How To Kill Ridership: The Saga of the Queen Car

The Queen car was once the pride of the streetcar system.  It carried more people every day than the entire GO Transit network.  This is a story about how demand on that line has been killed off through poor management, service cuts, technology changes and utter indifference to the needs of the riding public.

Route History

Back when I started riding the streetcar system a lot, the Queen car had just been moved onto the Queensway right-of-way from the old alignment on Lake Shore Boulevard through Sunnyside amusement park.  The route has run from Humber Loop in the west to Neville Loop in the east for quite a long time.  For those who use route numbers, it’s the 501 car.

Meanwhile, the Long Branch car ran west from Humber Loop to Long Branch Loop along the Lake Shore with rush hour trips extended downtown via Queen to Church Street.  This route was numbered 507 but this disappeared when the line merged with the 501 to give through service all the time (when it wasn’t being short-turned).  There are now a few trips on 508 Lake Shore that run into downtown via King from the west.

In the east end, the Kingston Road car runs from Bingham Loop at Victoria Park to McCaul Loop, and the route is effectively a branch of the Queen car.  The current name Downtowner arose from a failed scheme to run extend the line west and north to Bathurst Station thereby providing an alternate route into downtown (much as the pre-1966 Bathurst via Adelaide service did).  This didn’t work, not least because chronic short-turning prevented many cars from ever reaching Bathurst Station.  This is route 502 where the route name stuck, but the routing didn’t.

The Kingston Road Tripper (now just Kingston Road or 503) also originates at Bingham Loop and runs via Queen and King Streets to loop downtown via Church, Wellington and York returning east via King.  Again, this is functionally a branch of the Queen line. Continue reading

Centre Poles on St. Clair (A Follow-Up)

After my less than kind words about the TTC and their centre pole design for St. Clair, I received a question about why the poles take up so much space (one extra metre on the right-of-way).  The short answer is that emergency vehicles, especially fire trucks, need to be able to drive down the ROW at speed without hitting anything and without falling off of the six-inch curb.  This means that the lane (measured from the curb to the pole) needs to be wide enough to give enough dynamic clearance for a large truck that is not tethered to the tracks.

Here is the longer version taken from an email I sent back to various people who asked: Continue reading

A Forest of Poles

This item is a followup to the St. Clair Streetcar item immediately below.  My friend Matt over at asked me about the mess of duplicate hydro and TTC poles, and the visual clutter this produces.  This is an important issue in the redesign of St. Clair, and I thought that I would post my reply to him here for everyone to see. Continue reading

Streetcars on St. Clair

Yesterday, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court, issued its ruling on the matter of Save Our St. Clair Inc. vs the City of Toronto and the TTC.  The Court ruled that the proposal for the St. Clair streetcar reserved right-of-way did not meet the test by which a judicial review would block the scheme, and therefore the application by Save Our St. Clair (SOS) was dismissed.

I am not going into the long and sordid history of this project, and those who know me well are aware that my feeling about both the City/TTC proposal and the position taken by its opponents was “a plague on both your houses”.  SOS made fundamental misrepresentations about the impact of the line and took positions about aspects of the plan that were diametrically opposed to each other.  Increasing pedestrian space, preserving parking and maintaining unimpeded traffic flow give one glaring example.

However, the City/TTC did an appalling job, even with much public consultation, of putting forward a reasonable plan.  There are many to blame in this and I won’t try to name names.  Here are a few of their worst gaffes: Continue reading

Why Are There So Many Empty Buses?

Transit advocates spend a lot of time explaining why we need more and more transit service.  Riders spend a lot of time complaining about sardine-can loading on vehicles.  Politicians spend a lot of time complaining about “inefficient” transit operations, most likely the empty buses they saw while driving hither and yon across the city.

Where do those buses come from?

Leaving aside the obvious cases of buses enroute to or from a garage, there is a basic fact that may seem rather strange:  most buses will not be full most of the time.  This flies in the fact of those who demand efficiencies and treat half-empty buses (or worse) as a sign that transit riders live in coddled luxury compared to the hapless drivers stuck on the 401.

Transit routes have many different types of loading patterns, and they may have different patterns at different times of the day and different days of the week.  Continue reading

Why Are There So Many Poor Performing Routes?

In an earlier posting, I talked about the Forest Hill bus and the methodology used to identify candidate routes for service cuts.  The rule is simple:  if the number of passengers lost per dollar saved is less than .23, then the service goes on the list for evaluation of cutbacks.  The same process is used in reverse for new services:  if they will attract .23 riders per dollar expended, then they are implemented on the system.

What is the magic about .23?  At least if it were something like .42 we might attribute this to some long and complex process involving much Deep Thought.

To discover the meaning of .23, we need to delve into the history of the TTC Service Standards. Continue reading

So You Want Us To Build You A Subway!

From time to time, people suggest to me that the world would be a better place if only we had more subway lines.  Many politicians love subway lines, but paying for them is quite another matter [see the following post on Sheppard].  The one thing people tend to forget is that not all subway lines have stations close together the way they are on much of the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines.  The new scheme shows itself in the Yonge line north of Eglinton, the Sheppard line, and the proposed line to York University.

If you want me to design a subway under your street, I will use modern 21st Century design criteria.

Let’s look at what might have happened 60 years ago if we had done this on the original Yonge and Bloor lines. Continue reading

Mel’s Folly, or the Sheppard Sinkhole

Warning:  If you are a devotee of our former Mayor Mel Lastman and his cronies, you will probably be offended by this post.  If you think that the former City of North York was anything more than a bombastic, self-agrandizing Potemkin Village, you will also probably be offended by this post.  You have been warned.

To learn more about Potemkin Villages, click here.

People like me despair at the energy various Councillors expend in trying to make cuts to the transit system that save pennies.  Meanwhile, they gladly support the continued pursuit of subway construction at enormous capital cost and operating losses that would bring their wrath on lowly bus and streetcar routes.

Let’s have a hard look at the Sheppard Subway. Continue reading

What Is a Poor Performing Route?

Some of you may have read Geoff Nixon’s article in the Saturday Globe and Mail Toronto Section about the 33 Forest Hill bus route.  The piece gives a good overview of the issues, and that’s not just because I am quoted in it.

The list of “poor performers” comes out each year as part of the Service Plan, and this is a very dangerous document.  Why?  Because it gives politicians whose grasp of complexity may be tenuous something easy to understand:  an index, a hit list for budget cuts.  Indeed, a few members of Council complained that the TTC should just cut the routes on this list, save scads of money, and quit griping about funding problems.  Amusingly, few if any “poor performers” happened to be in their wards.

Where does this list come from?

First off, it is important to recognize that if a route doesn’t have many riders, there is no formula that is going to hide the situation on a purely financial basis.  But routes don’t just exist for financial reasons.  There are many other criteria including:

  • geographic isolation (how hard or far is it to walk to another route)
  • special traffic generators like schools, hospitals or industrial areas
  • network role (does this route segment bridge two areas of acceptable performance, or is the route part of the 24-hour Blue Night Network)

Two sets of data are published every year by the TTC. 

One lists the alleged cost and revenue for each route along with other operating stats such as riding count, peak vehicle requirements and vehicle mileage.  [Gentle reader:  The TTC and the street railway industry before it have used miles as long as anyone can remember.]

The other lists various routes or route segments that do not make the grade at certain times of the day.  The measuring stick used here is different than in the overall list for reasons I will explain shortly.

To read the source report containing this information go here and read Appendices B and C. Continue reading

If I Had A Billion Dollars

[With apologies to The Barenaked Ladies]

From time to time I get asked “Is There Any Hope For Transit?” (it’s a question that deserves caps on all the words).

Everything these days is doom-and-gloom, horrendous deficits, downloading, uploading, fiscal inbalance, and nobody is giving an inch.  I was asked this while sitting in a bar today talking about the TTC, and in the best tradition of all good bar conversations, started to work something out on a used napkin.

This post is a cleaned up version of that napkin.

The infamous Ridership Growth Strategy got us 100 net-new buses that may actually start providing additional service sometime late in 2007.  That’s as far as we got.  No buses for 2008, 2009, to the horizon and beyond.  Nobody wants to plan for it because the numbers scare them to death.  More accurately, the thought of the numbers scares them to death because nobody has bothered to work this out yet.  You saw it here first!

Meanwhile, some members of Council, not to mention developers, construction companies and other boosters of ways to waste public money, want to build one, no two, no THREE new subway lines.  Cost: somewhere around $4-billion plus inflation.

What happens if we spend some money on the surface network, on the lowly bus system?  Let’s not worry for the moment about reserved lanes or anything else, let’s just get the fleet back to its 1990 level.  Our peak service in 1990 was 1,550 buses and by 2001 this had fallen to 1,302 (248 buses).  Allowing for spares, this is a drop in the active fleet of about 300 buses.

What would happen if we started buying 100 new buses (over and above our needs to replace old, worn-out ones) for the next five years?  How much would it cost?  What would happen to the level of service?  How would this scheme compare to subway construction as a way to increase ridership in the system? Continue reading