The Long Sad Tale of the Queen Car

One of the joys of year-end housecleaning is that I run across old files — letters and reports from bygone days that show how much, or how little has changed over the years.

Back in 1984, the Streetcars for Toronto Committee conducted a detailed survey of streetcar route operations with particular attention to short turns. We presented our manually collected findings in a manner that will be familiar to readers of this post from the detailed reviews of lines’ operation as graphic timetables.

That study prompted the TTC to commission the Joint Program in Transportation at the UofT to make a detailed, formal study of the Queen car. In due course, that study reported and the findings came to the Commission.

In time, I may dig out and publish all of that material, but one letter says far more than the studies. In April 1985, Alderman Dorothy Thomas (the title had not yet become “Councillor”) who represented the Beach wrote to Julian Porter, then Chair of the TTC, about the study. Her letter shows much of the same frustration with the TTC’s attitude to service quality and management as we have seen over the past quarter-century.  (Note that I have scanned in only the text from the letter and have dropped the graphics such the Council letterhead.)

At the time, the Queen route still operated with four-axle cars (PCCs and CLRVs), and had not yet experienced the wonders of wider headways with six-axle ALRVs nor the service cuts of the mid-90s.

Recently, the TTC attempted a trial operation with a split route using turnbacks at Shaw and at Parliament. I have requested but still have not yet received the vehicle monitoring data for the months of October and November 2009 that would allow a detailed review of that operation nor of the “standard” arrangements in place for part of each month and on weekends.

What we do know is this:

  • Staff hated the scheme, and some actively sabotaged it.
  • Although notices were sent at least twice advising that operators should carry riders west to Dufferin and east to Parliament, this was almost completely disregarded by staff, some of whom were quite aggressive in telling people they could not ride beyond the turnback point.
  • There was no attempt visible any time I checked to manage the merging of the two services, and it was common to see pairs of cars crossing downtown together.

A report on the split operation is expected early in 2010, but based on what I saw and heard, it will confirm what some TTC management probably wanted to demonstrate all along, that the community and the advocates should keep their fingers out of operational planning.

Among the comments in Alderman Thomas’ letter we see both how the TTC’s characterization of problems does not fit with empirical data, and that some problems arose simply from the way the line is managed.

Back in 1984/5, it was sad to see how much the TTC attempted to deny the problems they had with service reliability, and the degree to which they simply did not collect real data in the field.  Twenty-five years later, the TTC is doing some internal analysis of data from the vehicle monitoring system (CIS), but I have still not seen anything as sophisticated as the articles published here.

I’m an “amateur”, albeit one with a very strong IT background and a talent for making sense out of the large amounts of CIS data.  The TTC has never invited me to discuss my work, nor to make suggestions either for improvements or corrections to the methodology.

We’re all still waiting for “Next Bus” to be rolled out with online route displays of anything more than the Spadina and Harbourfront lines even though the contract for this system was awarded over three years ago.

When many routes appeared, briefly, in a beta version of the system, but with less than stellar accuracy in displays, we were told that the problem lay with the completion of the GPS rollout.  Either that rollout is going much more slowly than planned, or there are still problems handling additional routes.  We’ve seen publicity shots of central dispatchers looking at the Queen car on a real map, not a bare-bones text display from the dawn of CIS.  Why are these displays not available to the public?

Promises of new, accurate information channels for TTC riders come frequently, but I can’t help feeling a lot of them short-turn well before they reach their destinations.

History of the Dundas West GO Connection

From time to time in the Georgetown South Corridor debate, the issue of a direct connection between Dundas West subway station and the GO platforms at Bloor station surfaces.  Oddly enough, although a connection at this point for the Airport link would be quite useful, the usual “design” mooted is for a walking transfer via Bloor Street.  This is bad enough for TTC-to-GO connections, but for Airport passengers with luggage, it’s a joke.

Since the late 1980’s, the TTC and GO have contemplated a direct link at this location, and provision for this was included in the property deal between the City of Toronto, the TTC and what became in time the Crossways Development.  Nothing ever came of this in part because service on the Weston corridor was peak-only, and the cost was considered excessive for the potential use it would see.  This situation is no longer true because there will be all-day service at least to Georgetown plus the Airport link, however it is implemented.

A preliminary design for the connection was done by TTC in April 1987.  This design would require some revision today both to provide full accessibility (elevators) and to fit with the planned new platform arrangements at Bloor station on the rail corridor.  In the interests of informed discussion, I have scanned the 1990 report on the history of this connection as well as the 1987 plan.

The report has been reformatted slightly, but the text is unchanged.  The drawing has been split apart from four separate images on one large page for ease of viewing online.

TTC GO Connection Report
Key Plan of Stations
Subway Platform East End
Control Area of Connection
Section View of New Connection

Service Changes for January 2010

A few changes will occur on Sunday, January 3, 2010.

Notable among these is the 192 Airport Rocket which has been formally rescheduled and rerouted in response to concerns about the safety of its operation.  The changes were implemented on November 2, 2009. 

The northbound route is via Dundas, Hwy 427, Hwy 27 and Dixon Road to the airport.  Southbound trips remain via Hwy 427 and Dundas to Kipling Station.

The loading standard at all times is 38, a seated load.

2010.01.03 Service Changes

At Scarborough Town Centre, the 169 Huntingwood bus will move to the diagonally opposite corner of the platform from its current location to make more room for the 190 Scarborough Centre Rocket.  This takes effect on Tuesday, January 19.

2010.01.19 STC Bus Bays

Transit City December 2009 Update (Part 3) (Revised)

Revised December 29 at 12:15 am:  The section on the Finch LRT has been moved to the end and expanded to clarify an alternate proposal for the underground connection between the Yonge subway and the LRT station.

In the two previous articles in this series on the Eglinton and other LRT lines, I mentioned that the TTC would receive an update at its December 16 meeting on the status of the projects.  Seasonal festivities and other matters have diverted my attention, and I’ve been remiss in not reporting on the news, such as it is.

The discussion was intriguing as much for its political as its technical content.  Two factors, related to some extent, will force decisions that, to date, have been avoided about priorities and about the mechanism of project delivery.

  • With the award of the 2015 Pan Am Games to the GTA, there is a desire to have everything up and ready to go with time to spare before the event itself.  This affects both the SRT and the proposed Scarborough-Malvern LRT.
  • Although Queen’s Park, through Infrastructure Ontario, is enamoured of “alternative procurement” (code for private sector development of public infrastructure), actually launching a project on such a basis is now acknowledged to add about one year to the delivery time.  This affects both the SRT and the Finch West LRT which were to be delivered in this manner.

Under the original project schedule, the SRT would still be under reconstruction as an LRT line when the Games took place in 2015.  If this is to be avoided, the start date for the project must be advanced to 2011 or delayed until after the games.  The latter option is dubious considering that the SRT is, technically speaking, on its last legs and keeping it running reliably into the Games period may be challenging.  TTC staff will report on these issue in January, and another round of public meetings is expected in the same timeframe.

Of course, staff will also finally have to produce a design that shows an LRT conversion, rather than an ICTS-centric scheme.  They will have to modify the connection at Sheppard both as an interim terminal (the northern section to Malvern is not yet funded), and to provide a track connection to the Sheppard LRT so that Scarborough LRT trains can use Sheppard carhouse.

The Kennedy Station redesign is also affected by the LRT conversion as the SRT will no longer be a separate entity from the Eglinton LRT lines.

When the Games were announced, there was much talk of accelerating construction of the Scarborough Malvern LRT running east from Kennedy via Eglinton, then north via Kingston Road and Morningside to UofT’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC).  What has not been examined in detail, probably because people still think of the “SRT” as an “ICTS” line, is the early construction of the northern 2km of the Malvern line from UTSC north to Sheppard.

I suspect that the running time from Kennedy to UTSC via Eglinton, or via a temporarily extended SRT via Sheppard could be comparable, and for a short-term operation would make much more sense.  The UTSC site could be served by trains on the S(L)RT from Kennedy and by trains on the Sheppard LRT from Don Mills giving good access not just for people using the BD subway to reach Kennedy.  Longer term, this option would provide service to UTSC long before the planned date for the Scarborough-Malvern line.

Metrolinx is considering this option, but the TTC and City are plumping for funding of the full Malvern LRT line.

The “alternative financing procurement” (AFP) issue arises because the contract with the private developer imposes an extra layer of complexity, preparation and management that does not for a project delivered in the “traditional” manner by the inhouse TTC project.  Any private arrangement must have a defined product along with a mechanism to ensure compliance, and design must reach a detailed enough stage that a bidder can make a concrete proposal.  This pushes back the start date for any project using alternative procurement by about a year.

In the case of the SRT, it would likely not be possible to make the target date for completion, according to preliminary comments at the TTC meeting, if the new line was to be up and running by the winter of 2014/15, well in advance of the Games.

In the case of the Finch West line, the delayed start triggers a political problem because there is so much focus on Scarborough.  Why should Downsview and Rexdale have to wait behind reordered priorities that could complete the Scarborough LRT network all in the name of serving the Games?

For all of Transit City, the TTC will deliver the projects on Metrolinx’ behalf, but we don’t yet know how the next layer down will work for the AFP projects.  However, regardless of how the new lines are built, the TTC will operate and mainten them.

Continue reading

Top of the Season

As I write this late on Christmas Eve, there is still no snow on the roads outside of my window.  Even so, my small tree is aglow with lights, and I’m looking forward to much good food and company for the following week.

Best wishes to all!

Why Is The TTC Budget Up By So Much In 2010? (Updated)

Updated December 25, 2009 at 11:40 pm:  Most of the links from this article were not working because I saved the files under different names than I used in the links.  Sorry about that.  This has been fixed.

In a previous article, I looked at the revenue side of the TTC’s budget where, despite an 11% increase in fares, the total revenue only goes up about 4%. Now I will turn to the expense side of the budget.

The material in this article is abstracted from a presentation (not available online) given by TTC staff at the December 16, 2009, Commission meeting. The overview report is available.

Total expenses will rise from $1.298-billion (probably 2009) to $1.380-billion, or $82-million, a 6.3% increase. This comes from many separate increases, some of which have net new staff attached to them. Unfortunately, the TTC gives the dollar increase for each factor, but does not break out the 2009 numbers for comparison. For example, two areas might both see $3-million increases, but we don’t know how much was spent on each of them in 2009 and so lack a frame of reference. (The reason we cannot simply look at the 2009 budget and financial reports is that the breakdown of the 2010 budget is on a different basis.)

A striking point in a number of these items is the sense that the TTC is making up for reductions in maintenance forces that have compromised the quality and even the safety of the system. Individually these are small, but from past experience, I must ask what other “cost containment” effects have yet to be reported or acknowledged.

Many of the increases this year are, no doubt, justified but the absence of any analysis or review of existing spending offers a target for budget hawks when the TTC seeks a higher subsidy at Council.

The TTC produced an outlook to 2013, but it is almost meaningless because it presumes no ridership growth (462-million rides every year for the next four years), no change in fare structure, and a rise in expenses from $1.380 to $1.629-billion (about 6% per year even with a flatlined operation). This is not credible, and discussion of future transit funding, service and fares must be based on better information than this.

Whether the Commission chose to have “frank discussions” (to use diplomatic language) in private and keep the dirty laundry out of public view, or simply were buffaloed by the material staff presented, I don’t know. Toronto, and transit generally, are ill served by the lack of full and comprehensible information.

Continue reading

Sometimes Old Technology Wins Out

The BBC reports that despite the heavy snow and service disruptions on Britain’s rail network, a brand new steam engine managed to operate and provide rides for about 100 passengers stranded by the weather.  The locomotive makes regular runs, and this happened to be the last one for the season on this tourist train.

For detailed information about this locomotive and its construction, visit the A1 Steam website.

In light of the TTC’s plans to convert the SRT to LRT, I won’t drag out plans for steam-hauled RT trains.

How To Raise Fares 11% and Make Almost Nothing At All

At the recent TTC meeting, the Operating Budget for 2010 was up for review, not that there were many questions in the public session.  All of the heavy lifting took place, no doubt, in private session and in other discussions leading up to the final version.  (The information in the linked report does not exactly match the material presented at the meeting, and that presentation is not available online.)

I will review the budget and the sources of increased costs for 2010 in a separate article, but the fare increase deserves special mention.  TTC staff have a bad habit of stating almost everything relative to something else, and this makes reference to a zero base tricky.  Money shuffles around rather like a game of Three Card Monte, and only if you’re very good, can you find the lucky card. Continue reading

The 512 Rocket

After a few days’ operation, observations about the new St. Clair streetcar right-of-way from Bathurst to Lansdowne are accumulating (see comments in the previous post in this series).

On Sunday, service was a shambles because in general the operators could not achieve the faster scheduled speeds in the new timetables.  Part of this was due to unfamiliarity, part to the operation of the traffic signals, part due to passenger behaviour and part to what I can only call “operator style”.  For anyone used to dawdling back and forth on the old shuttle east of St. Clair West Station, the new timetables are quite a change.

November/December 2009

January 2010

The scheduled speed for the shuttle was 11.3km/h on weekdays and 11.9km/h on weekends.  Headways were supposed to be 3’30” and 4’00” respectively.  All who rode the line know that the cars spent most of their time sitting at terminals, and the schedule was complete fiction.  This operating style established the idea that there was lots of time for layovers.

The scheduled speed for weekday operations on the new route ranges from 12.8km/h (am peak) up to 15.9km/h (late evening).  On weekends the scheduled speeds are higher than comparable periods on weekdays.

It is worth looking at the the 510 Spadina service (also shown in the linked summaries above).  The segment from Bloor to King ranges from 10.5 to 12.6km/h with service to Union at a higher average speed because of fast running south of King. Continue reading