How Long is it from Woodbine to Yonge?

In a separate thread here, there is an extensive discussion of whether it is faster to take the Queen car from Woodbine to Yonge, or to take a bus north plus two subway trips.  I originally quoted a running time of 20 minutes for this trip, but was subsequently convinced to up this to at least 25.

Recently, I began looking at the Queen car’s operating data for December 2006.  [For all of you who have been waiting, the grand work on King is now complete and I will be publishing a much abridged version here soon in installments.  In time I will also address the perennial Spadina vs Bathurst question.]

For the first three weeks of December, the running time from Woodbine to Yonge sits quite consistently on 25 minutes from about 7:30 am until 6:00 pm.  The spread in values ranges mainly from a low of 20 to a high of 30, although the majority of observations are within a few minutes of 25.  For trips leaving Woodbine from about 8:00 to 8:30, the running times can be extended to over 30 minutes although this tends to occur moreso on poor weather days.

A related problem is the reliability with which each scheduled car actually shows up for the peak inbound trip.  In my analysis on King, I had already discovered that several cars scheduled to pass through Parkdale during the height of the peak do not always show up, or show up late leading to erratic service just when it is most needed.  I looked for the same effect on Queen and was not surprised by what I found.

In the two hour period from 7:00 to 9:00, there should be about 25 cars westbound on Queen (I say “about” because the actual value is fractional thanks to the 4’52” headway).  As on King, some of these cars do not show up reliably or at all, at least east of Woodbine Loop, and the problem is more severe as the rush hour goes on.  Missing runs are particularly a problem starting around 8:00. 

This means that just at the point when most people want to get downtown for a start in the 8:30 to 9:00 period, the service gets reliably worse.  Because of crowding, this also means that travel times will be extended.

I have not yet had a chance to examine this in detail for the Queen route, but on King the origin of the problem is quite clear.  Some runs, especially those scheduled to enter service comparatively late, don’t always make it out of the carhouse, or if they do, they are late.  Those that are late are often short-turned, or make their trips well off-schedule.  Either way, they are missing from the time and the place when they are most needed.

The reason for this, I believe, is that these runs do not have assigned operators but use either staff from the Spare Board (operators with no assigned work who fill in for absences) or volunteers working overtime.  There is, of course, a good chance that the number of operators available for these runs will be lower on days when the weather is bad.  People who are marginally ill choose not to come in to work, and people who might take overtime prefer not to work in snowstorms.  Just when all the service is needed on the street, critical peak period cars are missing.

Intriguingly, there is very little variation through the day in running time over this section, and systemic traffic congestion does not appear to play a role in westbound trips over this segment of the route.

Often, I have discussed the question of the adequacy of service to meet demand, and the TTC routinely talks about the level of scheduled service.  The problem here is that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the “scheduled” service may be missing on any weekday during the morning peak westbound at Woodbine.

Congestion is a serious problem on parts of the system.  However, this is not a question of transit priority or rights-of-way, this is a question of the TTC actually operating all of the scheduled service.