Has The Queen Car Report Been Short-Turned? (Update 3)

Update 3: Here are preliminary comments on the report which is now available (see link below). I have left this as a single item so that the comment thread is kept together.

What is most striking about this report is the sound of multiple authors. One intently defends the status quo, while the other airs various problems at the TTC that have contributed to poor service.

We begin with the usual excuses about running streetcars in mixed traffic “where the TTC has no control over the multitude of factors which delay or obstruct service”. Later on, we hear about the difficulties of running a two-minute streetcar service even though (a) this has not been the case on Queen Street for decades and (b) the only place it does happen in mixed traffic is for the 45-minute eastbound wave on King in the am peak. These excuses are getting quite tiresome as anyone who has read my analyses of vehicle monitoring data for these routes will know.

There are all sorts of blockages, but true stoppage of service is rare. Yes, left turns can be a pain in the butt, but they are there every day, and the schedule can make provision for them. They are a chronic delay, not an unpredictable source of gaps in service.

The TTC’s actions over past years concentrated on on-time performance to the detriment of reliable service frequency, and the TTC acknowledges this. However, management tools (the CIS vehicle monitor) support schedule-based, not headway-based goals. Moreover, on-street route supervisors have no way of seeing the CIS data and must resort to the time-honoured tradition of peering into the fog to see where the next car might be.

CIS, as I have discussed elsewhere, does not yet use GPS technology and often errs in locating vehicles, especially when they are in an unexpected location such as a short turn or diversion. This makes line management more difficult at the precise time when it is so important.

Irregular departure times and the lack of headway management are big problems with off peak service even when there is no congestion or other interfering effects. The report is nearly silent on this issue, and speaks only of changes in route management and in the measures used to assess the quality of service.

We learn that vehicle reliability is not what it might be, and this affects both the number of cars available and the mix of CLRVs and ALRVs on the route. This is the first time the TTC has acknowledged that there are problems maintaining service due to vehicles. If the ALRV fleet is not reliable, why has the schedule not been adjusted to match the characteristics of the available fleet?

The TTC plans to split the route apart in the fall of 2008, and they now allow that service is worse on Lake Shore than it was before the 501/507 amalgamation in 1995. Why has it taken 13 years for the TTC to admit this?

As for workforce problems, we know that there are two issues. First, the number of operators available in December 2006 was not always enough to ensure that all scheduled runs left the carhouse, or at least did so on time. This may have improved in the intervening year and I hope this will be revealed when I get the CIS data for December and January. Oddly, the TTC blames workforce problems on growing demand on the system. That’s a strange tactic considering that service improvements planned for 2007 didn’t actually materialize, and moreover, what did come was mainly on the bus network.

I think that we are finally seeing some of the TTC’s dirty laundry coming out. Yes, running a streetcar system is no picnic, but there are several changes the TTC could implement to improve things. There is a strong culture in the TTC of blaming problems on external factors, but now they acknowledge that some are internal too.

How long has the TTC claimed that service problems are all beyond its control? How long have they advocated nothing less than a fully segregated lane for transit, something that is physically impossible on most streetcar routes?

It’s good to see this shift, but we need co-ordinated changes in operating practices, route management tools and organizational attitude.

I will add to this post later this evening. Continue reading