Service Capacity on 501 Queen

This article arose from a recent Twitter conversation where I was asked whether the capacity of of 501 Queen route had been reduced because crowding appeared to have increased.

Crowding has many sources including service reliability (even distribution of demand among available vehicles), scheduled frequency (how many vehicles are supposed to arrive per hour), actual service provided and the type of vehicle used.

Past articles have looked at service reliability and running times. The mid-February 2018 schedules brought a formal change to the vehicle type on which the 501 schedules are based. For many years, the capacity alleged was based on the longer ALRV (articulated) streetcars, but the service was actually operated by a mix of the shorter CLRVs and ALRVs. This was due to two factors: the declining reliability of the ALRV fleet, and the desire to increase capacity on 504 King. The new schedule assumes that CLRVs will be the primary vehicle type used, and the number of cars per hour (or conversely the headway or time between cars) has been adjusted to reflect this. However, a review of service over recent years shows that the actual capacity operated on Queen is at best comparable to that of a few years back, and more commonly is lower with some of the decline being fairly recent.

The charts in this article have the same format as capacity charts in my articles about the King Street Pilot, most recently the March 2018 update. Of particular note is that the capacity operated on King has been growing with its transition to the larger Flexity cars, and now regularly peaks above 2,500 per hour, peak hour/direction. The capacity on Queen never reaches 2,000/hour because less service is offered there.

501 Queen service was beset by several disruptions and diversions over the past few years notably a water main and streetscape project west of Spadina in 2016 and 2017, and a series of track construction projects reaching over the entire length of the route from southern Etobicoke to Neville Loop. Another upheaval is planned for 2019 with the reconstruction of the King/Queen/Roncesvalles intersection, entrances to Roncesvalles Carhouse and trackage on The Queensway west to Parkside Drive.

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A Few Questions For Metrolinx (II) (Updated)

Updated April 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm: Comments about projected demand at Park Lawn Station have been added at the end of this article.

In a previous article, I reviewed the Metrolinx technical report on the performance of proposed new GO and SmartTrack stations as part of their overall network. At the time, there was some debate about the validity of the report’s analysis.

Metrolinx has now produced a backgrounder to this report which gives greater details about their methodology and results.

This information is interesting not just in its own right as part of GO’s planning, but also in its implications for the City of Toronto’s expectations for GO/SmartTrack service. The service levels listed in the City’s report date from a Metrolinx plan approved by their board in June 2016. The levels shown in the backgrounder are different, and reflect the change to a mix of local and express trains in the GO corridors. The backgrounder takes pains to emphasize that the service plan is not definitive, but the express/local mix of trains is an essential part of GO’s strategy as approved at a recent Board meeting.

The report begins with an introduction common to such documents laying the basic process for “business analysis” of new proposals. This is summarized in the following diagram. The model focuses on a few key factors:

  • The degree to which riders are lost from GO because the addition of stops reduces the competitiveness of GO travel versus driving.
  • The degree to which riders shift to a new station thereby reducing their travel time.
  • The number of new riders who previously drove and are enticed onto transit by the new station.

This scheme underpins recent changes in the planning for services notably through the benefits conferred by a combination of express services (avoided delays from new stations) and level boarding (reduced station dwell times generally). The technical details of “level boarding” have yet to be revealed, but the analysis assumes a benefit through the elimination of the step between platforms and the interior of trains.

The benefits of electrification in reducing overall travel times and allowing for more closely spaced stops are not mentioned at all, and travel time comparisons are based on an electrified service as a starting point. Metrolinx has effectively discarded one of the arguments they used in advocating electrification in the first place.

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Who Will Pay For SmartTrack?

Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a series of reports on the proposed SmartTrack project and related matters at its meeting on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.

These reports set in motion several aspects of the GO/RER/ST program, although the primary focus is the funding the the new SmartTrack stations which is a city responsibility. This article deals with the main report and the first two attachments.

Attachment 3 is a compilation of the information on the proposed new stations that has already been discussed in my previous articles on the public meetings.

Attachment 4 explains the link between SmartTrack and plans for significant changes to the road network in the St. Clair, Keele, Old Weston Road area including widening of St. Clair through the railway underpass and extensions of various roads to fill gaps and provide additional paths for traffic flow. The new station at St. Clair and Old Weston/Keele would be constructed based on the new layout, and work on these projects will be co-ordinated.

Attachment 5 was prepared by Metrolinx. It sets out the status of the many changes to various rail corridors that are within the City of Toronto.

Attachment 6 illustrates the planned new south platforms and concourse at Union Station, an expansion project separate from the renovation of the existing station now underway. Of note in the design is the replacement of four tracks by two making room for a pair of much wider platforms than in the older part of the station. From a service design point of view, these tracks and platforms will likely be the new home for the Lakeshore services as this will allow them to operate along the south side of the rail corridors free of interference with traffic from the more northerly corridors like Milton/Kitchener/Barrie to the west and Richmond Hill/Stouffville to the east.

(Metrolinx has already talked about the need to consolidate trackage and platforms in the old part of the station to improve capacity both for train service and for passengers, but that is beyond the scope of the city reports.)

The current report deals only with the SmartTrack stations. Specifically it does not address:

  • The Eglinton West LRT which, having replaced a part of the original SmartTrack scheme, is still bound up with ST as part of the total budget number for this project.
  • Operating and maintenance costs for GO/ST service.
  • The cost to the city of “fare integration” or even exactly what this will mean.

A further problem, as I discussed in a recent article, is that recent changes in the Metrolinx/GO service design for various corridors has changed the mix of local and express trains on which the SmartTrack scheme rests. Metrolinx has still not explained how they will operate the number of trains the city report claims will stop at all of the “local” SmartTrack stations, and they are quite testy on the matter when pressed. For its part, the city assumes a service level (and hence attractiveness of service) greater than what Metrolinx has, so far, committed to operating.

The works that are included in the report are:

  • Six new GO/SmartTrack stations at Finch, Lawrence East, Gerrard/Carlaw, East Harbour, Liberty Village and St. Clair/Old Weston.
  • Additional city requirements for station facilities that are not strictly required for operation of the transit service.

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King Street Update: March 2018 Data (Part II)

The King Street Pilot project is well regarded for the improvement in travel times it brought to transit riders, and for the large jump in ridership on the route. In past articles, I have reviewed the statistics for travel times, but another important aspect is the reliability of headways – the intervals between streetcars. Early results showed a distinct improvement, but this has not been sustained. Moreover, headway reliability outside of the pilot area remains quite erratic, especially near the terminals.

This brings us to the TTC’s assertion that if only the service would depart on time from the ends of its many routes, the problem of irregular service in the middle would look after itself. This is a completely bogus claim on two counts. First off, erratic service at terminals is the norm, and regularly spaced departures usually depend on hands-on service management by supervisors on the street. Second, service has a fair latitude to be considered “on time”, and even with this leeway, gaps and bunches quickly form that exceed TTC targets.

In theory, if travel times are more consistent thanks to the pilot (or any other transit-supportive changes), then it should be easier to keep service properly spaced. Reality is somewhat different from theory.

This article examines headway behaviour at Yonge Street for the 504 King car, as well as the combined service of the King and 514 Cherry cars. Although these are thought of as “blended” services, like all branching TTC routes, there is no co-ordination between the two routes and the Cherry cars fill gaps in the King service by accident, not by design. Beyond the limits of the Cherry cars (Sumach in the east, Dufferin in the west), the King service is as erratic after the pilot’s introduction as it was before.

Also included is a review of 514 Cherry service on the outer ends of the route. Only recently has the service to Distillery and Dufferin Loops become more reliable and the improvement has more to do with revised schedules than with the King Street Pilot.

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Queen’s Park’s Long Overdue Move on Fare Integration

The recently-announced Ontario Budget includes a lot of spending on transportation that transit riders in the GTHA can only hope to see delivered by whoever is in charge at Queen’s Park after the June 2018 election. Even though the budget is as much about vote-getting as about actual governance, it is worth looking at what the promised fare changes would bring if they are implemented.

From the press release:

  • Beginning in early 2019, the province is reducing the cost of GO Transit trips to just $3 for PRESTO users who are travelling under 10 kilometres anywhere on the GO network
  • All GO Transit and Union-Pearson Express trips anywhere within the City of Toronto will be reduced to $3
  • With proceeds from Ontario’s cap on pollution, the province will also provide fare integration discounts of up to $1.50 per ride for anyone who travels between the York, Durham, Brampton and Mississauga transit networks and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), saving regular commuters up to $720 every year
  • PRESTO card users travelling on GO Transit between Union Station and stations near Toronto, such as Port Credit, Malton, Pickering, Ajax or Markham will see fare reductions.

As with any announcement, “the devil is in the details”, and I fired off a series of questions to clarify how this might all work. Responses came back from Metrolinx.

Q1: Regular GO Transit riders now enjoy a monthly cap of 40 fares on their travel. The 36-40th trips are at a discount, and from 41 onward, they are free. Will this apply to the new $3 fare? In other words, is there an upper limit of 40 x $3 = $120 to a rider’s cost of using GO within the 416, or is it open ended like TTC fares where there is no cap unless one buys a pass?

A: Details on this will be worked out as part of our implementation planning and work.

Q2: There are now co-fare arrangements between the 905 systems and GO, as well as between GO and TTC. If someone makes, for example, a YRT-GO-TTC trip, what discounts apply? Are the cofares cumulative?

A: YRT-GO Co-Fare, GO-TTC DDF. Yes, cumulative.

Q3: By analogy to Q1, if a rider makes a three-legged trip regularly, thereby becoming entitled to free rides for the GO segment after 40 trips, what happens to the co-fares? Do they still apply, or does the rider pay full 905 plus TTC fare in this case? The potential savings are “up to $720 per year”. Is this simply a calculation based on 20 commutes for 12 months, or will it be a capped saving?

A: Details on this will be worked out as part of implementation planning and work.

Q4: If someone has a Metropass (or its Presto equivalent), they are not entitled to the TTC-GO co-fare. Is it correct to say that their monthly cost would be the cost of the pass plus $3 times the number of GO trips taken within Toronto?

A: For adults, yes.

Q5: For clarity, is the $3 fare a flat rate even if riders transfer from one GO service to another, such as from Lake Shore to UPX, but stays within Toronto for their trip?

A: Yes as long as [the] individual uses the GO readers for their UP Express trip.

Q5a: If part of their trip is inside Toronto, but a second leg goes outside, does the $3 apply to the “inside Toronto” portion? Example: Rough Hill to Union to Weston is all inside Toronto, but Rouge Hill to Union to Airport is not.

A: Fares for any trips to and from Toronto Pearson Airport remain unchanged.

Q6: The co-fare for GO-TTC is relative to an assumed $1.50 per full adult fare with lower co-fares for those getting discounts like Seniors. Will the same apply to the 905-416 co-fare?

A: Details on this will be worked out in conjunction with the transit agencies.

In brief, the only thing that is nailed down so far is that discounts between each leg of a trip are cumulative so that, for example, a Miway rider travelling to a station within the $3 GO tariff zone and thence to a TTC route will get the Miway co-fare discount, the new low GO transit fare and the GO-TTC discount. Also, transfers between GO services do not attract another fare provided that the trip stays within the city.

Every thing else is to be “worked out”.

There are a variety of scenarios one can construct including the combined effects of bulk fares (passes) on 905 systems, the existing GO Transit monthly fare caps, and whatever co-fare/discount arrangements will exist. Anyone trying to work out the permutations has my sympathy. From the Metrolinx point of view:

The reason these changes will only be introduced in early 2019, is because Metrolinx needs time to work with our transit partners to ensure the various scenarios and all fare rules are in place. This budget provided Metrolinx with direction to move forward on fare integration. [Metrolinx email]

Leaving aside the question of whether the government in place for the 2019-20 budget will support whatever fare scheme Metrolinx comes up with, there are also obvious questions about the implications for service crowding and for possible changes needed in local route networks, mainly on the TTC, to provide better connections with GO stations. The lower fares may look attractive, but actually using the service could be challenging within Toronto.

  • On Lakeshore West, most inbound trains run express from Clarkson to Union with local trains only every half hour in the AM peak. The same arrangement applies outbound on the PM peak.
  • On Lakeshore East, there is a similar pattern with express trains skipping all stops from Rouge Hill to Union, and local trains running roughly twice/hour in the peak, albeit on an irregular headway. Some additional service is provided at Danforth (Main) and Scarborough stations by the Stouffville line’s trains.
    • TTC services in southern Etobicoke and Scarborough focus on the Bloor-Danforth subway, and actually reaching the GO stations (or using the TTC as a connecting service from them) is not easy.
  • On the Milton corridor, trains operate only in the peak period, peak direction although for someone at Kipling Station, the all-local service now operated would actually be better than what is provided at, say, Mimico on the Lakeshore West corridor.
  • The Barrie corridor and the Vaughan subway extension are in direct competition with each other, although service is far more frequent, especially during the off-peak, on the subway than on the hourly GO train, and the GO stations within Toronto are not well-served by the TTC network (other than the connection point at Downsview Park station).
  • The Richmond Hill corridor, like Milton, has only peak service, and its stations within Toronto are poorly served by the TTC.
  • The Stouffville corridor has all-day service with stations that potentially could connect with TTC feeder routes at Steeles (Milliken), Sheppard (Agincourt) and Eglinton (Kennedy). As on Lakeshore, the tradeoff will be for a faster trip bypassing the subway.
  • The Weston corridor is a special case because it hosts not only the GO Kitchener service but also the Union Pearson Express (UPX) trains which provide the most frequent of GO services within Toronto.

The fare reductions for trips from the near-Toronto stations in the 905 could shift some travel away from the subway, although few of the stations are well-located for this purpose. The Richmond Hill corridor is the most obvious of these, but the limited service there does not offer a lot to diverting demand.

As a follow-up question, I asked Metrolinx whether they had any demand studies to show travel patterns with the new fares, to the degree that these are known. Their reply is pending, and I will update this article when I receive further info.

It is well-known that the demand models are sensitive to three factors: trip speed, service frequency and fare level. This came out quite clearly in the background studies for SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway where ST would succeed in drawing significant riding only if it operated frequently and cheaply, as originally touted in John Tory’s campaign. Just how many riders the lower GO fares, by themselves, will attract remains to be seen. A related problem, of course, is the question of train capacity if many actually shift to GO.

Not to be forgotten in all of this are the cross-border travellers between the 905 and 416 (in both directions) for whom a discounted fare will be a benefit. However, if this is only available to riders paying the full adult fare in each jurisdiction, this could undo the benefit now enjoyed by pass users who will not get any further discount. This would be particularly important if a pass holder took many “local” trips on the TTC in addition to cross-border trips into the 905.

In general, riders who already enjoy some sort of discount like seniors and students will benefit far less from the new tariff.

Whether any of this will come to pass is purely speculative at this point given the tenuous status of the current government and the well-known, vague bluster of their principal opposition.

Metrolinx (and by implication its political masters) have wasted years on pursuit of “fare integration” schemes that began with the premise of revenue neutrality to limit the government’s cost through added subsidies, and with the underlying view that distance-based fares were the end state at which they would aim. Had the option of added subsidy and reduction of short-haul GO fares been part of the mix a few years ago, the entire debate over fare integration could have taken a completely different path and a new tariff would already be in place.

Transit policy should arise from reasoned, open evaluation of alternatives, including those that may require an “investment” to make them work, not from a deathbed change of heart by an unpopular government facing defeat at the polls.

Curb Lane Streetcars on College Street (1972)

Back in June 1972, the TTC had a small problem with the appearance of a sinkhole under the westbound track on College at St. George thanks to a water main break.

Looking E at St. George 1972.06.25

Fixing this was not going to be speedy. Streetcars continued to use the eastbound rails briefly, but the excavation needed to make repairs meant a complete shutdown of service both ways. Rather than leaving the Carlton car on an extended diversion, the TTC built temporary trackage on College Street itself with streetcars running eastbound in the curb lane.

 

Until the temporary tracks were completed, Carlton cars operated via McCaul, Queen and Spadina. Here are views of those streets as they then were.

 

The original (April Fool’s Day) post:

With a nearly year-long replacement of streetcars by buses on College Street, riders might ask whether the TTC is up to something in its service plans.

The explanation might be evident in a trial installation discovered by your intrepid reporter. More news to follow as it becomes available.

A Detailed Review of King Street Travel Times

The purpose of this article is to delve into the data on the behaviour of King Street transit at an even more finely-grained detail than in past articles. The presentation here focuses on:

  • Hourly variations in travel times.
  • Daily variations based on the day of the week, including weekends.

The data are the same as those used for previous articles, but with changes in presentation to bring out different aspects of the “story” that they tell. In particular, it is important to examine the data at a level of detail sufficient to see where variations exist and where they do not. Averages over several days and over multi-hour periods simply do not reflect the way the line behaves.

A fundamental purpose of the King Street Pilot is to “shave off” the worst of the transit delays caused by congestion. For periods when traffic is free-flowing, there will be little or no change because nothing was “in the way” to begin with. Expectations of large savings in travel time can really only apply to periods when service was likely to be disrupted. This can vary from hour to hour, by day of week, due to special events, weather, and other factors. The whole point is that if the worst of the disruptions are eliminated, service will more reliably be at close to “best case” conditions.

The source data for this and all other studies of transit operations I have published come from the TTC’s vehicle tracking system. Subject to the caveat that some data must be discarded thanks to wonky GPS readings of vehicle location, this represents as close to a 100% sample as one is likely to achieve. The data are from January 2016 to February 2018, except for February 2016 which I do not have.

There are several sets of charts here, and this article is intended to take the reader through progressively more detailed views.

Complete chart sets are provided in linked PDFs, and only a few of these are presented as illustrations in the body of the article to save on space.

I leave exploration of the charts to readers with the hope that this shows the kind of detail that is available, and that a closer look is needed to see how the route behaves under various conditions. As the year goes on, I will update these charts periodically with additional data to examine whether better weather, more activity and special events disrupt what has been, so far, a clear improvement in transit’s performance on King Street.

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501 Queen Returns to Humber Loop

On Sunday, April 1 (yes, April Fool’s Day), the streetcars will return to Humber Loop on the 501 Queen route. The service design for this was actually included in the current schedules from mid-February, but the infrastructure has only now reached the point where streetcars could operate west of Sunnyside Loop.

Although the track at Humber now permits streetcars, other work is not finished, and the loop will be used only as a streetcar terminal. Bus connections will continue to be made on the street, but at a revised location. Streetcars will serve all stops to South Kingsway.

501L buses from Long Branch will loop via Windermere, The Queensway and Ellis. Riders will transfer at Ellis rather than at Roncesvalles or further east as they have done for the past year. With the 501L shortened to its planned length, the TTC should be able to remove the extra buses added to extend this service east to Dufferin since mid-February when the new design was originally expected to go into operation.

The 66A Prince Edward bus will continue to loop east to Ellis until Humber Loop re-opens.

The 80 Queensway bus is scheduled to be cut back to Humber Loop from Keele Station late evenings on all days, and all day on Sunday. There are no details on the TTC’s website about how this will actually operate given that Humber Loop will still be closed, and it is not clear whether the 80B Humber service will loop at Ellis like the other bus routes, or if an extra bus will be provided to  maintain the link to Keele Station.

To add to the upheavals on April 1st, two parades will cause 501 service to be removed from parts of the route during the day:

  • The annual Beach Easter Parade will close Queen Street east of Woodbine Loop from 2:00 to 4:30 pm. 501 Queen cars will turn back at the loop. 92 Woodbine South buses will divert via Kingston Road and Eastern to Coxwell. 64 Main buses will turn back at Kingston Road.
  • The Sidh Shakti parade will close Lake Shore Boulevard from 12:30 to 5:00 pm. 501L Queen buses will divert via Dwight, New Toronto and Kipling. 110C Islington South buses will divert via New Toronto and Kipling to Kipling Loop.

A date has not been announced yet for the reopening of Humber Loop. Streetcar service to Long Branch is expected to resume on Sunday, June 24 with the summer schedule change.

Service on 501 Queen at Neville Loop

This is a companion piece to my review of service at Long Branch Loop which, for over two years, has been provided by a bus shuttle west of Humber Loop.

Apologies in advance. This is a long read intended for those who are interested in the fine detail of service behaviour over a period when there were many changes in the service design, and where there is a wide variety of reasons for irregular service.

One might assume that with the 501 Queen route shortened, and at times with a separate bus shuttle operating on the east end of the route, service at Neville Loop would be better than with streetcars running all the way from Neville to Long Branch. This is not entirely true, and even some periods of bus service were quite unreliable. There are many days when shuttles ran with vehicles missing or in bunches with no apparent efforts to manage and space the service.

As on the west end of the route, the TTC’s abdication of line management brought irregular headways, large gaps and bunching. A common situation is for a group of cars to leave Roncesvalles eastbound closely spaced, and to continue as a parade across the city. Sometimes, short turns in the east end partly correct this problem, but sometimes the parade simply echoes back across the line. This is not caused by “congestion”, but by the failure to maintain service spacing.

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