Route 501 Queen in December/January 2007/08 (Part 4: Link Times)

In previous posts in this series, we have seen where cars on 501 Queen actually go, as well as the gaps and unpredictability of service both downtown and at the outer ends of the line.  Now I will turn to the length of time cars take getting from one place on the route to another, and how this varies both over the course of the day, and from day to day through December and January 2007/08.

We hear a lot about traffic congestion and the need for better transit priority.  If such a scheme is to benefit riders as a whole, it must address the locations and times when streetcar service is slow.  Often this is not the “obvious” time or place– the peak period, downtown — and priority schemes focussed on this narrow time and location will do little to improve service.

This article contains a series of charts that are similar to the headway charts in Part 3.  Data are organized into groups by week (for weekdays), Saturdays and Sundays/Holidays.  Instead of headways, the times shown are the intervals between a car’s appearance at two locations. 

When these times are unvaried and show little scatter, then there is no congestion or variable delay due for stop service, and almost no opportunity to change running times.

When these times vary a lot, but in a predictable way (moving up and down over regular times each day), this shows regular variations in traffic levels and stop service time.  Delays caused by traffic signals can be addressed through priority schemes.  Delays caused by stop service can be address by increased use of all-door loading.  Delays caused by congestion, especially those outside the peak, can be address by traffic restrictions on parking and turns at intersections.  These will not be popular in neighbourhoods outside of the core where the main streets are important local commercial strips and the streets are the grid through which drivers access the residential side-streets.

Where these times show unpredictable spikes or move away from a regular pattern, this is the result of some event like a storm, a traffic accident (possibly on a nearby street such as the Gardiner Expressway with a spillover effect), or an unusual rise in traffic (for example around the club district or on New Year’s Eve).

To trace the route’s behaviour, I will move west from Neville to Long Branch, and then return east looking at segments of the Queen line.

As I have discussed before, data in the east end of the Beach can be problematic.  On some days, data for cars is missing east of Wineva.  We know that a car goes into the Beach, and it comes out again, but what happens while it’s there is mystery.  In some cases, we have a departure time from Neville, but no arrival time.  This causes the layover to appear as part of the eastbound trip and inflates the actual running time getting to the loop.

To avoid this problem, Woodbine is used as a reliable reference point for service between the Beach and downtown.

Westbound from Neville to Long Branch

Neville to Woodbine — DecemberJanuary

Cars that do report a departure from Neville give us some picture of running times through the Beach westbound to Woodbine Avenue.

On Monday, December 3, a long delay blocked service westbound from Neville between roughly 0700 and 0750.  This caused the very long link times shown in the graph for that date.

On Monday, December 17, the aftereffects of the snowstorm the previous day are clearly visible with longer than usual running times especially in the pm peak.  The storm itself causes a huge swing in the trend line on Sunday the 16th.

Running times are fairly consistent on other days throughout December and January except for some pre-Christmas shopping effects.

Woodbine to YongeDecemberJanuary

Running times from Woodbine to Yonge are fairly consistent through both months with the exception of the December 16 snowstorm, pre-Christmas shopping, and slight rises through the daytime on weekends.  This area is not subject to chronic congestion or to major loading delays.

Yonge to Wilson ParkDecemberJanuary

Wilson Park is just east of Roncesvalles, and is a reference point used in these analyses to track service at that junction without the disruptive effects of layovers right at the westbound stop.  This section of the route is subject to many types of delay from passenger loads and congestion, and from spillover congestion when the Gardiner Expressway is blocked.

January shows the typical pattern for this section without the effects of Christmas and the December 16th snowstorm.  There is a gradual rise in link times leading to the pm peak, but a marked increase falling midafternoon on Saturdays.

In December, the charts show several disruptions including a few blockages during the late am peak and midmorning in week 1, a major disruption on Wednesday, December 12 caused by chronic congestion mainly west of Bathurst (likely a Gardiner event), and a great deal of pre-Christmas congestion.  We have seen this pattern for two years in a row, and this is a strong argument for special December schedules on 501 Queen.

Wilson Park to Lake ShoreDecemberJanuary

This section is about as boring as it gets.  It covers the line from just east of Roncesvalles, along the private right-of-way on The Queensway, and through Humber Loop to Lake Shore Boulevard.  There is a minor ripple visible in the week before Christmas that is probably all caused by extended times around Roncesvalles.

Humber Loop to Long BranchDecemberJanuary

This section covers the line from the Humber Loop exit to Lake Shore all the way out to Long Branch Loop.  The running time here is a fairly consistent 20 minutes with some minor fluctuations over the two-month period.

Eastbound from Long Branch to Neville

Long Branch to Humber LoopDecemberJanuary

This section takes us from Long Branch back to the Lake Shore entrance to Humber Loop.  As with the outbound trips, the running time is fairly consistent at about 20 minutes, but it tends to be slightly more scattered than for outbound trips, and there are a few disruptions.

On Tuesday, December 4, cars were held inbound on Lake Shore around 1100, and there was another delay inbound at about 1700.

The pre-Christmas week brings longer running times, but the effect is not as marked as in Parkdale.

The Saturday chart for December is interesting because the blue trendline (December 1) covers a period when this part of the route operated with buses.  Note that they took considerably longer to make the trip than the streetcars they replaced, although this may be partly due to the leisurely way in which unscheduled replacement services tend to operate.

There is an unusual condition on Saturday, December 24 when at regular intervals there is one outlier with a long running time.  Looking at the underlying data, this appears to be a CIS malfunction.  The same car (run 15) on every trip shows no layover at Long Branch, but a quite leisurely run eastbound to Kipling.  This indicates that there was no CIS data indicating a departure from the loop and so the layover was included in the calculated running time to Humber.  The pattern continues all day over a period where at least three different operators would have had the car.

Sunday shows a slight increase in running time during the December 16 snowstorm, but note that there are few data points as much of the service was bogged down elsewhere on the line.

Lake Shore to Wilson ParkDecemberJanuary

As on the westbound trip, this section of the route is uneventful.  A slight increase in running times is caused by the snowstorm on December 16.

Wilson Park to YongeDecemberJanuary

The trip through Parkdale into downtown is, like its westbound counterpart, the most congested part of the route.  Running times can double during certain periods and on certain days, and this requires special provision in the schedules as I mentioned earlier.  The effect is far more pronounced in December than in January.

There is a rise in link times into the pm peak that takes the trend lines up to 40 minutes during weeks 1 and 2, and above this in the week before Christmas.  On some days, the trip from Wilson Park to Yonge consumes almost as much time as the scheduled trip from Humber to Neville.  Coupled with a similar problem westbound, this completely overwhelms the schedules and much short turning is needed.  Saturdays have the same pattern as weekdays, but the peak comes earlier in the afternoon.

The effect of New Year’s Eve in the club district is quite noticeable on the page for week 4.

Yonge to WoodbineDecemberJanuary

Link times from Yonge to Woodbine are relatively well-behaved although some days just before Christmas do show major congestion effects.

Times in January are more settled than in December.

Woodbine to NevilleDecemberJanuary

As I mentioned earlier, reliable times for cars at Neville are not available on all days and several trips never report an arrival at Neville at all.  Such trips don’t appear in this chart.  Those trips that do report times at Neville may not report a distinct arrival and departure, and their layovers are counted as part of the eastbound journey.

This accounts for the scatter in values, and for the fact that the times are generally longer in the evening and on weekends when the time for layovers is more generous.  This is particularly obvious in January when there are no other effects to soak up time on the eastbound trips.


As I have mentioned before, the overwhelming location for delays on 501 Queen lies between Yonge Street and Roncesvalles, and anyone who rides the line regularly will know this.  However, the charts show the magnitude of the problem and the degree of variation in running times that makes scheduling extremely difficult on two counts.

First, there is so much variation, especially during busy seasons like December, and it is spread over such a long distance, that cars passing through this will often be quite late.  Any line management based on a schedule is doomed.  Headway-based management coupled with extras to pad the round trip times when needed stand a better chance.

Second, since all Queen service passes through this route section, service to the east end and to the Lake Shore neighbourhoods is always at the mercy of whatever happens from Yonge to Parkdale.  If the route is split into sections with:

  • a Beach service that stays mainly east of Bathurst,
  • a Queen service running from Humber to somewhere east of Yonge, and 
  • a Lake Shore section that stays off Queen all together,

there is much better chance that service on all three sections can be properly managed.

7 thoughts on “Route 501 Queen in December/January 2007/08 (Part 4: Link Times)

  1. my read is that a two-branch service, roncy to nevelle, and yonge to long branch, might work best; but either way, splitting the route seems like it has to be done at this point.


  2. There’s a risk with splitting the route up into 3 since overlapping service needs to have some kind of coherence to it, or else it can only lead to erratic results and then not much improves. Do we trust the current batch of TTC route managers to handle such a scheme? That said, I do agree with the idea of a 3-way split, but with somewhat generous overlap being a necessity.

    -Long Branch-Dufferin (put that west exhibition loop to work)
    -Humber-Parliament (ideally Parliament/King loop would be restored)

    This allows enough overlap so that a breakdown one part can keep service reasonable elsewhere (with some truncation of the middle route). It also allows cross-town travel with only one transfer if necessary (originating east of Parliament bound for west of The Humber, or vice-versa).

    Steve: I agree in principle, although the scheme I have advocated is slightly different with respect to the Long Branch service. Duing weekdays I would make them all “Lake Shore” cars and send them downtown via King. Evenings and weekends, send them to Dundas West Station. This is roughly modelled on the way the Kingston Road and Coxwell services have run in the east end for decades.

    It also keeps the Lake Shore service off of the most badly congested part of Queen and supplements the King service which needs it.

    To reactivate Parliament Loop, you need extra curves at Parliament and Queen where there is nothing, today, in the southwest quadrant.

    Having a generous overlap also means that even if there are short turns, there is still a connection in the middle with the other half of the line and with both subway stations.


  3. Yeah, your description of the major congestion areas suggests to me a three-way split of the route:

    “Beach” cars running from Neville to Wolesley (or possibly to Bathurst station?)
    “Queen” cars running from Humber to Church
    “Long Branch” cars running from Long Branch to Dundas West station.

    I’d be curious how your suggestion of running the Long Branch cars downtown during rush hours would work, but then I recall the augmentation of King service, which puts a car downtown every two minutes during the peak hour. Perhaps these could be made available to the Long Branch service.

    The question now is how the Kingston Road cars fit into this scheme.

    Steve: To clarify — the Long Branch cars would run downtown through the midday weekdays just as the 502 Downtowners do from the east.

    As for the 502/503, these made sense as separate routes when each of them ran on short headways. Now, however, they run widely spaced (when they run at all) and in the pm peak nobody living on Kingston Road should actually wait on Queen or King for one of them to show up, but instead take the first car they can to a common transfer point and pick up the next 502/503 that shows up.

    These should be combined into one surviving route, but I am not absolutely sure which one it should be.


  4. As for the 502/503, these made sense as separate routes when each of them ran on short headways. Now, however, they run widely spaced (when they run at all) and in the pm peak nobody living on Kingston Road should actually wait on Queen or King for one of them to show up, but instead take the first car they can to a common transfer point and pick up the next 502/503 that shows up.

    These should be combined into one surviving route, but I am not absolutely sure which one it should be.

    Yeah, I see what you mean. And while 502, providing rush hour and midday service compared to 503’s rush hour only service, might seem the more logical route to keep, perhaps… it might make more sense for 503 to survive. The service along with the Long Branch midday cars to Church via King would provide additional service along the whole of King Street. Possibly we could cut 504 King service by a corresponding amount, by short turns providing service specifically to the Roncesvalles and Broadview legs, providing more reliable service for these legs of the King route which have short turn problems of their own, don’t they?

    Service on the downtown portion of Queen would be enhanced in any event between Bathurst and Church, so perhaps we don’t need a 502 Kingston Road service here.

    Steve: I tend to agree with you, although in a few years King East will also have the Cherry Street car overlaid on it, because McCaul might wind up being a less-than-ideal western terminus for the Beach car, and the loop could get rather crowded. I think that would be a bad choice because the inevitable short turns would keep a lot of Beach service from reaching University Avenue. As things are, we already have problems with 502s short turning before they reach Yonge Street.

    If the surviving route is the 503, it should terminate at Spadina, not York so that if there are short-turns, the cars at least reach Yonge.


  5. “McCaul might wind up being a less-than-ideal western terminus for the Beach car,”

    As I said, the Beach cars would better terminate at Wolseley loop at Bathurst in order to ensure that short turns don’t thwart connections with the subway at Queen and Osgoode. Possibly the line could be continued up to Bathurst station, like the original Downtowner car…

    Steve: Sending the line all the way to Bathurst Station is a recipe for the same problems we face now with the Beach service getting trapped on Queen West. Wolseley, with the need to turn at the congested Bathurst/Queen intersection would be enough of a challenge.

    The location of a western terminal for the Beach car is a bit of a challenge.


  6. I don’t usually commute downtown, but the past couple of weeks I’ve had occasion to take the 502/503 to downtown (King Street) in the morning three times, and from Queen Street downtown in the evening twice. In both cases I have done exactly what Steve’s comment suggested — in the morning, I’ve taken the 502 and transferred (along with a number of other riders) at Carroll to the 504, and in the afternoon I’ve taken the first car at Queen and Yonge (both times a 501) and transferred to the first 502/503 at Kingston Road (again, along with a number of other riders). I would be perfectly happy to just get rid of one of the two. Doesn’t particularly matter which one. The setup definitely doesn’t work outbound in the evening (where you have to make a decision between 502/503 and on which street you’re going to wait), but it doesn’t work particularly well inbound in the morning either if you are bound for a destination south of King or north of Queen — it can be faster to transfer to a King car west of Broadview.

    As for the 502/503, these made sense as separate routes when each of them ran on short headways. Now, however, they run widely spaced (when they run at all) and in the pm peak nobody living on Kingston Road should actually wait on Queen or King for one of them to show up, but instead take the first car they can to a common transfer point and pick up the next 502/503 that shows up.


  7. The problem with a 3-way split is that it will be a major inconvenience for people travelling through the downtown section, since a person waiting at Yonge may have to wait for several streetcars to go only a short distance (west of Bathurst or east of Parliament). I suggest a different split as follows:

    Route 501: Long Branch or Humber to Queen/Roncevalles to Queen/Yonge to Queen/Broadview to Broadview Stn
    Route 504: Neville Park to Queen/King to King/Yonge to Queen/Broadview to Dundas West Stn


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