I received the following comment from Tina R., and there are enough separate issues here that it deserves its own thread. This deals with service to The Beach as well as general questions about buses versus streetcars and LRT, and express operations.
An update about running times on the Queen car, added on May 27, appears at the end of this post.
Your website certainly is busy. I came across this when looking for information about streetcars in general and the service in the Beaches (The Beach I guess now).
I’ve lived in Canada’s three largest cities – and have been a regular user of Vancouver’s trolley buses, Montreal’s buses and the Metro. I always found these excellent.
However, I can’t say the same of your streetcars. My experience with this service is the same as some of those who posted under the topic that discusses the service on Queen: i.e. that service on the Woodbine and Coxwell buses is excellent [I’ve never taken the Main bus because of where I live] – but the streetcar services – be it the 501 or the ones that run on Kingston Road are not.
When the streetcar service was replaced by buses during track construction few years ago, the bus service provided was noticeably faster and more reliable.
These days, I don’t take transit very otfen. My office and most assignments are now in the far flung suburbs. Nevertheless, I’m still interested in getting service improved. Maybe one day I’ll get on a project that’s a bit closer.
It seems that a great deal of thought is being put into this subject in general – and the Queen and King car in general. However, the focus is on solving a technical problem instead of looking at what is useful service.
As a Beach resident, I can safely say that I’m not alone in saying that even if the 501 service were ‘fixed’ – it isn’t a service I’d use.
Firstly, to go downtown, it’s faster for me to take the bus and subway. When my office was at Yonge & King, this combination would get me to work in between 28 and 35 minutes. The streetcar trip would be between 35 and 45 minutes. It would take a significant improvement in steetcar performance for this to be the choice route.
Second, for most other trips, the 501 doesn’t go where Beach people need to go. People tend to walk within the neighbourhood – that’s a big part of the reason for living here. In terms of frequent destinations that take people out of the neighbourhood, biggies are the Loblaws at Leslie and Eastern, and the St. Lawrence Market. Neither is really served by the Queen streetcar – especially if one is planning to haul back quite a few groceries.
As a Beach resident, if energy is going to be put into improving E-W service, I don’t think streetcars are the answer. I can clearly read between the lines that you don’t like buses. However, buses would solve the service problems and address our real needs. We could have a mix of local and express services – and some buses could swing south along Eastern and to Front.
The mix of local and express services is something I took advantage if in Montreal. I remember that the tranist system had a “Metrobus” along Decarie that stopped at major intersections (The Metro now runs on that route). I would take the Metrobus to get up the Ville St. Laurent – while the 17 would be for local trips.
I see the same type of thing has been implemented on Granville St (where I used to live in my Vancouver years). Residents can take the express bus or the trolleybus depending on their needs. In Markham, there are now bright blue Viva buses that are express – and local YRT buses. The Viva buses are comfortable, attractive and reasonably fast.
I think this concept could be applied within Toronto.
The Transit City proposal of streetcar/LRT (please transit folks make up your minds) seems to be a one size fits all solution. The problem is that with a rail based solution, you can’t have local and express services. If you stretch the distance between stops, you lose local passengers – but with too many stops – you have a service that’s not good for long distances. Remember than in the ‘burbs, many people already have a good walk just to get to the main street.
Steve: I will take various points here in the order they appear.
Replacement bus service during construction.
When the TTC replaces an ALRV streetcar route with buses, the number of vehicles in service is much larger and the frequency correspondingly shorter. Moreover, the replacement service doesn’t have to fight its way across downtown and out to Long Branch.
This comes back to my basic points about Queen: The route is too long, and better service could be provided if the ALRVs were replaced with CLRVs. Streetcars get a bad rap because of the way the TTC schedules and manages their service. They took disproportionatly large amounts of the service cuts in the mid-1990s, and then-surplus cars were eaten up by the new Spadina LRT. Those cars were not “free” — they were raided from other services.
The issues on King and Queen stem from a lot of technical problems including poor vehicle allocation, route structures and route management. There is also very serious congestion in some parts of each route at certain times of the day that would affect whatever vehicles ran there. Just ask riders of the Dufferin bus what they think about the way the TTC runs bus services. It’s easy for the Main and Coxwell buses to provide reasonably reliable service because they are only 2km long each way and have little congestion most of the time.
Comparing them to the Queen car is totally invalid because they have such different demands and operating environments. As an aside, I have received complaints about severe overcrowing on the Coxwell bus in the evening when it may leave passengers at Coxwell Station.
Another “technical problem” is the appallingly bad service on the 502/503 on Kingston Road. This arises directly from three factors:
- During the off-peak period, the 20-minute scheduled headway is often ignored and there appears to be no attempt to regulate cars so that they provide an even service. It is ironic that this is one of the few routes in Toronto where the daytime headway is much wider than the evening headway. Apparently the TTC thinks that there is demand for a 10-minute service of Coxwell buses, but only for a 20-minute service of streetcars. This is a clear example of driving away demand with poor service. I am sure Beachers would be thrilled to have anything every 10 minutes on Kingston Road during the daytime, but that’s not a problem specific to streetcars.
- Although the 502 and 503 services are scheduled to interleave and provide a uniform headway, this is meaningful only in the am peak (and even then it’s not always reliable). In the pm peak, outbound riders must choose to wait on either King or Queen Street, and hope that there are no gaps in service. However, the nature of rush-hour services is such that there are often cars missing (again not an issue of streetcars per se) and long gaps are common. Once upon a time, the 502 and 503 services both ran frequently. Now, there is a good argument for amalgamating them into one route so that whatever service operates is at least in a predictable location.
- It is not uncommon for 502 cars to wait at McCaul eastbound or Kingston Road westbound for a through car from Humber or Neville on the 501, and then follow them across the city. This makes light work for the 502, but means that the car really doesn’t pull its weight as part of the Queen service. This is a line management issue, and the same thing happens on bus routes. If anything, eastbound 502s should leave McCaul ahead of 501 cars to relieve the load on them.
Travel Time to Downtown
The claim is made that a trip to King & Yonge by bus and subway takes 28 to 35 minutes compared with 35 to 45 for streetcar. From other comments, I assume that this is via the Woodbine South bus. That service runs every 10 minutes and can be assumed to be on time much of the time. Travel time to the subway is, therefore, about 12 minutes assuming that the rider times their arrival at the bus stop to match the expected schedule with a bit to spare.
Transferring to the subway takes about 3 minutes including the wait for a train, and the trip to Yonge is then about another 12 for a total of 15. Transferring to a Yonge train including waiting for a train is another 2 minutes, and the ride to King Station about 7. Walking out of the station adds at least 1 minute.
This gives a total of 35. I am willing to credit this value, but not 28 minutes except in quite unusual circumstances (a fast bus and two razor-sharp connections in the subway).
By streetcar, there is allegedly a car every 5 minutes and there is no excuse for service being screwed up in the morning rush hour (although we all know this happens). From Woodbine to Yonge via Queen is about 25 minutes’ running time. Getting down to King is a reasonable walk and that is probably faster than going down into the subway and out again for a one-stop ride. [See note at the end of this piece for an updated statement about running times.]
To me, this is a tie provided that the service runs reliably. (An alternative route via King involves a transfer to a 503 or 504 westbound at Broadview, or more simply at the common stop one west of Broadview.)
The return trip home would be more of a challenge given the irregular headways and frequency of short-turns.
In any event, this is a problem of service management and adequacy, not something inherent to streetcars.
Local and Express
There already is an express bus on Queen from The Beach to downtown, although it is a premium fare service. This route stops at all local stops from Neville to Kingston Road, and operates every 7 trips in the am peak. It runs downtown via Eastern and Richmond, and in the evening, it returns via Adelaide.
I object to this type of service in principle because the message it sends is that the TTC will give you good service if you want to pay more. This begs the question of why we have not fixed the problem with service adequacy years ago simply by raising all of the fares. The secret, of course, is that this would only cover operating costs, at best, and capital costs of new vehicles and garages would have to be funded somehow. I won’t even think about the cost of more subway service or extensions.
Nobody has ever explained to me, adequately, why we should be running various premium fare express routes and using up both vehicles and operators that could carry far more riders if they were in regular service. There are not enough of them that you would notice across the whole system, but the principle is all wrong.
On routes with longer trips, such as the service territory of GO buses and the VIVA network, there is some justification for express operation. Part of this arises from the distribution of the origins and destinations of trips and the fact that it is relatively easy to concentrate some of the demand between express stops.
Note that none of these services operates a frequency anywhere near the Queen car and they are organized so the people get to major terminals via feeder services or walking. The rough analogy for the Downtown Beach Express is that riders should walk or take the Queen car to Woodbine Loop where they would transfer to the bus. The Beach is in an unusual situation being so geographically isolated that the express bus can serve as its own feeder, but this is not the case in most neighbourhoods with many potential origins.
Problems come when the buses run frequently, when they serve many locations, and when the demand at stops blurs the distinction between express and local operations. In many cases, the TTC found that it took more buses to provide both express and local services because of the way the loads were distributed. Moreover, serving express stops gets complex because riders need to be sure to get on the right vehicle, and in some cases want to transfer between the express and local services. This is difficult with frequent services on both branches.
On the Transit City network, there will be some long trips to be sure, but they will not be stuck in traffic as buses on many routes are today. The choice of mode relates to capacity requirements, not to some religious fervour I might have for streetcars and LRT. Subways in these corridors are not an option because the demands will never reach the level where the capital and operating costs can be justified.
Service to Eastern/Front
The Port Lands are a big problem for transit generally, not just for residents of The Beach. Like much of the waterfront, this is an area where we risk creating a downtown suburb without transit if we dawdle while car-oriented developments fill up the space and transit-hostile travel patterns become entrenched.
Studies for transit to the Port Lands include several new routes (see the demand forecast report at page 13) including:
- 523 Leslieville from Union Station to Bingham Loop via the Queen’s Quay east LRT, south on Cherry, east on Commissioners, north on Leslie, east on Queen and Kingston Road.
- 524 Broadview from Broadview Station to the foot of Cherry Street via Broadview (extended over a new road), Commissioners, an extended Don Roadway and Unwin.
These may be a bit far-fetched and certainly won’t be in place to take you to the Loblaw’s superstore or the proposed Walmart, but most people would probably drive there anyhow. Right now, there is little in the Port Lands to generate transit demand and the most we are likely to see in the short term is an extension of the bus network into that area. Much depands on the timing of residential development along the Cherry Street corridor and the type of development (bix box retail, industrial, or office commercial) in the eastern Port Lands.
I know that I have not answered every point in Tina R’s note exhaustively and don’t really want to get into that level of detail here. My positions are not 100% right and hers are not 100% wrong. The evolution of our plans for the city depend on this sort of debate and an open discussion of alternatives.
Once upon a time, the Gardiner was going to be extended right througth the intersection of Queen & Woodbine north to the CNR right of way and then east into Scarborough. That would have made for a fast trip downtown too, but there wouldn’t be any neighbourhood to serve.
At least we are discussing transit plans, not expressways.
Update About Queen Car Running Times — May 27
In response to one of the feedbacks I received on this item, I had a preliminary look at the CIS data I have for the Queen route. I have only now finished working on 504 King and was planning to turn my attention to Spadina, but Queen is an obvious next choice given this debate.
The running time from Woodbine to Yonge is indeed about 25 minutes until around 7:45 am. At that point, things start to slow down and the inbound trip extends by about 10 minutes until about 8:45. However, the “on time” information in the CIS data indicates that the schedule makes no allowance for this situation. This may be a question of congestion or it could be stop service times or a combination of both. A further analysis must await my detailed review of the CIS data.
Therefore, I am willing to accept the 35-to-45 minute time for streetcar trips taken in this period when allowance is made both for the unpredictable headway and the walk from Queen down to King.
As others have noted, the bus-subway-subway trip works for people who live at or near the Woodbine bus. For those living further east, there is no real alternative, and to the west, the streetcar will outrun the roundabout route because it is so much closer to Yonge. (Also, riders can use the 502, 503 and short-turned 501 cars that are not available to riders from Woodbine east.)