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. 

13 thoughts on “How Long is it from Woodbine to Yonge?

  1. You’re right Steve, having taken the Queen car many times (just for the view I might add, I hate looking at tunnels all the way home so cold and unfeeling) I can tell you that it is much faster to take the subway from Queen and Yonge to Bloor and over to Woodbine station.

    It takes me roughly 45 minutes to get from Yonge to Woodbine by streetcar on a good day let alone a bad one. They are never on time and as a result they just fall further and further behind schedule by having to pick up the amasssed crowds that formed at the stops during the 10+ minutes since the last car came by there. In short better, more reliable service = faster service and more riders in general. From now on I am taking the subway to Woodbine station from Queen and saving myself 20 minutes.


  2. When I was much younger–back in the days when the Fox Theatre was part of the Festival chain of second run houses, and membership gave you a screening for .99 cents (yup, the early 80’s)–if I was travelling home from the Fox to Yonge and Lawrence, it would make no sense whatsoever to get off at say Coxwell, take the bus to Coxell Stn. then use the subway. It was much faster to stay on the 501 (even with the rummies piling on at Kingston Rd. after the races were over) all the way to Yonge. But back then, the headways were, if not shorter, at least better distributed, and there was less traffic.

    Of course the Fox is now gone,

    [Steve jumps in: No it’s not, but the days of 99 cent screenings are a distant memory. You can find their current screenings at ]

    … but I wonder how long the trip would take between those two points, and would it really matter what route you took? Transferring to a bus heading north to the subway is not as good as it sounds even today, if you were to attempt the trip after 9:00 pm. 64 MAIN, wait for ever, 92 WOOBINE SOUTH, forget it, 22 COXWELLL, possibly, 31 GREENWOOD, you’d walk there faster, 83 JONES, ditto.

    So, no matter what you do or take, the effect of reduced service screws you. And I’m not talking about going to the ‘burbs either, but from one old established neighborhood (The Beach) to another (Lawrence Park)

    Steve: This is a good indication of the other end of the morning peak discussion we’ve had here about getting to and from the Beach. Coming home from the Fox can be a challenge what with the unpredictable late night service on Queen, and it’s something I reserve for fair weather days. I only need to get to Broadview & Danforth, but the combination of waiting for a 501 followed by transferring to the 504 at Broadview leaves a lot to be desired.


  3. I am not convinced that a Right Of Way on Queen would make that much of a difference. The 509 operates on one of these ROW’s. I don’t ride the 509 Harbourfront that often, but, when I have it has been painfully slow getting to Exhibition loop.

    Steve: The 509 suffers from a few design problems and is almost a textbook example of how not to build an LRT line.

    There are very frequent traffic lights, and they are so closely spaced that “priority” detectors cannot be placed far enough back to ensure a green light for the streetcar when it arrives at a light. Cars must slow or stop, then cross, then stop again at the loading island.

    The lights at Bathurst/Fleet/Lakeshore and, to a lesser extent, at Spadina/Queens’ Quay can be maddeningly slow to present a transit phase. At times one can stand there watching the total absence of traffic while streetcars await their turn to cross. This is a two part problem: the City’s Transportation department won’t change the timings, and the TTC/Council members won’t read the riot act to get this fixed.

    Finally, the cars on the 509 have extremely generous layovers for reasons that pass understanding. This does not exactly encourage swift operation along the route.


  4. I wonder if we changed the way that TTC employees got paid. Introduce “Service Level Agreements” for each route on the system and have the operators and managers paid based upon performance. I know that both union and management would fight tooth and nail to keep the cozy arrangement that exists today.

    Although they would have some valid objections, safety is supposed to be paramount, so we don’t need vehicles running lights and speeding. But may be the TTC could at least post on it’s website the performance metrics. It might encourage some TTC employees to just try a little harder… just a little bit from each employee could go a long way.

    Besides, the citizens of Toronto are after all the “owners” of the TTC. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how well or poorly our investment has been doing?

    On second thought what’s the likelihood of the exercise becoming lies, damn lies and statistics?

    Steve: Although it is easy to just blame staff for everything, I have found two important points in my studies to date:

    The quality of line management leaves a lot to be desired. There does not appear to be much headway regulation, and short-turns re-enter service without necessary plugging the gaps as intended. The TTC’s own “standard” says that service that is within 3 minutes of schedule is “on time” for quality control purposes. This has a huge impact on what is considered an acceptable spacing between cars where service is supposed to be fairly frequent.

    The way that the schedule, the allocation of cars, and the planning of operator utilization are handled, there are built-in problems that may actually cause poor service during some critical times in the morning peak. I have not yet had a chance to delve into the afternoon peak in detail.

    The underlying issue is that the TTC has to stop clamouring for reserved lanes everywhere as the only solution to its problems. Yes, there are places where these are justified and possible, although some other road users may suffer to improve transit. But just sitting on your hands and saying that nothing is possible is an abdication of the TTC’s responsibility to run the system properly within the constraints it has.


  5. As a public service to David Cavlovic and anyone else who wants to come to The Fox, I should mention that:

    22A runs as frequent service until 10.12 (Departure North from Queen & Coxwell)
    92 runs as FS until 9:13 (Departure from the NE corner of Woodbine & Queen)
    64 is not a frequent service – but likely runs tight to the schedule (Depart north from Wineva at 9:10, 9:25 etc.)

    This information is from the TTC website – which can provide useful information despite its outdated format.

    When I come home from a concert in the evening, I check my watch approaching Coxwell station to figure out if I should take the 22A or the 92 at Woodbine. If you want to make the best use of our transit system, arm yourself with information.


  6. Maybe they should just close Queen Street to car traffic for one day (as an experiment) to see how well the streetcars would run in reserved lanes. That would pretty much prove it one way or another, no?

    Sitting back and watching people endlessly complain about the Queen route is pretty amusing. Let me play devil’s advocate. Under these conditions, most people would say, “hell with this, I’m driving”. The ones that keep riding, well, the TTC must think they’re losers, right? Who else but a loser would put up with this?

    Why suffer? I mean, if the head honcho in service planning, Mitch What’s-His-Name takes that streetcar every day and can’t be bothered to do anything to fix it, he must be a loser too! And if he can’t fix it, what makes you think you can? I waited over 20 minutes for that thing (501) on a Saturday afternoon a few years ago — never took it again.

    Steve: I believe that Mitch takes the Main bus a lot.


  7. #4: Michael, do you really want to create an incentive for drivers to shut the door midway through loading? Incentivizing speed will create an adversarial relationship between drivers and passengers, because loading and unloading passengers is one of the most time-consuming things on a transit vehicle.


  8. Leo, I was being a bit facetious, of course I don’t expect operators to slam the door on people, or fail to announce stops, run red lights, or any other careless activity.

    My point was that (and Steve added to it) was that the resources are not used in what a most efficient manner and that reserved lanes and other panacea’s won’t help.

    My last jab was at the fact that TTC (management especially) is very adept at trying to hide from the truth, that they really don’t know (or don’t care) what’s really going on. Add to the fact that the political masters try to use the TTC to advantage with the electorate.

    Any reporting of performance at the TTC that is not independently audited is a trustworthy as an Enron financial statement (sadly Enron’s financials were also supposed to be independently audited).


  9. I think what might need to be done, is to boost service on the BEACH EXPRESS bus route. Provide service on that route all day and evening. Lets face it. The streetcar is great, but when it comes to The Beaches, the beach express bus provides much better and faster service to downtown that actually competes with car travel pretty well.

    So maybe the answer to slow streetcar service on Queen, is to just put these people on the bus and shoot those buses down Eastern Ave.

    It may mean service needs to be reduced on Queen a little. But in the long run, if the bus is going to provide better faster service, Beach residents might like it.

    Steve: But will the Beach residents pay a premium fare for this wonderful service, or do you propose making the Beach Express a regular fare offering?

    We need to make the Queen car, the Dufferin bus, and many other routes work properly rather than devoting patchwork resources addressing specific point-to-point demand requests from every neighbourhood in the city.


  10. When I first came to Toronto I was surprised to find that the TTC ran ‘premium fare” routes and I still wonder why they do so. The subway is faster than the bus but the fare is the same – why should users who restrict themselves to a bus pay more? The TTC runs four “Downtown Express” routes 141, 142, 143 and 144. (I can understand why routes that go outside Toronto have extra fares but not those totally within the City.)

    No doubt there is a ‘history” and some of it is on the Transit Toronto www site’s ‘route histories’ but I could not see much there on the rationale for a higher fare. Perhaps it’s time for Transit City to rethink this concept?

    Steve: These routes do not meet the TTC’s criteria for new service unless one includes the additional revenue of the premium fare. For better or worse, the TTC has an evaluation mechanism that seeks to measure the benefit of running more buses on Finch against running a new service from the Beach to downtown. It has its flaws, but at least it is a process that treats (or mistreats) all requests for new service equally. The Beach Express does not meet the warrants required if it were to be run as a regular fare service. The problem is that it basically picks up a bunch of people and takes them downtown, and that’s all for the entire rush hour. Not a very productive use of a bus and a driver.

    People who want this sort of service have to pay for it, and even then I don’t think they are really paying their way.


  11. Michael,

    “I think what might need to be done, is to boost service on the BEACH EXPRESS bus route. Provide service on that route all day and evening.”

    Nice, idea theoretically, but I’ve found that the express bus isn’t always any faster, as it can get stuck in Traffic en route downtown also. For a double fare, it’s not the bargain it seems at first blush.

    The other thing is that the bus may not let people off where they need to be going along the route, many are not getting off near Queen and Bay, and need to go through the downtown core say to Ossington and Queen, so it might work for some, not for others.

    I for one am not willing to pay more for a service, simply because the existing streetcar is not servicing the route properly. That’s not a choice.

    The Premium bus is not an option in lieu of 501 Service to the Beach, increasingly short-turned before reaching the Beach for riders to be more comfortable in the downtown core. Exasperating!



  12. Steve: “But will the Beach residents pay a premium fare for this wonderful service, or do you propose making the Beach Express a regular fare offering?”

    That’s the thing. The premium fare would have to be taken away, and it would be a regular fare.

    I was just in Chicago, and all their lakeshore neighbourhoods along the lake, about the same distance away from downtown as the Beaches and even further all get regular fare all day express bus service to downtown Chicago via Lakeshore drive. Here it would be like using the Gardiner or Eastern Ave.

    Anyway the services work great, and people who have the option to drive, take these buses, because they are fast, and easy to use.

    The Beach Express should go further east into South East Scarborough. If it did, I bet the route would be popular and the fares would cover a large part of the costs.

    Concerning the streetcar, the TTC also needs to get rid of some stops on Queen Street. The Queen car should be a limited stop service, with stops spaced as far apart as subway stops. This would help speed up the slow service.

    Renee Knight, concerning the speed of service. I used the 143 Don Valley Express for about two years. It required me taking a 20min ride on a local bus to transfer onto the 143, instead of using the subway which is 5min from my house. And guess what. It was faster. The bus made my commute into dowtown much more easier, comfortable and saved time. It was perfect, and often the bus was standing room only packed.

    Steve: There are big differences between the Chicago lakeshore neighbourhoods and the Beach in Toronto.

    The population density is higher.
    There is no heavy parallel route starved for service and operated for the convenience of the CTA rather than the riders.
    CTA is much more peak/commuter oriented than the TTC.

    As for the 143, it is successful simply because there is no direct route to downtown competing with it, and it has a convenient expressway to use at a point where congestion is not usually a problem. This does not validate express buses per se.

    We cannot put in dedicated bus services for every origin-destination combination, certainly not on a regular-fare basis.

    Finally, the stop spacing on surface routes is an issue oa accessibility. If the streetcar stops were as far apart as subway stations, we would see demands for a parallel bus service stopping at every lamp post. Or, more likely, a lot of people with a longer walk. The stop spacing on Queen west of Coxwell is largely driven by the traffic lights, and you would not be able to save much time even by consolidating a few closely-spaced stops (such as Empire and Degrassi westbound).


  13. Mr. Binetti,

    Clearly you do not live in the Beach and wait 30 minuts for a streetcar that is supposed to come every 6 minutes!

    TTC needs make its routes efficient, and getting rid of stops on Queen Street, and making it a limited stop service would not work at all.

    The Don Valley is not Queen Street, you cannot compare apples and oranges. Lucky for you you live 5 minutes from a subway station, we don’t in the beach and are stranded when the streetcar does not come. The express bus here is reliable for those who happen to work 9-5 and work along it’s route, but it is not any faster than taking the streetcar when it comes.



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