Trains on King Street

Today’s Star contains an article by Kevin McGran in which we learn of a scheme to run trains of CLRVs on King Street.  This won’t happen any day soon because the CLRVs haven’t had couplers for years, but they are included in the upcoming CLRV retrofit.

The vital point comes in the article’s second sentence:

The coupling would move more people faster, even though the “headway” — the time between streetcars — during rush hour would increase from two minutes to four, the transit commission says.

This claim of a two minute headway is repeated elsewhere in the article. 

In case anyone in the Planning Department hasn’t looked at their own schedules recently, let alone tried to actually ride the King Car, route 504’s scheduled service is as follows:

AM Peak:  The regular service runs every 4 minutes provided by 29 cars.  On top of this, 16 extras (7 ALRVs and 9 CLRVs) make one trip mingled between the regular cars, and there are 3 eastbound trips on 508 Lake Shore between Sunnyside and Parliament.  This gives a period of just over one hour where the combined frequency of extras eastbound from Sunnyside plus the regular service runs every 2 minutes.

Midday:  The service runs every 5’15” minutes with 21 cars.

PM Peak:  The service runs every 4 minutes with 32 cars.

Service at other times runs every 7 minutes or worse.

(Source:  March 26, 2006 Scheduled Service Summary available on the TTC website here.)

The only time there is a 2 minute headway is for a portion of the AM peak when the extras combine with the regular service for one round trip.  Otherwise, it’s every 4 minutes or worse.

Operationally, to provide MU service, you would have to start out with trains from the beginning of the AM peak.  Attempting to make trains on the fly would foul up the line, especially on days with bad weather when the service was off schedule.  (That’s exactly the experience we had on Queen Street 30 years ago.) 

To provide a 4 minute service of trains over the entire line would require 58 CLRVs, 13 more cars than are now operated on the 504.  The whole point of the extras is that they provide additional service corresponding to the peak-within-the-peak rather than over the entire line.  If we use only 45 cars (the current peak), then the headway is going to be much wider than 4 minutes.

The rationale for this folly is a report from IntelliCAN Transportation Systems examining various operational configurations and traffic impacts.  I do not have a copy of this report and cannot comment on its methodology, but the obvious fact that the premise — the 2 minute headway — invalidates use of the report to justify MU operation on King at current service levels.  If the TTC actually did operate that much service on King, we might have something to discuss, but as things are now, we are wasting our breath.

This is the second example of how the TTC just doesn’t get it about King Street service.  The first was a proposal for a transit mall stretching through all of downtown and possibly beyond.  If King were awash in streetcars, we might have a case for some sort of reservation, let alone kicking most other traffic off of the street.  We cannot justify this for a service that runs no more than every 4 minutes except in the morning rush hour when, by the way, traffic congestion is not an issue.

Later in McGran’s piece, we have this gem:

“The demand is increasing, and we’ve been putting more and more streetcars on King St., but we’re not carrying any more people,” says TTC manager of service planning Mitch Stambler.

More service!  Amazing!!  Let’s look at the history.

January 1999:  AM peak service on King runs every 3’12” with 31 cars on the regular service plus 4 extras eastbound from Roncesvalles (about 23 cars in the peak hour).  Midday service runs every 6’20”.  PM peak service runs every 3’48”.

September 1999:  Introduction of 4’00” AM regular service with 26 cars plus 12 extras.  This would give a 2 minute headway for a period of 48 minutes (12 cars at a 4 minute spacing) eastbound from Sunnyside.  Midday service unchanged.  PM peak service runs every 4’00”. 

February 2001:  AM peak service runs with 27 cars on the regular service plus 16 extras (64 minutes’ worth of 2 minute headway).  Midday service runs every 5’40”.  PM peak unchanged.

January 2003:  AM peak service with 28 cars on the regular service plus 16 extras.  Midday service unchanged.  PM peak service runs every 4’12”.

January 2004:  AM peak service runs with 31 cars on the regular service plus 16 extras.  Extra running time for construction delays accounts for the additional cars.  Midday and PM peak frequencies unchanged.

February 2005:  Identical to January 2003.

March 2006:  AM peak service with 29 cars on the regular service plus 16 extras.  Midday service unchanged.  PM peak runs every 4’00”.

The bottom line here is that the level of service on King Street has not changed significantly since September 1999 when the current service design was introduced.  There are four more extras in the AM peak, but that’s it.  Claims that the TTC is running more streetcars but not carrying more riders are misleading, to put it politely.

“It’s not because the people aren’t there. It’s because we can’t carry more people because the streetcars are getting bunched up, and stuck in traffic.

“You couldn’t find another streetcar line in the world that’s trying to run every two minutes in mixed traffic.”

Many streetcar lines once operated on much closer headways than today.  In the late 1980s, the St. Clair car ran every 1’45” between Yonge and Lansdowne.  Three other routes ran more often than every 3 minutes (King, Queen and Bathurst). 

The TTC has operated that two-minute headway on King since 1999 while the area has redeveloped.  The problem with TTC service is that there isn’t enough of it. 

Stop making excuses.

One thought on “Trains on King Street

  1. It seems that some of your advice to the TTC runs contrary to what I have seen in Europe.  For example, you recommend running short streetcars (CLRV) a high frequency while European cities I have seen (eg. Dusseldorf, Potsdam, Berlin, Dresden, Bremen in Germany and Orleans in France) run much longer trams or trains of trams.  Some of these places are smaller than Toronto.

    Another example is that you do not seem keen on reserved ROWs while European cities use them more often especially (of the cities I have seen) Dresden and Orleans.

    Orleans was more aggressive in acquiring a reserved ROW than Toronto.  Orleans took 2 of the 4 lanes of a bridge over the Loire River. It also closed a downtown street to auto traffic and dedicated it to LRT and pedestrians.  This converted street reminded me somewhat of plans for the King Street transit mall.

    It appears that the TTC is trying to adopt some of these European practices, but you feel they are inappropriate.  Why would they work in Europe but not in Toronto?  Your arguments sound logical, but then they seem to contradict what I saw in Europe.

    Steve replies:  My objections to the TTC’s schemes for MU operation stem from their basic dishonesty.  The claim is that King runs every two minutes, and stretching this to every four with trains will improve traffic operations and service overall.  In fact, the line runs every 4 minutes for most of the AM peak (there is a one-way platoon of 2-minute headway lasting about an hour in an overall round trip of almost two hours).  PM Peak service is every 4 minutes with no extras.

    If we run all peak service on King as MU, that means a train every 8 minutes.  People will walk before waiting for that infrequent a service, and this assumes it will be (a) on time and (b) not short-turned.  Waiting time is a significant factor in the perception of service convenience.  When someone has to wait an extended period in poor weather (think February), the TTC becomes a poor alternative to driving.

    The TTC has a very long history of blaming external factors for their service quality problems when the root causes are (a) insufficient or poorly scheduled service and (b) ineffective or non-existent route management.  We spend a long time debating things like trains on King without first addressing the internal problems.  Of particular interest is the degree of improvement trains would provide.  I am going to try to get hold of this study to see what it claims will happen and whether the benefits are really worth the offsets.

    When service gets down to the 2-minute level, it is close to the traffic light cycle of 80 seconds.  That cycle tends to marshall traffic into waves regardless of the scheduled headway, and the impact is greater the closer the schedule gets to the traffic light cycle.  However, this is now offset to some degree by signal priority on King that adjusts the lights at most locations so the streetcars are not delayed.

    Meanwhile on Spadina, the transit priority signals have never been turned on (the line opened in 1997), and streetcars routinely are held behind left turning traffic.  I have commented elsewhere on the inane response from TTC staff to this situation that makes me wonder why they bother with priority signalling at all.  Priority means giving more to transit, but that’s not the way Toronto thinks.

    This brings me to the issue of city policy about transit lanes and malls.  Please.  This is Toronto.  When a transit lane was proposed on Queen, the merchants claimed that the world would end because deliveries (and customers) could not park in front of their stores.  Even on Spadina, we had huge fights because the number of parking spaces and the practice of double and triple parking for deliveries would be reduced with the LRT construction.  That was one factor in the original 1970s proposal being deferred, and the topic came up again in the 1990s.  I need not mention the situation on St. Clair.

    Transit service in Toronto will overwhelmingly run in mixed traffic for two reasons:  (a) there is no political will to change the balance in favour of transit and (b) the level of service on most routes is such that taking away road space would not fly as a tradeoff.  Meanwhile, the TTC continues to suffer from budget constraints imposed by the very city Council that claims to be so pro-transit, and “transit advocacy” consists of paying for 1/3 of a subway that won’t open for a decade while doing almost nothing for the system as a whole.

    We have already seen the impact on ridership and service quality of wider headways on Queen and Bathurst, and we don’t need to do the same to King.  I despair of what will happen when new, larger cars arrive and the TTC implemements a straight 2 for 3 replacement all day long.  Transit service is not just a question of running capacity past a location, it’s also a matter of convenience.

    I wish that we had the political environment seen in some European cities (although suburban, car-oriented planning is starting to make inroads there too), but we don’t.  My outlook is strongly coloured by what we have.


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