Many Questions About A Subway Takeover

In the melee that passes for Ontario politics, one major issue is the proposed takeover of Toronto’s subway system by Queen’s Park. Such a change, they claim, would allow a great speed-up of system expansion currently hung up at Toronto Council. A good deal of that hang up can be traced to the Premier and his brother’s actions at Council, but such trivialities get in the way of a good stump speech.

The idea that planning should be based on actual evidence is a buzz-phrase heard most commonly when a politician is trying to appear “businesslike” and claims to be applying some sort of intellectual rigour to back-of-the-envelope planning. The uploading proposal sounds good in theory, but this is due in part to poor understanding of transits needs and cost both at Queen’s Park and at City Hall. The scheme surfaced years ago at Council as a simplistic way to cut the cost of transit support in the City’s budget, and the idea moved to the provincial level along with the Ford regime.

A common thread through every proposal is that the true cost of owning, operating and upgrading the subway system is poorly understood, even by members of Toronto Council and the TTC Board whose job it should be to know these things. It is a convenient myth that the subway “breaks even”, and that if only someone would take the cost of expansion and capital maintenance off of the City’s hands, all would be well.

In the interest of informed debate, this article examines the plan, such as it is, and the many issues that have yet to be addressed by its proponents.

Understanding the TTC Budget

A detailed breakdown of the TTC Budgets can be found in:

The TTC’s budget and long-term plans are poorly understood. The TTC Board scheduled Budget and Strategy meetings, but either cancelled them or spent the available time on narrow-focus rather than system-wide issues. At Council, things are even worse because budget debates, crammed with every department’s issues, get only short review. These are usually in an environment hostile to discussions of change except for a few, small topics. The “big picture” is limited to battles over new transit lines while the health of the overall system goes ignored.

For a decade or more, service growth in Toronto was constrained by the size of the streetcar and bus fleets, the physical limits on train spacing on the subway and the capacity of its stations. Much of the recent service growth is outside of the peak period when spare vehicles are available.

On the capital side, the City has a policy that its debt service costs should not exceed 15% of tax revenues. The province mandates a 25% cap, but the City takes a more conservative approach to provide headroom. Originally the cap applied to each year individually, but it is now considered over a ten-year average so that peaks and valleys in debt costs can smooth out for a 15% average. Already, planned borrowing for future years takes up all available room, and additional debt-financed work is possible only with special levies such as the Scarborough Subway tax (1.6%) and the John Tory City Building Fund (building up to 2.5%). (These are both tax increases above the rate of inflation.) If the cost of borrowing goes up, or City tax revenues fall, the 15% line will be only a fond memory.

The problem is compounded by a chronic understatement of transit needs going back at least eight years. When the marching orders are to keep deficits, and hence taxes, down, any proposals for improvement run counter to political goals. “We can’t afford it” becomes a standard response, and options simply go unstudied especially if they are associated with the wrong political faction.

If we don’t know what options will cost, we don’t know what might be possible or what the trade-offs among options would look like.

Even worse, with the Capital Budget, there is a long list of items that are either:

  • approved but not funded (roughly 1/3 of the approved list, about $3 billion worth)
  • “below the line” with neither approval nor funding (over $1 billion)
  • “future consideration” (over $2 billion)

Many of the big ticket items in these lists are subway items such as new and expanded fleets for the two major routes, and capacity expansion at busy stations. Many items in the budget are actually part of a larger project such subway capacity. However, the budget is presented on a departmental basis, and there is no consolidation of related line items. This has two effects: the TTC Board and Council rightly complain when projects appear to grow because approving the first step triggers the need for all that follows, related items are consigned to “funded” or “unfunded” status without regard for their place in the larger scheme.

The problem with these lists is that they are getting longer, especially the second and third group, even though some items form parts of critical system updates. Other projects simply are not on any budget, or are pushed so far into the future that they have no effect on the current ten-year plans. The 15% rule caused important projects related to Line 2 Bloor-Danforth to be pushed into the late 2020s even though some of them are pre-requisites for the Scarborough Subway Extension. (The components of Bloor-Danforth subway renewal and capacity expansion are discussed in detail in an appendix to this article.)

If Ontario takes over responsibility for the subway, they will inherit that long list of projects. For its part, Toronto Council and the TTC Board do not fully understand the implications if Ontario simply chooses not to invest in the existing system because the estimate of a takeover has been low-balled.

The TTC Board is very simple-minded in its deliberations, and avoids going into details. Their focus is on cost containment, not on service, except when someone needs a photo op to announce some relatively trivial change such as an express bus network that adds few new buses.

If Council and the TTC don’t understand their own system and its real needs, how can they fight for it?

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Dundas/Lansdowne Reconstruction

The second leg of College Loop is under construction at Dundas & Lansdowne, although the work has been interrupted by an unexpected gas main. The northern leg at College & Lansdowne was done in 2016, and the western leg at College & Dundas is planned for 2020 along with other work on the western end of the Dundas and Carlton routes.

A snag in the project is described in a comment on another thread:

Re: Dundas and Lansdowne, based on conversations with a TTC worker a few days ago, it seems that contractors discovered a previously unknown high-pressure gas main directly under the roadbed, thus the slowdown. (I had noticed a switch from demolition using heavy machinery to much slower work with handheld jackhammers in that area.) The worker I spoke to said that due to the discovery of the gas main they would be unable to install the west-to-north curve as current standards demand greater clearance between the tracks and buried gas lines. The pipe does indeed seem to be very shallow and is readily visible when standing on the northeast corner of the intersection. I was told that relocation of the gas main would not be possible within the current construction window and that the missing curve would have to be installed next year as part of the College/Lansdowne reconstruction. [comment by “slmably”]

Looking at the pending construction work map on the City of Toronto’s website, work is planned on Lansdowne south from College in 2019.

Here are photos of the work in progress:

Thursday, September 13. 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, October 7, 2018

Thanksgiving weekend will bring a major change in the organization of streetcar service on King Street, a further expansion of the new Express Network, and several service improvements mainly during the off-peak period.

2018.10.07_Service_Changes [Revised to correct branch letters on 12 Kingston Road]

King and Cherry Streetcars

As I reported in a previous article, the 514 Cherry route will disappear as a distinct entity. Service on 504 King will be changed to a configuration to the design used over summer 2018 while Broadview Avenue was closed for construction. An eastern and western branch will serve the route overlapping in the central section.

  • 504A Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop
  • 504B Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop

Unlike the summer routes, the Kingston Road streetcar service will remain in its traditional design:

  • The 502 Downtowner route operates between Bingham Loop (at Victoria Park) and University Avenue weekdays until 7:00 pm. This remains as a bus service pending availability of enough streetcars to restore streetcar service to McCaul Loop.
  • Peak period 503 Kingston Road Tripper streetcars operate from Bingham Loop to York & Wellington via King. Service to the Charlotte loop at Spadina, part of the summer design, was discontinued with the return to fall schedules in September.

Scheduled headways on the outer parts of the route are wider than currently operated on the premise that the route will operate with larger Flexity cars rather than the old CLRVs. The TTC’s intent is to have the route completely converted to new cars by the end of the year. As of September 13, about three quarters of the AM peak 504 King cars were operating with Flexitys as well as all of the 514 Cherry cars. Based on Flexity delivery rates, the conversion will not complete before the new schedules go into effect and a few CLRVs will remain at least to late October. The TTC plans to use these only on peak period trippers so that off-peak service is fully provided by Flexitys.

Express Bus Network

Four routes will join the 900-series express network. (For details of stopping patterns, please refer to the table of changes linked above.)

952 Lawrence will operate from Lawrence Station to Pearson Airport via Dixon Road during peak periods. The combined local and express service will provide about 13.5 buses per hour compared to the current 12 at the express stops.

Concurrent with this change, the end of construction at Lawrence West Station, service on the Westway branch will be cut back from Yonge Street to its usual eastern terminus at the Spadina subway. This branch will also change from 5 to 4 buses per hour during the AM peak.

Overall, the total number of buses assigned to this route will rise slightly during peak periods, but weekday off-peak headways will widen slightly.

924 Victoria Park will operate during peak periods replacing the 24E Victoria Park Express. This is only a rebranding, and the number of AM peak buses is actually dropping by one in the new service design.

929 Dufferin will operate weekdays in peak and off-peak until mid-evening between Wilson Station and the Dufferin Loop at the western entrance to Exhibition Place. Concurrently, the peak period short turn at Tycos Drive will be dropped and all of the local 29 Dufferin buses will run through to Wilson Station. The peak period combined frequency at express stops will improve, but local stops will see less service. Both the local and express services will operate with articulated buses.

989 Weston will operate during peak periods as a through service from Keele Station to Steeles overlapping both the 89 Weston and 165 Weston Road North routes. There is no change on the 165 schedule. The combined service at express stops will improve over current 89 Weston levels.

Service on Sheppard East will be reorganized on weekends.

  • On Saturdays, the 85 Sheppard East local service will change from articulated buses to standard-sized vehicles, while the 985 express service to STC will change from standard to artic buses.
  • On Sundays, the 985 Sheppard East Express will change to artic buses.

Concurrent changes will lower the capacity provided on the 85 service while slightly increasing it on the 985 express. However, the headways (time between vehicles) on the express service will widen to offset the use of larger vehicles.

Service on Finch West will be improved on weekends by provision of 939B Finch Express service to Finch West Station during the daytime. There is no change in the local bus schedules, and so this is a net new service, albeit not a very frequent one.

Construction Projects

Three construction projects end with the October schedules:

  • Lawrence West Station will re-open as a bus terminal for 59 Maple Leaf and the Westway branch of 52 Lawrence. The 109 Ranee and 400 Lawrence Manor buses, which had been stopping on street, will move back into the bus loop. Concurrently, because of the large number of buses on Lawrence serving this station, the through services to Yonge Street will continue to use on street stops and riders will require transfers to enter Lawrence West Station unless they are Metropass or Presto users.
  • Track construction at Lansdowne and Dundas will complete. The 47 Lansdowne, 402 Parkdale and 505 Dundas routes will resume their normal operation. Given the speed of recent construction projects, this is likely to occur before the official schedule change.
  • City construction at Yonge and Sheppard is finally complete and the 97 Yonge bus will resume its normal route rather than being split at Lawrence.

Seasonal Services End

Various seasonal services will end including the trial operation of 175 Bluffer’s Park. Its future will be the subject of a report to the TTC Board in 2019.

Miscellaneous Changes

1 Yonge-University-Spadina operations will be modified to improve reliability in three ways:

  • On current schedules, four trains in the AM peak originate at Finch Station rather than operating from Wilson Yard. This will be increased to five.
  • At the end of the AM peak, trains running in to Davisville currently short turn northbound at Lawrence Station. This requires co-ordination with the southbound service and can cause delays and gaps. On the new schedules, these trains will run through to Finch northbound, and then dead head southbound to Davisville. Although this will remove a problem at Lawrence, it could worsen queuing problems northbound at Finch.
  • In the evening, all trains running in to Wilson Yard will do so southbound from Vaughan using the new north entrance to the yard, rather than short turning northbound at Wilson.

Peak period service will be modified on a few routes:

  • 11 Bayview will get better AM and PM peak service.
  • 12 Kingston Road will gain a new branch 12D operating to UTSC and providing a through service on Kingston Road. However, this will run only every 30 minutes during the AM peak, 25 minutes during the PM peak, and the actual usefulness of the service is dubious. Concurrently, service will be reduced on the existing 12A/C branches. This change is more about political optics in southern Scarborough just in time for the election than it is a real contribution to better service. [Lettering of branches corrected Sept 13/18 at 3:55 pm.]
  • 25 Don Mills will get better service on its 25C branch to from Sheppard to Steeles during weekday midday and PM peak periods.
  • 925 Don Mills Express will see a slight improvement in AM peak service.

Off peak service changes include:

  • 54 Lawrence East will receive better service on both branches on Saturday afternoons.
  • 63 Ossington will receive better late evening service on Saturdays.
  • 95 York Mills Saturday service will be revised both to operate more frequently, and to extend the hours of the 95B service to UTSC which now ends eastbound from Yonge just before 7 pm into the mid-evening.
  • Saturday afternoon service on 102 Markham Road will improve slightly, but evening service north of Steeles Avenue will be cut from every 20′ to 30′ at York Region’s request.
  • 112 West Mall will receive improved weekday midday service.
  • Service on 129 McCowan North will be improved on Saturday daytimes primarily by trimming excess running time.
  • 131 Nugget will get better service on Saturday afternoons.

Details of all changes are in the PDF linked above.

King Street Update: August 2018

This article continues the series reviewing the operation of transit service on the King Street transit priority pilot. August brings two major events that affect service on King Street, although the traffic problems are concentrated at the western part of the line: the Caribbean Carnival and parade on Saturday, August 4th, and the CNE from mid-August onward, especially with the air show in the final days of the month. Both of these bring congestion through Parkdale notably at the approaches to The Queensway and to Jameson Avenue westbound.

Peak Travel Times

As usual, we begin with the PM peak travel time chart westbound from Jarvis to Bathurst. The 85th percentile line has higher spikes in August, and the three largest relate to specific events:

  • Wednesday, August 8: A delay near Church Street held a few cars causing a jump in the 85th percentile value although the change to the 50th (median) percentile was much lower. The cause of the delay is unknown because the TTC did not issue a service alert.
  • Tuesday, August 21: Severe congestion westbound to Spadina from about 5:40 pm onward drove up both the 85th and 50th percentile values. Again, there was no TTC alert indicating a problem.
  • Friday, August 31: “Police activity”, as the alert put it, required diversion of streetcars in both directions due to an incident west of Yonge Street. The spike in the 85th percentile was caused by one car that crossed Jarvis at about 5:30 pm but was not diverted. As a result its trip, including the delay, was included in the 5-6pm data for the pilot district. As with the August 8 data, note that the change in the 50th percentile is small and on a par with typical day-to-day variations.

For comparison, here is the eastbound chart.

Here are the full sets of charts:

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The Decline of Service Capacity on 501 Queen (Updated)

Updated September 5, 2018: A history of service levels on Queen Street back to 1954 has been added at the end of this article.

While Toronto celebrates the success of the King Street Pilot, only a few blocks away on Queen Street transit service is not quite so rosy. Like much of the transit system, service on 501 Queen has not changed substantially over the years, and this has been compounded by various construction projects that disrupted service and fragmented the route.

One long-standing issue on Queen has been the type of vehicle assigned to service. Until February 2018, the service design assumed that the two section Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) would operate. However, it had been common for years to see the smaller CLRVs mixed in to the service despite their lower capacity. This was a direct result both of declining ALRV reliability and the concurrent use of these vehicles on other routes, King and Bathurst.

The February 18, 2018 schedules specify a mix of CLRVs and ALRVs on 501 Queen, and provide shorter headways (the time between vehicles) to compensate for the lower vehicle capacity. However, even this change did not completely fix the problems.

Although the ratio of service design capacities is about 3:2 for the two vehicles (108 vs 74 during the peak, 61 vs 42 off-peak), and 10 of the 35 cars on 501 Queen were scheduled to be ALRVs, the change in headways did not compensate for the lower average capacity. In the table below, the “after” vehicle capacities are a weighted average of ALRV and CLRV standards based on the proportion of vehicles scheduled. In practice, the TTC rarely achieved this ratio, and the capacity actually operated was lower. (Note that “capacity” here is the service design load, not the crush vehicle capacity.)

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
Before
Headway 5’00” 5’20” 5’10”
Cars/Hour 12.0 11.3 11.6
Vehicle Capacity 108 62 108
Route Capacity/Hr 1,296 701 1,253
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 83.7 47.4 83.7
Route Capacity/Hr 1,180 597 1,038

When streetcar service returned west of Humber Loop, the scheduled service on the Neville-Humber portion was not changed. On the Long Branch portion, the service design calls for 7 CLRVs weekday daytimes supplemented by 5 AM Peak CLRV trippers that operate through to downtown. (These will be discontinued in September due to the shortage of cars.) In practice, at least one of the cars operating west of Humber is typically an ALRV, sometimes more, even though these vehicles should be on the Humber-Neville service.

With the declining availability of ALRVs, if the present schedules are operated with 35 CLRVs rather than the 25+10 CLRV+ALRV mix now planned, the scheduled capacity is further decreased.

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 74 42 74
Route Capacity/Hr 1,043 529 918

During July 2018, there were only 12 ALRVs operated in service at various times, and some of these disappeared as the month wore on. Some of these cars, notably 4207, were assigned to the AM peak trippers to conserve their limited availability.

By month-end, only 7 ALRVs were showing up on Queen, and the number has been declining through August. As I write this on August 31 at 9:30 am, only ALRVs 4221, 4226, 4240 and 4249 are on the route.

I wrote to the TTC’s Brad Ross to inquire about plans for service and capacity on Queen Street. Here is his reply:

1) The reduced availability of ALRVs in recent weeks is due to a deep inspection of the entire fleet to assess their condition, which is not good.

Service Planning is working at making further changes to the Queen route in the new year that assumes no ALRV availability to ensure that we are operating adequate capacity. If ALRVs are available, they would operate either as trippers or replace a CLRV as “bonus” capacity. All of our advance planning for construction service on Queen in 2019 assumed CLRV-only operation and was budgeted accordingly.

2) 501 QUEEN will be the next route to receive the new streetcars after the deployment on 504 KING is complete at the end of 2018. They will be deployed 1-for-1 to CLRVs and the proportion of service operated by low-floors will vary throughout the year as construction at King-Queen-Roncesvalles progresses and the streetcar portion of the route is adjusted.

The detailed plans for staging the trackwork at Roncesvalles as well as the reconstruction of The Queensway with reserved streetcar lanes west to Parkside Drive (the eastern limit of the existing right-of-way) have not yet been released. Riders can expect various replacement bus services, again, from late winter through (at least) early summer.

One unhappy consequence of declining capacity is that vehicles are more crowded, take longer to load, and discourage more riders from even trying to use the TTC. Lost riders are hard to recover, and incentives such as cheaper fares cannot compensate for inconvenience and the discomfort of packed cars.

The following section updates charts presented in an April 2018 article Service Capacity on 501 Queen with data to the end of July.

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Goodbye to 514 Cherry (Updated)

Updated August 28 at 11:45 am:

I inquired of the TTC whether the restriction at Distillery Loop was due to noise, and whether the CLRVs, when needed, could be operated on the 504B Dufferin service which does not go to the Distillery.

They have replied that:

  • “We have a commitment from Rick and community relations that we do not operate legacy cars into Distillery Loop. We will short turn any CLRVs on that branch at Parliament.”
  • “We were trying to avoid having any CLRVs operating through the peak point to maximize scheduled capacity. All the CLRVs are also scheduled as swing cars, so that had to be considered as well. As a result, we had to split the CLRVs between the two branches. We will prioritize LF deployment on the remaining CLRV runs on 504A first to minimize missed trips from Distillery.”

Thanks to Brad Ross for the update.

Original article:

Effective with the October 7, 2018 schedules, the 514 Cherry car will disappear from the streets of Toronto.

Since June 24 it has been on a temporary hiatus during the reconstruction of Broadview Avenue and a revised service on the 504 King car. On September 2, the “standard” service will resume on 504 King, 514 Cherry and 503 Kingston Road, but it will only last a month.

In October, the TTC will make the summer route split permanent and will operate two separate routes, both under the name 504 King:

  • 504A will operate from Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop
  • 504B will operate from Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop

The two services will operate at the same frequency and will be scheduled, to the degree anything like this actually happens on the TTC, so that they blend in the central part of the line rather than running in pairs. That will probably be greatest challenge given the TTC’s chronic inability to manage branching routes and the less than professional manner in which some operators run right behind their leaders rather than spacing out the service.

Most of the recovery time (layovers) will be scheduled at Dufferin and Distillery Loops so that streetcars are not sitting in subway station loops with queues extending out onto the street.

All service will be scheduled to operate with new Flexity low floor streetcars, although until the end of 2018, the TTC expects to be short a few cars and will substitute CLRVs (standard sized old streetcars).

Some CLRVs will operate in the peak periods through the end of the year and will be designated on runs that operate outside the busiest hour in the morning and afternoon peak periods. These will be replaced by low-floor streetcars, as available, at the divisional level.

Where a 504A streetcar is designated for CLRV, these cars will turn back via Parliament, Dundas, Broadview, and Queen, at the divisional level, as CLRVs are restricted from entering Distillery Loop. [From the Service Change Memo for the October 2018 Board Period]

This arrangement means that there could be random gaps in service to the Distillery depending on vehicle allocations of the day, and operators of these cars will lose their east end rest break.

The effect of the new service design varies depending on the day of the week and the location on the route.

On weekdays, the total number of cars in service goes down, although this is offset by the scheduling of larger Flexitys replacing the CLRVs. All will be well if the TTC actually fields a full service of Flexitys unlike the situation on 501 Queen where for many years CLRVs were sent out on schedules intended for the larger articulated ALRVs. [That was nominally “fixed” with the February 2018 schedules, but this was a very long-overdue correction to reflect the TTC’s inability to actually muster a full service of ALRVs.]

  • AM peak service between Dundas West and Dufferin, and between Broadview Station and Sumach (the point where the Cherry line branches off) will change from a mixture of CLRVs and Flexitys every 3’40” to a Flexity every 5’15”. This is, just barely, a one for one replacement of capacity, but not on the peak part of the route.
  • PM peak service on the outer ends will change from a CLRV/Flexity mixture every 4’15” to a Flexity every 6’00”.
  • Midday and evening service on the outer ends of the line will also be less frequent, and it will be essential that all service actually reaches the terminals.
  • Service in the middle part of the route from Dufferin to Sumach will generally be more frequent and will operate with all Flexitys once they are available.

On weekends, the total number of cars in service goes up during all periods. The effect is that even though only half of the service is scheduled to run through to Dundas West and to Broadview Stations, the change in frequency is small. The central part of the line will see better service both in frequency and capacity.

Service to the Distillery District will be improved compared to the 514 Cherry schedule during all periods. (This change was quite evident with the summer 2018 schedules, and will no doubt be missed for the period from September 2 to October 6 where the “old” Cherry service will operate.)

Overnight service on 304 King will continue to operate between Dundas West and Broadview Stations, but all runs will be scheduled with Flexitys.

The PDF linked here shows the details of the changes. I will publish the full list of October service changes in a separate article.

20181007ServiceChanges_504King

As a parting thought, it will be intriguing to see how many years it will take for the last of the signage, advertising and other TTC materials (notably the onboard route maps) to lose the 514 Cherry car. At least, only two months after the change, the cars are not all calling “Short Turn” at every stop.

King Street Update: July 2018

This article is part of a continuing series tracking the behaviour of transit service on King Street during the pilot implementation of pedestrian and transit priority measures. The last update was in May, and I skipped June because there was little new to report.

Although we are now into the summer when conflicts with pedestrians and space constraints from recent takeovers of curb lanes with a variety of artworks and seating areas, travel times on King have not been affected. In fact, thanks to the re-activation of Transit Priority Signalling (TSP) at various locations on July 7, travel times have actually dropped during some periods.

Peak Travel Times

Continuing the tradition of these articles, here is the travel time chart for the 50th (median) and 85th percentile values westbound from Jarvis to Bathurst from September 2017 to the end of July 2018.

The collection of charts for five periods during the day for the two directions are linked here:

The following service disruptions show up in the charts above for the June-July period:

  • June 14, 20 and 26 eastbound: Congestion eastbound to University Avenue from 5-6pm (typically this is caused by north-south traffic blocking the intersection)
  • June 26 eastbound: Service held at Church Street just before 2pm (and therefore counting in the 1-2pm travel time stats) by a fallen overhead wire.
  • June 26 westbound: Service held at Peter Street at about 10:40 pm by a collision.
  • July 10 westbound: Service held east of Bathurst Street at about 1:15 pm by a collision.
  • July 25 westbound: Service held near Church Street just before 9 am. Reason unknown (no TTC eAlert was issued).

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Why Can’t I Get On My Bus (II)

Correction August 15, 2018: Off peak service for the Westway branch of 52 Lawrence has been corrected.

In Part I of this article, I reviewed the evolution of bus and streetcar fleet capacity measured by scheduled service over the period from 2006 to 2018. The central point was that there has been little improvement in the overall peak period capacity operated on the bus network for much of the past decade. On the streetcar network, two recent changes – the addition of buses to supplement streetcars and the replacement of old cars by new, larger ones – have provided some peak period capacity growth. However, in both cases, this growth is small seen over the long run. Off-peak service has improved more because the system is not fleet-constrained outside of the rush hours, but there is still a budgetary limitation which affects how much staff are available to operate these vehicles.

In this article, I will review several major suburban bus routes to compare service in January 2009 when the benefits of the Miller-era Ridership Growth Strategy had kicked in with service operated in January 2018. Given the results seen in Part I, it was no surprise that when I compiled this information, many routes have less capacity today than they did a decade ago and improvements where they do exist are not major. That is not a recipe for system growth. How did this happen?

First off, when Rob Ford became Mayor, he rolled back the RGS Service Standards and service just stopped improving. Several off-peak improvements were undone, but these affected periods outside of the range reviewed in Part I (mainly evenings and weekends). Ironically, the streetcar system suffered less because, thanks to the vehicle shortage (even a decade ago), the loading standards for streetcars in the peak period had not changed. There were few RGS improvements to unwind. When John Tory reinstated some of the RGS standards, this allowed growth to resume, but almost entirely in the off-peak period because neither the bus nor the streetcar fleets had spare vehicles.

Another more subtle problem lies in TTC scheduling. As congestion built up on routes, the reaction was to stretch existing headways (the space between vehicles) rather than adding more buses to a route. This responded to the vehicle crunch, but it gradually trimmed service levels across the system. Even though the same number of buses were in service, with fewer passing a point per hour the capacity of service riders saw declined. The TTC made excuses for this practice as simply running buses to the conditions, but the long term effect was to cut service to keep operational demands within the available fleet size.

The balance of this post summarizes the data for each route. The full set of tables is linked below as a PDF.

2009_2018_ServiceComparisons_V2

A few notes about these tables:

  • Services are grouped by corridor because, in some cases, more than one route operates along a street. For example, Lawrence Avenue West has been served by 52 Lawrence, 59 Maple Leaf and 58 Malton (now folded into the 52).
  • Service capacity is shown as buses/hour. The only adjustment for vehicle size is that articulated buses count as 1.5 so that 6 artics per hour is the same, from a capacity point of view, as 9 regular-sized buses. Where a headway is followed by the letter “A” in the tables, this means that artics are operated.
  • In some cases, routes have a branch where every “nth” vehicle takes a longer trip. For example, some of the services running through to York Region have every 3rd, 4th or 5th bus going beyond the “standard” destination. These do not provide net additional service where the branches rejoin in the same way as a branching route where half of the buses go one way and half the other. In other words, if a 5 minute service runs to Steeles and every 4th bus runs beyond on a 20 minute headway, the headway to Steeles is still only 5 minutes, or 12 buses per hour. These cases are noted with an asterisk “*” in the tables.
  • Some routes were affected by the opening of the Vaughan extension. In these cases, data are shown for November 2017, the last set of schedules before the routes changed, so that the evolution of service right up to that point is clear.

The information for these comparisons is from the TTC Scheduled Service Summaries:

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Why Can’t I Get On My Bus?

Recent years brought much hand-wringing from TTC Board members and management about falling ridership numbers. One oft-cited source for this is the combination of fare evasion and the under-reporting of fare payments by Presto. These are linked in that the multiplicity of fares and rules create situations where a rider can validly enter a vehicle without showing a pass or tapping a card. Indeed, there are a number of cases where Presto users are explicitly told not to tap to avoid double charging by software that cannot distinguish many types of valid transfer movements.

Riders, on the other hand, might be forgiven for wondering whether there is enough service actually on the street to carry them. There are two aspects to this problem. One is vehicle bunching, a topic I will explore in coming weeks in detail for several major suburban bus routes, and the other is the actual amount of service.

An important factor in the provision of TTC service is that, in general, it lags demand growth rather than leading it. When the buses and streetcars are full, the TTC runs more of them provided that there is headroom in the budget, enough vehicles and enough operators to actually field more service. City Councillors have a fetish for controlling headcount, and this is one major problem at the TTC – more service requires more drivers (not to mention other staff), but increases to the approved staffing levels are only grudgingly approved. The other big problem for both the streetcar and bus fleets is that the TTC does not have enough vehicles thanks to constraints on capital spending and increases in garage capacity.

I wrote about the TTC’s capacity crisis in an earlier post, but here I will turn to the long-term trends in service provision. This is of particular interest in an election year when competing claims will be made about the actions and policies of current and previous administrations.

All of the charts included in this article as well as the underlying data are consolidated in one PDF linked at the end.

All data here comes from the TTC Scheduled Service Summaries. An archive of these is available on this site.

Scheduled Fleet Capacity

When tracking and comparing capacity for the bus and streetcar fleet, simply looking at the number of vehicles or the distance they travel is not enough. Other factors are at play including the capacity of each vehicle type, and the degree to which schedule changes are in the peak of off-peak periods. Maintenance factors come into play as well because the size of each fleet is larger than the scheduled service.

As a starting point, I converted the scheduled service to a fleet capacity by taking the “standard” vehicle as “1” and scaling up for larger vehicles. Note that the intent is only to track the ratio within each mode and the associated routes, and therefore a basis of “1” can be used for both fleets.

  • Standard 12m low floor bus: 1
  • Articulated low floor bus: 1.5
  • Canadian Light Rail Vehicle (CLRV): 1
  • Articulated Light Rail Vehicle (ALRV): 1.5
  • Flexity Low Floor Streetcar: 2
  • Bus running on a streetcar route: 0.7

Therefore, for the purpose of the chart which follows below, if a Flexity is scheduled to operate, it counts as twice the capacity of a CLRV. One immediate problem with this is that the TTC does not actually operate as many ALRVs as the schedules call for. Recently, although nearly 30 ALRVs are supposed to operate at peak, one is lucky to find a dozen of them on the road. Conversely, where a conversion of a route from old to new streetcars is in progress, there may be more Flexitys in service than scheduled. Similarly, one can find cases where bus trips that are supposed to be provided by longer artics are actually operated by standard length vehicles. The discrepancy between TTC schedules and the real world cannot be helped, and we must take the scheduled numbers as the intended service for an historical review.

To put this in a political context, in January 2007 David Miller beginning his second term as Mayor. He was replaced by Rob Ford in the election in fall 2010. John Tory was elected in fall 2014. The effect of a new administration is not visible in the January schedules which are generally in place before the election is determined.

The increase in bus service capacity in 2009 is the result of the Ridership Growth Strategy which changed the crowding standards to allow for less crowded vehicles. There is some growth in off-peak streetcar service capacity, but little for peak periods because there were no spare vehicles.

Peak capacity on the streetcar network begins to grow in 2013 with the substitution of buses on Queens Quay during its reconstruction while the displaced streetcars went to other routes. A few years later the arrival of the first Flexity cars and the continued substitution of buses on streetcar routes allowed more service to be provided on the streetcar network. The 514 Cherry route began operating in June 2016, but its requirements were absorbed within the available fleet.

Peak capacity on the bus network has not grown much in recent years. The downturn in January 2018 was caused partly by the opening of the subway extension to Vaughan and partly by changes in TTC spare ratio policies that reduced the number of vehicles available for service.

The big changes in recent years came in the off-peak period when there are spare vehicles in both fleets to provide better service.

In brief, there has been little improvement in the peak capacity operated on the TTC network for several years. For streetcar routes, there is some improvement, but for bus routes, not much for almost a decade.

There are a few caveats that must be included here:

  • The bus fleet capacity has not been adjusted for the migration from high floor to low floor buses which reduced capacity by up to 10%. This was already well underway in 2006, but there were still over 800 high floor buses in scheduled service in January 2006. Conversion to low floor buses represents a loss of a substantial capacity which is not reflected in the chart above.
  • In the mid 2000’s, the TTC operated more contract service than they do today. The decline in buses running outside of the city boundary is around two dozen (AM peak) counted as fractional vehicles where the service inside of Toronto is part of TTC routes that continue to exist. The capacity of these vehicles is included in the total.
  • These numbers represent vehicles in service. TTC maintenance practices have increased the spare ratio in recent years causing the total fleet size and garage requirements to rise while the actual amount of service does not. Some recent bus purchases made in the name of service improvements actually went into enlarging the pool of maintenance spares. These spares do not contribute to in service capacity and therefore do not affect the charts.
  • As traffic congestion increases, routes overall slow down, and the amount of service (counted as passenger kilometres) a vehicle can provide goes down. More buses are needed to carry the same number of trips. This factor is not included in the charts which only look at how many buses are in service, not how far they actually carry riders. The net effect is that service from a rider’s point of view does not go up as fast as the fleet capacity. Although this varies by route, there is a system wide effect that slower travel times “eat” buses and streetcars that might otherwise be adding to service.

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