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.