“TTC Culture” : 1 Queen Car : 0 (Updated June 25)

Updated June 25:

Jonathan Goldsbie has an article about the Queen car forum on the Eye Weekly site.

Updated June 18:

First, apologies to Gary Welsh of City Transportation Services whose name I misspelled in the original post.  I’m used to the many permutations possible with “Stephen Munro” and don’t like to screw up other people’s names myself.

Today I deputed on the subject of the Queen report and forum, and the thrust of my remarks was:

  • I agree that some of the proposals for traffic-related improvements on Queen will be good for the route.  This and other operational changes have been under discussion for some time and were part of the reason I started my analyses of CIS data in 2007.
  • There are many items on the “to do” list including detailed evaluation of alternate route structures, monitoring and management of the existing service, and bringing reports on traffic changes to Community Council for discussion and approval.  They’re worthwhile and we mustn’t lose the momentum.
  • The monthly update on cancelled service and short turns is missing, and we have no idea of how effective any new practices might be since late April.
  • At the Queen Car Forum, the same May report was presented without updates, but the big problem was the issue of “TTC Culture” as an explanation for the slowness of change.  I made the point that this is hard to believe given enthusiastic celebration of TTC employees’ skills and dedication at the 40-year service presentations that opened the meeting, and the extensive review and recommendations for immediate change in the report on the Lytton Boulevard subway fatality.  Both of these show a culture that celebrates skill and dedication.  I made it clear that my remarks were aimed at corporate culture, not at any individual who happened to be the bearer of the message.
  • My own view is that problems on Queen are disproportionate to those on other routes and this is a function of the length and challenges posed by the 501, not just any “cultural” issues.
  • When the report with a recommended strategy for dealing with the 501 comes forward in October, I hope that it will have more substance and a positive outlook about what can be done.
  • Commissioner Bussin (who attended the Forum) replied that she felt the “culture” reference was only to short-term problems with introduction of change and asked how I took the impression I did.  I replied that the sense was not just mine, but that of others I had talked to and responses to the original post here.
  • TTC staff argued that they only intended the “cultural” reference as a short-term problem to be overcome, that years of line management style can’t be changed overnight.  They haven’t given up on the system.  Also, the problem with a lack of updated info appears to be a staff resource issue (for which read they’re too busy with other things), but the information will be incorporated in the monthly Chief General Manager’s Report.

I have managed to cheese off a number of folks at the TTC and City Hall, but feel it’s not my job to be a cheerleader.  I report what I hear and what I see.  Possibly my comments influence how others see the same events, but such is the problem of any media (the “it’s in the Sun so it must be true” syndrome).

Some of you have already written with your own reflections on Tuesday’s meeting, and if there are others reading this, I would be interested in your take on what was said.  This blog exists not just for my opinions, but as a forum for many others to let those interested in transit matters see a variety of positions whether I agree with them or not.

The original post follows below.

Last night I sat in Toronto’s Council Chamber for the Queen Car Forum.  Forum is hardly the word. Wake would be more appropriate.To my astonishment, the TTC trotted out the same presentation they made back at the May Commission meeting.  (It’s still not online, and you will have to take my word for what’s in it.  How people are supposed to depute on the item at tomorrow’s Commission meeting is beyond me.)

No updates.

No information about how service might have improved. We saw the same graphs of slight progress from winter to early spring, but no updates to bring us into June.

Memo to TTC: it’s almost summer and it’s time to stop talking about cars parked in the snowbanks.

From both Beachers and Long Branchers we heard tales of woe, how interminable waits for unpredictable service rendered it useless.  How any claims that they have a new protocol for managing service to headways were fixing nothing.  How six new supervisors supposedly vigilantly monitoring the service had no effect.

The TTC’s response?

It’s a cultural thing.  Changing the way people work is hard to do!  This statement, made by the Manager of Service Planning and echoed by the General Manager of Operations, is the new TTC mantra.

We can’t fix it because it’s cultural.

This is totally unacceptable.

In my professional life, I too am a civil servant, and I would be deeply ashamed to make a presentation like the one we saw last night.

Voters and riders expect their public agencies and their Councillors to do things, not to throw up their hands in defeat.  Is this Mayor Miller’s city?  A city that is powerless to change?

The low point came in an exchange with a Beacher who complained that his commute was impractical by TTC.  It’s a difficult route — drive from the Beach to Birchmount CI (Danforth & Birchmount) to drop off his son, then to Dundas and University.  The first leg is a hopeless trip by transit due to geography and the historical orientation of routes to downtown, major subway stations and peak direction travel, and that’s why the son gets a ride, not a TTC ticket. 

The response should have been that transit does some jobs well and some poorly, and isolated areas like the beach don’t have good anywhere-to-anywhere service.  Instead, the response was to berate the speaker and argue that the TTC can’t cater to individual trips.  True, maybe, but the way it was said left a lot to be desired.  Is this the TTC’s new face, or are we finally seeing their oft-described uncaring customer relations surfacing in a public meeting?

Commissioners Giambrone and Bussin added nothing to the discussion and it was impossible to discern whether they agreed or were in shock.

I had a bunch of questions ready to go, but it was clear they were not going to be answered:

  • What updates do we have on the effectiveness of new supervisory strategies up to mid-June?  Why is there no data for May or the first two weeks of June?
  • What metrics has the TTC constructed (above the ones they already admit are of dubious value) to track improvements?
  • Why are they still “educating” supervisors?
  • How do they reconcile the claim for six new supervisors (who supposedly started in April) with six monitoring locations (sprinkled from Neville to Long Branch) over a 14-hour period?
  • What do these supervisors actually do?  Are they keeping records of the service adjustments they make or the problems they observe?

Meanwhile, in a presentation by Gary Welsh, General Manager of Transportation Services, we heard that streetcar operators can activate transit signal priority.  This is not true.  Streetcar priority, such as it is, depends entirely on loop detectors in the pavement.  It’s a passive system in the sense that operators cannot change the preprogrammed way it operates, assuming that it is working at all.  It’s a sad comment when the person in charge doesn’t know how his own system works.

The TTC hopes for improved priority on Queen and other routes and some of their proposals are quite reasonable.  Counter-peak parking restrictions.  Extending the peak periods into the shoulder hours.  Turn restrictions to reduce left turn delays.

I was mightily amused by comments from Gary Welwh about the City’s colleagues at the TTC considering what I have heard regarding inter-agency turf wars.  Transportation Services may be getting the message that transit matters, but it’s an uphill battle to progress from policy to action.

Welsh claimed that streetcars have transit priority at all but 4 locations on Queen.  Maybe he should talk to his “colleagues” whose shopping list is rather longer and includes locations not on Welch’s list.

Gary Welsh actually suggested that removing parking may be a bad idea because it reduces congestion and encourages more traffic.  I am not making this up. 

To be fair to the staff, there are reports coming to Toronto Community Council later this year with various recommendations for pro-transit traffic restrictions.  We will see just how dedicated Councillors are to transit priority when these ideas land on their desks.

Another area for Council’s attention will be various street closures both for construction and for special events.  Although Much Music paid the TTC $22,500 for the diversions around the music awards site last weekend, reports from riders indicate that service on the outer ends of the 501 was quite sparse.  People who wait 45 minutes for a streetcar don’t care that somebody paid the TTC for the right to close Queen Street, they care that they can’t go anywhere.  If we closed expressways with the same cavalier attitude, there would be riots.

On the TTC side, there are always going to be special events downtown, and the TTC needs to design operational plans for them.  Split the line if need be.  Run some cars dedicated to each end of the route.  Don’t just send out the service and hope it can vaguely stay on time, helped along by numerous short turns.  This is a classic example of a situation where managing headways rather than schedules would work wonders.

In questions from the floor, the Queen Subway made a brief appearance, and Adam Giambrone to his credit replied that we have to get away from expensive, long term projects and concentrate on what we can do with existing conditions.  Queen isn’t the only street with problems, and we need techniques that can be used on the whole system.

One speaker from Etobicoke noted that the Long Branch service performs a vital local purpose on Lake Shore, but alas the TTC treats it as the tail end of the Queen car and only sends occasional cars beyond Humber.

Others suggested replacing the streetcars with buses.  This is the classic situation the TTC’s “culture” has brought us to.  Since the Long Branch and Queen routes were amalgamated and the line scheduled to run on ALRV headways (whether the cars were actually ALRVs or not), the TTC has managed to drive away 1/3 of the ridership through poor service.   Express buses from the extremeties to downtown won’t solve all of the problems because, among other things, everybody doesn’t want to go downtown.  What people need is reliable service, and that’s something TTC culture is chronically unable to provide.

Several people spoke of unreliable service with huge gaps.  They were not talking about last December when Toronto lay under mounds of snow, they were talking about recent trips.  There may be more supervision, but nothing is happening.

In response to a question about moving traffic enforcement to a separate agency or to the TTC, Adam Giambrone replied that Council cannot force the Police Services Board to do anything as they are governed by long-standing Provincial laws.  However, discussions are underway, and the Mayor has requested that enforcement issues come to the Board.

Sandra Bussin noted that other Councillors do not necessarily support Queen Street restrictions.  She thinks that total transit dedication is unlikely, but smaller changes such as signal timings are possible.  With respect to police, they are also requested for other demands such as traffic monitoring near schools, and the City rarely gets police attention on any one street for very long.  A big problem is “cultural” — the police didn’t believe in the Queen’s Quay experiment and, by implication, can’t be counted on to make it work if it becomes permanent.

Hamish Wilson raised the Front Street transit corridor in an almost demure manner, and we can forgive him for being just a little smug after his long battle against a would-be Gardiner off-ramp.  I will turn again to this corridor and to the Waterfront West project in another post, but right now the issue is Queen Street.

After the meeting wrapped up, those present would have seen me in an animated state, but it certainly wasn’t for joy.  Yes, we are finally talking about transit priority with senior TTC and City staff and members of Council.  However, we’re still getting the same tired excuses about “traffic congestion” as the root of all evil despite overwhelming evidence (from my own studies of route operations) that there are serious problems with service management.  Now that we have added the sense that ingrained “TTC culture” prevents any change, I wonder why we bother.

This is precisely the attitude that has people talking about privatization and union busting even though I suspect a private “culture” would bring a raft of its own problems.

Here we are on the verge of a transit renaissance in the GTA, and the best the TTC can come up with is “we can’t do anything about it”.  Is there no inspiration?  Is there no leadership?  Does anyone care about running a truly great transit system?

50 thoughts on ““TTC Culture” : 1 Queen Car : 0 (Updated June 25)

  1. In case anybody thinks that this is just a 501 problem, yesterday at 1:30pm, at Jones and Gerrard, there were two 506 cars about a minute apart westbound. Headways at that time are supposed to be in the 10 minute range. Clearly there is much work to do with the streetcars, but the fiasco that was the recent meeting tells me the TTC is not at all serious about doing it.


  2. I am moving soon to Mimico and will be living right on the lakeshore. It also looks like I’ll be working downtown… I can’t wait to ride the 501 into work every day.

    My only hope is that the service in the late evening will be better run then it is during the mid-day.


  3. I had a recent visit to St. Clair, where an employee told me that the drivers themselves keep the (truncated) line well spaced, and allow for breaks, etc.

    Not much supervision was required, I understand, once the drivers from a particular board period coordinate with each other.

    Of course, the 512 rail service is currently short, and all in ROW.

    PS– Except for the short bit along St. Clair before trams enter the ROW at Yonge. I’ve asked the TTC/City whether they have been watching what happens when private autos do not follow lane markings (such as they are) and block the open tracks.


  4. Even in other cities there are complaints about bunching or long delays. However, their problem is with buses, not streetcars. http://www.ctatattler.com/2008/06/a-cta-drivers-v.html

    We have bunching problems on other routes, not just streetcars. I’ve arrived at the Jane station for a northbound Jane bus at 6PM one night, and it took 45 minutes before a Jane bus arrived. When the bus did arrive, it waited for 5 minutes as the driver took a washroom break, before boarding. Jane requires a paper transfer, so the bus couldn’t just be boarded as the driver took his break.

    (I always wondered why the buses idled instead of turning the engine off, while they waited get.)

    So the problem is not just streetcars, but with all long routes that encounter heavy traffic and large crowds.


  5. Hi Steve,

    I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for over a year now but this is the first time posting. I had to endure the Queen car for two years, often walking to work and beating the Queen car. So the apathy you experienced doesn’t surprise me. I have all but given up on the TTC. I zipcar, rent a car, cab, and bike to get myself around (I am going to buy an ebike eventually). This combination has worked so well that I find myself taking the TTC as little as once every two weeks. I’m someone who has lived in Europe for a while and took transit extensively, and it was a joy, not so much here.

    Over the years I have heard nothing but excuses from the TTC as to why service hasn’t been improved and excuses and lies from his worship Miller in addition to placating us on what a wonderful system the TTC is.
    I hate to sound fatalistic, but I see no light at the end of the tunnel. I believe they should take all the funding that have allocated for the York extension and transit city and just provide everyone a free scooter, at least people would get where they are going in a timely manner!

    If it wasn’t for people like you and your tireless effort god knows how much worse we would be. I find Toronto is unique in its love/hate for the TTC. I would guess that people generally believe it can be better and if they advocate enough it will be.

    Thank you for showing intelligence in the face of overwhelming stupidity.


  6. Today (July 31), I decided to be a home-town tourist and take the 501 streetcar to Long Branch and walk back to Humber in order to see close-up a district I don’t normally visit.

    I thought my casual observations on 501 service would be of interest given that the TTC is trying to improve 501 service.

    Taking the 501 westbound from Parkdale to Long Branch was fairly uneventful (with “uneventful” being a positive attribute). The third, westbound streetcar to pass in Parkdale went to Long Branch. West of Humber, I noticed that a number of people boarded the car thus supporting Steve’s statement about local demand on Lakeshore. The only difficulty for passengers is that, the driver unloaded the ALRV on a grassy slope at the Long Branch siding.

    Steve: This echoes another reader’s comment that operators don’t want to take their layovers at the platform where pesky passengers might want to board the car. The operation described here is unacceptable, but I doubt the TTC will do anything about it except maybe pave the area near the siding and make people walk around the car.

    When leaving Long Branch eastwards (on foot) at about noon, I notice 4 ALRVs arriving within a few minutes of each other in addition to a 5th ALRV already in the loop. For the next several minutes, westbound service from Long Branch was very frequent. After that, service (both directions) seemed much less frequently spaced.

    Steve: I assume you mean “eastbound” as there has not been service westbound from this point since the 1940s.

    At Kipling, a caravan of 2 westbound ALRV’s headed into the Kipling loop, the second car staying there for an extended period.

    By the time I passed the Polish consulate, it seemed that 501 service was very infrequent in both directions. Then I saw 2 caravans of 2 streetcars each pass each other in opposite directions.

    By 3 PM, westbound service seemed more frequent and spaced-out although I saw 1 westbound 2-car caravan just west of Humber. Eastbound service seemed thin.

    When I arrived at the Humber loop (still on foot), there ware about a dozen people waiting for an eastbound 501 car. They and I would be waiting an additional 20 minutes. Westbound cars signed for Long Branch were arriving at a reasonable frequency. There was even a westbound Training Car! (Couldn’t the driver be trained in doing a short-turn at Humber and pick up a few passengers? OK, I jest.)

    Finally a caravan of 3 eastbound ALRVs emerged from the tunnel at Humber at about 3:35 PM! The first car picked up most waiting passengers. I decided to wait for the second as it seemed to have more seats available. However, the driver of the second car ran off to the station building – perhaps for a call of nature – leaving the 3rd car waiting half emerged from the tunnel. Looking on the bright side, that call of nature(?) helped to space out service without any supervisory intervention!

    After we left Humber, the trip on that 2nd car was uneventful until Roncesvalles where the driver had a 5 minute smoke break! To be fair to the driver, there was a supervisor(?) or inspector(?) (a guy with a red ribbon in his TTC cap) standing in front of the car chatting with that driver.

    After the smoke break, the rest of my trip to University Avenue was uneventful.

    During my outing, I noticed only light traffic on Lakeshore Blvd in Etobicoke. There did not seem to be any traffic problems in my 2 trips between Roncesvalles and University.

    Steve: What you describe could not possibly have happened as the TTC is now carefully spacing service with all the extra staff they hired to manage the route.


  7. I had the “pleasure” of taking the 501 on Saturday when I was shopping downtown with my friend on Saturday… we wanted to take the street car from Queen West to just past Woodbine on Queen… well lucky us… there’s a street car that makes that exact trip… well except we got dropped off just before I believe Greenwood Ave.


    I’ve read on here about short turns… and it sounds obnoxious… but I never experienced it myself before… why does this happen… is it the driver’s way of taking an early break… is the driver told to do it to somehow even out the service if cars are getting too close together… either way… as a passenger… when you get on a bus or street car with the final destination written on the front on the vehicle… pretty much unless there is a breakdown or mechanical issue… you expect to be taken as far as you wish up until that end point… short turns are 100% unacceptable for riders.


  8. To add to Richard’s Report about his July 31st trip. The TTC has since added a paved area at the east end of Long Branch Loop in order for 501 drivers to “kick” their passengers off instead of taking them around to the platform. Here’s a picture of the new paved area: http://tinyurl.com/65l8ms

    However, here is the TTC sign, located at the west end of the platform, indicating that this is where the streetcar is supposed to drop-off its passengers:


    Why the TTC does/allows this is beyond me!!!!


  9. I have moved out of the Beach, and am not taking the streetcar as much as a result. For 7 years I tried to communicate with the TTC about the 501 route, the last two I put together a petition about it, did some research and was involved a bit. Steve, is involved all the time!

    Two years after, writing the petition, the Beach is a shadow of it’s former self, stores empty like never before. Why? It ‘snot just about real estate costs, only part of the story that the Beaches BIA refuses to acknowledge. Businesses cannot get staff unless they live right in the area, or can take the 64 bus into the area, because of the inconsistent reliability of the 501, and locals drive have learned that it’s best to drive elsewhere to buy goods and services since they cannot rely on the 501. So the local stores and restaurants go under or close up for the winter.

    The TTC still has not bought new streetcars to replace those falling apart, that should have been replaced 10 years ago. The drivers still have the same beefs, about turn restrictions and policing on Queen Street, but the service is slightly improved due to some minor modifications.

    The totally insane justification of short turning over actually improving the planning on the route for over 5 years has created a situation where no-one wants to trust the 501 for fear of being stranded, so those who can drive instead, and ridership on the 501 has dropped dramatically.

    The utter audacity of short turning to improve service to downtown while cutting off the East and West ends of Queen, for up to 45 minutes at a time on a route posted to run every 8 minutes, while all along the route pay the same for service is simply shocking.

    It seems to me that the TTC is more interested in maintaining its poor state of affairs than in serving its client base.

    If the bureocracy remains heavy and un-communicative with drivers and the general population of their ridership, and fails to address their concerns as is the case with the 501, their main job is to justify their well paid jobs.

    It’s public transit what do you want is the verbatim answer I have received to problems on the TTC from customer service. Such rudeness to callers expressing frustration and concern is never going to endear the TTC to anyone, it certainly discourages people from calling in!

    Will the TTC ever commit to customer service, and a half decent internal morale, much less fix the mess of an underdeveloped and aging system that they have no intention of fixing, and government has not intention of supporting so that it properly serves the city?

    The service does not improve by design. No problems to fix, no need for a heavy beurocracy! Is anything ever going to change at the TTC?

    Steve: I have severe doubts. The TTC has spent far more time screwing around with managing a badly designed, far-too-long route, than with addressing the basic problems of service quality. That being said, the stats for the Beach look a tiny bit better for this past winter (I have not posted that part of the analysis yet, but will soon), but this is at the expense of service west of Humber.


  10. I do not think that is is an effective solution to the route management to improve service to one end of the city at the expense of the other!

    An effective solution would take into consideration all of the members of the communities along the entire route, or switch the route so that it properly serves all the communities involved, as many of us, including Steve and I have suggested.

    After all, everyone along this route, east end, central and west end alike pays the same for TTC service, should one end of the city get poorer service than another? Absolutely not! Unless the TTC would like to offer rebates to persons living in less well served areas! I dream, I know!

    But TTC staffers told me to make any thing on this route improve would be a miracle, so we have already had a minor miracle!

    I agree that the TTC is studying and tinkering instead of doing something that would make a substantial difference for all who live and work along the route.

    It will take both an genuine and committed interest and written communication from streetcar riders, and communication with drivers on the route, and a miracle to carry this through to the next stage of improvement.

    Problem is there is no effective communication mechanism for drivers to communicate with those that make decisions as to their routes. A lot of the problems could be mitigated if driers were listened to, and felt TTC would actually listen to/ act on/ care about their concerns. Frankly, the ridership feels the same way. It might be a culture thing, but it is definitely not one which is positive in any way shape or form. In a corporation, we’d be calling it exceptionally low corporate morale and poor customer service!

    Steve, thanks for your continued support of the ridership on this route!

    Renee Knight


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