Readers Comment About Service Quality

I’ve been rather busy this week with various cultural events including the hotdocs festival (more reviews to come), a Jane Jacobs memorial get together (repeated on CP24’s Hour Town on Sunday at 6:00 am and 1:05 am), the launch of spacing magazine’s latest all-transit issue, a spectacular performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass by Tafelmusik, and it’s still not over.

Having a few moments here, I’ll catch up on some of the comments that have accumulated for the week.

Service Quality

N. Clawson writes about the archival info on the Streetcar Operations Survey:

An interesting write-up.  I’ve been on a 502 that was short-turned.  It was like getting a cheeseburger without the cheese.  I couldn’t quite believe it — but you’ve validated that it wasn’t part of some weird somnambulation episode.

I was wondering if you could elucidate on a few points.

1.  On the decline of ridership on the line (specifically between 1989 and 1991) — how much was service-related and how much was due to the collapse in employment in the early 90s?  I’ve correlated overall TTC ridership with employment within the city (Urban Development Services or whoever) — and overall ridership correlates well with this.  (Especialy when the trend to more part-time employment is factored in.)  The numbers you give for the Queen ridership look more severe however.

Steve:  Queen was hit by the double-whammy of service cutbacks and the conversion to ALRV operation.  These combined with already dubious service management to make a very significant cutback in quality as experienced by riders.  When you can walk two km in the rush hour and not be passed by a streetcar, something is desperately wrong.

2. With respect to service cutbacks — is the issue perhaps more to do with the availability of cars?  The CLRVs and ALRVs are maintenance intensive.  A vehicle can’t be in the shop and in service simultaneously.

Steve:  No the situation was simply the across-the-board service cuts combined with the vehicle type change.  Bathurst was the other route that went ALRV, and it suffered similarly large drop in riding compared with other lines.

In addition, I understand that the original Spadina LRT plan called for acquisition of more cars.  Since this purchase didn’t happen, logic would dictate that the fleet is somewhat stretched.

Steve:  Actually what happened is that we rebuilt 22 more PCC cars for Spadina (on the assumption of an earlier opening date), and then trashed the PCCs because they “were not needed”.  Fie on the TTC for that masterstroke of fleet planning.

3.  You’ve pointed out the trend towards larger vehicles and longer headways.  There are certainly service impacts — although if the overall service can be made faster and more reliable, these can be assuaged.

I can understand the trend from an economic perspective:

  • LRVs are expensive, but it would seem that the larger vehicles might be more economical on a unit of capacity basis.
  • the TTC unit labour costs have been growing at at least one per cent a year over inflation which also makes running fewer, larger vehicles more and more attractive over time.

Steve:  If the service were actually reliable, the larger cars would not be as much of a problem.  However, when you start with lines like St. Clair (our soon to be “LRT”) that have a scheduled service that is at best every 7 minutes off peak, this means we are looking at every 10 minutes at best.  More often we would see a car every 12-15 minutes on a street where people hope to see better, not worse service after the investment of $60-million.  TTC claims they won’t do this, but I do not trust them one bit once the bean counters get started dictating service levels.

Kevin Ready writes about late-night connections:

I don’t think that it is too much to ask for some co-ordination among routes especially late at night when frequency of service has been reduced.

Thus, in your example, the King Car would be forced to wait for the eastbound Queen car to reach Broadview.  The operators can communicate with some central point.  That point could relay whether the streetcar has arrived at the point of interesection.

Steve:  We have only had computerized communication facilities on our fleet for about 20 years.  Deciding to co-ordinate meets is a policy decision that nobody at the top of TTC has ever thought about because they can’t think beyond subway routes with 5-minute headways.  As for my own experience, no fancy radio or computer system was needed.  Just look in the rear-view mirror and wait for connecting passengers rather than racing off into the night.

Julian Dunn writes:

I wonder if anyone has done an independent performance assessment of TTC vehicle arrival frequency, aside from the TTC itself?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to organize an “Audit The TTC Day” where volunteer observers would monitor arrival times of vehicles on key routes like Queen, and report the results on a website?

Steve:  Hmmm … sounds a lot like what we did back in 1984.  At this point, I am thinking quite strongly of going after records from the TTC’s computer system under an FOI request to put together my own review of service quality as seen by their own monitoring system.

Jason writes:

When spring rolls around, as it has now, I often take the 504 up to Broadview Station during the afternoon rush instead of the subway.  I enjoy seeing the sights and don’t sacrifice too much time on the trip home.  But sometimes it isn’t so enjoyable.  As you are aware, there are a few ALRVs assigned to King for the afternoon rush.  Too often, I have seen near empty ALRVs between York and Yonge Streets because the TTC insists on short turning the cars at Church.  As a result, a crush load good enough to fill an ALRV develops at each stop and a bunch of disgruntled passengers are forced to squeeze onto the next car coming down the tracks, which is always a CLRV!

I like the TTC, in spite of itself, and I’ve heard its rationale for short turning cars before.  I’m not sure that I entirely agree with them, but what sort of business model is this?  Nobody wants a privatized TTC, but management really needs to smarten up.

Steve:  A privatized TTC would be even worse, I suspect, because it’s goal would explicitly be to provide service at least cost.  We would see lots of cost cutting, but little in the way of service improvements.  Mind you, a private company would never build the Spadina extension to York U.  Maybe the students at their B-school can figure out a financial model that would make sense for their own subway line.

Andy writes:

It’s just further proof that transit vehicles on rails do not run well without their own right of way.  Also two-way radios would have helped passengers make their connections.

Steve:  I have to disagree.  Bus routes such as Dufferin are just as messed up.  It’s not the tracks, it’s the way you manage, or mismanage, the service on them.  As for radios, we already have them, but there is no inclination to use them to assist on service connections.

2 thoughts on “Readers Comment About Service Quality

  1. Jason said: “Too often [during the afternoon rush], I have seen near empty ALRVs between York and Yonge Streets because the TTC insists on short turning the cars at Church.”

    These are probably 508 ALRV’s looping at Church to make a return trip to Long Branch.  According to the TTC site, in the PM rush several are scheduled to loop every 20 minutes.  (When I observed them, it seemed more like every 15 minutes. Eg: 5 PM, 5:15 and sometimes 5:30 at Richmond & Victoria.)  I would say that the ALRVs are following their prescribed loop rather than being short-turned.

    However, I wonder why the TTC would assign ALRVs (or even CLRV’s) to such an infrequent route during rush hours. Would someone at King & Yonge wait specifically for a 508 car, or would it be better to take any King car and transfer at Roncesvalles?  After all, I once saw a 508 go out of service with a problem at Church – a 30 minute wait for the next car!


  2. When are these new buses going to arrive, and which routes are they being targetted to?

    I live on Broadview north of Danforth, and full southbound buses passing crowded bus-stops is becoming an increasingly regular occurrence.  I believe that the Flemiongdon Park and Cosburn routes need to be seriously looked at, as sevice on Broadview south from Cosburn to Broadview station is quite problematic now during rush hour.

    This doesn’t even address another related issue: if you can actually get on a bus southbound to Broadview, you will arrive at Broadview station to be confronted by eastbound trains that arrive completely packed and leave Broadview with several busloads of passengers still standing on the platform, unable to board.  In fact, Pape Station seems to be the final eastbound stop where a paying passenger can be guaranteed to get on a train at first attempt, during rush hour.

    The whole Broadview/Danforth corridor needs to be looked at seriously IMO.

    Steve:  The new buses will start to make an impact this fall, but a lot of them will be eaten up handling the ongoing three percent ridership growth we are now “enjoying”, and the impact on service quality may not be as great as first hoped.  We are still running just to stay in the same place, let alone get ahead of the growth in demand.


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