Analysis of 504 King: Coming Soon

As you will see below, I have posted detailed information on several days’ operation.  These are extracts from a much longer paper that covers many aspects of the route in detail.  Please don’t ask me to send you one because this is (a) still a work in progress and (b) the full collection of data and charts is quite large.

Still to come are:

  • Charts comparing link times for various parts of the line over the month showing the similarities and variations by segment, time of day, and day of the month.
  • A review of vehicle allocations (CLRV and ALRV) and change-offs.

In case you have lost the thread of where this is all leading, my aim is that the TTC make substantial improvements in understanding how it actually operates and manages its services.  As a management tool, the information available from CIS for all routes has been more or less ignored for the decades since the system went into operation.  Daily reviews of operations on major lines should be a matter-of-fact way to run the business, and strategies should be developed to deal with chronic and emerging problems.

Far too often, the catch-all excuse of “traffic congestion” and “mixed traffic operation” is used to justify inaction.  Yes, there are traffic problems, but some of them can be addressed if only the TTC and politicians who claim to support transit would actually expend some of their “support” on changing the operation of traffic signals, parking regulations and enforcement.

10 thoughts on “Analysis of 504 King: Coming Soon

  1. Pardon my total ignorance.. I am finding this series very interesting, but there’s one thing I’m curious about. What the heck is CIS? You keep using this term, but unless I’m missing something, I haven’t seen any kind of definition. I’m quite curious where all this data is coming from.

    CIS = “Communications and Information System” — it’s the radio and vehicle tracking system installed a few decades ago.


  2. I cannot believe that the TTC has had these data for decades and has ignored it. That is completely and utterly insane.

    Steve: It’s a typical jurisdictional problem. The group who commissioned the system wanted to be able to monitor surface vehicles the way they monitor the subway without having Inspectors out on the streets. Leaving aside the question of whether you can manage something as complex as a surface line without actually seeing it, that’s the part of the system that was delivered.

    Meanwhile, the planning folks wanted to have reports on how the lines actually worked, and this was supposed to be part of the original project, but it was left behind.

    The IT folks, who would actually do the work, didn’t have time and I doubt the planning folks actually pushed very hard, so the system, sort of implemented, warts and all, has been running all these years.

    It’s about to be replaced, but I hope that by showing what can be done even with the primitive data from CIS (any new system will use GPS to locate vehicles and will have better time resolution) we will see a new monitoring system that will actually help the TTC to see where the problems really are on their lines.

    For my part, I am lucky to combine in one place an understanding of transit operations, a healthy curiosity about why ours don’t always work well, and a strong background in IT (I wrote my first computer program of any significance in March 1963 at the tender age of 14). I have long conversations with myself (client to consultant) about the sort of analysis I want to do, then I write the programs, say no, try again, and eventually out pops the material you are now reading.


  3. This is a huge amount of work you’ve done. However, most of us who have been on streetcars know that this is the normal state of things. Streetcars bunch up – and there are big gaps. Those go together. The TTC trys to fix things by short turning cars – but it does not always help.

    Steve: Guess what: buses bunch up too. After I deal with a few more streetcar routes, I will turn my attention to Dufferin and a few others. The whole point of the exercise is to understand how routes work, and to see which problems the TTC can address itself (some problems are self-inflicted), and which require new strategies in line management.


  4. Steve,

    I have been reading your King “series” and thought that I would share some “inside” information with you: The July/August isue of “The Coupler” listed some organizational changes at the TTC.

    Effective on June 26, the Operations Branch was re-organized into Rail and Bus groups. As a result, the businesses of Subway and Streetcar were amalgamated under Rail. Given the significant changes ahead relating, but not limited to, the new subway and light rail line expansions, subway train sets, signalling projects and low-floor streetcars, it is important to make these changes.

    The main rationale for the re-organization is the need to consolidate similar tehnologies to strengthen the TTC. The consolidation of rail vehicles makes business sense as the new subway cars and streetcars have similar technologies and equipment, which warrants a similar procurement and maintenance approach, procedure development, failure mode identificationand corrective action plans. Additionally, given that both operations are rail-based, there are similar route managenment techniques.

    I wonder if this will make any difference on the actual route management of the streetcars?

    Steve: Let’s see … when a streetcar is delayed at Humber Loop, Transit Control will hold all other cars on the line in position until it is fixed and then everything will start to move again. That line about line management is total crap. Managing a streetcar line is much more like managing a bus line because what they have in common is mixed traffic operation, pedestrians walking across the track/road, etc.

    Of course, Control will look at the lovely CIS displays that don’t really tell them what is going on, and will make horrendous decisions about service management.

    Some things never change.


  5. So cynical steve. Subway cars will obviously be managed like streetcars, with line of sight operation, shuffling along a few feet behind the one in front with some random short turnbacks thrown in.


  6. I noticed that the TTC has been running some ALRVs along 504 King over the past week. Could it be that they’re heeding your advice?

    Steve: Yesterday, I noticed a lot of CLRVs on Queen, but they run on ALRV headways. I just wish there were some consistency.


  7. Well I’d like to see the Dufferin bus data. I take this bus every once in a while when the truck is tied up on a job. Ive never had a problem. To me, buses do bunch up – but they dont have to be short turned as there not on rails. So if the TTC hasn’t figured this out – then we need new people running the show.

    Just would note that I think this subject is really important. Curious that there are not as many responses. Look you have 40 odd responses on the silly survey the TTC put on the web site. You only have 6 or so so far on this.


  8. Steve wrote a response to me: “Let’s see … when a streetcar is delayed at Humber Loop, Transit Control will hold all other cars on the line in position until it is fixed and then everything will start to move again. That line about line management is total crap. Managing a streetcar line is much more like managing a bus line because what they have in common is mixed traffic operation, pedestrians walking across the track/road, etc.”

    Transit control will hold all cars in postion, BUT will provide shuttle buses which will arrive just as the problem is cleared up.

    Mark Dowling wrote: “Subway cars will obviously be managed like streetcars, with line of sight operation, shuffling along a few feet behind the one in front with some random short turnbacks thrown in.”

    Actually, if you want to go to Kennedy from Yonge on the BD line, you will be able to depend on turnbacks at Woodbine, Victoria Park, and Warden as a regular event (just like riding the 501 to Neville). If you are truly lucky, you will get kicked off at Chester as well!


  9. Steve,

    Further to François G’s comment above about 40 comments on the (one time route cutback’s) “silly survey” and only a disappointing 6 comments on (TTC’s on-going, everyday use of) CIS data… I wonder if the actual time charts of CIS King streetcar data baffle readers?

    Perhaps an “ideal” graph would be useful to show the even spacing and symmetrical distribution of vehicles in time and 2-D space against which the actual distribution of vehicles from CIS data will be visually more intuitively obvious. The disruptions, irregularities and asymmetries in the line patterns of the actual CIS-running charts against “ideal” will then stand out more readily.

    Anyone who regularly rides TTC surface bus and streetcar routes will intuitively understand something is not right with the TTC’s CIS-dependent route management: from the frequent compounding short turns that result in often caustic TTC operator comments about CIS decision-making.

    You’ve written ad nauseum about the need for dynamic route management as opposed to rote schedule adherence—without any observable impact on TTC service reliability—to date. David Gunn, former TTC CGM used to rail against TTC Route Supervisors sitting in isolated CIS rooms to manage surface routes. He put them all on the streets, effectively emptying CIS control rooms in each division. The TTC seems to have forgotten his wisdom, no doubt due to operating budget pressures.

    The TTC’s once again lemming-like adherence to running vehicles to CIS schedule, regardless of the street conditions causing delays, as opposed to dynamic route management with real on-street personnel and (gasp) input from operators actually driving the routes seems slightly Monty Pythonish, lacking a better metaphor for it’s unreality.

    No doubt this is another unintended consequence of trying to run a complex operation carrying up to 1.4M passengers/weekday with inadequate operating funding. The TTC is attempting to make the best of an inadequate “pig’s ear” technology to manage daily route operations.

    No daily retail business I have worked on or am aware of tries to manage millions of daily transactions without hands-on real time observation of in-store (on-street) conditions—to help decode the analytic data from IT systems, in this case CIS—with all it’s frailties as you’ve astutely pointed out.

    Perhaps upcoming GPS systems will be the proverbial “silk purse” of route management, but only if its (more reliable data are) supplemented with observations from real time street supervisors and genuine input from those that know route conditions best—TTC operators.


  10. I agree that the King charts are a bit overwhelming but the paucity of comments so far may be explained by the fact that it may be more appropriate for comments to be made after the ‘series’ is finished and you, Steve, prepare a summary and make some recommendations. It is hard to comment on ‘facts’.

    I do, however, have a question. If the CIS technicians make the decisions about short-turns and can, I think, communicate directly with the operators, what are the Supervisor guys (mostly) with the hats doing on the street? Are they perhaps the TTC equivalents of the soldiers in artillery companies who, in the 1960s, the British Army realised had originally been assigned to hold the – long-replaced – horses’ heads when the guns were fired?

    I agree with Bob Brent that proper route management would use CIS or, better, GPS data, the experience of Supervisors on the street and the input of Operators but suspect that that degree of coordination/discussion would result in paralysis. The TTC appears to be far more a “command” that a “collegial” organisation.

    Steve: Once upon a time, before CIS, the supervisors on the street actually managed the line. They did this with little information, usually gleaned by talking to operators or by calling their colleagues at the other end of the line, but with tons of experience in how the line behaved. Good Inspectors, as they were called then, knew about regular traffic problems, surge loads and so forth and they also knew which operators could do a really good job under difficult circumstances.

    When CIS came along, that experience was lost. David Gunn put the Supervisors back on the street, but the continuity was gone. These days line management is a combination of on-the-ground Supervisors and CIS staff looking at (very rudimentary) video displays. If this were Pearson Airport, a lot of flights would end up in the lake, or would never take off.

    The biggest problem dates to the early 1980s, accentuated by the cuts of the mid 1990s, when the TTC started to “tailor service to meet demand”. What this means in practice is that the scheduled service of, say, every four minutes has a theoretical capacity such that the observed loads on cars work out to an average meeting the service standards. As anyone who uses the TTC or looks at any of the charts can see, the service is nowhere near the scheduled level. Moreover, counts of on-car riders do not include all the people who gave up and walked, or took cabs.

    With service barely able to handle demand at the best of times, Route Supervisors have little to play with when things go wrong. Combine this with the number of missing or off scheduled cars, and about all they can do is mark off each car on their timetables as it goes by.

    The TTC is currently looking at obtaining a replacement for CIS, and it will be GPS based rather than using the signpost system that is so unreliable as I have described. However, no technology will replace the ability of staff in the field to know what is going on (wireless mobile displays?), experience in the behaviour of a route and enough vehicles (be they scheduled or unscheduled extras) that Supervisors have a fighting chance of maintaining acceptable service.


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