Kitchener Trolleybus Gallery

Many readers of this site have been posting photos of the ION LRT construction in Kitchener-Waterloo over the past years. Normally, I stick to Toronto news, but as a gift back to readers in K-W, here is a set of photos of the Kitchener trolleybus system just before it was converted to lovely, clean (ho ho ho) diesel buses.

Much of the city, at least along King Street,  is unrecognizable today from the early 1970s.

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A Slow Trip to Express Buses (Updated)

Updated June 19, 2017 at 3:30 pm: The TTC has clarified that the hourly costs shown for various routes are net costs, not gross costs, and this addresses my concern that some of these values were understated. The text of this article has been updated where appropriate.

Updated June 20, 2017 at 10:30 am: A section has been added on gross operating costs (the TTC study includes only net costs) to illustrate how these vary from route to route.

The TTC Board recently approved an Express Bus Network Study that proposes several new and enhanced express routes in Toronto. The premise of the study – improving the bus network’s attractiveness and convenience to riders – is a good one addressing the basic function of any transit system. However, thanks to the TTC’s severe constraints on capital and operating funding, the actual implementation of these proposals drags out for the better part of a decade. Bus planning in Toronto is converging with new subways for a lengthy gestation period.

There are three types of “express” route in Toronto:

  • The (mainly) peak period services usually signified by an “E” suffix on the route number. Typically, buses will run express over part of a route stopping only at major transfer points or destinations, and will continue as local service on the outer part of the route. These services are useful for riders who would otherwise face a long stop-and-go trip on a local bus for their entire journey. By carrying the long-distance riders express for part of the trip, the cost of route operations is reduced from that of an all-local service and provides a more attractive service overall.
  • The Rocket services (route numbers in the 18x-19x series) operate for most of the day on weekdays and weekends, and provide a more limited stop service, end-to-end, than the “E” branches. Some are designed around major endpoints such as the 192 Airport Rocket from Kipling Station to Pearson Airport, while others more closely resemble the stopping pattern of “E” services. Unlike the “E” branches, the Rockets do not necessarily duplicate the route of a local service.
  • The five Downtown Premium Express services (route numbers 14x) charge an extra fare for the privilege of avoiding the crowded Yonge subway and the 501 Queen car.

The TTC proposes an interim classification of the first two of these as Tier 1 (Rockets) and Tier 2 (“E” branches) with the intent of coming up with some sort of branding that could be used to market them. Some cities have special bus services with their own names such as Hamilton’s B Line Express and Vancouver’s 99 B-Line. Given that there already is an established name for Tier 1 with a strong Toronto reference, it is hard to understand why a new brand is required. As for the Tier 2 services, riders are well acquainted with the “E” convention (broken in rare cases such as 60F Steeles West).

The first recommendation of this study is that a marketing effort is required to brand these services. That says a lot about where the TTC’s focus has been in recent years – selling the “pizzazz”, to quote a former TTC Chair, while the system gradually declines thanks to penny-pinching by two successive City administrations.

Summary

This is a long article. Here are the highlights:

  • Growth of express services is limited as much by the political question of transit funding as it is by planning and resource constraints within the TTC.
  • The TTC’s bus fleet plan should be thoroughly reviewed to determine how more buses can be made available for service sooner than 2019/20 when McNicoll Garage opens.
  • TTC budgets should reflect a return to full streetcar service on the streetcar lines in 2018 and the redeployment of replacement buses back to the bus network.
  • Express bus routes that were added in 2016 have performed better than expected showing that these are popular services and should be expanded as soon as possible.
  • New Rocket and express routes are proposed in two waves, one for 2019-21 and the second with a tentative date of 2026.
  • Costs and revenues allocated to existing and proposed routes should be verified.
    • Update (text deleted): The costs shown for some routes appear to be in error if the methodology for costing used by the TTC is to be believed. (This issue has been referred to the TTC for comment.)
    • Revenue allocation in a flat fare system can distort the benefit of a route, and the measure of value should be based on usage not on a misleading allocation of fare revenue.
  • Express buses provide a means of carrying riders on a route with a mix of short and long haul demand more efficiently and attractively than an all-local service.
    • Riders on express services travel further than on local services taking advantage of the faster trip between major points on the route. There are fewer riders per bus kilometre because there is less turnover of the passenger load on express services.
    • Express buses cost more per ride than local buses because of their lower turnover (i.e. more riders), but the overall route cost is lower with a mix of services.
    • A proposal by one member of the TTC Board to charge extra for express routes would be counterproductive.
  • The Premium Express buses to downtown operate at a very high cost per passenger, although this needs to be verified in light of the issue with cost calculations. Demand on these routes is relatively light, and they contribute only trivially to reducing demand on parallel services. The TTC proposes to leave them in place at least until 2021, but this should be reviewed even though removing the services will be politically challenging.
  • Transit Signal Priority is not just an issue for an Express network, but for transit in general. It should be pursued on major routes whether or not they include express operations.
  • Route supervision will be essential to maintaining reliable service not just on express routes, but on the transit system overall.
  • The staff proposal to “brand” services continues the TTC’s focus on marketing when what is needed is service. The “Rocket” name is already well-established as a service type in Toronto, as are the “E” express branches of various routes. In a few cases, the “wrong” name is associated with a service (some “rockets” are really just “E” services in terms of their service patterns), but this does not justify a complete rebranding exercise.

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What Is The Scheduled Service Capacity on Queen Street?

This article is a follow-up to my previous piece on 501 Queen Capacity and the staff response to a query at the TTC Board Meeting of June 15, 2017.

At that meeting, Commissioner Joe Mihevc asked whether the capacity operated by buses on Queen Street was the same at all hours as the streetcars that had been replaced. Staff, after a bit of hesitation, replied that it was. The exchange is available on YouTube.

My reaction to this gets into the territory of “unparliamentary language”, but at the time I tweeted:

The term “porkies” will be familiar to Andy Byford and any of his team from across the pond. I moderated this later on to suggest that staff were “badly advised”, the standard political excuse when a Minister is attempting to extricate him/herself from accusations of misleading the House.

Unfortunately, the actual schedule data do not back up staff claims. In the table below, note that the vehicle capacities are taken from the TTC’s Crowding Standards.

In graphic form, the scheduled capacities are:

In almost all cases, and certainly during all periods when the route is busiest, the scheduled capacity of bus service is less than that of the streetcar service.

An explanation of the February to March change in streetcar capacity is in order here. For the March schedules, the TTC planned on a service diversion that did not actually take place. Because they have no spare cars, they make up the extra running time by stretching the headway between vehicles thereby reducing the line’s scheduled capacity. In some off=peak periods, spare vehicles are added to compensate, but not during the peaks.

On a vehicles/hour basis, the buses come much more often than the streetcars because more of them are needed to provide the same service. If the buses can maintain an even spacing (which they don’t as demonstrated in my previous analyses), the shorter wait time contributes to riders’ impressions of better service when in fact there is less capacity on the route.

The one caveat I will make with respect to scheduled capacity is that the TTC is chronically unable to run ALRVs where they are scheduled. This has been a long-standing problem going back to well before any issues with vehicle shortages. Service Planning schedules a capacity based on larger cars, while Operations sends out shorter ones that are overloaded. This is no excuse for perpetuating the under-capacity situation with the replacement bus service.

In coming weeks, some of the currently surplus running time in the bus schedules will be eaten up by construction on Queen west of Spadina, and on Lake Shore west of Humber Loop. The surfeit of vehicles we now see on Queen at its terminals and salted away in places like Wolseley Loop will likely vanish.

As for TTC Staff, I asked for an on the record comment from Brad Ross, Executive Director of Corporate Communications. His responses were:

Thanks for your comments.

followed by

We will review, we just don’t have time today.

The charts above are intended to detail my claim that the scheduled service has declined based on the TTC’s own schedules to save TTC staff the difficult work of looking this up themselves.

As for the actual capacity provided on the street, there are charts covering the peak periods in my earlier article. These are based on TTC vehicle tracking data and reflect the actual mix of vehicles and headways on a day-to-day basis.

When a reply arrives from the TTC, I will update this article.

The Evolution of Streetcar Service from 1980 to 2016

Transit service on many of Toronto’s streetcar lines has declined over past decades and, with it, riders’ faith in and love for this mode. Unreliable, crowded service is considered the norm for streetcar routes, and this leads to calls to “improve” service with buses.

The historical context for this decline is worth repeating in the context of current debates over how Toronto should provide transit service to the growing population in its dense “old” city where most of the streetcar lines run.

When the TTC decided in late 1972, at the urging of City Council, to reverse its long-standing plans to eliminate streetcars by 1980 (when the Queen Subway would take over as the trunk route through the core), the level of service on streetcar lines was substantially better than it is on most routes today. Any comparison of streetcars versus buses faced the prospect of a very large fleet of buses on very frequent headways roaring back and forth on all major streets.

Service in 1980 (when the system was originally planned for conversion) was substantially the same as in 1972, and for the purpose of this article, that date is our starting point.

Ten years later, in 1990, little had changed, but the City’s transit demand was about to fall off a cliff thanks to a recession. During this period, TTC lost much riding on its network including the subway with annual travel dropping by 20% overall. It would take a decade to climb back from that, but various factors permanently “reset” the quality of service on streetcar routes:

  • During the recession, service was cut across the board, and this led to a reduction in the size of fleet required to serve the network.
  • In anticipation of the 510 Spadina line opening, the TTC had rebuilt a group of PCC streetcars, but these were not actually needed for the 509/510 Harbourfront/Spadina services by the time Spadina opened. “Surplus” cars thanks to the recession-era service cuts were available to operate the new routes.
  • Since 1996, any service changes have been  made within the available fleet, a situation compounded by declining reliability of the old cars and the anticipation of a new fleet “soon”.
  • By 2016, the fleet was not large enough to serve all routes, and bus substitutions became common.

Some of the decline in demand on streetcar routes came from changing demographics and shifting job locations. Old industrial areas transformed into residential clusters, and the traffic formerly attracted to them by jobs disappeared. Meanwhile, the city’s population density fell in areas where gentrification brought smaller families to the houses.

The city’s population is now growing again, although the rate is not equal for all areas. Liberty Village and the St. Lawrence neighbourhood are well known, visible growth areas, but growth is now spreading out from both the King Street corridor and moving further away from the subway lines. This creates pressure on the surface routes in what the City’s Planners call the “shoulders” of downtown.

As the population and transit demand have rebounded, the TTC has not kept pace.

The changes in service levels are summarized in the following spreadsheet:

Streetcar_Services_1980_To_2016 [pdf]

510 Bathurst: In 1980, this route had 24 cars/hour during the AM peak period, but by 2006 this had dropped by 50% to 12. In November 2016, with buses on the route, there were 20 vehicles per hour, and with the recent reintroduction of streetcars, the peak service was 10.6 ALRVs/hour, equivalent to about 16 CLRVs. Current service is about 1/3 less than it was in 1980.

506 Carlton: In 1980, this route  had 20 streetcars/hour at peak, but by 2016 this was down to 13.8.

505 Dundas: In 1980, service on this route had two branches, one of which terminated at Church after City Hall Loop was replaced by the Eaton Centre. On the western portion of the route, there were 27 cars per hour, while to the east there were 15 (services on the two branches were not at the same level). By 2016, this was down to 10.3. [Corrected]

504 King: This route, thanks to the developments along its length, has managed to retain its service over the years at the expense of other routes. In 1980, there were 25.2 cars per hour over the full route between Broadview and Dundas West Stations with a few trippers that came east only to Church Street. Despite budget cuts in 1996 that reduced service to 16.4 cars/hour at peak, the route came back to 30 cars/hour by 2006. Service is now provided by a mixture of King cars on the full route (15/hour), 514 Cherry cars between Sumach and Dufferin (7.5/hour), and some trippers between Roncesvalles and Broadview. Some 504 King runs operate with ALRVs and most 514 Cherry cars are Flexitys.

501 Queen/507 Long Branch: In 1980, the Queen and Long Branch services operated separately with 24.5 cars/hour on Queen and 8.9 cars/hour on Long Branch at peak. By 1990, the Queen service had been converted to operate with ALRVs and a peak service of 16.1 cars/hour, roughly an equivalent scheduled capacity to the CLRV service in 1980. By 1996, Queen service was down to 12 ALRVs/hour of which 6/hour ran through to Long Branch. Headways have stayed roughly at that level ever since. The Long Branch route was split off from Queen to save on ALRVs, and as of November 2016 6.3 CLRVs/hour ran on this part of the route. Bus replacement services are operating in 2017 due to many construction projects conflicting with streetcar operation.

502 Downtowner/503 Kingston Road Tripper: In 1980, these routes provided 15.6 cars/hour, but by 2016 this had declined to 10/hour.

512 St. Clair: In 1980, the St. Clair car operated with a scheduled short turn at Earlscourt Loop. East of Lansdowne, there were 33.3 cars/hour on St. Clair. By 1996 this was down to 20.6 cars/hour. The next decade saw an extended period of reconstruction for the streetcar right-of-way, and service during this period was irregular, to be generous. By 2016, the service has improved to 21.2 cars/hour, but this is still well below the level of 1980.

What is quite clear here is that the budget and service cuts of the early 1990s substantially reduced the level of service on streetcar routes, and even as the city recovered, the TTC was slow to restore service, if at all. The unknown question with current service levels is the degree to which demand was lost to demographic changes and to what extent the poor service fundamentally weakened the attractiveness of transit on these routes. The TTC has stated that some routes today are operating over capacity, but even those numbers are limited by the difference between crowding standards (which dictate design capacity) and the actual number of riders who can fit on the available service. It is much harder to count those who never board.

In a fiscal environment where any service improvement is viewed negatively because it will increase operating costs, the challenge is to turn around Council’s attitude to transit service. This is an issue across the city and many suburban bus routes suffer from capacity challenge and vehicle shortages just like the streetcar routes downtown.

The bus fleet remains constrained by actions of Mayor Ford in delaying construction of the McNicoll Garage with the result that that the TTC has no place to store and maintain a larger fleet even if they were given the money to buy and operate it. Years of making do with what we have and concentrating expansion funding on a few rapid transit projects has boxed in the TTC throughout its network.

Transit will not be “the better way” again until there are substantial investments in surface fleets and much-improved service.

514 Cherry: Update on Noise & Vibration at King & Sumach Streets

Since late 2016, the TTC has suspended streetcar service on Sumach and Cherry Streets south to Distillery Loop during late evenings and early mornings. The reason for this was that some residents near the junction at King & Sumach complained about noise and vibration from turning streetcars. In a related change, the TTC also imposed a 10km/h speed restriction on the intersection.

During the periods when the 514 Cherry cars divert east to Broadview, a Wheel Trans shuttle bus operates over this route segment on a somewhat unpredictable schedule, and many would-be riders simply walk rather than wait for it.

At the community meeting of November 16, 2016, the TTC advised that additional noise and vibration readings would be taken after the 514 Cherry route was converted to operation with Flexity cars which are quieter than the CLRVs, a change that has now more or less completed. (The occasional CLRV can be found on the route, but officially it is all Flexity.)

On Tuesday, June 27, 2017, there will be a public meeting to provide an update on the situation.

Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Location: Toronto Cooper Koo Family Cherry Street YMCA Centre – 2nd floor, 461 Cherry Street, Toronto

I will update this post following the meeting.

A related issue is the service reliability to Distillery Loop which can be very spotty at times. This will be the subject of a separate article coming soon.

TTC Capital Budget 2017-2026: Streetcar Infrastructure

As the final installment in my review of streetcar operations and costs, this article catalogues the items in the TTC’s Capital Budget that are explicitly part of the streetcar system’s operation. It is not intended to provide a comparative view of the costs that would apply to a replacement bus-based network as that would require major new facilities and fleet whose costs I will not attempt to project.

This does not include costs for components that are common to all modes and which would exist regardless of the type of vehicle in use. For example, building repairs such as masonry and roofing will be required whether a building is a streetcar barn or a bus garage.

The full list of projects can be found in the TTC’s Capital Budget Report from November 2016 in Appendix E (begins on p. 17 of the pdf). A short guide to reading this report is in order. Here is a sample from the first set of streetcar projects. (Click to expand.)

The columns of figures reading across give:

  • Spending to the end of 2015
  • Probable spending in 2016
  • Annual planned spending in 2017-2026
  • Spending beyond 2026 (if any) for projects that will not yet be completed
  • The ten-year total for 2016-25 (the value in the previous budget)
  • The ten-year total for 2017-26
  • The estimated final cost (EFC)

The rows reading down give:

  • “B”: The value in the previous budget
  • “P”: The proposed value in the current budget
  • “C”: The change between these values

As an aside, it is worth scrolling through this list to see the large proportion of projects that relate in one way or another to the subway system, and its needs for ongoing infrastructure maintenance and renewal.

The streetcar-related items are summarized in a spreadsheet linked below. They are broken into two groups: projects that are ongoing (recurring capital maintenance) and projects that have a finite lifespan (purchase of vehicles, construction of new facilities, generational renewal of infrastructure).

CapitalBudget2017_StreetcarInfrastructure

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The Cost of Running the Queen Car

Update: Minor changes were made to add some details to the costings presented here at about 10:10 am on June 14.]

The debate over which type of transit vehicle should operate on Queen Street, and by implication on the wider streetcar network, will inevitably get into the question of the cost of streetcar operations. The TTC has cited large ongoing costs of the bus operation:

This summer, the TTC is spending an extra $1 million per month to run buses on the route, according to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross. It also takes 60 buses to provide similar service to the 501 Queen’s usual 45 streetcars.

“Queen is a good example of a route where streetcars make good sense because of the capacity that they offer you in the downtown to reduce congestion,” Ross said, adding that Toronto’s streetcars produce lower emissions than buses.

[From CBC News Toronto]

The ratio of buses to streetcars in this quotation is somewhat misleading for a few reasons:

  • The bus service is scheduled with extra running time in anticipation of construction delays, although the actual construction has not yet begun. This is responsible both for the accumulation of large numbers of buses at terminals.
  • The replacement ratio of 1.3:1 is well below values the TTC normally uses in comparing transit modes, and in their own crowding standards. The design capacities of vehicles for service planning is 51 for a standard bus, 74 for a standard-length streetcar (CLRV), 108 for a two-section articulated streetcar (ALRV) and 130 for the new low floor Flexitys. This implies a replacement ratio of 1.45:1 for CLRVs, 2.12 for ALRVs and 2.55 for Flexitys. These numbers would be adjusted downward to compensate for faster operating speeds with buses, if any, although that adjustment would vary by time of day and route segment as shown in my analyses of operations on the route.
  • The capacity of scheduled bus service is less than the scheduled capacity of streetcars at the beginning of 2017. Service for 501 Queen is based on the capacity of ALRVs.
  • The actual streetcar service on Queen before buses began taking over was scheduled to use 33 ALRVs and 7 CLRVs (November 2016 service). The CLRVs were dedicated to the service between Humber and Long Branch Loops.

The TTC’s methodology for allocating operating costs to routes is based on three variables:

  • Vehicle hours (primarily the cost of drivers and related management and overhead costs)
  • Vehicle kilometres (part of the day-to-day cost of running and maintaining buses including fuel)
  • Vehicles (part of day-to-day costs for work such as dispatching, routine inspections and maintenance, cleaning)

The cost of routine streetcar track maintenance is included in the vehicle kilometre cost. This does not include major projects such as the replacement of track which are funded from the Capital Budget.

The factors for the two modes as of 2015 were:

                   Per Hour      Per Km        Per Vehicle
                                                 per Day
     Buses         $ 92.30       $  1.88       $  150
     Streetcars    $ 95.40       $  3.42       $  515

     [Source: TTC Service Planning via Stuart Green in TTC Media Relations]

As 2015 costs, these numbers contain almost no contribution from the new Flexity fleet, but they will be influenced by the cost of maintaining decades old CLRVs and ALRVs. The hourly component of streetcar costs is probably influenced by the relatively higher level of route supervision on that network than on the suburban bus routes.

The TTC’s most recently published detailed statistics for their network date from 2014. (The lack of timely data on route performance is an ongoing issue, but one that is separate from this article.) For 501 Queen, the daily factors for 2014 operation were:

     Vehicle Hours    595
     Vehicle Km     9,100
     Vehicles          36

The number of vehicles listed is lower than the peak requirement, and this will affect the calculated cost as discussed below.

When the streetcar costs are applied to these factors, the daily cost of the Queen car comes out to just over $100k (2015).

     Hourly costs     $ 56,763  53.3%
     Kilometre costs    31,122  29.2%
     Vehicle costs      18,540  17.4%
     Total            $106,425

Adjusting this for the higher number of streetcars actually shown in the schedules would add 4 vehicles (40 vs 36) at a daily cost of $2,060.

On an annual basis (taking one year as equivalent to 305 weekdays, the factor used by the TTC to account for lower demand on weekends and holidays), the Queen car costs about $32.5 million (2015) to operate.

Update: This does not include the cost of the 502 Downtowner nor the 503 Kingston Road Tripper cars. Annualizing the premium for bus service quoted by the TTC to $12m/year puts the relative cost by their estimation in context.

The important point here is that the hourly costs account for about half of the total, and so any calculation is most sensitive to the number of operators required to provide service. Larger vehicles have a strong advantage over smaller ones. Also, larger vehicles mean lower costs for vehicle distance travelled and per vehicle costs, but it is not certain that for a large-scale change in fleet composition that these cost factors would remain stable depending on just which cost components are allocated to each category. For example, a carhouse costs the same amount to operate whether it has 200 small cars or 100 large ones in it. Extrapolation to an all-Flexity environment should be done with care.

In the case of a bus operation, provided that the average speed could be increased during peak periods, this would reduce the total vehicle requirement and bus hours, but it would not change the bus kilometres in comparison to buses scheduled at the same speed as streetcars. (Fewer vehicles travelling at a higher speed run up the same mileage.) The big difference would come in vehicle (operator) hours because of the lower capacity of buses.

The problem of projecting a replacement cost then becomes one of “twirling the dials” of various factors to determine what the replacement service might look like. One obvious starting point is that this must be based on normal route conditions, not on the non-standard schedules now in use for the construction period. Possibilities include:

  • Using an ALRV:Bus replacement ratio of 2:1
  • Using a lower replacement ratio such as 1.5:1 (a sensitivity test to determine how costs would change with larger buses)
  • Using the 2:1 capacity ratio, but assuming a higher average speed for buses
  • Using the higher capacity of Flexitys

The results from these assumptions should be taken with considerable caution because it is far from certain that the cost factors can actually be relied upon across the different vehicle types and usage patterns.

  • On a 2:1 replacement ratio, the cost of bus operation is about 50% higher than for ALRVs. Costs allocated per vehicle are lower, even though there are more buses, but this is more than offset by higher costs for the hourly and mileage components.
  • On a 1.5:1 replacement ratio, the cost of buses is about 10% higher than for ALRVs.
  • On a 2:1 replacement ratio, but with a 10% increase in average speed, bus costs go down about 8%, but are still about 1/3 higher than the cost for ALRVs.
  • For Flexity operations, assuming cost factors are unchanged (valid for hourly costs, but mileage and vehicle costs are another matter), the replacement bus service would cost about 75% more than the streetcar service.
  • Flexity costs fall by 1/6 relative to ALRVs because of the larger Flexity design capacity. This is a comparatively small saving on Queen because the route is already scheduled (if not actually operated) as if it had the larger ALRVs on it. If we were looking at 504 King, for example, the schedule is based on CLRVs and so the replacement by buses would require many more vehicles proportionately than for the Queen route, and replacement by Flexitys would require many fewer vehicles to provide the same scheduled capacity.

[Note: I have deliberately not published exact numbers here because this is only a rough estimate subject to alteration as and when the TTC refines its cost base and the assumptions behind a comparative service design. Also, it is based on 2015 cost data and 2014 schedules.]

These costs do no include major capital projects including ongoing renovation of streetcar track, and one-time costs to bring infrastructure (notably the overhead power distribution system) up to modern standards.

The annual cost of surface track and special work (intersections) varies from year to year based on the scheduled work plans. The average for tangent track over 2017-26 is about $21 million/year although the amounts for 2017 and 2018 are particularly high due to the extent of planned work in those years. From the point where the TTC decided to retain streetcars in late 1972 until 1993, their track construction was not of a standard required for the long life expected of rail assets. Track was not welded, untreated wooden ties were used, and there was no mechanical isolation for vibration between the track and the concrete slab in which it was  laid. The result was that roadbeds fell apart quickly and the lifespan of the infrastructure was about 15 years.

Beginning in 1993, the TTC changed to a much more robust track structure using a new concrete base slab, steel ties, welded rail and rubber sleeves to isolate the track from the concrete around it. The structure is designed so that when track does need to be replaced, only the top layer, the depth of the track itself, needs to be removed. New track can be attached to the steel ties that are already in place. Conversion to this standard across the entire system is almost completed, and track reconstruction costs will drop due both to longer lifespan and simplified renewal work.

The average for special work over 2017-26 is about $14 million/year. Starting in 2003, the complex castings were set in a vibration-absorbent coating. Construction techniques have also advanced so that intersections are pre-assembled and welded off-site and then trucked to street locations for installation in large panels. The most recent intersection, Dundas and Parliament, went from initial demolition of the existing track to full assembly of the new intersection in one week. (Further work was required to complete other road upgrades, and new intersections are typically allowed to cure for a few weeks so that the concrete does not suffer vibration before it has properly set.) With a roughly 30-year cycle for special work replacement, the TTC is only about half way through rebuilding all of its intersections to the new standard.

Update: The Queen route represents about 28% of the track in the streetcar system, and so is responsible for about $10m of the annual capital work averaged over its lifetime. This is a relatively high proportion for one route, especially in relation to the amount of service operated there. 504 King, for example, is much shorter and has considerably more service than 501 Queen.

The cost of track replacement is essentially a fixed value that varies little with the level of transit service, although some of the lighter routes could turn out to have greater lifespans. This capital cost, therefore, represents an investment in the future of the streetcar system and the ridership growth that it could accommodate if only the TTC ran enough service. (The frequency of many routes is very much lower today than it was a few decades ago, and there is a lot of room for growth as residential density builds up along these routes.)

I will review the TTC’s Capital Budget for streetcar infrastructure in the next article in this series.

Any examination of streetcar replacement with buses must consider a variety of factors, but most importantly must look not at the streetcar system as it is today with service levels essentially frozen at or below the levels of two decades ago, but at what it can become as the backbone of travel in the growing “old” City.

The Fords’ Fascination With Streetcars

At a recent meeting of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC), a motion was approved asking for reports on the comparative cost of streetcar and bus operations on Queen Street. The author of this was Councillor Michael Ford, although it was actually placed by his colleague, Councillor Holyday because Ford is not a member of PWIC.

1.  City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission, upon completion of the construction projects that have resulted in the removal of the 501 Queen Streetcar route from service for Summer 2017, to defer reintroduction of streetcar service for a period of two weeks, to permit the collection of data for the comparison study.

2.  City Council request the General Manager, Transportation Services, in consultation with the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Transit Commission, to conduct a comparison study of the efficacy of streetcar service versus bus service on Queen Street, specifically looking at:

a. Schedule reliability of transit vehicles
b. Delays to other users of the road
c. Collisions at transit stops involving transit vehicles and cars, pedestrians, or cyclists
d. Collisions at transit stops between cars, pedestrians and cyclists not including transit vehicles
e. Ridership satisfaction
f. Fleet maintenance costs
g. Fleet operator and operation costs
h. Incidences of driver assault
i. Incidences of passenger disputes
j. Traffic volumes in peak period and off-peak periods

using bus data collected during the two week delayed streetcar re-implementation period, followed by the subsequent two weeks once they have been re-implemented, in order to get a clear and direct comparison during non-construction periods, and report back to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in the first quarter of 2018.

The request received little debate coming as it did as an add-on motion to a Friday meeting. Nobody from the TTC was present, nor were there any interventions by downtown Councillors or members of the public. PWIC, although it deals with many issues affecting downtown, contains no members from that area thanks to the gerrymandering of committees by Mayor Tory.

An amendment to this motion by Councillor Lee asked the Deputy City Manager to report to Council with additional information such as the cost and feasibility of such a study.

The package passed on a 3-2 vote and the request goes to the July 2017 Council meeting for approval.

My recent series of articles on bus vs streetcar operations on Queen was already “in the works” when this motion was approved, although this request triggered somewhat more urgency to producing them than I had planned.

Part I: A comparison of travel times for streetcars in April vs buses in May 2017
Part II: An historical review of travel times September 2013 to May 2017
Part III: Capacity of service scheduled and operated
Part IV: Comparative operating speeds in May 2017

One important point flowing through these article is that “comparison” can be challenging when the underlying conditions vary. From the analysis I have published, it is already clear that buses tend to fare better than streetcars where traffic is light and demand is low, but they lose this advantage in busy areas. A further problem is that TTC operating practices for each vehicle type differ and buses tend to be driven more aggressively. Streetcars could be too, but in an attempt to manage service, various practices have resulted in streetcars being forced to drive more slowly than actual road conditions dictate. The longer this goes on, the more it is assumed to be an inherent part of streetcar operations, while those of us who have ridden the TTC for some years know what streetcars can actually do given the chance.

The motion proposes that buses stay in operation for two weeks beyond the point that streetcars would have returned (Labour Day weekend) and that data be collected to compare operations. To be fair to the buses, this may not be an ideal period because early September sees much traffic displaced from King to Queen thanks to TIFF. Other planned construction work will disrupt the street: in September, track will be replaced at Queen & Coxwell, and in October/November at Queen & McCaul. Coxwell, at least, is well out of the core an work there will not affect streetcar service (a bus shuttle will run to Neville). There is also the question of whether the TTC will have enough buses to spare for Queen once the summer service cutbacks end in September.

One issue raised by the motion and by some media reports is that riders feel they are getting a faster trip with buses. My analysis shows that for some times and parts of the route this is true, but not for the most congested areas. Moreover, as already noted, we are seeing buses unconstrained by a “go slow” operating policy compared with streetcars that limp along the route to avoid running early. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

We have been down this road before when former Councillor Rob Ford, later Mayor, posed a series of questions to the TTC in 2010. My thanks to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam for providing the exchange. For the purposes of this article, I have divided up the material so that I can comment on each section, and reordered the sections to provide a better thread in the current context.

It is no secret that I support the retention and expansion of the streetcar network. Although new suburban lines such as 5 Crosstown and 7 Finch West will use the “Metrolinx” Toronto car, whatever it might be, new lines in the waterfront west to Humber Bay and east to the Port Lands will be part of the “legacy” network. Waterfront plans depend on the capacity that an LRT  link to Union Station can bring.

The question of articulated buses as a streetcar replacement comes up from time to time. My response is that there are suburban routes where these are appropriate, but that in the congested core area, streetcars are the best vehicles for traffic conditions and they have the ability to operate underground where needed. Buses might be made to work, but only if Toronto is prepared to devote much more road space and time to transit vehicles. They are not a panacea for suburban motorists fighting their way through traffic in an oversized SUV.

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King Street Redesign Project Goes to TTC/City for Approval

The proposal to redesign the central section of King Street with priority for transit and pedestrians moves into its approval phase with a report going to the TTC’s Board on June 15, and to the City’s Executive Committee on June 19, 2017. Details of the study behind this proposal are on the King Street Pilot page of the City of Toronto’s website.

For those who have been following this project closely, there is little new in the report which consolidates material that has been evolving through a series of public meetings and consultations with affected groups along the route.

In brief, King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets would be modified as below:

  • No through traffic would be permitted, only local access, and vehicles would be forced to turn off of King Street rather than continuing in a straight line across the core area.
  • Transit stops would be shifted to farside locations so that pedestrian activity from riders boarding and alighting would be separated from right turning traffic movements.
  • No parking would be permitted, but specific locations would be designated as loading zones for short-term use and for taxi stands.
  • In some areas, pedestrian space would extend into the curb lane, and would be protected with measures such as planters to prevent vehicle access.

A generic view of this arrangement is shown below.

Each block would have four basic types of use in the curb lanes:

  • Farside transit stop (red/orange in the diagram)
  • Pedestrian realm improvement (green)
  • Loading zone (blue)
  • Right turn lane (gray)

The details will vary from block to block. For example, not all blocks have transit stops. Both the length of blocks and the nature of uses along the blocks will affect how much room is available/required for each type in each location. Transit stops and turn lanes are clearly “hard” requirements that must be met, and whatever remains would be divided for other types of treatment. Fine details of this plan are not included in the report, but will be worked out in detailed design over the summer with a target for implementation in fall 2017 after TIFF and its street occupancy is over. (Some aspects may not be implemented until Spring 2018 as they would be seasonal in nature.)

The enforced turning pattern is summarized in the diagram below.

The City expects that once motorists adjust to the new arrangement, the amount of traffic attempting to use King will drop and that these drivers will shift to parallel approach routes. Without this shift, the backlog of traffic awaiting turns off of King westbound at Jarvis and eastbound at Bathurst will present a substantial barrier to transit. This shift is easier for motorists to achieve east of downtown where parallel westbound routes are available via Front/Wellington, Richmond and Queen. To the west, options are much more limited because neither Front nor Adelaide runs west of Bathurst. This could affect congestion on Queen which is already a difficult corridor.

Shifting traffic onto Richmond/Adelaide also begs the important question of redesign of those streets and the degree to which their designated lanes are already abused. These are cycling streets, and part of the grudging acceptance of the absence of bike lanes on King by some in the cycling community was the availability of parallel routes. If these are not both enforced and physically protected so that they remain available, conflicts between cyclist and cars will inevitably rise. Moreover, if these streets allow incursions by motorists into the cycling lanes, then the their true performance will not be measured because cars will have more capacity available in practice than in the design.

Improved transit performance and capacity are obvious goals of any “priority” scheme. This raises important issues about TTC service that will be familiar to readers of this site.

  • Speed alone does not provide more capacity for riders, it only moves them faster. Capacity is a combination of vehicle size and service frequency, and only by improving at least one of these will riders see a difference. If the TTC does not actually run more cars/hour and/or larger cars, then the capacity will not change. In this situation, the main benefit of the pilot will be to insulate transit from events that might disrupt service in the core area, and allow scheduled service to be better maintained. However, changes downtown will not have any effect on scheduled service in Parkdale and Liberty Village.
  • Service reliability is important to riders because it makes their wait time for a streetcar predictable and distributes demand evenly among vehicles. The report states that congestion downtown “leads to unreliable streetcar headways along with bunching and gapping of streetcars”. This is true up to a point, but bunching and gapping are issues along the entire route including the spacing of vehicles leaving terminals. Indeed, the TTC’s own Service Standards accept a variation of ±50% from the scheduled headway so that cars intended to arrive every 4 minutes can actually show up on a pattern of 6-2-6-2-6 and be considered “on time”. The acceptance of bunching is baked in to the standards.

The TTC plans to increase service on King, subject to vehicle availability, but how this will be allocated remains to be seen. An important consideration for any scheduled short turn service, such as the 514 Cherry overlay on 504 King, is that of proper spacing. Adding a short turn car onto a route that comes out immediately behind a through car creates a “bunch” right at the origin and does little to add to service capacity or convenience. During peak periods when scheduled service is frequent, this does not matter much except when there has been a disruption and service spacing needs active intervention, not a laissez-faire attitude. (Irregular spacing is a chronic problem on all TTC routes where there are “blended” services that work on paper, but not in practice.)

They also plan increased supervision, but this runs headlong into “TTC culture” and scheduling practices. In an attempt to reduce short turns, streetcar (and some bus) schedules have been adjusted in recent years to have more running time. The premise is that the schedule should match real-world conditions. The problem lies in the amount of extra time which tends to suit less-than-ideal circumstances, but which causes streetcars to have more time than they require under “typical” conditions. This leads to slow operation along the routes, and backlogs of vehicles at terminals. (A recently retired operator of long acquaintance quipped that he was leaving “because he could not drive that slowly”.)

In an attempt to fix one problem, the TTC created another. Indeed, if the pilot is successful in reducing travel times through the core, streetcar operators may have even more excess time and may be forced to dawdle even more simply to avoid running early. The fundamental issue here is whether there is a way to move major routes like King to headway-based management rather than schedule-based. This brings problems of crewing because vehicles would not be in “scheduled” locations. On the subway, the TTC deals with this by making crew changes between trains along the route to put operators back on time even though the trains are in the “wrong” place. This practice is much trickier for on street routes, and it is simpler to short turn both the vehicle and the operator.

Although the TTC plans to provide more supervision of King Street service, this could be counter-productive if “staying on time” includes slowing vehicles down to match the existing schedules. To add to this problem, the lead time for a schedule change is close to three months, not the sort of nimble response one would want in response to changing conditions with the pilot.

Because this is a pilot project, an important issue will be that as problems arise they are identified and fixed (or at least an alternate strategy tried) quickly. To that end, the report proposes that the process for changing the traffic rules on King and many adjacent streets be delegated to the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services. Normally, any traffic regulation change goes through a process of staff reporting to the local Community Council (in this case the one for Toronto & East York) and because these are transit streets, the report must then be approved by Council. For the pilot, a quicker process giving the GM the ability to make changes “on the fly” will be in place until December 2018.

The full list of proposed changes to regulations on turns and parking is included in an appendix to the report.

The City and TTC plan to monitor the project to see just what happens both with the quality of transit service and with the effects on traffic flows in the study area. One important aspect of any review will be to look not just at “ordinary” days, but at the effect of special events such as nearby road closures (e.g. events at City Hall and other central locations, parades and construction). Also of interest will be the behaviour of traffic in the entertainment district between Simcoe and Bathurst, especially west of Spadina which is very congested on weekend evenings. A plan that works on Mondays will behave very differently on Fridays and Saturdays.

This pilot is a big change from the more timid approach to traffic management we usually see in Toronto. There is only so much to be achieved by tweaking traffic signal timings and adjusting regulated hours for parking and left turns. At some point, the more fundamental discussion – who is the road space for – must come forward.

[Full disclosure: I have worked on aspects of this project both on a paid and a pro bono basis providing analyses of TTC vehicle movements.]

Comparison of Streetcar and Bus Operations on 501 Queen (Part IV)

In this section of my review of bus and streetcar operations on Queen Street, I turn to a comparison of operating speeds by each type of vehicle over the route. The charts presented here show operating speeds for the first week of May 2017 (streetcar) and the second week (bus) between Neville Loop and Roncesvalles.

By way of introduction, here is one page from a set of charts.

On this chart, streetcar data are plotted in orange and bus data in blue. The streetcar data are “on top” so that bus data peek out from behind showing the peaks where buses are operating faster than streetcars.

Each chart set has many pages, one for each hour of the day from 6:00 am to midnight. The values plotted give the average of vehicle speeds along the route. The example above shows vehicles westbound on Queen during the PM peak hour of 5:00 to 6:00 pm. The chart should be read from left-to-right, the direction of travel. (Charts for eastbound operations have the same layout, but should be read from right-to-left.) The sawtooth form of the chart arises from locations where vehicles stop and the spaces in between where they are in motion.

Approaching a stop, especially one where there is a backlog of traffic from the stop, there will be a gradual decline in speed, but then a fast pickup afterward as the vehicles move off. Locations with serious congestion and queueing will show up as an extended area of low speed corresponding to vehicles creeping forward to the stop.

The evolution of traffic speeds over the day can be reviewed as an animation by stepping back and forth through the pages. This shows both the rise and fall of speeds hour-by-hour and the change in the degree to which buses operate faster than streetcars in some locations.

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