Where Did The Rush Hour Go? (Updated)

Looking at the June schedules for the TTC, I was struck by something quite odd:  on some streetcar routes there is either no additional rush hour service, or only a marginal change in service levels.  Have riders abandoned the TTC?  Are “downtown” riders travelling at times other than the conventional peak period?  Or is the TTC just pinching pennies by cutting service?  Here are some examples:

511 Bathurst:

  • AM Peak 5’00”
  • Midday 6’30”
  • PM Peak 5’20”

506 Carlton:

  • AM Peak 3’45”
  • Midday 5’45”
  • PM Peak 4’40”

505 Dundas:

  • 6’00” all day – no extra peak service.  In fact the Saturday afternoon service is better at 4’45”!

509 Harbourfront:

  • 8’00” all day

504 King:

  • AM peak: 4’00” plus extras to give a combined 2’00” over part of the route
  • Midday:  4’45”
  • PM peak:  4’15”

501 Queen:

  • AM peak and midday:  5’30”
  • PM peak:  5’45” (!!)  Yes, there are 502 downtowners on top of this but they come infrequently and usually run right behind the nearest available Queen car.

512 St. Clair (bus):

  • AM peak:  2’20” between Lansdowne and St. Clair West, 4’40” elsewhere
  • Midday:  5’00”
  • PM peak:  3’15”

510 Spadina to King:

  • AM peak:  3’00”
  • Midday:  2’00”
  • PM peak:  2’06”

Total streetcars in service:

  • AM peak:  129 CLRVs + 38 ALRVs
  • Midday:  91 CLRVs + 34 ALRVs
  • PM peak:  115 CLRVs + 36 ALRVs

To put it mildly, there are a lot of spare cars, although with St. Clair shut down and the summer schedules in place, that accounts for a bit.  All the same, something odd is going on here.  On many streetcar routes, the peak period does not represent most of the demand by a long shot.  This has implications on many levels including:

  • Questions of service adequacy
  • Changes in commuting patterns in the streetcar service areas (possibly affected by service quality)
  • Schemes for reserved lanes
  • Travel patterns generally — core-oriented versus dispersed, work versus non-work

A quick look through the bus routes turns up many that have low peak-to-offpeak service ratios as well, although some have the classic “commuting” pattern.

Are we seeing a fundamental change in transit usage, the impact of years of inadequate peak service, or a combination of both?  When the winter schedules come back in the fall, this will be worth another review.  Meanwhile, if anyone has their own idea of what’s going on, please comment.

[Updated at 11:00pm on June 28]

I forgot to mention that, of course, the loading standard allows for more riders during the peak and therefore the scheduled capacity is greater even if the headway is unchanged.  However, the traditional model where the ratio of peak to midday service was 1.5:1 or greater seems to be gradually disappearing.  This means either that the ratio of peak to offpeak demand is falling or it is being strangled by service quality. 

Mind you, with the quality of off-peak service the way it is, and the TTC’s plans to run coupled sets of CLRVs on much wider headways, we should be able to kill off whatever demand remains on the system in no time.

8 thoughts on “Where Did The Rush Hour Go? (Updated)

  1. This, of course, is taking the TTC at face value.

    I have recently been taking the 501 Queen car eastbound at Bathurst, and find I’m quite predictably missing it at 12:15pm and catching the next one at 12:30.  5’30” headway?  What happened to the other two cars?

    Steve:  We all know that TTC cannot maintain regular service until they get a total ban on parking and deliveries, repave the street to place the tracks 6 inches above the surrounding pavement, and remove half of the stops because picking up passengers consumes valuable time.  Maybe they will even propose a subway so that they don’t have to be on the street at all.  You’re lucky — at least there would be a stop at Bathurst.

    What passes for planning at the TTC these days is laughable — rather than deal with the rotten service, they blame everyone else and demand an exclusive right-of-way they will never, ever get.


  2. The times are changing.  The days of people working 9AM to 5PM or 10AM to 6PM are really over.  Business takes place around the clock.  Many of my coworkers deliberately take unusual shifts like 1PM to 9PM so that they can visit a night club right after work.  They can sleep in and go to work in the afternoon.

    Personally, I would not care if the TTC changed the level of service like this.  What’s the point of a bus every 110 seconds during rush hour when off peak service is crap?  Having a bus every 300 seconds for 20 hours a day is more useful.  Instead of attracting the typical 9 to 5 commuter, the soccer mom would be attracted to use the system.

    There are many people who use the system mid day as well.  On the 21 Brimley route, bus service is every 20 minutes during mid day.  Try going to the doctor or buying groceries with it.  It is not practical.  However, if there were a bus every 300 seconds, it would be much more competitive to the motor vehicle.

    Am I giving too much credit to the TTC?  Probably.  I have a feeling that they are not that forward looking.  Perhaps the accountants are squeezing fat out of the system again?


  3. There are a couple of extra stats that need to be included for the rush and non-rush periods  (How does the number of vehicles in service vary?  What is the average loading?  What is the average holding time at stops?  How does the trip time vary etc?).  Looks to me like there are just enough vehicles being added during rush hour to maintain a constant level of service throughout the day.

    Steve:  That is correct.  I was trying to avoid a post full of stats to get this discussion going.  Average loading information is not published by the TTC.  Holding time at stops is severely affected if service is crowded because it takes longer for people to squeeze on and off of vehicles.  I’m going to talk about trip times in a separate post about congestion and transit priority. 

    In terms of perception, a 5 minute service through the day is reasonable good service.  A 5 minute service during rush hour where a person may not even be able to board the vehicle would not be considered reasonable, but if sustained, would be self correcting (the excess would find other means).  This may be what we are seeing.  The other possibility may be that the culture has changed (Variable working hours etc.) that the term ‘rush hour’ no longer has the meaning it has in the past.  The Gardiner appears to be as busy at 11:00 as it does at 8:30.


  4. I think it’s also a case of rush hour expanding.  On the roads, I find there’s really no difference between when I drive to Kipling station’s park ‘n’ ride at noon or at 3 p.m.  Yes, there are peak surges, but it seems that rush hour traffic is everywhere, at every time.


  5. Spadina’s ridership in particular has always been “odd”.  It’s not a commuter based system.  The street gets most of its use outside of peak hours as people come to shop and eat and play.  I don’t have the numbers beside me (you do), but isn’t it the case that its best frequencies come during Saturdays?  This explains why midday service is more frequent than rush hour service.

    Steve:  Yes, depending on which seasonal schedule you look at, the Saturday service can be better than the rush hour.  This is quite an amazing route because it breaks the rules on how transit services are supposed to work.  The larger question is what the change in demand patterns means for transit planning and service design.  Many transit proposals focus on peak period service and traffic conditions while forgetting that off-peak service is a growing market and is essential to converting passengers to all-day users, not just commuters.


  6. I used to take a short streetcar ride every day during rush hour.  However, after getting frustrated repeatedly due to overcrowding, streetcar bunching and upredictable serice I have given up and started walking.  I have found that walking from Yonge to Spadina is often faster than waiting for the streetcar.

    A Carlton streetcar that runs 4’40” usually ends up being two bunched up streetcars running at 9’20”.  Of course, the first streetcar is overcrowded and doesn’t pick up passengers.

    Steve:  And the ever brilliant TTC looks at that as, on average, two half-full cars and cuts the service because there is “surplus capacity”.  This has been going on for years.


  7. If the TTC has the habit of cutting surplus capacity, I’m afraid of how service will deteriorate when they order new streetcars, with a larger capacity.  If new streetcars have twice the capacity, will the TTC interpret that saying that streetcars need to run half as frequently?

    Steve:  That is precisely the point I have been making in concerns about service planning.  We know what happened on Bathurst and Queen where the advent of the ALRVs brought wider headways.  Coupled with service cuts and bad line management, the TTC drove riders away. 

    Now, even without new cars, they have a scheme to put couplers on the rebuilt CLRVs and run them in trains.  Except on Spadina, I fear this will lead to more lost riding, but the TTC never let something like that get in the way of bad decisions.  They claim it will reduce running times, but any benefit from that will be more than offset by the widened headways and inevitably gappy service.


  8. Those Queen numbers don’t surpise me.  Living by Dundas east of the Don – the decision to walk up the block to Gerrard for the Carlton car is usually more fruitful than walking and waiting for the Queen Car.  The lack of spacing between the Neville & Kingston Rd cars is frustrating.

    Other annoyances are the absolute lack of connection cooperation at Broadview/Carroll & Queen.  The King car driver knows there are people transferring, but turns right anyway and is just that tantalizingly short distance away from transferring. 

    As well, how hard is it for drivers to ask the people to use the rear doors during rushhour at busy stops?  I appreciate the drivers that ask at Yonge to have the people use the back.

    As for the Bathurst car…I’ve only had bad experiences with it…and why it has the ARLVs I’ll never really know.

    Here endeth the rant.

    Steve:  Aside from whether TTC drivers are inherently unwilling to wait for passengers, there is an intriguing side-effect of transit priority signalling.  It actually encourages drivers to leave as soon as possible while they are getting their advanced turn phase or extended green signal.  Good for passengers already on the car, not so good for those hoping to board or make a transfer connection.

    Bathurst has ALRVs because (a) once upon a time, the CNE grounds were a significant traffic generator and still are on rare occasion, and (b) it’s a small route that can soak up the cars left over after putting ALRVs on Queen.

    The only place the ALRVs really do a good job is on King when the morning extras fill in a 2-minute headway eastbound from Roncesvalles between the CLRVs on their 4-minute headway.  This provides added capacity where it is needed.  Extra capacity!  What an astounding, revolutionary idea!  A shame we don’t have vehicles to do this on the rest of the system and only minimal plans to expand the fleet.


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