is such that falling below 90% would require a catastrophic event, and some silt in the tunnel does not qualify.

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Posted in Service Cost and Quality, Transit | 18 Comments

SmartTrack Reviewed

My review of John Tory’s transit plans, notably SmartTrack, has just gone up on the Torontoist website. Please leave any comments there.

A separate article by David Hains about Tax Increment Financing appears there as Part Two.

Posted in A Grand Plan, Elections, Transit, Urban Affairs | Comments Off

Building the Connection to Leslie Barns (Updated September 24, 2014)

September 24, 2014

As segments of the utility work below Leslie Street are completed, the project has reached the stage where track, or at least foundations for track, are starting to appear south of Queen Street. The photos below were taken on September 21.

Looking north on Leslie across Eastern Avenue (one block south of Queen). The track only extends the width of the intersection at this point, but the work allows east-west traffic to resume.

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Looking south from Eastern Avenue. The track will be laid in a form (see also the next photo) whose design is intended to distribute the load across the street and avoid problems with poor soil conditions below. The form shown here moves on small rails.

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Looking north from Mosley Street showing the one-piece track foundation.

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Looking southeast across Lake Shore to the new Leslie Barns under construction. The entrance to the site will be at Commissioners Street, the next block south. The large smokestack is not part of the barns, but of a sewage treatment plant which is a neighbour to the barns.

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Posted in New Streetcars, Queen Car, Transit | 71 Comments

King & Sumach: Connecting to Cherry Street (Update 10: September 21, 2014)

Last year, the TTC built new track on Cherry from Eastern Avenue south to the rail corridor that, eventually, will host a new streetcar service in spring 2016. Why so long you ask? The south end of the line sits in the Pan Am Games’ Athletes’ Village and won’t be ready for service for two years even though most of the track will already be in place. The opening will co-incide with the period when purchasers of condos (originally used as athletes’ quarters) will start moving into the neighbourhood.

New photos will be added to the end of this article as the project progresses.

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Posted in King Car, Transit, Waterfront | 73 Comments

TTC Service Changes for October 12, 2014 (Updated)

Updated September 21, 2014 at 11:20am: Details of subway operational changes have been added to the article, and the summary table showing all schedule changes is now included.

2014.10.12_Service_Changes

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Posted in Service Cost and Quality, Spadina Car, St. Clair Car, Transit, Waterfront | 51 Comments

How Can the TTC Run More Service?

In a previous article, I wrote about the crisis in system capacity across all modes – buses, streetcars and subways – and the danger that Toronto may face years without meaningful improvement in transit capacity.

This is a campaign issue, but one that is embraced only by one major candidate, Olivia Chow, and even then, not very well.

Full disclosure: Early in the campaign, I was approached by the Chow team to advise on what became her better bus service plank, but I certainly didn’t write it for reasons that will soon be obvious.

Her transit plan includes support for LRT lines, GO electrification and the first stage of a Downtown Relief subway line. It also includes this commitment regarding bus service:

A better transit plan starts investing now, with buses. Because 60% of TTC rides involve a bus and as the TTC says, the only way to expand transit now is with buses. So Olivia will invest to boost bus service right away, investing $15 million a year.

When we stack a paltry $15m up against the billions in rapid transit plans, it looks rather puny and gives the impression we are trying to get more service on the cheap. How can small change by transit budget standards stack up against the massive spending schemes of rapid transit networks?

Where did the number come from? Back when the Ford/Stintz crew started to dismantle the Miller-era service standards, the anticipated saving was only about $14m/year. However, reversing the cuts is not quite as simple.

When you cut transit service, you can reduce costs simply by letting old buses wear out and not replacing them, by reducing the operator workforce through attrition, and by cutting plans for a new bus garage (needed for a bigger fleet) out of the capital budget. That’s precisely what happened.

To undo the damage, we need more buses, more garage space and more operators. Some, but by no means all, of the cost will come out of the $15m, but there is much more involved.

McNicoll Garage has a pricetag of $181-million (of which only about $80m has been funded as of 2014), and it is required simply to handle growth in the bus fleet with no provision for better service standards. Yet another garage will be required to support better service, although in the short term one garage will do for both purposes. Also, by 2020, some bus services will have been replaced by rapid transit lines, but we don’t really know how much because the future of various schemes is uncertain.

(Some of the chaos in fleet planning dates from the cancellation of Transit City, and still more from shortsighted cutbacks of the last few years.)

New buses cost about $700k apiece. With current peak service at around 1,500 buses (not including those used for construction service), a 10% bump in fleet capacity means 150 new vehicles at a cost of $105-million.

At the very least, in the next few years, the TTC would face the following capital costs over and above what is already committed:

  • $100m to fully fund McNicoll Garage
  • $105m to purchase 150 buses

Moreover, the McNicoll project must be accelerated for completion before 2019, the current schedule. The idea that Toronto would see no additional peak service for five years is a disgusting testament to the ill-informed folly of the Ford/Stintz era.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Elections, Finance, Service Cost and Quality, Transit, Urban Affairs | 63 Comments

John Tory’s “SmartTrack”: Will That Train Ever Leave The Station?

Late in May, John Tory launched his “SmartTrack” transit line, the centrepiece of his “One Toronto” plan. Media reps gathered for a preview at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and the launch was handled almost entirely by Tory’s staff. All of the background papers are on the One Toronto website, and little has been added since that event.

Even then, in the early days of the campaign, there was good reason to distrust Tory’s grasp of his own proposal, let alone a willingness to engage in debate, when he made the briefest of appearances for a canned statement to give the media clips for the news broadcasts, but answered few questions.

I was modestly impressed that at least a Mayoral candidate was not just thinking at the ward level for a transit proposal, but felt the plan was rather threadbare — a single line to solve almost all of Toronto’s problems.

Wearing two hats that day – as both reporter and activist – I was scrummed by the media for comments, and the Tory campaign chose to lift one phrase out of context as an “endorsement” for SmartTrack that remains online.

Steve Munro, Toronto Transit Blogger, said, “This is very much a refocusing of what transit in Toronto should be.”

What I was talking about was the need to look at the region and at trips to points other than the corner of Bay & Front and times other than the traditional commuter peaks. As to the specifics of SmartTrack, I was rather less complimentary.

In brief, SmartTrack would see electric multiple unit (EMU) trains operating primarily on GO Transit corridors between Unionville on the Stouffville line and Mount Dennis on the Weston corridor (the Kitchener-Waterloo line). At Eglinton and Weston, the line would veer west along the former Richview Expressway lands to the Airport Corporate Centre, but not to the airport itself.

The route would charge regular TTC fares with free transfers to the existing system, and with frequent all-day service at peak levels of every 15 minutes. Over its 53km it would have 22 stations, and might, according to the campaign, carry over 200,000 passengers per day.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Beyond 416, Commuter Rail Electrification, Downtown Relief Line, Eglinton LRT, Elections, Finance, GO Transit, Scarborough RT/LRT/Subway, Transit, Waterfront, York Region | 64 Comments

RER, UP(X), (D)RL, SmartTrack, W(W/E)LRT: The Frustration of Competing Plans

Updated Sept. 9, 2014 at 12:50 pm: NOW Magazine has published an article by Rob Salerno detailing the problems with the right-of-way on Eglinton West that John Tory’s SmartTrack plan assumes is available, as well as questions about the need for both a frequent service on the Stouffville GO corridor and the Scarborough Subway.

Toronto is beset by a love of drawing lines on maps. We have stacks of rapid transit studies going back to the horsecar era. We have competing views of regional and local transit. We have the pandering “I have a solution for YOU” approach tailored to whichever ballot box needs stuffing. Almost none of this gets built.

Fantasy maps abound. The difference between the scribblings of amateur transit geeks and professional/political proposals can be hard to find.

Common to both is the sense that “my plan” is not just better, it is the only plan any right-thinking person would embrace. Egos, both personal and governmental, are literally on the line. Once pen meets paper ideas acquire a permanence and commitment that are almost indelible.

If transit networks were cheap to build and operate relative to the resources we choose to spend on them, transit would be everywhere and blogs like this would be reduced to debating the colour scheme for this week’s newly-opened station. Transit is not cheap, and the debates turn on far more complex issues than which shade of red or green is appropriate for our two major networks.

Another election with competing views of what is best for Toronto brings a crop of proposals. I hesitate to say “a fresh crop” as some schemes are long past their sell-by dates. Candidates may strive to bring something new to the discussion, but these attempts can discard good ideas simply to appear innovative. Perish the thought that we might embrace something already on the table when we can wave a magic wand and – Presto! – the solution to every problem appears in a puff of smoke, a well-timed entrance and an overblown YouTube video.

Moving people with transit is not simply one problem with one solution. Nobody pretends that a single expressway could cure all the ails of Toronto and the region beyond. A single highway – say, a “401″ in a Toronto that had only recently paved Sheppard Avenue – would be recognized for its limitations. But once a plan is committed to paper – even the dreaded coffee-stained napkin, let alone election literature –  resistance is futile. At least until the next election.

This article reviews several dreams for new and upgraded transit, and tries to make sense out of what all these lines might achieve.

As I was reading through all of this, I felt that some of my critique will sound rather harsh, and inevitably I would be challenged with “so what would you do”. If you want to see my answer, jump to the end of the article, remembering that my scheme is not a definitive one.

Although some of my comments touch on proposals of various Mayoral candidates, I will leave a detailed review of those for a separate article. A good regional plan is more important than any one campaign, and the debate on what we should build should not be dictated by this week’s pet project, whatever it might be.

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Posted in A Grand Plan, Commuter Rail Electrification, Elections, GO Transit, Subways, Transit, Waterfront | 110 Comments

Flexities Debut on Spadina (Update 2)

Updated September 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm:The Nextbus site now displays wheelchair symbols on route tags for the Flexities running on the 510 Spadina line.

Updated September 2, 2014 at 12:45 pm: Thanks to Darwin O’Connor for the URL that takes us to a page on his website showing where the new cars are located in real time.

Original article from August 31, 2014:

August 31, 2014 marked the reopening of the 511 (oops!) 510 Spadina streetcar between Bloor and Queens Quay, and the introduction of the first two of Toronto’s new fleet of Bombardier Flexity streetcars.

Regular service had been operating since 5:00 am, but the official ceremony took place at Spadina Station at 10:00 with the usual speechifying by sundry officials and politicians. Particularly gratifying were remarks by TTC CEO Andy Byford praising the people who had designed and built the new cars. Politicians show up for the ribbon cutting, but it’s the folks who have spent years to bring us these new cars who did the real work.

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Posted in New Streetcars, Spadina Car, Transit, Vehicles | 119 Comments

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, August 31, 2014 (Update 3)

The August 31 schedules will see a return to fall service across the system as well as several other changes.  At long last (I have been distracted with other events, and there was a lot to do this month) here is the consolidated list of service changes. The list combines all types of change because there are overlapping seasonal, construction and service improvement effects.

The table linked here has been updated to correct errors missed in its creation. Thanks to Timor Urakov for catching these.

2014.08.31_Service_Changes (Revision 2)

Major changes include:

  • Return of streetcars to 510 Spadina
  • A major change of the 504 King schedule to provide added running time
  • Return of 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcars to Broadview Station
  • Route split of 501 Queen for Gardiner Expressway construction at Humber Loop
  • Route split of 116E Morningside Express to 198 UTSC Rocket

Something I have not included here, but will add in a future update, is a list of all of the Standby Buses (and a few streetcars) that are spotted around the city for various reasons. They don’t show up in the route-by-route info, but there is a substantial chunk of the fleet used to provide this service. Due to a bus shortage, the number of standby vehicles scheduled for fall 2014 is lower than originally planned.

510 Spadina

Streetcars will return to Spadina between Bloor and Queens Quay with all service running through to the south end of the line. The route will be scheduled based on CLRV capacity, and new Flexities will take over runs one by one as cars become available. Current plans are for through service to Union and a resumption of streetcar service on 509 Harbourfront in October.

At the end of the AM Peak, 508 Lake Shore trippers operate a westbound trip as 506 Carlton to provide extra capacity to the UofT St. George campus. These trips previously operated back to Roncesvalles Carhouse, but they will be changed so that the cars switch over to 510 Spadina which has more cars during the midday than the AM peak.

Previously, this interlining was done using 503 Kingston Road cars from Russell, but with the move of 510 Spadina to Roncesvalles, trippers from that division will be used.

504 King Running Time Changes

In an attempt to reduce the need to short turn much of the service to keep operators on time, the TTC is changing the round trip times during all periods of service on this route.

King Round Trip Time Changes September 2014

                    Weekdays     Saturday     Sunday
                    Aug   Sept   Aug   Sept   Aug   Sept
AM Peak             104+8 120+8
M-F Midday          100+8 122+5
PM Peak             115+8 135+7

S-S Early Morning                85+5  105+5  78+2  95+4
S-S Late Morning                 97+7  111+6  94+5  109+5
S-S Afternoon                    97+7  111+6  94+8  109+5

Early Evening        95+7 116+6  97+4  111+4  82+8  97+3
Late Evening         85+6  99+4  83+7  100+4  76+4  95+4

In the table above, the “before” times are shown under “Aug” and are taken from the schedules in effect until Aug. 30. The “after” times are shown under “Sept” and are taken from the schedules effective Aug. 31.

The time is given as running time plus recovery time. For example, the AM peak running time of “120+8″ means that cars will have 120 minutes of driving time to make a round trip plus 8 minutes of terminal recovery time. Some of the changes increase the total time by 20%, a very substantial increase.

Whether this will translate into a noticeable reduction in short turns remains to be seen. One potential problem will be the accumulation of “early” cars at terminals where it is already possible to find lineups of cars. From my own knowledge of the line, some of these changes appear to be excessive and will probably have to be rolled back.

501 Queen & 508 Lake Shore

From September through December, reconstruction of the Gardiner Expressway at Humber Loop will close off the underpass between the loop and Lake Shore Blvd. The outer end of the Queen route will once again switch to a shuttle bus connecting with the streetcar.

Subway Changes

Yonge subway operations will be changed to base more trains at Davisville Yard. This will give more time for maintenance work as the last service trains will be clear of the line sooner than on current schedules. An early morning non-revenue train that carries Station Collectors to work will be replaced with a shuttle bus.

On the Bloor subway, service will be improved weekday middays and evenings, and on Saturday afternoons to reduce crowding.

Roncesvalles Yard

In anticipation of the arrival of more Flexities, some runs will be shifted to other locations. Exhibition Loop will now be used to store some 511 Bathurst runs as well as 512 St. Clair runs already at that location.

The 510 Spadina route will operate from Roncesvalles where the Flexities will be based, and to make room, all runs on 505 Dundas will operate from Russell.

Broadview Avenue

Streetcar service will return to Broadview Station after a temporary absence in July-August.

Since the re-opening of the Broadview & Queen intersection, carhouse trips from Russell westbound have resumed using the west-to-north curve that was taken out of service for safety concerns in October 2012.

Six Points Project

The reconstruction of the Kipling-Dundas-Bloor interchange begins in September and this will trigger diversions of various routes around Kipling Station.

Posted in Bathurst Car, Dundas Car, King Car, Queen Car, Service Cost and Quality, Spadina Car, Subways, Transit, Waterfront | 69 Comments