Meanwhile on the Queen Car

The following comments came in response to my post about travels on St. Clair.  It’s big enough and has enough material to warrant its own thread, so here it is:

This week has been an interesting one.  My morning commute is from Brown’s Line/Lakeshore to Queen/Spadina.  One seat ride on 501 is nice when the cars are running on schedule….

I’m getting a depressing kind of entertainment checking the time ahead/behind when boarding (and leaving if the car isn’t too crowded).

This week, it seems that 501 operators are not trying very hard to keep to schedule.

Tuesday: I go out to catch the regular 8:40 AM eastbound from Long Branch.  It’s signed as run 08/18, and there was one operator who was on this for a couple of board periods who was very good about leaving the loop consistently and arriving at Queen and Spadina no later than 9:35.  On Tuesday, it was a different operator, who arrived at the loop after the scheduled departure time.  She then took her backpack and vanished in the TTC building at the north-west corner of the loop.  Two other 501 ALRVs showed up while she was in there.  Three ALRVs stacked around the loop is a pretty unusual sight!  When she finally came out and pulled up to the loop, CIS was reporting -16 (which was about right); at Queen and Spadina it was still around -15.

Wednesday: after 9AM, waiting for a eastbound 501 streetcar at the 39/40th Streets stop.  And waiting.  A streetcar finally goes past westbound, and does not reappear eastbound for at least ten minutes.  This means it laid over for at least five minutes.  This is run 17; CIS is saying -20 as I board and of course it stops at every stop because people have been waiting for close to half an hour for a streetcar.  At Palmerston and Queen he turns on the four-way flashers and goes off to Starbucks for a coffee.  I think it was -19 at Queen and Spadina.

Today: same operator on the same run 17 goes past westbound; this time it returns eastbound in about five minutes.  CIS is saying -9 when I board.  There’s another ALRV on his tail westbound (run 02); and it stays on his tail eastbound.  We don’t move very quickly across Queen Street (slow bicyclists are keeping up or passing us).  The car is too crowded for me to check the CIS when I leave but I figure we were probably an additional few minutes behind, for a -14 or -15.  Run 02, which was right behind him westbound at Brown’s Line, is right behind him eastbound at Spadina.  As I leave the streetcar, run 17’s rollsigns are being changed to 501 KINGSTON RD & QUEEN.

Now I have been on other 501 runs where the operator is on schedule, or catching up to schedule.  I know it can be done. I ’ve been on other runs where we’re behind, and there’s no effort on the part of the operator to pick things up.  Combine the two, and you get huge gaps and multiple TTC vehicles showing up at the same time.

Steve:  Just think!  The TTC wants to put an LRT service out to the western waterfront.  This shows the sort of marvellous job they are doing of running attractive service now to build ridership.

Once again, I have to ask two questions of both the TTC and the ATU:  Why is it that situations where service runs at the whim of the operator are becoming more and more common, and what is the TTC going to do about it?  Do they even know or care?

There are a lot of wonderful operators out there, and it only takes a minority of bad apples to create havoc for riders and for other operators stuck in the mess.  This has nothing to do with the TTC’s favourite complaint, operation in mixed traffic, and everything to do with an abdication of the need to properly manage the service.

8 thoughts on “Meanwhile on the Queen Car

  1. Quick question: what’s CIS?

    Steve:  Communications and Information System.  It’s the computer monitoring system that tracks the entire fleet.


  2. For extra credit, stand anywhere in Leslieville and try catching an eastbound streetcar between 0920 and 1010 or a westbound one between 1810 and 1850. Just give that a whirl sometime.


  3. When hearing stories about tailing streetcars or buses, I wish that the full one in front would bypass a stop with people waiting, and let the emptier one behind pick up the passengers.  At least, could the front one not accept more passengers, and open the rear doors only if people want to get off?

    Steve:  This happens sometimes on bus routes, although there are also times where packs stay in sequence for no obvious reason.  On streetcar routes, the TTC has a concern that people will come out into the street anticipating that a car will stop, and it will go straight through leaving them stranded in the traffic.  If the cars really are nose to tail, that’s not much of a problem, but if the second car is a few blocks away, people will be annoyed. 

    Also, there is the common problem that the two cars are not going to the same destination, and if the second one is a short-turn, those wishing to go through to the end of the line will be bypassed.  A fairly standard procedure (or at least it used to be) is that a gap car should go through to the end of the line followed by a short turn, with the gap car being turned on its trip back across the city.


  4. The original was also posted to the Transit-Toronto mailing list.  I wrote up an additional clarification based on a couple of replies on the list.  I think the most germane is this:

    The basic point is that I have observed some very reliable operators who arrive on schedule, and deliver me to my destination on time.  I prefer to take these operators’ runs.  For some reason, equipment, passenger, and fare delays don’t happen very often to these operators.  They even make it through rush-hour traffic, day after day.  If they are late once in a while, I quite understand that there are circumstances beyond their control.

    As for the less reliable operators, I don’t know exactly how unreliable they are.  I will try to avoid their runs because I don’t care to be standing for a while out on the safety island in the middle of Lake Shore Boulevard in case they actually arrive on time, or run early.  But if run XX was dead reliable one board period, and then on the new board a different operator is on the run and it’s often late or missing, then I conclude that the first operator was responsible for the run’s reliability; the second operator is responsible for the unreliability.  (Unless something else has changed, like new construction or supervisor on the route.)

    From overhearing coversations between TTC operators, I am sure that most of them know exactly who is usually on time, and who is always arriving at the loop late.  “He pulls this every time, and gets away with it” is one comment I’ve overheard.  After all, I have only a one-ride view; an observant operator out all day will get a much better picture of who does what.


  5. In 1960 a report in the US known as “the Doyle Report” was generated concerning “the railway problem” where a once strong industry was spiralling downward.  An interesting reference was to the railroads remaining strongly production-oriented when other transportation modes were re-orienting towards distribution, sales and customer relations.

    There is a parallel to the current TTC situation where the emphasis appears to be toward running vehicles (i.e. production) rather than maximizing customer service.  A change to customer orientation was the railway salvation and the TTC destiny must also lead in this direction if it is to be successful.  Many of the items on this website are fundamentally based on this direction.


  6. If service on Queen is so bad, why is no one complaining? Have you guys called the TTC and complained? If enough people keep phoning in every week and complaining, something will get done about it. But if eveyone just complains no here, nothing is going to get fixed.
    Call 416-393-4636 and complain. Thats the only way things will get fixed.

    I always complain to the TTC if the service does not operate properly on my routes. Although I gotta say my service runs like clockwork most of the time.

    Steve: People gave up complaining years ago. The TTC has standard responses: We can’t do anything about congestion, we need a completely segregated right-of-way. This has been going on for a long time, and people grow tired of bothering to complain. When even someone like me makes proposals and is ignored, what hope do ordinary riders have?


  7. With regards to Andrew’s comment, is it possible to have a communication system in place where operators in different streetcars can speak to each other? They can say something like: “Is your car empty? Mine’s full, can you pick up passengers at the next few stops?”, “What’s your destination”?”, etc.

    Steve: There are a few problems, both technical and practical. First off, an operator needs to know what the next or following car number is so that they can “phone” it. Next comes the problem of the Highway Traffic Act where they shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing while driving.

    A more fundamental issue lies in the amount of information collected by the vehicle monitoring system and available to operators. For example, if the NextBus map of a route were visible to ops on a display, and this was annotated with information about the destination of nearby vehicles and any special message (ideally something ops could input without having to key a full text message but simply by selecting from a menu). However, the current monitoring system has no capability for acquiring and displaying the car’s destination. This would be possible on vehicles with electronic destination signs where the code for the current display could be included in the vehicle status info, but this bumps into another problem — the limitation of the old system on how much data can be acquired and transmitted.

    Some of this comes back to the capabilities of central monitoring, but just at the point where the TTC finally has the technology to see properly where every car is, thanks to GPS, they have moved all of the supervisors back to the field. Moreover they do not yet have handheld units that would give them access to a map showing where all the cars are. In effect we have gone backwards 30 years.


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