Fix The 501 Queen Streetcar Forum (Updated)

[Updated December 8:  I have added a link to James Bow’s post with his observations of the meeting.] 

For the benefit of those who could not attend last night’s forum, here are a few comments from a rather jaundiced participant.

The meeting was well-attended (about 90 people)  Even though the original venue was changed to a larger room in anticipation, we were full around the edges.  I was pleased to see that we had folks from both The Beach and from southern Etobicoke so that we had the flavour of both ends of the line.

Ed Drass started off with introductions, and managed to keep the meeting rolling along.  We consumed a full 2 1/2 hours. Continue reading

Schrödinger’s Cat, The Queen Car & Other Mysteries

In case people think all of this talk about headways and link times and clouds of data points and 19th-century railway timetables is getting far too technical, a respite.

In the course of this analysis, I have often thought that there may be some relationship between Quantum Physics and the operation of the Queen Car.  After all, a cup of tea can provide a model of random motion (and power the Infinite Improbability Drive).  We may presume that some deeper forces are at work on Queen Street that are manifest at the visible level in what passes for service on that route.

By analogy:

Einsteinian Time Dilation tells us that the faster we run for the car, the slower time will move, and we will never quite catch up before the car leaves the stop. 

Schrödinger’s Cat is a paradox demonstrating the concept that we cannot know the state of something until we actually look at it.  This is roughly akin to not knowing where the Queen Car is going until we have been on it long enough that the gods of improbability reveal our ultimate destination.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle deals with the problem that the act of observing an event can interfere with the event itself, and that we can never know simultaneously the position and momentum of a subatomic particle.  Applied to the Queen car, we all know that there are always lots of streetcars, except when you want one, and then you can never be sure that the one that has space is also going to your destination.

I invite suggestions for other possible explanations for the behaviour of transit service.  With centuries of scientific thought, we can unravel the mysterious behaviour of the Queen car.

We Now Return To Our Regular Programming

Inevitably, just when things are heating up and there’s a real buzz around an issue, the Internet gods intervened to take this site offline yesterday afternoon and evening.

The problem lay in Bell Canada.  Although the ISP to which this site is connected has many redundant links, all of them are routed through one switch inside Bell’s network, and that switch failed.  It took Bell over nine hours to acknowledge, locate and repair the problem.

We are not amused.

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.

Analysis of 501 Queen: Part VIII — AM Peak Service Reliability

In this installment, I turn to the question of whether all of the scheduled service actually shows up when and where it is intended during the AM peak.  Previously, in the analysis of 504 King, we saw that many cars intended to provide extra service through Parkdale and Bathurst-Niagara eastbound during the am peak either did not operate, or operated badly off schedule to the point where actual service was far different from advertised.

On 501 Queen, I will look at the route at a few points to show how this effect also is present and how it affects the service. Continue reading

Analysis of 501 Queen: Part VII — Humber to Long Branch

This is the final section of a three-part post about link times on the Queen Car.  Previous sections dealt with Neville to Yonge, and Yonge to Humber.  A detailed description of the concepts used in these analyses is in the first post.

Long Branch has been particularly hard hit by TTC service decisions over the years.  Originally a separate route, the 507 Long Branch car ran between Humber and Long Branch providing a 10-minute off-peak service and a 7-minute peak service supplemented by a few trippers than ran downtown to Queen & Church in the AM peak with outbound trippers in the PM.

This changed when the TTC amalgamated the 501 Queen service with the 507, and further with the replacement of CLRVs (50-foot cars) by ALRVs (75-foot cars).  The scheduled headway on Lake Shore is now:

  • 9’45” AM Peak
  • 11’00” Midday and PM Peak
  • 14’45” Early evening M-F
  • 20’00” Late evening M-F
  • Saturday service ranges from 11’30” in the afternoon up to 18’00” in the late evening
  • Sunday service ranges from 14’30’ in the afternoon up to 23’00” in the late evening

The posted schedules on the TTC’s website are a complete mess with irregular headways shown throughout the day.  This is clearly a problem with their schedule-production software which has been known to produce other gaffes in the generated timetables.  The fact that such timetables are created for public consumption with such glaring errors tells us a lot about quality control at the TTC.

It is bad enough that riders on Lake Shore must endure much wider scheduled headways than on many other parts of the system, but as we will see, the actual service provided is much, much worse.  When scheduled service is infrequent, provision of on time service, and all of the service, is essential. Continue reading

Analysis of 501 Queen: Part VI — Yonge to Humber

This post continues the series looking at link times between various points on the Queen route.  The ideas behind this are discussed in more detail in Part V.  In brief, if we look at the time taken by every trip between two points, and we collect data from several similar days together (weekdays, weekends), we should see patterns that recur every day and can be planned for, as opposed to individual, unpredictable events.

The first post in this series dealt with the section from Neville to Yonge, and the next one will look at the section from Humber to Long Branch. Continue reading

Analysis of 501 Queen: Part V — Neville to Yonge (Updated)

[My apologies in advance if you are getting tired of reading about the Queen car. In anticipation of the public meeting on this subject on Tuesday, December 4, I am trying to push a lot of material out the door.

[Updated at 7:45 pm December 2:  Full-month charts for headways at Woodbine bothways have been added to show the range of values over the entire month.]

This post concerns link times, something I didn’t go into in the previous series on the King Car (I will be adding a post on King link times soon).

First, a bit of background to explain why anyone should care about these charts.

If we break a route up into segments, we can look at the time taken by each vehicle to tavel from “A” to “B”, the beginning and end of the segment. If these times stay fairly steady over an entire day, then it follows that conditions at all times match those at the best of times. In other words there is no improvement to be achieved by relieving “congestion” or any other source of delay unless we can prove that it’s there all day, every day.

A related issue is the degree of scatter in the values. Even if the average stays constant, we could have widely varying individual times for each car. This would indicate something was happening to randomly delay cars over this segment of the line.

In many areas, we will see increases and decreases in the average time, as well as changes in the scatter of times showing conditions as they evolve over the day. Put multiple days’ data together on one chart, and we can see whether there are events on specific days that are out of the ordinary behaviour of the line. Such events cannot reasonably be planned for, although it would be helpful to have a routine strategy to deal with the common types of events (e.g. major events in The Beach, at City Hall, at the CHUM/City building).

This series of posts will look at the line from end to end to review the way each segment actually operated in December 2006. Continue reading

“Alternative Financing” and the GTTA

At its November meeting, the GTTA approved a report on “Alternative Financing and Procurement” together with a list of projects that will be studied for this approach. For those who seek to understand Queen’s Park’s schemes for transit infrastructure funding, their report provides interesting reading.

In brief, Ontario seeks to have private sector partners undertake financing and possibly construction of new infrastructure up to the point that they go into service.  At that point, the accumulated cost becomes, in effect, a mortgage on the infrastructure to be paid off over an extended period.  This gives the private sector partner (ironically, possibly a large public sector pension plan) a guaranteed long-term return while nothing appears as a charge on the Province’s books.

In the short term, this keeps the budget looking rosy, but as any reputable accountant will tell you, future commitments must appear in your long-term budget plans.  Someone has to pay for all that infrastructure eventually.  In the past, the cost of transit infrastructure (i.e. the interest on capital debt) was buried in the municipal and provincial budgets rather than appearing as a line item in the transit operating budgets.

Long term, we risk having a future government whose support for transit is, at best, tenuous who might point to all the debt servicing costs and say “don’t ask us for operating subsidies, we’re already paying a bundle for your capital debt”.  This sort of remark has already shown up in some budget papers in past years at the municipal level in Toronto.  It’s the invisible part of the iceberg of transit financing.

The projects to be studied for alternative financing fall into two groups diagrammed on maps on the GTTA site.  As I mentioned in my accompanying post on the “Quick Wins, Phase 2”, the concept of “regional” transit has become rather expansive.  Projects are included that might, in the past, have been treated as “local” and outside of the GTTA’s purview.  This comes partly from a recognition that transit anywhere helps the region as a whole, and partly from the desire to move as many projects off of local budgets as possible.

The projects that will be evaluated for AFP include:

  • SuperGo electrification of the Lake Shore corridor.
  • GO rail expansions include using the CPR North Toronto subdivision and, possibly, the station at Summerhill to serve new routes on CPR branch lines.
  • LRT expansions include the Transit City lines as well as the Hurontario and Dundas lines proposed for Mississauga.
  • Converting the SRT to use Mark II RT cars and extending it north to Malvern.
  • Richmond Hill subway extension
  • VIVA extensions in various corridors and conversion to exclusive lane operation.
  • Circumferential  GO/GTTA BRT network

This is a very large bundle of projects.   As usual, Ontario plans to call on Ottawa for 1/3 funding.  Whether they would provide anything, either directly or through their own AFP scheme, remains to be seen.  The problem remains that any current spending creates a future debt service charge, and Ottawa has always been loathe to fund what are, in effect, ongoing operating costs.

None of these facilities will begin operations, and therefore become charges on various operating budgets, until after the next provincial election in 2011.  In the short term, the creative accounting allows us to launch into a rosy transit future, but this must be sustained with solid, ongoing funding for operations.  A problem for politicians still in their infancy, but a serious concern for those observers who, like me, take the long view of transit’s financing and growth as a major part of the GTTA.