NextBus, er NextStreetcar, Comes To Broadview

This morning, the TTC held a press conference at Broadview Station to launch the rollout of next vehicle information on the streetcar network.

This was something of a non-event given that all we had to look at was one small text display on the platform for the 505 Dundas car and two of the familiar video screens showing expected arrival times for 504 King and 505 Dundas inside Broadview Station.  Oh yes, I mustn’t forget to mention that the display out on the shelter is solar powered.  It will be intriguing to see how well it works next winter.

The announcement neglected to mention that you can obtain the same info online.

Go to  Depending on the behaviour of the browser you are using, you will be taken directly to your most recent selection if you have been to NextBus before.  Otherwise, you will have to navigate to the TTC for your first time in by selecting “Ontario” and then “Toronto”.

It’s a good idea to bookmark at least one lookup (preferably one you want to use regularly) to save on the navigation if your browser won’t “remember” where you have been.

While I was at Broadview, I noticed that the information on the display did not match what was actually happening with the cars.  This was sorted out by a conversation with the NextBus folks.  What they are displaying is a predicted arrival time as this is what people want to know at regular stops.  Terminals are a bit odd in that vehicles arrive and then tend to sit for a while.  They will show up briefly as “Due” and then the display will drop them and show the time for the following vehicle.

This could be confusing especially to someone looking at the video screen inside the station where it is not immediately obvious, especially to a rider unfamiliar with the station, that a vehicle is actually at the platform.  (Indeed a bus may not actually be at the platform but hiding somewhere for a break.)  This information needs to be added, and will be especially valuable in large terminals where displays and vehicle bays may be quite some distance apart.  If someone is waiting for the “next” bus and it has already “arrived”, and will depart (according to the schedule) in five minutes, people need to know this.

Meanwhile in other Broadview Station news:

A display panel about the size of a TTC route map was installed beside the route map last fall.  It is still empty.

The Station Vicinity map here (and everywhere else on the system, except where ancient ones were never removed) is still missing in action.  These were to have been replaced last  fall after the debacle of the many inaccurate maps posted by the TTC.  Maybe the Customer Service Panel will fix this.

Finally, it’s almost May, and there is no sign of any work of the long-closed second entrance to the station.  There is a sign on the barricade saying it will re-open in May 2010, but this has been discretely modified, possibly in the interest of clarity.

25 thoughts on “NextBus, er NextStreetcar, Comes To Broadview

  1. At Broadview the main thing I want to know is which streetcar is leaving first. I often am only going as far south as Gerrard and can take either the 504 or the 505. Departure times would be nice for the terminals. Of course this obvious to everyone reading this comment and anyone who regularly catches the streetcar at a station.


  2. I had a feeling from the Nextbus site that the time showing up was the arrival time.

    This could create confusion; the best use of the display at Broadview is to indicate which car is heading down Broadview first – the 504 or 505 (at least for those of us who only travel to Gerrard … or Dundas). If it is only the arrival time showing, then people are going to be unhappy if the wrong car leaves first …

    Another problem appears at Main (and perhaps Broadview as well) where the display doesn’t differentiate between cars heading down Coxwell to Queen; or those heading downtown.

    Steve: This ties into my previous observation that there is no way for NextBus to know where the car is planning to go unless the route supervisor enters this data into the system (highly unlikely). The vendors are working on an interface to the destination sign codes for another city, but (a) this won’t be applicable to the streetcar routes until we get new cars with digital signs and (b) the current data stream for the vehicle monitoring system does not have any room for more data. It’s an old system and needs an upgrade.


  3. If the “next vehicle” display at a terminal predicts the arrival of a streetcar (rather than the departure), and NextBus doesn’t know when the streetcar will actually leave the station, how does it predict the arrival time at the first few stops after leaving the station? For example, if I want to know when a westbound streetcar will arrive at Main and Gerrard.

    Steve: It makes an educated guess based on past experience of how long cars sit at the terminal. In effect, the time predictions are based on historical patterns of travel time between wherever a car is “now” and the stop for which you request information. As I watched the times for Erindale and Broadview (the stop just outside Broadview Station), the system tended to overestimate the time to the next car, but not by much.


  4. Steve, when you say “It’s an old system and needs an upgrade.”, are you referring to just the vehicle monitoring system, or the entire TTC?

    Steve: Tee hee!


  5. When I’m in a hurry and going on the 504/505, I don’t actually get on at Broadview. I exit the station, cross the road, and get on at the Danforth/Broadview stop. In this way, I’m guaranteed that whichever line is going first will be there first. Of course this only works outside of rush hour, as the stop is closed then.


  6. Bathurst Station has a display now, too. A big screen inside the main building on the ground level- not of that much help though, given that the 511 cars come at an alarmingly regular, high frequency given their total lack of right of way. What would interest me is whether the screen there is capable of displaying the quite frequently short-turning 505 and 506 cars properly, as well as the odd wandering 512.

    Steve: The problem with the 505 and 506 is that Bathurst Station is not part of their route, and therefore the idea of “predicting” their arrival is challenging.


  7. Given that TTC drivers seem to leave terminii whenever they please, what use will be the scheduled departure time?

    As has been mentioned frequently on this site, any technological fix must be accompanied by a well-thought out procedural (ie management) change.

    In this case, streetcar drivers need to leave as scheduled. This is another customer service key point, esp. when multiple routes leave a terminus. TTC please take note.

    And yes, for all you nitpickers, I know they are supposed to be called operators, but I don’t care. They drive a vehicle, so they are drivers.


  8. Alex wrote “I exit the station, cross the road, and get on at the Danforth/Broadview stop. In this way, I’m guaranteed that whichever line is going first will be there first. Of course this only works outside of rush hour, as the stop is closed then.”

    What about the stop on Erindale at Broadview (north of Danforth)? Does it have rush-hour restrictions? Might be easier to get to than Danforth/Broadview, as you don’t have to wait for the light. I only realised it was there a few days ago … though I might become a frequent user now that the Albany Clinic has moved to just north of Erindale.

    As for predicting a 506 Bathurst arrival at Bathurst Station; I regularily see 506s signed for Bathurst all the way east to Main. So it’s no secret that they are coming; hopefully the combination of a CIS upgrade and the new streetcars solves that …

    … though I don’t see why a CIS upgrade is necessary for branch routes. Surely all that is needed is to assign (if only internally) separate route numbers for all the branches, and regular short turns …. say on the 506, assign 560 for High Park, 561 for Dundas West, 562 for Ronces, 563 for Bathurst, 564 for bay, 565 for Coxwell, etc. … even easier if the field was 4 integers instead of 3 integers … and surely there is something like this going for the complicated bus branches … though this is probably more in your realm Steve, than mine.

    Steve: The problem is that if you use alternate route numbers, this is equivalent to the current situation where the system knows about a destination change only of a route supervisor enters this info online. If the system is keyed to the destination sign, it can figure this out for itself without counting on the sure-to-be-too-busy route supervisors, especially on days when the service is a real mess and the very times when you want this sort of info.


  9. I’ve already used the nextbus site a couple of times for my journey home from work on the Queen streetcar and I love it. I can already tell it’s going to dramatically reduce my frustration level. Never again will I wait five minutes, decide to start walking and then have a streetcare whoosh by a minute later.


  10. I went through Dundas West Station today at 4:45pm and the 505 sign read 18 min & 18 min. Is the scheduled service really that bad? When I came back through at 6:30pm it read 20 min & 21 min. In both cases the second vehicle time increased when the screen updated. Thankfully I don’t have to count on this route for my regular travels!

    That sign will be useless in cold or stormy weather because you can’t see it from the enclosed waiting area on the main platform. Nobody is fool-enough to stand out there in the open during winter – the enclosed area is cold enough as it is because it isn’t sealed at the ceiling. As usual the TTC doesn’t actually bother to check how their riders actually use the system. I’d bet the solar battery system doesn’t have enough power to add a second north-facing sign.


  11. I’ve noticed some bizarre behaviour for the 505, Westbound (I was watching the website update for the Bay St. stop). Every time a car would come near the 20-minute mark (this would usually be the middle car in the list of three offered), it would disappear, leaving one streetcar very close (40 min.). The missing streetcar would reappear somewhere between 10-15 minutes. Cars must be disappearing around Parliament or something.


  12. It’s amazing to consider how far NextBus is ahead of much earlier attempts at tracking bus locations with the electronic signs, the monitor at Spadina station with the map, and maps available on the web. Take a look at this for example.

    The system in that article’s about 9/10 of the way to being an Identra Coil.


  13. Humber loop could really use a next streetcar sign. For westbound, though, it would have to show Humber or Long Branch. I wonder if that’s possible?

    Steve: Until the TTC is able to ensure that the NextBus system knows definitively where streetcars are going (probably not until the new cars, and they may “forget” to include this).


  14. Steve says:

    Until the TTC is able to ensure that the NextBus system knows definitively where streetcars are going (probably not until the new cars, and they may “forget” to include this).

    One of the fix-the-Queen-car improvements was to make Neville-Humber a conceptually separate route from Neville-Long Branch. So a car wouldn’t turn at Long Branch one trip, and Humber another.

    I don’t know if the mid-route operator swaps between cars maintain this correspondence–anyone know?

    So, in this case, there actually are two overlapping routes, as far as vehicle/operator assignments go. Make sure NextBus knows that they are two different routes, “501 Humber” and “501 Long Branch”, and there you are. Yes, in case of short turns NextBus will still be wrong. However, short turns are down, so this solution should cover the majority of runs.

    Steve: You are correct about the separate routes, but this does not deal with short turns until Route Supervisors have the tools to update destination info on the fly, or NextBus can simply look at the destination sign set by the operator to figure out where a car thinks it is going.

    With Spadina, I guess that cars can shift identity too often for the “two route” concept to work.

    Steve: Yes, Spadina cars are switch between destinations on an ad hoc basis, and the schedule is meaningless. Because this line is quite short, the service can be managed on this basis without worrying too much about operator crew change times.


  15. Today, I noticed stickers have been affixed to ‘TTC stop’ poles along the 510 route which provide an sms short-code number and stop number to obtain next vehicle information.

    For example, “Text 11985 to 898882” for next vehicle information at this stop. You may also text “HELP” for more information. I tried using the service but received no reply as it is not yet active. Its silly to put the stickers up without responding to “HELP” requests as its an opportunity to inform and educate riders, promote the service and provide a ‘live’ date. At the very least a “Sorry, service not yet available” reply should be sent for stop inquiries.

    I wonder if the 898882 short-code spells something or is a lost marketing opportunity? [I just checked which suggests 898882 = 898TTC. One thinks the might have picked something catchy? ]


  16. 898882 would appear to spell out TXTTTC, as in Text TTC. Makes sense to me as TXT is standard typing shorthand to the youngsters these days. It should be easy to remember.


  17. Though I cannot be certain, it looks to me that since the TTC started to (again) list all streetcar routes the NextBus times are now based on the TIMETABLE rather than on actual GPS readings. On most routes the streetcars are amazingly evenly spaced at almost all hours. Could this be why the, very useful, route maps were removed and has the Beta Test moved to a Gamma one :->

    Steve: I am seeing wildly varying headways quite commonly both on the displays at my home station, Broadview, and when I use the service via the Nextbus webpage through my Blackberry.


  18. I note in the Report to the June TTC meeting on ‘customer service information screens’ that the route maps were removed on purpose (and I guess permanently). It’s a loss in my opinion, though they clearly made the TTC look bad when you saw all the convoys of streetcars!

    “The NVAS which includes LCD signage at subway stations is in the process of being rolled out. At this point LCD signage has been installed and is operational at 5 subway stations. The original design and screen layout included a list style display of vehicle arrival times and a map based display depicting the actual location of vehicles along a particular route. The map based display was removed from the system design and other screen layout changes were confirmed based on the Focus Group’s recommendation not to proceed with electronic route maps. This has created a surplus of 82 LCD screens that OneStop is obligated to provide and install as part of the current contract.”

    It MAY not be necessary on the displays but does that mean it cannot be part of the online NextBus system – most of their other clients have maps!

    Steve: I understand, unofficially, that the maps will return to NextBus. As for station displays, there is an outstanding issue that neither TTC nor NextBus seems willing to address. A vehicle shows as “Due” when it is about to arrive, but when it sits on the platform, it disappears from the list. That’s fine for a display such as at Spadina where you can see the car, but at other locations, the cars cannot be easily seen (or at all) by someone looking at the video screen.

    At Broadview, for example, you have to look outside of the station to see that a car is on the platform, and you cannot do this while standing in front of the screen. At St. Clair, there is a display for the streetcar at the Pleasant Blvd. entrance which isn’t even on the same level as the streetcar loop. A car may be waiting upstairs, but you would never know it from the video display.

    It should not take a huge change to have a message “At Platform”. Eventually, as and when the TTC adds info about the actual destination displayed by the cars’ route signs (this will have to wait for new cars with digital signs), they could even show where the car claims to be going. NextBus is working on this sort of capability for another of their clients. It has the huge advantage that the system does not depend on overworked route supervisors to manually enter vehicle destinations as overrides into the system. It even picks up cases where an operator displays a short turn destination without having been formally instructed to do so.


  19. I’m starting to see stickers on streetcar stops that say “Next Vehicle Arrival: text this code to this number”. Tried it this morning (having been turfed off my streetcar at Connaught, with the one just ahead driving merrily off before we could get on it) and got back a message saying “This service is currently under development and will soon be available for Streetcar stops.” Thought this was unhelpful. I also don’t understand why it says “Route 31” on that particular stop — true, the Greenwood 31 is nearby, but it isn’t right there!

    Am watching with interest and cynicism.

    Steve: I assume you were talking about the westbound stop. The 31 stops here when it is doing its extended loop down to the Post Office on Eastern. You can pull up the stop arrival info if you have a browser-capable PDA by going to The navigation down to a specific TTC location the first time takes a bit of work, but that’s what bookmarks are for. I do this sort of thing all the time from my Blackberry, and have a few key stops bookmarked for quick access.

    By the way, the 31 won’t be on the text messages right away because the bus routes are not using the GPS-based tracking yet.


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