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.