Analysis of 503 Kingston Road Tripper (Updated)

In a previous post, I discussed the chaotic headway situation on the 502 Downtowner car.  Now, I will turn briefly to the 503 Kingston Road Tripper.

Updated Dec. 17 at 6:45 am:  Information about the combined 502 and 503 services on Kingston Road added.

For those who are unfamiliar with the service design for Kingston Road (the street), here is how things work between Queen Street and Bingham Loop (at Victoria Park).

  • Peak service is provided by two routes — 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road — operating from Bingham Loop to downtown.  The 502 goes straight along Queen to McCaul Loop (just west of University) while the 503 goes via King to Church and loops via south on Church, west on Wellington, north on York and back east on King.
  • The 502 and 503 services are scheduled on the same headway and are supposed to mesh to give a blended service.  In the am peak, these are two 12′ headways for a combined 6′ service.  In the afternoon, it’s 14′ on each branch and7′ combined.  That’s on paper.
  • The 502 provides midday service from Bingham to McCaul on a scheduled 20′ headway.  As we have already seen, this service is a mess, and some of it does not even reach Yonge Street due to short-turning.
  • The 22A Coxwell bus operates from Coxwell Station to Bingham Loop evenings and weekends, and is scheduled on a much more frequent headway (10 to 15 minutes) than the midday service on the 502 for reasons best known to TTC planners.  This route perpetuates the operating scheme of the Coxwell and Kingston Road streetcars from pre-Bloor Subway days showing how flexibly service can be organized with buses.
  • For the historically minded, the reason the service ends at Bingham Loop is that when the TTC was formed, its service territory ended at the City of Toronto boundary.  Service to Birchmount was abandoned, and for many years Birchmount Loop was occupied by a used car lot.   You can read more over at Transit Toronto.

The first two charts show the headway data westbound at Woodbine and eastbound at Yonge for December 2006.  Woodbine was chosen as the reference point because it is just before the 502 and 503 lines join Queen, and it is remote from Bingham Loop when there are difficulties with resolution of arrival and departure times.  Yonge is in the heart of downtown and shows the regularity of outbound service.

Westbound at Woodbine Ave.
Eastbound at Yonge St.

You will see that there are no trend lines on these charts.  It is impossible to plot a trend through sparse data (there are few trips on the 503) that ranges over such wide variations.  What the cloud of data points shows is that, to a typical rider, service on the 503 is almost random, and you may wait a very long time for it to show up.  This can be caused by missing cars (not every run goes out every day) and by day-to-day variations in the times cars do operate.

This is a good example of how the laissez-faire approach to line management falls apart with wide headways such as those on the 503.  When a line runs every few minutes, small day-to-day swings have little impact, and the range of wait times suffered by passengers is not too bad.  With 14′ pm peak headways, a missing car translates to a 28′ gap, and that assumes that the cars around the gap are on time.

Even in the am peak, when there is no traffic congestion and many car are the first trips of the day for 503 cars, headways on Kingston Road are ragged.  This arises from a combination of cars entering service off schedule, cars entering service westbound from the carhouse without serving Kingston Road, and cars missing from a particular day’s operation.  Again, with wide headways, a missing car creates a 24′ gap even assuming surrounding runs are on time.

The headway charts appear more as clouds than as well-organized data.  This shows the huge range of headways in both peaks.  Double-headway gaps are common, and gaps over half an hour are not unheard of.  This is no way to encourage riders to use the TTC, and it contributes to the bad name that streetcar services in the Beach have in general.

Another way to look at the service is the reliability chart showing when, or if, the same run appears day after day.

Westbound at Woodbine Ave. AM Peak
Eastbound at Yonge St. PM Peak
Eastbound at York St. PM Peak

Westbound at Woodbine, 503 runs tend to show up fairly reliably until about 0730.  However, run 65 (dark blue), does not operate reliably every day, and this puts a 24′ gap in the service right at the point when the buildup of inbound traffic to downtown picks up.  Notably, this run is missing on every Friday in the chart, and one Tuesday as well.  By about 0815, the inbound service is provided by cars that have already made a round trip, and their times are somewhat disorganized causing irregular headways.  On Dec. 5, service was affected by a delay that also shows up in the Queen charts, but this type of thing does not happen regularly.

Eastbound at Yonge, the first few trips show up every day between 4 and 5 pm, although they are not regularly spaced.  Things start to fall apart after 5 with cars arriving at widely varying times day to day, and headways ranging from 2 minutes to nearly half an hour.  It is tempting to put this down to congestion on King which builds up eastbound particularly after 5 pm.  However, the same chart, seen at York Street, shows that service is already disorganized before it even turns east onto King.  Some cars are clearly running early and are right behind their leaders.

As with other services I have reviewed here, the overwhelming impression is of badly managed (or unmanaged) service.  It’s likely that nobody really cares about a tripper route that runs infrequently, and yet the service it provides is so irregular as to be useless to all but the lucky riders who happen to encounter it or who are dedicated enough to wait for it.

Update:  Combined 502/503 Service on Kingston Road

Riders bound for downtown can, in many cases, take whatever car shows up on Kingston Road because the two routes are close together through the core.  Here is what the service looks like with both routes combined.

Headways at Woodbine Westbound
Headways at Woodbine Eastbound
Service Reliability at Woodbine Westbound AM Peak

The headways at Woodbine cluster around the 6 minute schedule in the am peak, and the 7 minute schedule in the pm.  However, the scatter, especially in the pm, is considerable.  In the morning, gaps of over 10 minutes are common.

The Service Reliability chart shows how the missing 503 cars leave gaps in the inbound service during the am peak.  On December 5, there was a major delay on that affected all services in the Beach at the end of the rush hour.  Otherwise, this chart shows variations for individual runs that grow toward the end of the peak.

Midday service is provided only by the 502, and this is the same data we have already seen in the article on the Downtowner car with many gaps well above the scheduled 20-minute service.  This is due both to variation from the schedule and to short-turns eastbound at Woodbine Loop, a totally counter-productive activity given that the 502’s purpose is to serve Kingston Road!

In the afternoon, the range is anywhere from zero to twenty minutes with some outliers even higher.  Even a rider who takes any car eastbound out of downtown planning to transfer on the common part of the routes on Queen Street will face unpredictable service and wide gaps in the combined 502/503 services.

5 thoughts on “Analysis of 503 Kingston Road Tripper (Updated)

  1. I would say get rid of this route and run all the cars assigned to it on the 502. There should be one Kingston Road route, running either to Queen or to King but not both. Queen and King are 400m apart, a very short walk, so there is no point running a service along both especially since having two services results in longer waits at the downtown end of the service.

    Of course, to really fix the Kingston Road streetcar, the TTC needs to run more cars on it and to run the service properly. I will cross my fingers on this.

    Steve: These are precisely the recommendations I have already made. The TTC says that they are listening — let’s see what happens.


  2. Fridays is usally the day when a lot of open work is available at Russell Division. If someone has signed on a crew which involves some operating on the 503 route, that person might be asked if he/she would rather do some work on 501, 502, 504, 505, or 506. The 503 piece of work goes unmanned and the car never leaves the yard thus contributing to the irregular headways.


  3. I’m confused by your comment about “missing cars”. When I first read this post the first thing I assumed was driver illness. But now reading the comment above, I’m confused. What does “open work” mean, and how does that translate into a streetcar not making its scheduled run? It sounds like drivers have a choice of which routes to run, and if nobody wants to take the 503, then the streetcar never leaves the yard? Please tell me I’m reading this wrong. I don’t get it. tnx.

    Steve: It is cheaper for the TTC to fill some peak runs with operators working overtime rather than having spare staff who don’t regularly work a full eight hours to cover this type of work. Some days, there are not enough operators to go around, and certain runs don’t leave the carhouse. This can also happen if there are more operators off sick on a given day because longer, more attractive pieces of work may be available for overtime and the short pieces like 503 runs go begging.


  4. It seems weird that an infrequent rush-hour service like the 503 or 508 would be run with drivers from the spare board. If the TTC wants to run an infrequent rush-hour only service like this, every run needs to depart at its scheduled time or the service becomes useless. Imagine GO running trains with spare drivers – even one train missing would make many people late for work! To make sure that routes like this run as scheduled, they must have dedicated staff; they could always work another route outside rush hour or split shifts so that they work a full 8 hour shift.


  5. There seems to be a little bit of confusion here about TTC crewing.

    Every run on a line is covered by a “crew”. A run that stays out all day will be covered by several “crews”. Each crew consists of two pieces of work (with the exception of some crews which are one piece of work e.g. night crews).

    Pieces of work which are garage/carhouse to garage/carhouse (peak service extras) form part of “swing crews” (driving morning rush and the afternoon rush with a split in between (aka “split crews”)).

    There are enough operators assigned to each division to cover ALL crews with an additional group of spare board operators to cover absent operators. Unfortunately, the TTC is experiencing a shortage of operators (as has been discussed in several topics on this blog) which results in a lack of spare board operators to cover. When work becomes open and there are not enough spare board operators to cover, the word is put out for operators to work overtime to cover the open work.

    There is a limit to the number of hours that an operator can work per week, and this can result in not enough volunteer operators to cover. This leads to run cancellations. As well, in bus transportation, there is also an equipment shortage (due to older buses being removed from service and delivery problems with new buses) which also leads to run cancellations.

    TTC is training new operators, but (as previously discussed on this blog) there is a high failure rate in the training programme. The operator shortage is across all modes (buses, streetcars, and subway). There are many reasons for the high failure rate but I would be seriously concerned if the training standards were to be relaxed to get more warm bodies into the driver’s seat! Keep in mind that certain crews in every division are “less than desirable” and that as a volunteer operator you have the choice to work or not work on your own time.

    Steve: An important point here is that the design of the schedules, based on demand patterns, assumes that all cars will be present and vaguely on time most of the time. On th routes analyzed to far, there are several examples of chronic missing runs and off-schedule operation caused by cars leaving the carhouse late. This comes down to a management issue. If the nature of a route like 503 Kingston Road is such that runs cannot be filled by operators, then this is a service that will consistently not work properly. This not the fault of people living on the route, and the TTC needs to make changes to the way it organizes crews to ensure that individual routes do not suffer from consistent undermanning.

    One thing that may held in 2008 is the long-awaited improvement in off-peak services (peak service improvements on streetcar routes are limited by fleet availability). With more off-peak service, there can be many fewer “tripper” type runs as more cars can stay out all day rather than just doing one trip. This translates to fewer split crews or orphaned, unattractive pieces of work. It also actually reduces the cost per hour of service because more of an operator’s time is spent on a route rather than on carhouse mileage, travel time or reporting time.

    As for on time departure, this may be due to an overtime operator taking a car out late, but when this happens, the service needs to be properly managed so that such cars can do productive work and fit into the rest of the operation properly. The advertised 2-minute headway through Parkdale in the am peak is disrupted by cars arriving out of place and/or being short turned. In either case, they don’t perform the function for which they were scheduled, and the service on the street is much worse than what the TTC claims it to be.


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