The 501 Queen car is a mess — that’s no surprise to anyone. In the past two posts, I have looked at where the cars go. More, to the point, I have looked at where they don’t go thanks mainly to short- turns.
Riders are frustrated not just by the unpredictable destinations of Queen cars, but by the lack of reliable headways. The schedule may say there’s a car every 6 minutes, but this is at best a general average. TTC “on time” goals say that an error or plus-or-minus 3 minutes is an allowable margin, and this means that gaps of up to 9 minutes, followed by only 3 minutes , is “on time” performance.
This ignores the fact that the gap car will carry 3 times the headway, be much more heavily loaded, and the average rider’s perception of the service will be much worse than the average implied by the schedule and the loading standards.
If the service actually stayed within 3 minutes of the advertised schedule, life would be annoying, but tolerable. There might even be a car in sight much of the time, if not the “always” of the TTC’s slogan for good service from the 1920s. We should be so lucky.
This article reviews the actual headways at selected points during the past December and January. Without question, “weather happened” in various ways over these two months, but not every day, and this cannot explain all the data we see here.
Each linked PDF contains seven pages. The first four of these show the headways over weekdays for each of the four weeks in the month with each day plotted in a separate colour. The trend line follows the broad pattern of the values, but is not disturbed by short-range changes. When service is running properly, the trend line will roughly follow the scheduled headway. When service is poorly spaced, but otherwise all present, the trend line is quite similar to that of properly spaced service because the average remains consistent. However, the values will be scattered around the trend.
The fifth page contains the data points for all weekdays. No trendline is plotted (it would be more or less meaningless and just get in the way), but this chart shows the overall range of values seen on weekdays through the month. The more tightly grouped the points are, the more reliable the headways.
The sixth and seventh pages contain Saturdays and Sundays. For the purpose of these charts, Christmas and New Year’s appear on the Sunday chart, and Boxing Day appears with the Saturdays.
Westbound From Yonge Street
At Yonge Street, the first three weeks of December show a gradual rise in the scatter of weekday headways as Christmas approaches. Week three, as we have seen earlier in this series, also suffers from the carry-over effects of the storm on Sunday, December 16. In week 4, the scatter of headways is less than early on the month because there is much less traffic on the road. This builds up, of course, on New Year’s Eve.
In January, the weekday headways are more scattered in week 1 reflecting the weather, but they settle down for the remainder of the month.
The charts on page 5 of each set contain clouds of points showing the overall distribution of headways on weekdays in each month. The December values have greater spread with noticeably more points above the 20-minute mark than in January. These “clouds” are nothing to be proud of because they show the degree to which many trips exceed the three-minute rule for “on time” performance on a headway basis (never mind where the cars are actually supposed to be).
The scheduled headways were:
- AM Peak: 4’52”
- Midday and PM Peak: 5’30”
- Early Evening: 7’22”
- Late Evening: 10’00”
On a 10 minute headway, the commonly-seen values above 15 minutes are more than tolerable nuisances, and they discourage transit riding. On a 6-minute headway, such gaps are far to common to be acceptable.
Saturdays and Sundays are almost indistinguishable from weekdays except that the outliers above 20 minutes are much less common. December 16 is a special case due to a snowstorm.
By the time we reach Parkside Drive (the start of the right-of-way at the east side of High Park), cars short turning at Roncesvalles or further east have dropped out of the service, and the average headways are wider.
The December pattern is comparable to what we saw at Yonge Street, but with longer headways, some of which are quite wide. The trend line for weekday headways has moved up to around 8 minutes during the daytime, and longer gaps are more common. Friday, December 21 (effectively Christmas eve from a traffic point of view) was particularly bad with its trend line pulling above 10 minutes during mid-afternoon.
In January, the headways are better-behaved, although far from ideal, and the trend lines are lower indicating that more service operated west of Roncesvalles. The cloud of headway points for all weekdays is tighter in January than in December.
Saturday headways are badly scattered showing the effect of shopping traffic in December, and t oa lesser extent in January. December 1 is an oddball day because daytime service west of Roncesvalles operated with buses on a noticeably less reliable and frequent basis than the streetcars on other weekends.
Sunday headways are also scattered, again because Queen is busy seven days a week. The December 16 snowstorm caused some very wide gaps in service.
Once we get beyond Humber Loop, things really fall apart. Whether in December or January, headways are all over the place, pairs of cars and gaps of over 30 minutes are common. The “cloud” of weekday headways is worse in December, but January is nothing for the TTC to crow about. During periods when the scheduled headway is 11 minutes, many data points lie at 20 minutes and above.
Weekend service is a bit better in January, but there are still far too many cases of cars running on headways wildly different from the schedule.
Eastbound to Yonge Street
After cars go west to Long Branch, most trips have a scheduled recovery time at the loop. This is supposed to be taken as a layover only if the car would be early leaving inbound, but many operators take a considerable break here regardless of the schedule following the 90 minute trip from the east end. Inbound service does not operate on a reliable headway, although the spread tends to be a bit better for the outbound service. This is more noticeable in January than in December.
Throughout both months, cars running in pairs are commonly seen throughout the day. This shows a complete absence of headway management by TTC and a major problem with service quality for Lake Shore residents.
Note that these charts include cars that were short-turned at Kipling, and the service inbound from Long Branch to Kipling would suffer relative to the charted values because of these short-turns.
Weekends in January brought service that managed to stay better aligned with the scheduled headway compared to service on weekdays and in December.
Service eastbound at Parkside is goverened to some extent by cars leaving from Humber, and the spread of headways is tighter than we saw outbound. January weekday headways lie within a band below about 15 minutes. For a 5’30” headway inbound on a reserved right-of-way, this is less than ideal, but it is better than December where the band spreads out to the 20-minute line. This situation arises both from short-turning at Roncesvalles and from irregular inbound headways from the two terminals, Humber and Long Branch.
Eastbound From Yonge Street
Headways at Yonge Street eastbound behave quite similarly to the westbound data except that they are slightly more spread out. This reflects variation in travel times inbound through the west side of downtown which has no counterpart for cars arriving from the east.
As with the westbound data, the January headways are more tightly bunched around the trend lines than in December.
At Woodbine, the effect of short-turning is clear with the trend lines sitting well above the scheduled headways (5’30” for midday and pm peak service).
In December, the headway cloud is spread out with many data points well above the 10-minute and 20-minute lines for weekdays. Saturdays are slightly better with most data below 20 minutes. Sunday December 16th shows the effect of the snowstorm with the trendline rising to about 25 minutes.
In January, the headway cloud is not as bad as in December, but it still has many points well above the 10-minute line. Weekend service shows some scatter up to the 20-minute line, especially on Sunday.
Westbound To Yonge Street
Weekday headways at Woodbine are all over the map especially in December when gaps over 20 minutes were common, and quite a lot were above 30 minutes. Management of inbound service from Neville is clearly non-existent.
The situation on weekends is slightly better, but still very poor. Once again, the December 16 snowstorm shows up on the Sunday chart where the trend line is tracking values that are off of the page above the one hour mark.
These charts show the combined effects of short-turns and unregulated headways along with effects from weather and seasonal traffic (road and passenger). The quality of service on the inner part of the line (between the two carhouses) is erratic, but beyond these points it is really atrocious. The scheduled headways are meaningless, as would be any riding counts or projections that assume something like reliable service.
A major flaw in TTC’s service planning is that it takes no account of the riders lost through poor service. For years, light ridership was used to justify further service cuts. The long-standing operational practice of concentrating on service downtown discourages those riders for whom the private car has a strong competitive advantage.
The TTC needs to do much, much better.
In the next installment, I will turn to link times (the time taken to travel from point to point on the route) and discuss the issues of traffic congestion and transit priority.