Analysis of 502 Downtowner: Part I — Headway Reliability

In past route reviews, I have started out looking at a few days’ operation in detail to get an overview of the route.  By now, readers are familiar with the conventions of the charts I have been creating, and for 502 Downtowner, I will jump in to the middle of the discussion.

This post gets headway information about Downtowner online in advance of the public meeting on Tuesday, December 4 about the Queen car of which the 502 is functionally a branch.

Downtowner (originally called Kingston Road) operates, on paper, from Bingham Loop at Victoria Park and Kingston Rd. to McCaul Loop west of Queen and University.  Although service on Kingston Rd, including the 503 Tripper interlined with it, was once quite frequent, headways are now much wider and reliability of service becomes crucial to the sense that there is any service at all.  Offpeak scheduled service is every 20 minutes, and this is one of the few places that has better service evenings and weekends (when the 22A Coxwell bus serves Kingston Road) than during weekdays.

The four charts here show the distribution of headways at Woodbine and at University.  Why did I choose these locations?

Woodbine shows us the service leaving Kingston Road inbound before it merges with Queen, as well as the effect of any short-turns at Woodbine Loop.  Yes, cars intended to serve Kingston Road are short-turned before they get more than a few hundred metres onto that street.

University shows the service eastbound from McCaul without various artifacts in CIS data near McCaul Loop, but more importantly at a location that is not polluted by CIS errors in tracking short turns on Downtowner.  As we will see in a future post, a lot of the 502 service never gets to Yonge Street, and this plays havoc with service as seen by would-be riders.

Westbound at Woodbine Ave.
Westbound at University Ave.
Eastbound at University Ave.
Eastbound at Woodbine Ave.

There are five pages for each chart of which the last shows the distribution of headways over the month.  Pages 1-4 show the detail for each week including trendlines.  Those trends generally follow the level of the scheduled headways, but the unreliability of service causes huge swings, especially in the offpeak when gaps of 30-40 minutes are common at Woodbine.  At University, the situation is much worse because of short-turns east of Yonge Street with gaps of nearly one hour on several days.

There is really very little to say about this situation.  After looking at the Queen car, I am running out of ways to express my disgust at what passes for service from the TTC.  I knew that service on the 502 was spotty, but actually seeing it “in print” is shocking.

In a coming post, I will look at the link times for this route and, yes, there is congestion on Kingston Road itself between Woodbine and Victoria Park.  This usually occurs during the afternoon rush hour and has little impact on the service quality at other times.

I will also review the combined 502 and 503 services in the morning and afternoon peak periods when, in theory, these lines combine to provide a blended, regular service.

As for the 502 itself, this is an excellent example of how the TTC destroys the attractiveness of transit service by cutting service and failing to properly manage the leftovers.  Back in the days when headways were five minutes or better, careful line management was less important because cars simply couldn’t get too far apart.  Now, with headways of 10 to 20 minutes, routes can become badly disorganized and riders have no idea when a vehicle might turn up.

3 thoughts on “Analysis of 502 Downtowner: Part I — Headway Reliability

  1. I agree. The headways on the 502 should be reduced to 5 minutes so that the service is attractive – this is especially important if the 502 is going to be extended east of Victoria Park; we want to build up ridership in the existing portion. Also, the 503 should be eliminated because having two services that run 400m apart downtown simply increases headways on each of King and Queen, without providing any benefit to passengers (because the lines are very close to each other). Then, the TTC should be managing these cars (and the 501s) better – this means that all the cars actually go into service when they’re supposed to, leave the terminals when they’re supposed to, don’t stop at Russell Yard to change drivers, and don’t short turn. No streetcar should short turn at Woodbine anymore – they should all either go to Neville or Kingston Road & Victoria Park.


  2. Simple solution, combine them into one large loop via King, Church, Wellington, York and Queen. Full service needs to return to the Kingston Road Streetcar first of all.

    Steve: The main problems I have with this is that the design would not serve University Avenue (although astute passengers would learn about a walking transfer at York and Queen) and the potential confusion of having a route connect with a different subway station depending on its direction. But I do agree that Kingston Road deserves far better service regardless of the downtown configuration.


  3. I’m not sure if the present arrangement on Kingston Avenue is doing ridership in that area any favours. I know it may not be feasible, but it would be nice to see the return of the Coxwell Car, that is, build track to Coxwell station. That little group of houses on Strathmore would most likely have to be demolished to make way for a proper streetcar loop, given the curious arrangement of the bus bay. With the return of streetcars on Coxwell, perhaps we would not only see reliable service, but uniform destination and vehicle type on Kingston Road. Sure, transfers would be required at Queen street but I feel that this would isolate the problems on Queen from Kingston and allow Kingston to grow as a transit corridor in its own right.

    And I have to ask, who designed that bus terminal anyway? It seems that it was built to DELIBERATELY kill the Coxwell car when the B-D line opened.

    Steve: Remember that when the BD line opened, the streetcars were all going away in 1980, and the Carlton line only had 10 years left to run. Also, a common problem with all of the loops on the Danforth subway is that they are too small. Compare Broadview (recently expanded, but still crowded), Pape and Coxwell to other locations. Would it be unkind of me to mention the total absence of a loop at Dufferin because the TTC thought it would never be an important transfer point?


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