Some Days, You Need Dedication to Ride the Rocket

A few days ago, I set off on what should be a straightforward trip by transit, but the planets and stars were not well-aligned for me.  The problems I encountered don’t show anything unusual for regular riders, but they also show the combined effect that can result.

Here is the planned journey:  Leave Scarborough Town Centre via the 190 Rocket to Don Mills, Subway to North York Centre, (pick up package), Subway to Eglinton, bus east to Mt. Pleasant.

2:17 pm  Arrive STC anticipating the 2:22 Rocket.  There is a crowd, a good sign that the bus has not left early.

2:35 pm  Two buses arrive.  One is signed “190S Short Turn”, and it changes to “Not In Service”.

2:39 pm Leave STC (two minute late to the 2:37 scheduled time).  The trip encounters moderate traffic congestion, but most delays enroute are due to loading times and particularly to red lights.

3:03 pm Arrive Don Mills Station.  The elapsed time from STC is 24 minutes, longer than the scheduled 22.5 minutes, and this doesn’t allow for terminal time at Don Mills.  Clearly, this route needs more running time to stay on schedule.

Escalator down to the mezzanine at Don Mills is stopped.  Luckily, I no longer have troubles walking down stairs.  I just miss the train leaving westbound, and wait for the next one.

3:09 pm Leave Don Mills Station

3:17 pm Arrive Yonge/Sheppard Station.  Note that the actual running time is 8 minutes although the schedule allows 11.  This shows the overhead of a short line where trains spend one quarter of their time sitting in terminals.

The trip one stop north to North York Centre was uneventful, and I dropped into an office to pick up a package.

3:34 pm Arrive back at North York Centre on the southbound platform.  There is a considerable crowd, but no train.

3:47 pm Train arrives.  There has been no announcement during the wait, and judging by the crowd, the gap was at least 20 minutes.  With luck, this gap was filled southbound by rush hour trains entering service at Davisville.

At Eglinton, I had a short wait on the 34 Eglinton East awaiting the driver’s return, and by 4:10 I was at Mt. Pleasant Road.  Total time for this trip, 1 hour 53 minutes of which about 30 minutes can be attributed to service interruptions.

Most of my trips by TTC are uneventful, but this illustrates what can happen.  If this sort of thing comes along often enough, it’s the screwups customers remember, not the many days when the service runs like a clock.

Motorists run into unexpected problems too, but somehow the random snarls on the expressways don’t bother them as much as the thought of standing on a platform wondering when a bus or train will show up.  The comfort and convenience of their cars outweigh the difficulties of traffic jams. 

This is the challenge transit faces.  I should not have to read my horoscope to determine whether it’s a good day to travel.

4 thoughts on “Some Days, You Need Dedication to Ride the Rocket

  1. Now I have to rant… You know, your post mimics my experience most of the time, but especially yesterday.  It’s like I’m cursed when I plan on taking the TTC, its always against me.

    There is no excuse for constant large gaps between service and especially for bunching up service on a surface bus route like Lansdowne on a Sunday evening.  Also, the TTC should do something about making connections a bit less frustrating.

    Anyway, my metropass didn’t prove too handy yesterday as I walked 3/4 of the way.

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  2. As I read Steve’s travelogue about how TTC service interruptions and traffic signals extended his trip I reflected on my experience with TTC streetcar delays the past two days.

    For years I’ve heard the constant TTC rider complaints about streetcars and buses bunching up and arriving 3 in a row after a 20 minute wait. To paraphrase…”Why can’t the nincompoops running the TTC space them out evenly?” Congestion and construction are rightfully getting a lot of the rap, but it’s not the whole story, nor all the TTC’s fault that streetcar service is so erratic in mixed traffic.

    To illustrate, last night during rush hour at 5:15 p.m. the jammed King eastbound streetcar was held up (a few blocks east of Yonge across from the King Edward Hotel) by not one, not two but three vans turning left illegally onto a side street despite the clearly marked no left turn (during rush hour) sign. The TTC driver sounded his bell and horn for over a minute in impotent frustration as the three vans took no notice and proceeded to complete their illegal left turns.

    Tonight, travelling on the eastbound College streetcar, it came to a stop 5 car lengths west of the Spadina stop, only to wait through three light cycles for three of the single passenger vehicles ahead of it to turn left, northbound onto Spadina. What really amazed me was that there was no sign prohibiting rush hour left turns eastbound as there is westbound on College at Spadina.

    Then a block east of Spadina at the Huron traffic light the streetcar again waited through another light cycle for a car to turn left, again legally as there was no rush hour left turn prohibition. 90 passengers were needlessly delayed over 2 minutes. That’s 180 minutes or 3 hours of passenger delay to travel one block through 2 intersections of College during rush hour.

    This experience travelling one block got me thinking about the issue multiplied to the whole streetcar system, across thousands of streetcar intersections. Just imagine the quantum improvement to the reliability and speed of TTC streetcar service if left turns (which block streetcar tracks) were banned during rush hour at the thousands of streetcar intersections across the city.

    All it would take to implement is a few million dollars to print and install signs to prohibit rush hour left turns. An inconvenience to drivers? Too bad, they can plan their journey and turn left on streets without streetcars. On Toronto streetcar routes, with over a billion dollars of invested capital in high-capacity streetcar track, surely the streetcar must truly be king to ease congestion caused by single occupant cars clogging roads past design capacity.

    In the past the TTC has rued that the Toronto Police Service doesn’t enforce the existing left turn restrictions on streetcar routes, so once a year there is a nominal week long Police crackdown on illegal left turns and drivers failing to stop when the streetcar doors open. The following week after the crackdown it’s back to normal, single-occupant cars turning left during rush hour blocking full streetcars. Toronto under the new City of Toronto act no longer has to seek Provincial permission to manage it’s roadways and already administers the Court system for local Parking and Minor HTA infractions.

    Once rush hour left turns on streetcar routes are banned and intersections signed, the City can implement a truly punitive fine that will get drivers attention so it becomes socially unacceptable to block a streetcar, much like it was once unacceptable to litter in Toronto the Clean. TTC streetcars could be equipped over time with a camera to photograph licence plates of cars illegally turning left… resulting in an automatic $150? fine to the owner of the vehicle as with “Red Light Camera” infractions It would dispense with the lack of Police enforcement argument for not implementing an outright ban on rush-hour left turns on streetcar routes.

    If Toronto is really serious about implementing its Transit City plan, surely unlocking this unrealized streetcar capacity should be the first step to dramatically growing TTC ridership in 2007. It doesn’t require any Provincial or Federal funding or political commitments and would literally save millions of rider trip minutes daily, billions annually. It would make the TTC cheaper, faster and more convenient than the car for hundreds of millions of trips while saving tens of millions of TTC operating cost annually (when multiplied by all TTC streetcar intersections).

    It would truly unlock the potential of existing streetcars to be become street “rapid transit” and dramatically improve rush hour service on the supposedly high-capacity streetcar lines, especially on streets that are too narrow to ever build a dedicated streetcar or bus ROW, now so in vogue. This would be virtually without any significant additional capital spending. Truly a better way to expand TTC ridership than spending billions of dollars to build just one subway line to separate TTC riders from growing traffic congestion.

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  3. Hi Steve:-

    Many years ago I took a road trip to San Francisco and while driving in the city noted many main roads where there is no left turn at any time of the day. These were not streetcar lines but wide streets with diesels or trolley coaches. The solution for those of us not familiar with the road system in fog town was to go one intersection too far, then three rights and Bob’s yer uncle, we were where we wanted to be. The time spent was minimal and with repeated use of their road system it became expected that lefts were verboeten!

    Why not has been asked by you elsewhere in his site, well why not if an extremely livable city like San Fran can do it, WHY NOT us?

    Steve: The blocks in SF are quite short and the three-rights-make-a-left doesn’t take you far out of your way. Many of the block systems in our old residential neighbourhoods include one way sections, and they tend to be long rectangles rather than squares. Both of these make the around-the-block scheme very time consuming, not to mention the addition of traffic in neighbourhoods who don’t want it.

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  4. The title of this post pretty much summed up my experience on Friday night (re: Saturday morning) at 2:30am.

    After grabbing something to eat near Bloor & Spadina I took the blue-night Bloor-Danforth bus which I assumed went to Kennedy Station. When the driver dropped me and everyone else off at Warden/Danforth (not even Warden Station), the only thing besides my new ttc-orphaned-friends was a line-up of cabs waiting to take fed-up scarberians to their homes. After waiting a half hour and finally trying to negotiate a cab-pool with drunken strangers, I decided to cab it alone all the way to Morningside and Sheppard (an area that may one day benefit from new LRT lines in Transit City).

    In my little experiment I decided to take Sheppard instead of the 401 in hopes that I could quickly pass a bus, stop my cab, and pull out my trusty metropass. Alas, almost $40.00 later and the single-sighting of a bus passing westbound at around Neilson on Sheppard I shook my head in disbelief.

    I have recently become a transit junky. I work all over the city and do own a car, but for 1/2 of the week I can usually take transit to get to where i need to in a reasonable amount of time. This highlights two important issues for me:

    1. the MASSIVE need to reinstitute the provincial subsidy for the TTC (and i would’ve gladly hung myself from the top of Queen’s Park after Friday’s terrible experience) and

    2. the need for perhaps a lengthier subway operating day (not to mention better transit in Scarborough and better surface connections — but i don’t need to mention that if you read this site).

    What really bothered me was that when I asked the driver how I was going to get to Kennedy Station so I could take the Morningside 116 he didn’t know. He said he usually works on the “west-end circuit.” There was not a single sign on the TTC post saying when and what route to expect. (There was a generic route map that clearly didn’t apply at 3:00 in the morning)

    The overall lesson was: DON’T MISS THE LAST SUBWAY TRAIN OR YOU’RE F**KED. One wise traveller cautioned me take the “Yonge Blue Night, it’s better, especially if you need to go to North Scarborough.” Silly me, I had assumed that the Bloor-Danforth Blue Night would go the entire route of said subway line.

    In the battle to convince people to leave their cars at home fought on the electronic signs over our freeways urging us to “Help Reduce Smog. Take Transit.” I ask sign regulators, take it where? It’s especially funny to see those signs in the east end where transit is so shoddy. But the public messaging works–at least on me.

    And then you have an experience like this that requires so much “dedication” and you’re left wondering, eh, I should just wait till they build something better. Ultimately I don’t think all Scarberians need a subway or want a subway for that matter (ok well we want one), but when we say that what we really mean is that we will wait till something better is built, or a better system is implemented, until we ride this city’s red rocket.

    The real shame of this though is that why, because I live in Scarborough does that mean my night should end at 1:50 (or whenever the last train is), and why if it doesn’t should it take me 2 hours to get home. That is why Scarborough feels second class (it’s not about money spent on our system vs. the one downtown), it’s about the ways that we are inconvenienced as though we do not work as hard (and our time is not as precious) as those well served by the city’s present transit system.

    Results of this experience:

    1. next time I’ll just take a cab to Kennedy and Eglinton where I can get my precious 116 at hopefully only a 10$ cost. and

    2. I’m still a semi-dedicated TTC rider very anxiously awaiting the Sheppard East LRT and Scarborough-Malvern LRT but for my late-night forays into the core, I think I’ll hang onto my car.

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