What Can We Do About the Queen Car?

The Rocket Riders will devote their December 4 meeting (Metro Hall, 6:30 pm) to a discussion of the Queen Car, its many problems and ways to fix them.  In support of this, I will start publishing analyses of that route’s operation here based on the CIS data from December 2006.

Yes, I have let that whole project slip out of sight in past months for a variety of reasons.  Mea culpa.

Here is an overview of my past writing on this issue:

Route Structure

The amalgamation of the Queen and Long Branch services was a disaster from the day it started, but the TTC has never acknowledged this problem or studied alternatives, publicly, in detail.  One extremely long line is impossible to manage.  The schedule includes a huge amount of padding for “recovery time” that is actually counterproductive because operators can basically run on any time they please and still have time for a lengthy break at the end of the line.

Service on the Long Branch section is very spotty with very long gaps quite common.

Service on Kingston Road is compromised by the difficulty of integrating the 502 and 503 services and by the very wide off-peak scheduled headway.

My proposed route structure is not definitive, and I am sure others will come up with various schemes.  The underlying theme is to shorten routes and to provide overlaps so that short-turns will not totally devestate service.

  • Queen car from Humber to Neville
  • Lake Shore car from Brown’s Line to downtown via King (Monday to Friday until early evening)
  • Lake Shore car from Brown’s Line to Dundas West Station (M-F evening, weekends and holidays)
  • Kingston Road car from Victoria Park to a single downtown destination

Peak Period Operations

A major problem exists on both King and Queen with the morning peak where many cars enter service off-schedule.  This plays havoc with service at the ends of the lines due to short turns and causes ragged headways at a time when there is no traffic congestion to blame for this situation.

The peak period Lake Shore trippers to downtown do not operate at predictable times even there is no possible way that “traffic congestion” can interfere with on-time operation.

Vehicle Allocation

[Note:  An ALRV is the 75-foot long two-section streetcars commonly seen on King, Queen and Bathurst.  A CLRV is the 50-foot long car seen on the system overall.]

The 501 operates with ALRVs on wide headways while the 504 runs with CLRVs on close headways.  The TTC should reverse this arrangement so that ALRVs are used on King where their greater capacity is badly needed.

Equally important will be that we actually see ALRVs where they are scheduled.  The number of times in the past year when I have seen CLRVs operating ALRV runs on Queen, overcrowded because they are carrying an ALRV headways, is quite ridiculous.  In my review of the King car, I found that the peak period extra ALRVs that are supposed to build capacity inbound through Parkdale in the morning are more often operated with CLRVs.

The TTC seems to be utterly incapable of assigning larger vehicles where they are required.

Service Levels

On Queen, the change to CLRVs on closer headways would improve the frequency of service even with the inevitable short-turns.

On Lake Shore, the change to CLRVs will improve scheduled headways, and integration to a single downtown destination will avoid the problems inherent with a few rogue trippers.  Combined with a shorter, easier-to-manage  route, this should make service in southern Etobicoke much more attractive.

On Kingston Road, consolidation of the 502 and 503 would provide one common, frequent service during the peak period that would have some hope of reliability outbound from a single downtown location.

On King, the change to ALRVs would provide additional capacity provided that current headways are maintained.


The Ridership Growth Strategy seeks to improve service quality, but little attention has been paid to the streetcar network on the grounds that the fleet is fully committed already.  This is certainly not true during off-peak periods, and the TTC needs to account for the large number of spare cars during the peak.

Proposals for transit priority must focus on “micro” changes to individual intersections and neighbourhoods with parking restrictions and signal improvements.  The “macro” scheme for reserved lanes through the business district does not address major sources of congestion, and diverts attention and effort from overall improvements to route operations.

There is no question that improving service level and quality on these major crosstown routes will cost more.  There should be a huge incentive for the TTC to improve line management.  Sadly, they will more likely trot out their usual complaints about congestion as the source of all troubles.  The cheapest service improvement comes from managing what we have properly.

Union Station Revitalization

On Wednesday, November 14, the City of Toronto will host an open house at Union Station to display plans for the station from 12:30 to 6:30 pm.  Further information on the Union Station project is available on the City’s website.

Please note that although I am a member of the Union Station Revitalization Public Advisory Group for this project, the following comments reflect my personal opinion, not that of the USRPAG.

Today, the National Post reported GO Transit’s Gary McNeil as saying that GO should buy the station to take it out of the hands of “dithering politicians”.  McNeil, along with others who mused recently about taking over the TTC, should stick to running their own businesses before they weigh in on City matters.

Union Station’s future was mired for years in a failed scheme to have it managed on a long-term contract by a private company, and there was good reason to believe both that the selection process for a private partner and the financial situation for the City were less than ideal.  Much time was wasted in this exercise.

Although the detailed report is not yet public, some indication of the short-term spending requirements has already appeared in the Budget Analyst’s notes for the City’s Capital Budget.  Some Council members will groan about the high cost of owning this heritage station, and McNeil’s proposal that GO would happily take the building on will have an eager audience.  They should think twice. 

GO has been starved for funding for well over a decade, and the last thing it needs is the expense of bringing an aging and poorly-maintained station up to first class condition.  Moreover, GO’s operations will soon fall under the GTTA which may have its own spending priorities.

Meanwhile, some members of Council mused recently about shops and markets in Union Station.  This is a nice idea, but why couldn’t they wait for the staff report on the station to come out? 

A fish market at Union, if nothing else, will lend a distinct aroma to Gary McNeil’s trains.  For those long winter nights when trains languish miles from Union Station, McNeil might add a self-serve grill to the GO concourse so hungry passengers can eat their catch-of-the-day while it’s still fresh.

Union Station needs a lot of work to handle the expected growth in demand over the coming decades.  Many agencies need to work together with each other, with the politicians and with the public to make Union Station the great hub it can be for downtown’s transportation systems.

Those who take off in their own directions wanting only to read their name in the National Post as often as possible do nothing to aid this vital project.

Toronto’s 2008 Capital Budget and the TTC (Updated)

Update November 2:   The Analyst Notes for many areas of the Capital Budget are available online on the City’s website.  Notable by its absence is anything about the TTC, the single largest component of the entire budget.

On Monday, October 29, the City Budget Committee had its first public look at the 2008 Capital Budget.  This covers all of the programs funded by the City, of which the single largest part is the TTC Capital Budget.

We won’t know the details of what the TTC is planning for a few weeks until the Commission meeting on November 14, but we can see some outlines in the preliminary material from the City.

Toronto has a huge problem financing the TTC, and as things stand, of the $1.249-billion in new capital debt the City will raise from 2008-2012, about 80% is due to the TTC.

For 2008, the TTC’s capital funding request is in line with the City’s target, but as in past years, this is achieved partly by deferal of spending to the out-years.  This is not sustainable, particularly with major capital projects coming down the pipeline.  In the current estimates, the TTC’s capital requirement for 2009-2012 is about $420-million greater than the City’s budgetary target.

In addition to this shortfall, the TTC has an accumulated and growing backlog of capital projects that will grow to $363-million by 2012.

The table on page 18 of the Budget Presentation shows the anticipated funding sources from Queen’s Park and Ottawa.  An important line in the Provincial section is called “Long Term Funding Requirement” — this doesn’t correspond to any announced program, but it grows especially in 2012.  If you omit this line, the level of committed Provincial funding declines substantially.  The Federal section contains a similar problem with assumptions about growth in future funding.  (The problems and assumptions are restated in text format on page 19.)

The usual problem is that funding schemes at both levels are typically announced for a four or five year window, just long enough to get past the next election, but they are not entrenched.  We have to hope that something will replace them, but if nothing comes along, we are left holding the bag for future spending.

A separate Highlights Report shows major transit projects on pages 10-11.  Note that the dollar values for these projects only cover the 2008 year, not the full cost to completion.  For example, the new streetcar project will only consume an estimated $55-million next year.  Those who are following the reconstruction of the streetcar track will note that many of the listed projects are on the “non-revenue” trackage (Dufferin, Church, Richmond, McCaul, Parliament and Wellington).  The other major projects, of course, will be completion of the St. Clair line and the remaining work on Bathurst.  By late 2009, we will finally be at the end of the heroic project to bring the TTC’s streetcar network back into good condition everywhere.

One troubling aspect of the TTC’s funding needs is “scope creep” and the arrival of previously unbudgeted projects in the five year plan.  The 2008-2012 budget exceeds the City’s affordable debt target by $420-million as I mentioned earlier, but this is up considerably from the $197-million shown in last year’s budget.

We don’t yet know which projects contribute to this, and there’s probably even worse lurking in the next five year period from 2013-2017 when many large projects will be in full swing.

One obvious issue is the Yonge subway resignalling project, the move to automatic train control and service increases to build capacity on the line.  The subway car order with Bombardier signed earlier this year does not come close to providing enough cars for the entire YUS line, even without the York extension, nor for any improvement in service frequency.  If the TTC hopes to reap the benefit of the new fleet, then they will have to add a follow-on order for more “Toronto Rockets”.  The additional cars would replace the remaining “H” series fleets used on the Yonge line, and the T-1’s would all move over to Bloor-Danforth.

For the new streetcar fleet, we still do not know the price per car, and each estimate is higher than the last.  Moreover, we don’t know whether wishful thinking on specifications will run headlong into technical reality regarding both the track geometry and the overhead power system.  Any retrofits will add to the overall cost of rolling out the new cars.

For the bus fleet, current plans call for only modest growth, and even Mayor Miller’s long-promised 100 extra buses will be partly eaten up by added ridership before they actually hit the streets, now likely in fall 2008, a year later than planned.

The TTC has a long history of springing new projects and large-scale changes to existing ones because, somehow, the capital is always found to deal with these problems.  Once we see the details in the budget papers, I will likely have more to say on this subject.

The recent federal budget announcement shows quite clearly that Toronto cannot expect relief of its funding problems from Ottawa, and it’s time that both the City and Queen’s Park stopped waiting for that solution.  Yes, one or both levels will have to generate new revenue to invest in the transit system, and readers here know that my preference already lies with Queen’s Park. 

Toronto’s transit system is a regional resource and it should receive solid, sustained funding from the Province.