A few months ago, I received the TTC’s vehicle monitoring data (a.k.a. “CIS” data for “Communications & Information System”) for 501 Queen and related routes for the months of December 2008 and January 2009. I have been whittling away at it for the past few months as time permitted, and now it’s in shape to begin publishing commentaries.
Of particular interest are the effects, such as they may be, of the new line management strategies implemented by the TTC. Operations in the two months differ because of a change in the schedule.
- December 2008: Drop back crewing was used at Connaught so that operators would leave westbound on their time while relief operators drove the vehicles to and from Neville. The intent is to allow the operators to get on time without affecting the through service.
- January 2009: A new schedule was implemented in which run numbers remained assigned either to the Humber or the Long Branch service. The intent is to avoid short turns whose entire purpose is to sort out the relative order and location of each branch’s runs to make sure that they are in the proper sequence westbound.
For reasons best known to the TTC, relief crews were available during Christmas Week, but there was no extra line management. Therefore, that week is in a way an example of a “do nothing” approach, although under less than the most strenuous circumstances.
Anyone who was in Toronto this past winter knows it was much worse than the previous few years and we had a particularly bad December. This shows up in the service quality, but generally for the period needed to get the roads back in proper shape.
Because I now have data for December 2006, December 2007, January 2008, December 2008 and January 2009, we can review operations over three winters, a variety of weather conditions and different management strategies.
How The Data Were Analyzed
This is a very brief synopsis of a process that has evolved since early 2007 when I first started working on this type of data.
- Raw CIS data gives the location of each vehicle as estimated by the monitoring system. In the original CIS system, this location was calculated by the offset from electronic signposts of each car, and translated to an intersection name. For cars with GPS actively connected to the CIS unit, this location is calculated from the GPS position.
- None of the data up to January 2008 has GPS, and the implementation of GPS was in progress through December 2008 and January 2009. Therefore some of the problems of locating cars (discussed in previous posts) remain even in the recent data. I have made considerable effort to filter out these errors, but it’s hard to devise an algorithm that catches only bad data.
- From the location data, I plot the movement of cars through the city. This is used to produce the service charts full of diagonal lines crisscrossing the page (you will see these for the current data in a future post) in a format invented by E.J. Marey in 1885. This is not exactly a new technique.
- The location data also allows the reconstruction of an “as operated” schedule including the times cars pass various points of interest.
- When the “as operated” schedule is read “down” for one point, it gives the actual times of cars at that point and, thus, the actual headways. When the schedule is read “across”, the difference between adjacent columns gives the link time from point to point. Link times over longer distances can be calculated simply by choosing appropriate columns.
- If only the rows representing trips that crossed a standard point (say Yonge Street) and arrived at a specified location (say Long Branch) are considered, then we get the as operated headway outbound from downtown to the location of interest. Note that this will not pick up vehicles that are short turned into the outbound stream further along the route, but examination of other data shows that this is rare. Actual headways at the terminals are, of course, available in the headway charts (also coming in a future post).
The charts presented here show the data for service outbound from Yonge Street to Neville, Humber and Long Branch for each of the five months for which I have data. Each set contains six pages with averages and maxima, hour by hour, for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Note that the times shown are at Yonge and therefore the hour starting at “17:00” does not actually reach Long Branch until roughly an hour later.
In some cases, the value shown is zero. This means that there was no datum from which a value could be calculated and, by implication, no service (at least originating at Yonge) during that period. Some of these are really gaps at the outer ends of the line (especially on snowstorm days), and some are caused by major disruptions that caused diversions and/or split operations. However, the overall pattern is clear and that’s what is of interest in comparing five months’ data.
(For the statisticians among you, no, I have not calculated standard deviations. The primary reason for this is that “n” is quite small in many cases, and I think that the behaviour of the data (and the service) is sufficiently visible in the averages and maxima. Possibly this could have more validity over longer intervals than one hour, although this might filter out some of the spikiness in the values. I may play around with the data as a future exercise.)
To Long Branch
In order to compare these charts, it may be useful for you to open all five for one location simultaneously and toggle back and forth to see the differences.
The scheduled service from Neville to Humber lies roughly in the following ranges for all dates of interest:
- AM Peak: 4.5 – 5 minutes
- Midday: 5.5 – 6 minutes
- PM Peak: 5.5 – 6 minutes
- Early Evening: 6.5 – 7.5 minutes
- Late Evening: 10 minutes
- SaturdayAfternoon: 4 – 5 minutes
- SaturdayEarly Evening: 6.5 minutes
- Saturday Late Evening: 9 minutes
- Sunday Afternoon: 5.5 – 7 minutes
- Sunday Early Evening: 9 – 10 minutes
- Sunday Late Evening: 9.5 to 11.5 minutes
Service to Long Branch is twice the headways shown above.
Note that the weekday schedules were changed with additional running time and wider headways in January 2009. Saturday afternoon and Sunday services were improved concurrently to deal with overcrowding.
Service to Neville
For December 2006, the average service to Neville sits slightly above the scheduled value, but the real problem shows up in the maxima that lie in a cloud ranging between the 10 and 20 minutes. Although many cars may reach Neville, they do not leave Yonge Street particularly well-spaced.
The averages in December 2007 are a bit worse than in 2006, and December 2008 is a real mess thanks to the weather. The averages in January 2009 are a bit better overall than in 2008, and this likely reflects the impact of the changed line management for the east end of the route.
The maxima tell quite another story. December 2007 is probably the worst of the lot, although 2008 isn’t much better. Similarly, January 2008 is noticeably worse than 2009. However, the consistent pattern even for the best case, January 2009, is that the maximum headways within any hour are rarely below 10 minutes and values regularly range to 20 minutes and beyond. This is independent of the time of day, and shows that residents of the Beach will routinely encounter wide gaps in service regardless of when they travel.
Weekend headway averages are fairly reliable, although they regularly sit above the scheduled service levels. Some storm disruptions, such as December 20 & 21, 2008, are clearly visible. The maxima again show that gaps can be expected at all times of the day. Given that the average headway is not double the scheduled value, these gaps are more likely to be due to bunching than to short turns. Remember also that these data report the headways at Yonge Street and so bunching, if any, has already happened on the trips inbound from Humber. I will turn to this problem in future posts.
Service to Humber
Weekday average headways behave similarly to those in the Beach, and January data tends to show less disruption than in December when shopping traffic and weather have generally had a greater effect.
The maxima for most months again show us that although the averages may look reasonable, the actual service contains large gaps at all hours. January 2009 is the best of the lot, possibly due to the schedule and management changes, but the maxima rarely dip below 10 minutes and values lie in the band from 10 to 20. As I mentioned above, this is the headway as seen outbound at Yonge. This indicates some combination of the following effects:
- Cars are not arriving westbound at Yonge properly spaced. This is a troubling situation considering the amount of supervision available at Russell Carhouse to dispatch cars inbound.
- A “regular” service may arrive at Yonge, but enough of it is short-turned to create gaps in the Humber service.
Weekend service shows the same sort of pattern we saw at Neville.
Service to Long Branch
Average headways to Long Branch show a different pattern from those elsewhere on the route in having more high peaks and more cases where there is no data for an hour or more. This is a direct result of the combination of wider scheduled headways and short turns. The averages are also much more disrupted compared to the schedule than at the east end of the line, and this suggests that less attention is paid to ensuring that service reaches the western reaches of the streetcar system.
Maximum headways are equally alarming with values well over half an hour common especially in the December data.
Saturday headways are better behaved, but I am particularly troubled to see average values in January 2009 that are routinely well above the scheduled level. Much of the service that is supposed to go to Long Branch is not getting there.
Maxima over half an hour are not uncommon, and again January 2009 is troubling given that this is supposed to be the month with improved schedules and better management.
Sunday average headways are better for January 2009 showing, possibly, the effect of improved schedule headways and possibly less crowing delays. All the same, maximum headways are still high showing bunching even with the improved service.
The TTC continues to resist splitting the west end of 501 Queen off as a separate route, but it is clear that service, if one can even use the word, is much worse than advertised west of Humber Loop, and the TTC has done an excellent job of destroying the credibility of streetcar service in southern Etobicoke. That they contemplate a “rapid transit” corridor to the same community is rather sad.
In future posts I will examine individual days over the December-January 2008-09 period as well as headway and link time regularity along the route and over the months.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but from my observation, it seems that there are individual drivers who have very little common sense when it comes to transit spacing. I haven’t observed the 501 much, but certainly on other transit routes, drivers will leave almost straight away after another streetcar/bus has just left. Are individual drivers to blame for this or just bad management?
Steve: Drivers for spacing, management for failing to fix it.
Thanks Steve! I’m sure compiling and analyzing all the information was not an easy task.
I do not think your results will come as a surprise to any frequent 501 rider. I very much hope the TTC is made aware of your findings if they are not already well-versed in these statistics.
I wonder if such information is made available to the public and/or media more immediate action would result on behalf of the TTC. Although we know the media loves / needs to embellish any story; So to help them out, I wonder how far off base such a statement would be: “The 501 streetcar route is the worst managed line in terms of headway disparity on the entire planet” Too much?
Steve: I am sure we could find a worse one somewhere, but the TTC really needs to do a better job of understanding how its lines actually operate. They have the same data I use (I got it from the TTC after all) for decades, but only recently started to analyze it.
Steve, I don’t see the compelling evidence that splitting the 501 will do anything to help service on Lake Shore.
Your analysis includes:
“Cars are not arriving westbound at Yonge properly spaced. This is a troubling situation considering the amount of supervision available at Russell Carhouse to dispatch cars inbound.” — So, the efforts and some new thinking about line management aren’t working yet.
“Average headways to Long Branch show a different pattern from those elsewhere on the route in having more high peaks and more cases where there is no data for an hour or more. This is a direct result of the combination of wider scheduled headways and short turns. The averages are also much more disrupted compared to the schedule than at the east end of the line, and this suggests that less attention is paid to ensuring that service reaches the western reaches of the streetcar system.” — Out of sight, out of mind.
Splitting the 501 will assure (for some value of “assure”) some number N(t) streetcars west of the Humber. This would ameliorate the problem where streetcars are short-turned and never make it west of Humber.
However, a separate Long Branch route does not guarantee that the “out of sight, out of mind” problem will be solved. It *may* be solved; but it also may be even *worse* because problems in the Branch won’t affect service through downtown; and as you have written, sometimes it seems the only thing line management seems to care about is service across Yonge.
Given that the TTC’s (sincere) efforts at changing line management don’t seem to be taking fully as yet, the results of a separated Lake Shore section may look like the pseudo-507 service in summer 2007. While there were indeed N(t) streetcars on the pseudo-507, they could often be seen clustered around the loop at Humber, or sitting outside the Tim Horton’s at 27th St. with their four-ways going. I didn’t see any value in the pseudo-507 service, and I think most or all other local observations were along the same track.
“The TTC continues to resist splitting the west end of 501 Queen off as a separate route ….. That they contemplate a “rapid transit” corridor to the same community is rather sad.”
Well, maybe the WWLRT will do more about the “out of sight, out of mind” problem than a separate Long Branch route. Of course this isn’t a guaranteed result, but the Transit City network is supposed to be at a higher standard of service, and WWLRT should conform.
Therefore I don’t find the WWLRT proposal to be “rather sad”.
Steve: For those who don’t know the history of my proposals for a split route, I do NOT propose a return to a Humber/Long Branch service in the manner of the old 507. The problem with this is that it leaves passengers vulnerable to the quality of service reaching Humber. I have proposed that the Long Branch car operate into downtown via King weekdays and to Dundas West Station at other times. This is roughly equivalent to the arrangement on Kingston Road and Coxwell. The purpose is to provide some overlap with the 501 service, to supplement the 504 on Roncesvalles during evenings and weekends, and to provide added service on the west end of King during weekdays.
The WWLRT is “rather sad” in the sense that TTC proposes to spend $$$ to provide a pseudo rapid transit service to an area that now has appallingly unreliable streetcar service. This would be more credible if there were already frequent, well-used service on Lake Shore.
Maybe I’m mistaken but was there not a directive that stated that no Long Branch-bound streetcars would be short-turned, or was that just one of your suggestions last year?
But if this was in fact a policy enacted and they STILL ended up with performance like this, it almost appears hopeless for any kind of consistent service west of the Humber Loop.
Steve: No there was no such directive that I know of, nor was this one of my suggestions. I have always maintained that the situation is hopeless as long as the service west of Humber is part of a route starting at Victoria Park. The line needs to be split, but the TTC refuses to undertake such a change, partly because this would require more vehicles due to overlaps in the split routes.
Geez, keep a CLRV ready at Roncy (or clean out the second loop at Humber) and send it west to fill gaps. CIS MUST know when a gap is coming in the west end (unless they’re even more incompetent than currently revealed to be). A few spare drivers sit around all day anyway, give them something to do other than play video games or cribbage.
Steve: The last time they threw some extras on the “507”, they tended to run unmanaged and shadowed the 501s that did make it past Humber.
Steve replies to my comment:
“For those who don’t know the history of my proposals for a split route, I do NOT propose a return to a Humber/Long Branch service in the manner of the old 507. …. I have proposed that the Long Branch car operate into downtown via King weekdays and to Dundas West Station at other times. This is roughly equivalent to the arrangement on Kingston Road and Coxwell.”
Whether the split is at Humber Loop or elsewhere, the problem of poor service management and out-of-sight, out-of-mind remains.
There have been analyses on this blog about the horrible service on the Kingston Rd. and Kingston Rd. tripper routes (502 and 503). These are roughly comparable to what would essentially be a daytime Lake Shore 508 service. Kingston Rd.-style service won’t do anything to help Lake Shore. The Kingston Rd. run is also shorter, being about 18km round-trip while the existing Lake Shore is 17km one-way. (If I’m reading the service summary correctly–gotta be, as it’s ~16km from Long Branch to Queen and Spadina.) That’s twice the route length.
I think the Coxwell-Bingham analogy fails, because it’s a much shorter route (11km round-trip) where the Long Branch-Dundas West run is about twice that, somewhere around 20km round-trip. Also, 22A has shorter headways, particularly weekday evenings.
As for John Bromley’s suggestion, “Geez, keep a CLRV ready at Roncy (or clean out the second loop at Humber) and send it west to fill gaps.” What happens to all the poor folk who are waiting at Roncesvalles and Queen, after transferring or being kicked off a 501 RONCESVALLES car? There are times when I suspect I’ve been the victim of this procedure, but it’s very hard to be sure. Surely a gap car should pick up all the stranded passengers at the start of its run?
(Maybe not….judging by the occasional shuttle bus fiasco, where they run in the wrong direction and disappear madly over the horizon in all directions, never to return.)
Steve: No route structure will overcome the appalling lack of proper management, but it will eliminate one of the standard excuses, namely that good service cannot be provided to Long Branch because the route is so screwed up from downtown congestion. As you will see in a post now in preparation, the route from Ronces west to Long Branch could run quite well on its own, with little “congestion”, if only the TTC wouldn’t be so pig-headed about splitting it off as a separate route.