The Queen Car is Fine as it Is, Thank You (Updated)

The TTC agenda for May 6 includes a report on the proposed restructuring of route 501 Queen in two optional ways:

  • Return to the old setup with a separate 507 Long Branch service west of Humber Loop, or
  • Operate a 507 service to Dundas West Station overlapping 501 Queen service between Humber and Roncesvalles.

Needless to say, TTC staff recommend against any changes.

The Humber option never made sense because:

  • The connection at Humber Loop is in an isolated location where passengers do not feel secure, especially at off hours, and
  • Short turns of 501 Queen cars at Sunnyside leave a gap in the route and cause highly unpredictable travel times for passengers trying to transfer between the 501 and 507 in either direction.

Since the construction of much new development on The Queensway, the provision of reliable service is more important than ever.

The Dundas West option is designed to address several problems, none of which are addressed by the TTC report:

  • Move the transfer point east from Humber Loop to Roncesvalles.
  • Provide additional service on The Queensway that is not affected by short-turns further east.
  • Provide additional service on Roncesvalles to partly compensate for the frequent short-turning of 504 King cars (once that route returns to its normal configuration).

The TTC report lists many favourable aspects of the 507 Dundas West option:

  • The restored 507 route would operate with CLRVs freeing up five ALRVs for use on the 504 King route.  This is the equivalent of adding 2.5 CLRVs worth of capacity to the 504 in the peak period, but no value is attached to this by the TTC.
  • Service would be improved between Humber and Roncesvalles, and between Queen and Bloor on Ronces.  This is stated relative to the scheduled service, but a good deal of this service never actually reaches the terminals especially when there are disruptions downtown.  Nearly 10,000 trips per day would benefit from these improvements.
  • A small number of trips between Lake Shore Blvd. and the Bloor/Dundas area would have one less transfer.
  • The TTC does not mention the benefit of reliable service on Lake Shore, the value this would have in reduced wait times for riders there, and increased riding that could result.

On the down side, the TTC claims:

  • About 2,500 trips per day that travel from points east of Roncesvalles to west of Humber Loop would be inconvenienced by this arrangement, an that about 300 rides per day would be lost due to this change.  When I first proposed the 507 Dundas West service, the scheme included improved service on the 508 specifically to preserve through trip options.  This was not included in the scheme the TTC reviewed.
  • There would be little benefit for the Neville-Humber service because the west end of the line is not a source of congestion and service disruption.  This is exactly the reason for splitting off the 507 service so that it can benefit from the relatively trouble-free environment.  Also, with the 501 service having shorter trips, operators would not be faced with interminable runs across the city before they get a break. 
  • The TTC claims that sharing the platform at Dundas West between the 504 and 507 services could cause delays similar to what happened when the Dundas and King routes shared a common track.  I beg to differ.  First, the 507 service is less frequent, and there is a runaround track available if a 507 is so early arriving at Dundas West that it would hold a King car from leaving.

After all of this, the report concludes that “overall, the change would make service better for customers”.

However, the TTC rejects the scheme because it is estimated to have a marginal cost of about $825k annually.  As mentioned above, they give no credit for the value of the additional capacity provided on the King line by reassignment of equipment nor for the ridership effect of more reliable service.  Indeed, the only ridership change the TTC cites is the potential loss of 300 rides per day from the loss of a transfer-free trip through Humber Loop.

In discussing the route’s history, the TTC states that the amalgamation in 1995 was intended to eliminate the transfer at Humber.  What they omit is that this change was made primarily to reduce operating costs.  The decline in service quality west of Humber has long been a complaint from the community, and it is a direct result of the restructuring coupled with general service cutbacks on streetcar routes through the 1990s.

The report includes a chart showing ridership declines on the route, and the TTC argues that the fall occurred before the routes were amalgamated due to declining employment.  The TTC neglects to mention a large cut in service on the Long Branch car in the early 1990s that drove away riding even before the route’s amalgamation with the Queen car.

An important note about the Long Branch route, something evident in a previous TTC report on the subject and to anyone who rides the line, is that there is considerable local demand that never gets east of Humber Loop.  Service that is managed (and short turned) on the basis of somewhat empty vehicles at Roncesvalles will short-change riders who don’t board until west of Humber.  This is particularly so during off-peak periods.

The TTC report is self-serving with selective analysis intended to put their preferred option, do nothing, in the best possible light.

At a minimum, the TTC needs to carry out a trial operation of the 507 Dundas West option following restorarion of streetcar service on Roncesvalles late in 2010.  This trial needs to run long enough to allow meaningful analysis.  A related service change should be improvement of the 508 Lake Shore route to provide more through peak period trips to and from downtown via King Street.

No Priority for Transit Priority Report

In June 2005, I appeared at the TTC meeting and spoke about problems with transit signal priority on the Spadina-Harbourfront line.  At that time, then Vice-Chair Olivia Chow request a report from TTC and City staff addressing, among other things, the issues I had raised.

This report has appeared on the list of outstanding Commission requests ever since.  It was supposed to be on the March agenda, but was nowhere to be seen.  Now, we learn it will be on the September 30, 2010 agenda.

With the amount of flak the TTC and City have taken about the design of LRT lines and signal operations particularly, one might think this issue was of some interest and priority.

Place your bets now on whether we see anything by September 30, and enjoy your ride on our “priority” transit routes.

Queen’s Park Commits to Transit City, Sort Of

Queen’s Park has announced that it will build the four previously funded Transit City lines (Sheppard East, Finch West, Eglinton and the SRT rebuild/extension) as well as the VIVA busway, but over a longer time than planned.

Tess Kalinowski writes about this in today’s Star.

The construction start dates will be adjusted:

  • Sheppard and VIVA are already underway and will continue.
  • Eglinton will not start until 2012 rather than the originally planned 2010
  • Finch West will not start until 2013 rather than 2010
  • The SRT will continue operating until after the Pan Am Games in 2015 at which point it will close for reconstruction.  Second-hand Mark I ICTS cars will be purchased from Vancouver to supplement the existing fleet in the interim.

Also rumoured is a Metrolinx announcement regarding purchase of cars for these lines from Bombardier.

All of the details will come out at the Metrolinx Board meeting on May 19, 2010.

The City of Toronto has proposed that it would finance the projects starting on the original schedule as this would be cheaper than other capital expenses it would have to undertake (a larger bus fleet and a new garage) to handle system growth pending opening of the Transit City lines.  One might argue that they should just “get by” if this would only be a short-term pressure, but if Queen’s Park’s new promise falls through (there might be a different party in power by the time in came to actually pay up), the TTC would be seriously behind in providing capacity.

Rob Prichard of Metrolinx argues that the financial goal is to minimize provincial debt, and starting the projects early would add to the debt regardless of who pays the interest costs in the short term.  This is really the nub of the debate.  Queen’s Park seeks to minimize its book debt, and must deal with accounting standards that no longer allow governments to hide debt through leases or third-party financing.  Oddly enough, this also affects some privatization schemes because, ultimately, the government is still on the hook to pay for the lines.

There are much larger questions in play here.

Metrolinx “Big Move” plan includes over 50 projects, and we have no idea of how Queen’s Park will pay for them, much less operate the network once it is built.  If the first five projects are stretched over the next decade, when will work begin on the others?  Will any new revenues (tolls, taxes, the Tooth Fairy) be used to fund additional projects, or will they backfill the original five?

Metrolinx’ mandate for a financial plan was explicitly set up to keep funding issues off the radar until after the 2011 provincial election, but that idea (a triumph of politics over good planning) fell apart when the 2010 budget cut funding for transit.

On top of this, there is no word on a provincial role in funding operating costs of local transit systems.  In a best-case scenario, this might show up in the 2011 budget as a pre-election goodie, but Toronto and the TTC will go into their own budget cycle (which is largely complete by the time Queen’s Park announces its own plans) facing a TTC operating subsidy of about half a billion dollars.  Mayoral candidates have a lot to be worried about, and they won’t solve the problem by counting the pencils.