At The TTC: February 27, 2008

There were several items on the TTC’s agenda today that I wish to write about, but won’t be able to turn to them until Thursday or Friday. Here is a brief “coming soon” list.

The Kennedy Derailment

A detailed presentation showed the cause of the derailment, and I will post this here with explanatory notes when I get an electronic copy.

Transit City Update

A thorough review of the Transit City plans was presented including a review of each line and of other related projects such as new vehicles, carhouses, fare collection, signalling, and urban design.

My overall impression is that at long last we are seeing transit projects as a unified plan with all of the interlocking design elements acknowledged and included. Many of the questions that have been raised here by me and many commenters are touched on in this review, and readers should be pleasantly surprised that the TTC and the City have a comprehensive plan for all of the studies including public participation.

Service Improvements

A follow-up report to the February 17 service improvements tells us to expect further changes in the March 30 and May 11 schedules to complete the “catch up” with the backlog of overcrowding.

In September and October, service will be added to cope with anticipated rising demand through the year as well as the gradual change from high-floor to low-floor buses which have a lower capacity.

Late in the fall, the peak period loading standards will be reduced by 10%. This means that the target average load for a bus will be 10% lower than it is now with concurrent service improvements on routes that are close to the line today. Also, hours of service will be changed so that “substantially” all TTC services will operate from 6 AM (9 AM on Sundays) to 1 AM on a maximum headway of 30 minutes. A possible move to a maximum 20 minute headway will be reviewed in 2009.

Status of St. Clair West Station Loop

Joe Mihevc will be visiting St. Clair West Station tomorrow (Feb 28) and will be posting a video regarding the projcet’s status. I will place the link here when it is available.

Buy Canadian

John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, presented a report throwing serious questions on the Booz-Allen “buy Canadian” report that recommended a low threshhold for the TTC LRV contract.

I will post a summary of this critique here when I have time.

Interminable Waits at Kennedy (Update 3)

Updated Feb 27, 6:15 pm:

At today’s TTC meeting, we learned that they expect to have repairs at Kennedy completed by Friday. I will post more information about the derailment and the nature of the damage when I receive an electronic copy of the report on this incident.

Correction Feb 26, 11:00 pm:

This evening, I received the following email from Adam Giambrone, Chair of the TTC. It was addressed jointly to me and to Ed Drass whose column I cite later in this post.


I told Ed Drass yesterday that I understood the slow order was to be off by now BUT that I was going to check with Warren Bartram of TTC during a tour of the tunnels with CTV earlier this morning (2am-5am) to confirm. I actually watched the crews doing the repairs and I called him earlier today to confirm that the slow order was still in place and will be for another week or so.

The problem is that many of the bolts (I don’t know their technical name) that bolt the rail to ground were ripped up (some 150) and there is only so much that can be repaired in the 150 minutes they have most days to do the work.

Anyway, I usually qualify a statement of fact if I am not sure and I did so in this situation.

Adam Giambrone

I expect to get more details at the TTC meeting tomorrow and will post that info here.

This post has been revised in light of Adam Giambrone’s email.

Updated Feb 26:

This morning at 8:40 am, the backlog of trains from Kennedy stretched to Victoria Park Station, and the trip from there to the terminal took 21 minutes.

According to Ed Drass’ column in today’s Metro, Adam Giambrone was advised that the slow order on Kennedy crossover was lifted last week. This proved to be incorrect based on his email quoted above.

Original post:

Ever since the Kennedy Station derailment two weeks ago, service at the eastern terminal of the Danforth Subway has been glacial, especially at the end of the peak periods. As an example, I spent more than 15 minutes this morning getting from Victoria Park to Kennedy Station, and this has happened almost every day for the past two weeks. Looking on the bright side, the TTC has figured out how to operate a reasonable headway on the SRT even when it was in “manual” mode and we no longer creep from Kennedy to STC. The combination of these two delays made the term “rapid transit” quite a joke.

The problem at Kennedy arises from the slow order which has been on the crossover. Trains move over it at low speed while TTC staff watch carefully as the trains pick their way through the special work. Riding on trains, I can’t tell whether the roughness of the crossing is due to the very slow speed or the condition of the track. With luck, we will learn more at Wednesday’s Commission meeting when there will be a presentation on the derailment.

Meanwhile, capacity on the BD subway is badly constrained. In two previous posts, I talked about the physical limitations that subway line and terminal layouts place on the frequency of service.

How Often Can Subway Trains Run?

How Frequently Can We Run Subway Trains?

The minimum headway at a terminal controls the level of service on the rest of the line unless additional trains are inserted at short-turn points. Indeed, that is how the TTC plans to fit more trains onto the Yonge line in eight years or so with turnbacks at Finch (following a northerly extension beyond Steeles) and somewhere in Downsview (following the York U extension).

Just to review, here is the sequence of events at a terminal:

  • Signal turns green
  • Train guard initiates door closing and this completes
  • Train moves off from platform and eventually clears the crossover
  • Signal system determines that the crossover is clear and realigns the switches
  • Signal system displays clear for the incoming train
  • Incoming train starts up and crosses into the station
  • Signal system determines that the crossover is clear and realigns the switches

The two longest steps in this sequence are the train movements. Today, I timed trains at Kennedy, and it takes 80 seconds for a train to move from a stationary position either on a platform (departing) or from the last approach signal (arriving) through the crossover to a point where the junction is clear for another movement.

This means that 160 seconds (2 minutes, 40 seconds) are consumed simply for train movements. Add to this about 10 seconds for signal and switch system activity, and we are up to 170 seconds before any delays introduced by the readiness of crews to depart.

However, the scheduled headway on the BD line is 144 seconds (2 minutes, 24 seconds) in the morning peak. Quite clearly, it is impossible to operate this headway given the constraints at Kennedy, and a queue of trains builds up. This affects service on the entire line unless trains are inserted along the way to bring the headway back down to the scheduled level.

The TTC should seriously consider short-turning some trains. This could be done at Warden, provided that these trains crossed over to the westbound platform so that they did not block the eastbound flow. Yes, this would require careful management at Warden, but it would reduce the backlog at Kennedy and allow a reliably frequent service to operate on the rest of the line.

I say this with some trepidation because this scheme could also foul up the line just as badly as the current arrangement if it were not managed to ensure fast in, fast out turnarounds of the short-turning trains.

A further option, applicable only to the am peak, would be to send trains that would run out of service to Greenwood into the yard eastbound.

I write this not just as someone who is personally inconvenienced, but out of concern that a long-standing operational problem affecting service capacity has not been addressed.

After Wednesday’s update at the TTC, I will add to this item as appropriate.

Analysis of Route 509 Harbourfront: Laissez-Faire Mismanagement

In a recent post, I looked at the time needed for 509 Harbourfront cars to make their way between Union Station and the CNE. These times are extremely well-behaved and show the benefit of having a line both in its own right-of-way and on a route where traffic congestion is almost unknown (at least in December).

What this analysis didn’t talk about was headways.

There is no way to put this gently. The service on Harbourfront is appallingly bad because some operators treat the schedule as little more than wallpaper, and nobody in Transit Control seems to care about the quality of service. It’s a little shuttle, it will look after itself. Meanwhile, as we have seen in the Spadina car analyses, the attitude seems to be that short turns of Union-bound cars are just fine, maybe because that wonderfully reliable 509 will handle the demand.

These lines are supposed to show what the TTC can do when we get traffic out of the way. What they demonstrate is that the TTC doesn’t give a damn about running proper service in an area where the population is growing and the transit system hasn’t got long to establish its attractiveness before they all buy and drive cars.

Where will this leave us in the eastern waterfront? What does it bode for Transit City? Continue reading

Getting From Union to the CNE — How Fast Is Our “LRT”?

Last week, as I was polishing up my comments on the Waterfront West LRT Environmental Assessment, I started to wonder about the comparative running times between the CNE grounds, the comparable location on King Street, and the core. How much time does one route save over another? What benefits do we see from the “LRT” operation on the 509 compared with mixed traffic on the 504?

We have already seen service analysis data from the King car in the original series of posts last year, and the Harbourfront line was in my sights as a companion analysis to the Spadina car. I will turn to the 509 in a separate post, but for now, let’s look at the two routes between roughly Strachan Avenue (the east end of the CNE) and downtown.

In my previous analysis of the King route, I used Crawford Street as a “time point”. This is one block west of Strachan and stands in for the “CNE” on King Street. The downtown time point is Yonge Street.

On the Harbourfront route, the CIS times at Exhibition Loop are not reliable for departures, but the arrival times are. At Union, the times are reliable. Therefore, I have used the link from Union to CNE westbound, but from the Bathurst/Fleet intersection to Union eastbound.

[“CIS” is the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system. Data from this system for December 2006 has appeared in many other posts here. In this analysis, for reasons I will detail in the Harbourfront post to follow, all points at Exhibition Loop from Strachan through the loop are considered as one location because of data limitations.]

509 Westbound from Union to CNE
509 Eastbound from Bathurst to Union

504 Westbound from Yonge to Crawford
504 Eastbound from Crawford to Yonge

In the Union to CNE charts for the Harbourfront route, there are consistent running times in a band 4-5 minutes wide clustered around the 15-minute line with a slight rise in the late afternoon on weekdays. Saturday data is flat at the 15-minute line, and Sundays have a bit more scatter possibly due to slightly longer layovers that have not been eliminated from the data.

The Bathurst to Union charts show a bit more scatter as well as evidence of a morning peak that slightly extends the running times. Running times cluster fairly reliably around the 13-minute line.

On the King route, the westbound times from Yonge to Crawford show a greater scatter as well as the clear effects of peak period congestion and stop dwell times. On Friday, December 22, the early rush hour before peak period traffic restrictions are in effect causes running times to more than double the usual values.

The band of data ranges from five to over ten minutes in width and lies generally around the 15-minute line with a rise and fall through the pm peak.

The eastbound times from Crawford to Yonge show strong effects in the peaks, especially the afternoon when congestion through the financial district causes much delay to service. The width and location of the band of data is roughly the same as for westbound trips, but with a much worse pm peak spike in times.

Comparing the two routes, the broad averages in times are in the 15-minute range for both lines. King is much more affected by peak conditions, but outside the peak its behaviour is similar to Harbourfront. Any benefit in speed the 509 might get from its right-of-way is negated by the close stop spacing, winding route and traffic signal delays. The big difference between the routes is that the 509 does not have to deal with traffic congestion, only with unfriendly traffic signals.

Indeed, this is one reason the WWLRT proposes to take an alternate route to Union via Fort York and Bremner Boulevards. This will save some time, but even a 1/3 reduction would only get the average time from the CNE to Union down to about 10 minutes. Considering that the Bremner service will handle demand from the many condos lining the route, such a reduction may depend as much on all-door loading with new vehicles as on the “faster” alignment.

Beam Me Up, er, Adam?

Ads are appearing in TTC vehicles jointly from the TTC and its three unions extolling both the virtues of Transit City and of the service provided by the system’s over 10,000 employees.

The headline proclaims:

Going Where No Streetcar Has Gone Before

We know that Admiral Adam already has designs on a modest fleet of ferries, but streetcars boldly going out into uncharted lands, such a concept! What will they find? Will they roam forever lost in the outer reaches of the GTA(H)?

TTC and Star Fleet. I’m not sure that the world is ready for this marriage.

Fire? What Fire? TTC Public Info Missing In Action (Updated)

As anyone around Toronto knows, a major downtown fire on Queen east of Bathurst has caused the rerouting of the Queen, Bathurst and Spadina streetcars on February 20.

Details can be found at The Star and there are good photos of the fire itself on The Torontoist.

Meanwhile, over at the TTC’s service advisories page, all is silent. It’s nice to know that the TTC can disrupt three busy streetcar routes but not bother telling people how they should plan to travel around the area.

Maybe what we need is a multi-billion-dollar public information system so that people could walk to their carstop and be told that there is no service. No, they probably wouldn’t be able to make that work either, and I am sure stops on Bathurst and Spadina would be happily telling people that the next car would be along in 10 minutes or so.

Update 1: The TTC has posted a hotlink to a notice about the Queen car on their main page, but their brand new Service Advisories page is still silent on this situation. So much for consistent navigation to a single source of info.

Update 2: As of 6:00 pm on Thursday, February 21, the emergency band on the One Stop displays in the subway was still running yesterday’s message about a working fire on Queen and diversion of the 501, 510 and 511. Of course, by this morning, the fire was long past “working” and the 510 and 511 were back on route.

Update 3: As of 10:00 am on Friday, February 22, the emergency notice still claimed that there was a working fire and that the 510 and 511 services were on diversion.

If the TTC can’t even manage proper information from one emergency, how can they possibly handle bulletins to a network of transit shelters and subscription-based service alerts via text messages and email? These things don’t write themselves, and if the TTC is serious about public info, they need to actually make it someone’s job (on several shifts) to keep this sort of thing up to date.

Analysis of Route 510 Spadina — Part II: A Selection of Weekdays

Now that we’ve had a view at what Spadina looks like on the best of days, Christmas, we turn to a sampling of regular weekdays and quite a variation in the character of service.

Generally speaking, the service between King and Bloor is quite frequent, although there are occasional gaps for which there is little obvious reason. A few genuine traffic delays (yes, they do happen even with a right-of-way) show up, and the stairstep pattern we saw at major intersections appears quite regularly showing the delays at these locations. Continue reading

Queen’s Park, Metrolinx & the TTC (Updated)

Late last week must have been slow for real news when both the Star and Globe devoted considerable space to musings at the Pink Palace about a Metrolinx TTC takeover. Furious backpedalling all ’round with denials from Metrolinx’ Rob MacIsacc and cries of “hands off” from Mayor Miller.

Lurking under this sort of scheme are claims that just don’t hold up to scrutiny.

First up is the oft-heard desire for “seamless integration” of transit. Boiled down to its essentials, this means I should be able to ride from anywhere to anywhere for one fare with convenient integrated service wherever a change of route or mode is needed.

Riding on the back of this is a scheme for fare-by-distance charging and smart cards. While this may keep the technology companies and those who value appearance over substance as transit policy, this is totally the wrong end of the “solution”.

If the desire were to give everyone an integrated fare between the TTC and the 905 systems, we could do it tomorrow either with the GTA pass or some area-specific version. The big problems are how to divide up the revenue, what to charge and whether there will actually be any service in the 905 with which a 416 rider can seamlessly connect.

These are organizational and financial issues. As long as each transit system is expected to keep its own books, raise its own revenue, and account for every penny (perish the thought we might needlessly run one more bus than necessary), the rules of the game create agencies that defend their revenue turf.

As long as we maintain artificial distinctions between who gets to pick up riders on which street (again partly a turf war), we will have duplicate services.

As long as we starve transit agencies for funds, the clear goal is not to improve service but to minimize costs. This is totally contrary to any claims that our public goal is to get more people riding transit.

You don’t need a quarter-billion’s worth of high technology to fix these problems which, indeed, will still remain if we don’t fix the underlying way in which revenue is allocated to operators. If the fare barrier at Steeles Avenue is eliminated, somebody is going to have to pick up the difference — the TTC and its riders, York Region or Queen’s Park. Nobody wants that debate, but we can sidestep it so long as we focus on Presto! rather than on how it will be used.

It’s ironic that many cross-border services are now operated by TTC on contract to other agencies and the only “impediment” is the fare at Steeles Avenue. Maybe York Region would opt to pay the TTC more to carry its customers. Maybe a special subsidy could be arranged just as it is for Oakville passengers connecting with GO Transit. Why is it okay to have a special fare arrangement for GO Transit feeder services, but not for 905-to-TTC riders?

The “seamless barrier” is one of those transit myths that get dragged out regularly to avoid discussing the real issues. The line between the 416 and 905 could disappear tomorrow if only someone wanted to pay for it and co-ordinate the overlapping services where they exist.

This brings me to that shining example of Ontario’s contribution to transit, the GO system. Remember that GO is not paid for entirely by Queen’s Park, but levies a tithe against the municipalities. Only last week, a tripartite agreement with Ottawa was finally settled when Toronto agreed to pony up its share of a GO Transit funding request.

Metrolinx has been churning out discussion papers (green ones to solicit comment now, white ones to set policy soon) like sausages, and they hope this will lead to a Regional Transit Plan by “Spring 2008”. Whether they mean March 21 or June 22, I am not sure, but even the later date is very optimistic. Moreover, it is troubling because we recently learned that the RTP is also to stand in for the first two steps of the already shortened Environmental Assessment process.

We risk having a regional plan rammed through with little opportunity for comment or intelligent debate that could commit us to a complex and explicitly laid-out network long before we have a chance to consider how it will all fit together. Moreover, there is no mandatory ongoing review and process for change of the plan making “getting it right” at the outset all the more critical.

While Queen’s Park muses about a TTC takeover, they should look closer to home first. GO Transit has been in the commuter rail business for decades, with small forrays into buses, but with the focus on peak period, downtown oriented services. It does not matter what the agency name might be, there is a need for long-distance capacity around the GTA that does not stop at every lamppost. Riders in Oshawa don’t want a tour of Pickering, Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke on their way to Mississauga where they might arrive just in time to go back again.

GO’s service reliability raises questions about its ability to take on a larger role. Riders are cranky about crowding and unexpected changes in schedules, and there is even an online petition demanding a fare rebate when service runs late.

GO, however, has been at least as constrained for funding as the TTC and thinks only of its core services. Expansion comes in small jumps because they have no firm commitment from any level of government to do more.

I might believe that a Provincial agency could do a passable job with the TTC if the current one were actually looking beyond a narrow mandate as a commuter service. Imagine the example Queen’s Park could show of what their bounty could bring to transit. So far, what we have is unimpressive as a replacement for the TTC.

This is not to say that the TTC couldn’t use some housecleaning. However, any “new broom” had better know what it’s doing, not just come in to sell off the furniture and declare huge but ephemeral savings.

One particularly troubling aspect to some comments in this debate is the political slant. Adam Giambrone is out-and-out NDP, and David Miller certainly is not a Tory. Toronto Council is, if not in the grip of the left wing, at least not quite as right-wing as it was in the Lastman days.

What’s the solution? Take them over? Well we tried that with amalgamation, and after a few years of flailing around, look what we have: a moderately left Council with a moderately left Mayor. The voters have spoken.

If anyone has designs on the TTC or on GTAH transit in general, let the decisions be made for legitimate reasons of management, finance, operations and community involvement, not because some politician wants to score points for a coming election. We have seen decades of Provincial interference in transit both in funding and in technology choices that had much more to do with so-called economic development and pandering to voters than with production of useful transit infrastructure.

Message to Dalton McGuinty: Leave the TTC alone. Let Metrolinx continue with its planning, and don’t force the issue of a final plan so quickly and so permanently that we regret everything and start over in ten years.

Recognize that building and running more transit, getting a bigger share of the travel market, is going to cost a lot of money, and some of that will come from the public purse. Keep your chequebook handy.

Don’t substitute the illusion of action — organization and re-organization — for the real needs of transit systems throughout the GTAH.