Always A Car In Sight (2)

Not long ago, I wrote about the changing level of service on the streetcar system over the past 50 years in Always A Car In Sight.  Just to recap, my intentions were threefold:

  • Show how much service was actually operated and how many people a network of streetcar lines could carry.  If this could be done in mixed traffic, then it certainly could be achieved with some form of reserved right-of-way.
  • Document the changing service levels especially since 1980 first as the TTC saw the heavy streetcar routes as an easy place to save money, and later where service levels threaten the attractiveness of transit service.
  • Demonstrate why the Bloor-Danforth subway is so different from current and recent subway schemes by virtue of the very heavy, established ridership in the corridor the Bloor line serves.

This produced a number of comments as you can see in the post, but a few other points have come up here and in other threads.

  • Why not convert some streetcar lines to another mode such as bus or trolleybus?
  • What has been the evolution of scheduled running times over the years as an indication of rising traffic congestion?
  • What would service look like with the proposed 2:3 replacement of CLRVs by new cars?

The conversion of a streetcar line to trolleybus operation is not going to happen.  That mode is long-gone from Toronto’s streets, and the TTC is not going to re-invest in that technology just as a way to free up some streetcars for service elsewhere.  Moreover, that would only be a stopgap to provide equipment for new LRT lines, or increased service on other streetcar routes.  It would not deal with the fundamental problem that the CLRVs are high-floor vehicles.

If the TTC were seriously contemplating a trolleybus network, it would need a critical mass of routes that would translate into at least one garage’s worth of fleet.  This means we would need to find a network of routes requiring about 200 vehicles at peak that could be served from one garage.  However, the heavily served routes are spread all over the city and, indeed, some of them are candidates for LRT conversion.  Running an existing streetcar route with buses from a suburban trolleybus garage would involve a lot of deadhead mileage.  This idea is a non-starter as a means of freeing up streetcars.

The TTC uses traffic congestion as a catch-all excuse for poor service quality.  Without question, there is more congestion today than there was 50 years ago, but this is not reflected in the running times on schedules.  In fact the running times in 2006 are close to those decades earlier.  How is this possible?

  • Until the mid-1980s, there were only slight changes in scheduled running times, but there was an ongoing problem with vehicles short turning.  This was documented in the 1984 Streetcars for Toronto Operations Survey.
  • Running times were increased to bring them more in line with actual conditions, but not long after, the TTC launched a program to implement traffic signal priority for streetcars (and later buses).
  • The savings obtained by shortening delays at intersections translated to shorter running times and reduced the scheduled times more or less back to the values two decades or more earlier.

For example, the Queen car’s basic Neville-Humber service has a running time of one hour in the September 2006 schedules, the same as in April 1964.  The running time had risen to 71 minutes by 1990, but part of this was reclaimed.

The King car’s Broadview-Dundas West service takes 54 minutes to make the trip in 2006, only slightly more than the 50 minutes allowed from the 1954 to 1980.  The Dundas car takes 49 minutes, up only 1 minute from 1980.

The big change over the decades is the reduction in the number of cars in service and the widened headways.  When a service runs every two minutes, a short-turn is an inconvenience, but the gap it produces is not an excessive wait.  However, as headways widen, the impacts of short-turns or any other service irregularity are much more severe.

For example, if a Queen car turned at Woodbine Loop in 1980, the gap this produced in the Neville service was about 5 minutes long.  Today, the gap would be almost 10 minutes.  This is long enough that, coupled with the unpredicability of service, riders will give up waiting for a streetcar.  Note that these are at peak service levels.  Off-peak short-turns would create even wider gaps between vehicles.

TTC line management is ineffective in providing reliable service.  Part of this is due to inattention (failing to ensure proper spacing of vehicles and re-entry of short-turns at an appropriate spot in the flow), part is due to reduced service (with fewer vehicles available, there is less flexibility to manage service) and part due to the ongoing need to keep operators on time for crew changes even if this means service must be disrupted.  The crew change problem is itself caused by vehicles that are off schedule — it is a symptom of the underlying problem.

This brings me to the question of widened headways with a new fleet of larger vehicles.  If the TTC replaces CLRVs on a 2:3 basis, headways will be widened at least during peak periods.

  • Carlton 5’15”
  • Dundas 7’52”
  • King 3’00” (AM eastbound peak), 6’00” (other AM and all PM)
  • Kingston Road 9’00” (combined service to McCaul and to York via King)
  • St. Clair 4’28” (east of Lansdowne), 8’56” (to Keele)
  • Spadina 3’45”

Many of these headways are worse than those found on many frequent suburban bus routes.  New large vehicles may provide theoretical capacity, but waits for service will go up.  If there are any short-turns, the gaps will be quite large and will further drive affluent downtown riders away from transit. 

Off-peak headways will be even wider if the same replacement ratio is applied.  Why, for example, would we build a reserved transit way on St. Clair if the streetcar only runs every 12 minutes (or worse) outside of the rush hour?  Spending on this type of LRT scheme is meaningless without frequent service.  (The January 2005 schedule had offpeak headways of almost 8 minutes or more during all periods, and this would translate to 12 or more in a 2:3 replacement.)

Oh the irony — we will build new LRT lines to serve the waterfront’s burgeoning population while we destroy transit as a reasonable option for current users.

Streetcar Services 1954-2006 With Capacities and Trip Times (PDF)

13 thoughts on “Always A Car In Sight (2)

  1. Can you comment sometime on the practice of streetcar short-turns?  I realise they are sometimes necessary but the TTC system seems to make them very user unfriendly because there are not enough loops.  (If cars were bi-directional it would be far easier!)

    Steve:  Actually, it would only be easier if there were lots of crossovers, and I can see lots of objections to reversing against the flow in mixed traffic.  Also, a short-turn at a simple crossover, as opposed to a pocket track, must immediately return in the opposite direction rather than being slotted into a gap. 

    For example, an eastbound 504 car short-turned at Parliament must go to Queen before it can go west, to Church, and only then go west along King.  People waiting on King between Parliament and Church will not see it.

    Steve:  Actually, the standard 504 short-turn is north on Parliament, east on Dundas, south on Broadview.  Sometimes, usually in the PM peak, the direction is reversed so that the short-turn cars reach Broadview.  There is no north-to-west curve at Queen and Parliament. 

    There used to be a loop at Parliament but the last remnants of it were dug up a few weeks ago when Parliament was re-surfaced.

    Steve:  There was a scheme to reactivate Parliament Loop as part of the intersection reconstruction project a few years ago, but it was dropped for budgetary reasons.  Who knows, we may see something as part of the proposed West Don Lands LRT project. 

    Similarly there is virtually no usable track on Richmond or Adelaide (though supposedly planned for 2009) so short-turns in the city centre also involve long detours.  Are there other parts of the system that would benefit from better (or any?) looping facilities?

    Steve:  There are lots of short-turn opportunities on all major routes.  There are a few places where some extra curves would be nice, but since the affected intersections are all fairly new, this is unlikely to happen for 20 years or more.


  2. Here’s a concept.  Abandon the 2 for 3 replacement ratio and get over the thinking that produces it.


    I will guarantee you that TTC is thinking they will be providing the same space (on a number of passengers per square meter basis) per passenger and I’m here to tell you that based on every single low floor car I’ve ridden (and that’s most types available) that’s ridiculous.  The seating arrangements will not be the same as they are now, and with most designs I’d suggest that you’d need 60-70 feet of car length (depending on style)to replace a 52 foot CLRV.  That’s just the way the engineering crumbles.

    A replacement ratio of 5 for 6 would be more reasonable off peak, with full replacement during peak travel times. Most low-floor cars are cramped (pickpockets would probably have a field day!).  Of course they could go to 100% single seating, but then they’d have to lengthen the cars to compensate.

    Among other things the TTC is probably counting on is a reduction in operator costs with their 2 for 3 replacement plans.  That’s a concept that would be nice in an ideal world but should be removed from the mix and dismissed out of hand.  The unions won’t like it, guaranteed.  The object here is to move the customers with safety, skill and speed, in that order.  I’d toss comfort into that (even at risk of messing up the 3 “s’s”) but I can almost guarantee that new low floor cars won’t be terribly comfortable for the seated passenger.


  3. Steve:  I have mixed feelings about posting this comment for reasons that will become evident.  All the same, I am going to reserve the right to limit the number of off-the-wall schemes that come my way.  Don’t expect me to host an extended discussion on this sort of thread.  Note that the excessive use of Capital Letters and the spelling in this post are the author’s original text.  All I have done is to clean up the paragraph breaks and insert my comments. 

    Trolley Buses Should Be Used as a Complete Replacement of the Kingston Road & Carlton Route.  No Point in replacing rail infrastructure and making traffic screech to a halt IF there inst enough passengers.

    Steve:  The last reported passenger counts for Carlton are equal to those on Queen.  The 506 uses 34 peak vehicles.  Meanwhile, the Kingston Road services are effectively branches of the Queen and King cars.  Cutting the service back from Bingham to Woodbine Loop would save about 4 cars.  The rail infrastructure on Carlton is almost brand new, as it is on the Queen route.  The track on Kingston Road is older, but with the lighter use, it’s in fairly decent shape.  The overhead power distribution feeders, spans and poles are being replaced right now. 

    Im sure that if those two lines were replaced then there would be a good number of trolley buses. 

    Steve:  No, 34 CLRVs translates to about 48 trolleybuses on a capacity basis, plus spares bringing us up to say 56.  To fill a garage, you need about 250 vehicles.  

    New Buses these days have either hybrid/battery power so going from Garage to the Line wont have to be done with Overhead Power.

    Steve:  That’s not the issue.  It’s the extra driving time of coming all the way down to, say, College Street from a suburban garage compared with entering service from Roncesvalles or Russell Carhouses.

    Or If Trolley Bus is such a big problem, just use a Huge Fleet of Hybrid Electric buses.  If New York can use them on almost every street, we should start using them on the weak streetcar lines.

    Steve: The MTA has a fleet of over 5,000 buses.  Only 550 of these are hybrids as of yearend 2006.

    Since hybrids have only been available in quantity for a few years, it is impossible, even if they bought nothing else, for their fleet to be dominated by this type of vehicle by now.  Having said that, I understand the New York hybrids are quite successful, and we are starting to see them on the TTC.  We have not yet seen any performance or maintenance cost data on them because they haven’t been in service here long enough.

    But I heard that Trolley Buses have a much more Life Span close to a Streetcar, thats why that would be the better choice.

    Steve:  The electrical system of a trolleybus can last as long as that of a streetcar since they are, essentially, the same thing.  The real constraints are the quality and design of the bus body itself (will it be rebuildable at, say, the 20 year mark) and the technological obsolesence of the control system (the same problem we have with the CLRVs).

    Also, Whats the whole deal with Streetcar Tracks on Richmond/Adelaide?  I see 2 tracks but its a One-Way, whats the whole story on that?  I think there shouldnt be any tracks on that street period.  Since KING and Queen are Used by Streetcars and slow down Cars, Automobiles should be funnelled into Richmond/Adelaide which means either NO tracks or take 1 lane and make 1-way operation with 3 lanes for cars.

    Streetcars in Mixed Traffic only make sense when it has such a high volume that it will relieve traffic instead of causing more. Like King, Queen and Dundas

    Steve: Richmond and Adelaide were converted to one-way operation as part of the construction of the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressways for which these streets provide collector/distributor functions downtown.  The wrong-way tracks on these streets have been disappearing gradually as construction projects required their removal.  No point in wasting money digging up the street if you don’t have to.

    As for get streetcars out of the way of motorists, I hate to disappoint you, but there are a lot more transit riders, even with the reduced service, than there are people in cars.  Sometimes, the TTC needs to detour cars around problems or parades, and Richmond/Adelaide come in handy.  Of course, with a bit of decent planning, the TTC would have added some missing curves as reconstruction provided the opportunity to increase the usefulness of these tracks.

    Please note that this is the last I will write on this or any similar proposal.


  4. I found your post on streetcar headways very timely after reading an interesting article by Peter Kuitenbrouwer in this morning’s National Post.

    Steve:  Here is a link.

    Basically, Kuitenbrouwer summed up the experience of riding the Queen car quite nicely, and he was even able to avoid the usual “let’s get rid of streetcars in favour of more flexible busses” argument.  It was slightly frustrating to see that his article lacked any real numbers or facts, but hopefully the trip to Amsterdam that he is apparently about to take will enlighten him to how the rest of the world makes streetcars (aka trams) work!

    In the end, it’s people like him who (for better or for worse) articulate the public’s thoughts about transit and the TTC.  Particularly, if the public and the media can understand the real roots of our transit/transportation troubles, there will be a lot more pressure to have those troubles resolved in a useful manner.

    To anyone reading: try and grab a copy of his article (Nat’l Post, Thursday 4 January, front section), and definitely write a letter to the editor if you’ve got something to add to his thoughts, or if you think he’s dead-wrong.

    Steve:  What is saddest about this article is to hear Mitch Stambler, who should know better, spinning the same old party line about traffic congestion.  From the chart I posted of route capacities, the service on Queen could carry

    3,000 per hour in 1968, down to
    1838 by 1980,
    1739 by 1990 and
    about 1330 by 2006. 

    Yes, west-end factories closed, but they were not the only source of riding on the line.  Indeed, Parkdale is now filling up with new residents who want to ride the TTC if only there was service to get on.

    If congestion is such an issue, why is the running time from Neville to Humber almost identical today to what it was in 1980, and likewise nearly equal on other major streetcar routes?  In fact, schedules now include padding for a short recovery time at terminals that didn’t exist 26 years ago.

    Riding on the Queen car started its big dive at the same time as the move to ALRV service with its wider headways.  Mitch conveniently cites 1989 as his “before” reference for riding losses.  In that year, the count for 501 Queen (running with CLRVs) was 59,138.  One year later, it was 49,400.  You don’t lose 1/6 of your ridership overnight.  Other routes were also affected by service cuts in 1990, but not as badly.

    A fairer comparison would be the 1990 ridership of 49,400 versus 41,200 reported for 2005.  By the way, that count has not been updated for four years because Mitch doesn’t have the money to pay passenger counters to do it.  This gives us a decline of 17% in riding over a period when peak service dropped by 24%.

    Saying that you’ve lost riders when everyone knows the system is gaining riders, and without updated riding counts, leaves a lot to be desired.  All those riders who can’t get on must know something that Mitch doesn’t.  And so, we have a loss of about 8,000 riders from 1990 to about 2002, with no information on any recent growth.

    The TTC loves to invent excuses for not improving service, but none of them holds water.

    Something else happened back in 1980 — the TTC tried a bold experiment of improving service more than they thought justified on several routes.  Miracle of miracles!  Riders flocked to the improved services.  Time for a rerun.  Should I mention the Ridership Growth Strategy, again?


  5. I was especially disappointed when Mr. Stambler referred to dedicated ROWs as a possible solution to streetcar woes.  In the examples cited in the article, the Dundas and Queen cars, a dedicated ROW would not be possible to implemented because of the narrow road widths.

    Downtown, dedicated means tunnels and, as we know, this old banana republic can’t afford that.  So, in the meantime, it’s right to focus the TTC and City on the possibilities of better service in mixed traffic, which requires more streetcars, regardless of their configuration.


  6. I’ve written to Mr Kuitenbrouwer (before I even managed to read down as far as the suggestion to do so) to strongly recommend that he not confine his comparison to Amsterdam but rather to go to The Hague (Den Haag) and see how professionals operate a streetcar system (a continuious process since Dr Lehner “saved” the system in the late 1950s with his PCC fleet, tough thinking and the ability to get things done).  The system there is amazing, and it has just been expanded with tram trains that operate in the city’s west end on two routes that pass through the central area, then switch over to the Dutch Railways tracks and head for the southern suburbs.

    Amsterdam is much like Toronto in many respects, with much street trackage and some PRW lines (including a new line under the harbour and over several reclaimed islands).  Much of the streets have the tram lanes separated for ease of passage.  They also use articulated cars, including new low-floor Combinos on most lines.  One thing Amsterdam (and all trams in the Netherlands) have over us is that they have ABSOLUTE PRIORITY over ALL vehicles except emergency units (fire, ambulance, police), as well as priority over pedestrians and bicycles.  When an Amsterdam tram driver activates the electric gong (not just a weak “ding-ding” like here but a good solid and loud continuous riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing) anyone in the vicinity had better get the heck out of the way, or get hit and have it be your own fault.  Probably wouldn’t work here – we have the wrong mentality for that.


  7. Quick question: Has the Ridership Growth Strategy been officially abandoned, or is it mainly just being conveniently ignored?

    Steve:  Many aspects of RGS have been implemented, notably the many changes in pass pricing.  This was possible because, oddly, the Commission can play with the fare structure provided that the deficit isn’t affected, but they can’t run more service.  Why?  The total mileage of service is part of the budget, and they need Council approval to exceed it.

    Some off-peak service improvements have been made in the name of RGS, but the full RGS loading standards have not yet been implemented because the TTC doesn’t have the resources (buses, streetcars, drivers) to operate them even if they had funding.  There are 100 net-new buses coming this fall that were originally planned to go into RGS improvements, but many will only deal with the impacts of increased demand.  No additional new buses are in the pipeline, and of course there are only a few surplus streetcars.

    RGS will continue to be hamstrung for years by a lack of vehicles and the resources to operate and maintain them.  Late in January, the TTC will publish its Capital Budget, and that will show us whether they are actually making plans for enlarging the fleet.  Then the whole mess has to get funding from Council and Queen’s Park.

    Everyone including Mayor Miller likes to talk about RGS and take credit for its existence.  Now it’s time to actually pay for it.


  8. Steve, with all due respect, you keep ignoring the fact that in the past, car ownership was much lower than it is now.  I’m pro-transit, but since I own a car now and pay a ton in insurance every year, from a cost perspective how can I justify leaving it in the garage and taking the TTC?

    If you look at the demographics of people riding surface transit now, you’ll notice a pattern — it’s mostly senior citizens, teenagers/university students, and the poor.  Subways are different however, as they attract business riders from the burbs.

    When I was younger I seem to recall more of the middle class riding the TTC.  I don’t see that anymore, especially on the suburban surface routes.

    We’re in a different era now, and attitudes toward public transit have clearly changed.  I honestly don’t know what can be done to reverse that. In the 70s, I remember ONE car to a house/family — now, each house has at least THREE cars!

    Steve:  There is a trend developing among those who live downtown to have only one or even no car.  Indeed, the City’s Official Plan depends on reducing the cars/household ratio and carrying more people on transit.  In the suburbs, there is a huge problem with families who cannot afford to have three cars, and who have great difficulties commuting to jobs.

    If we are serious about making transit more attractive, then we have to spend money (“invest” is a term so often used for projects people want to support) so that transit will be seen to be an alternative to that third car.  If we keep running only as much service as we absolutely need to, we will never establish transit’s case and the people who ride it will be moreso the groups who have no choice.

    As for who rides transit, I think part of what you are seeing in the burbs is the demographic shift in the outer 416. 


  9. Thnaks for taking the time to present the headway and capacity data in such an easy to compare format. A bit depressing actually.

    I really think the TTC made a blunder when it rid itself of all but two of the remaining PCCs in the late 1990s (I also think the dismantlement of the trolley bus system was a mistake, but that’s another story).

    One consequence is that some commuters will be driven from transit not from cars, but to bicycles – and I see evidence of this happening.

    Two problems with this:

    1) Not all bicylists will be four-season “hard core” riders – and will still use the TTC passengers in the winter, in inclement weather, etc.

    2) The city of Toronto is at least as far behind (probably much worse) with the bicycle routes and infrastructure as it is with the TTC.

    I can see where the new LRVs can effectively replace CLRVs on a 1:2 basis – Spadina is a perfect example, at least for the incredibly busy King-Spadina Station branch (the Union-Spadina Branch should not be less frequent than it should be) and perhaps rush hour services on King and maybe elsewhere. Otherwise, I agree completely with your take on the new LRVs.


  10. Adam Giambrone’s recent comment about “Toronto comes first” started me thinking about the Brampton Transit – YRT 77 route along #7 between Brampton and Finch subway station. This was originally implemented as 2 connecting bus routes with a transfer at highway 50 using a total of 6 busses. After the routes were consolidated as a pooled service the base service only took 4 busses for the same route time because it eliminated waitover time at the transfer point.
    TTC currently has contract services into the suburbs where all busses are supplied by the TTC. If these were made into pool services where both TTC and the regional carrier contribute busses acording to the distance travelled this might free some TTC busses for use elsewhere without any budget considerations.


  11. Thanks Steve et all for info and comments.  I’m not sure quite what the answer is but it’s very very good to have multi-party informed perspectives of how bad it all is – I rarely take the transit as I’m a almost always bike-type – and yes, the city is waaay behind on providing safer cycling passages too.

    But I am as always struck at how we have momentum and money for some things and not for others.  The FSE may cost about $250 million and the West Waterfront LRT may cost about another $350 million – but we still can’t seem to explore how we could do a lot of good for our transit systems by forsaking the FSE and looking at all the transit options in this high-travel demand corridor AND for a proper job, let’s forsake the WWLRT too, because it won’t serve the long-range demand from Etobicoke at all well nor will it really be justifiable (in my view) for the Ex/local area riders.  But I still can imagine a Front St. Transitway in a ROW – and a few other variations, but officialdumb can’t. 



  12. This is in response to the comment by “Mimmo Briganti” and her statement about cost of cars.

    We have 2 cars since moving to Ajax; we had 1 when my husband worked downtown and I was working in Scarborough.

    The car insurance actually is not through the roof as they have discounts for using Transit.  You may be paying through the roof because you are not using your vehicles for “Pleasure use only”.  They will charge you more for driving in peak rush hour times and if you use your vehicle for business.

    I leave my car at home and take the GO bus to work most days.  I do drive occasionally and come in after the main rush hour.

    Contact your insurance agent and ask them how much they would charge you if you left your car at home for commuting to work.


  13. Thank you Hamish Wilson for your on-point comment.  It boggles the mind how anyone could still be seriously considering construction of the Front Street extension.  This only makes sense, even a little bit of sense, if the Gardiner is torn down, and I can’t seriously expect that to happen during my lifetime.

    We need new buses and streetcars.  We also need a greatly expanded capacity on the GO Train system.  This will require new tracks and (in some cases) lengthened platforms.  It will require better local connections at many of the stations.  I know it’s beginning to happen, but I’m not sure if the long-term will is there.


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