Still Waiting For A Long Branch Car (Updated)

Updated June 3, 2010:

On June 2, the Commission didn’t decide to implement the 507 Dundas West option (described below), but didn’t kill off the idea entirely either.  Some Commissioners balked at the $825k/year pricetag, but the greatest failing was the lack of strong support from the local Councillor who is not a member of the Commission.

I had the sense that individual Commissioners wanted to do what they could to improve service on Lake Shore, but could not figure out a way to do so without out appearing to overrule staff and give in to a local pleading, especially in an election year.

There was a side discussion of the Park Lawn Loop whose installation would extend the 501 Humber service a short distance westward providing better service to some of the Humber Bay condo area, but this project is one of many competing for capital funds in a tight budget.

The motions passed by the Commission were:

Vice-Chair Mihevc:

That the Lakeshore Boulevard Streetcar service matter be referred to staff for consideration during the 2011 budget process.

Commissioner Milczyn:

That TTC staff consult with City Transportation staff on the possibility of constructing a portion of the civil works related to roads, curbs, sidewalks and utilities required for the Parklawn Loop in conjunction with road construction this year, and further authorize the Chair and Vice-Chair to approve any reallocation of funds required for this.

Commissioner Moeser:

The Chief General Manager be authorized within his authority spending level of $100,000.00 to approve any pro-active work considered appropriate for the proposed Park Lawn Loop.

[From draft minutes of the meeting supplied by the General Secretary’s office.]

I spoke to the subject, but nobody from the community appeared probably due to timing constraints and a sense that deputations would be fruitless in the face of TTC staff’s position on the matter.

The original post follows the break.

TTC staff continue to recommend against the establishment of a separate 507 Long Branch service in a report to be considered at the Commission meeting on June 2, 2010.

Little is new in this latest episode in the long  saga of service to Lake Shore Boulevard west of Humber Loop.  Particularly striking, however, is the degree to which TTC staff continues to misrepresent the issue to the Commission.

There are two proposals under study:

  • A return to the separate 507 Long Branch car running west from Humber Loop to Brown’s Line, with the 501 Queen route reverting to a Humber-Neville service.  Or …
  • A 507 service from Long Branch to Dundas West Station via The Queensway and Roncesvalles.

The first of these options is not favoured by residents on Lake Shore because Humber is a poor and at times insecure transfer location, and because separation of the 501 and 507 in this manner will guarantee poor connections as much of the 501 Queen service wil short turn at Sunnyside.

The option of a 507 Dundas West car specifically addresses the need to overlap 501 and 507 services to ensure connections are maintained, and to shift this connection away from Humber Loop.  Operating north to Dundas West Station would also supplement the 504 King service which (when it operated with streetcars before the water main replacement completed recently) was notoriously unreliable especially in off-peak periods.

A side effect of splitting off the Long Branch service from Queen is that the route would revert to CLRV operation and ALRVs (the longer streetcars) would be released for 504 King where any additional capacity is badly needed.

The report states:

Customers who use streetcar stops on The Queensway and on Roncesvalles Avenue/Dundas Street would benefit from more-frequent service; from a crowding standards perspective, there is no requirement to provide this additional service.

The issue is not crowding relative to scheduled service, it is the reliability of service that is at issue.  A major problem with TTC service standards is that they address the hypothetical average load vehicles would carry if they were regularly spaced and all operated to the scheduled terminus.

Also, there would be some improvements in available capacity for customers who use streetcars on the 504 KING route east of Roncesvalles Avenue. While this would be a positive by-product of this option, it is not the issue which the proposed initiatives are intended to address and does not justify the additional operating costs of implementing this option.

The statement about capacity on 504 east of Roncesvalles relates to the reassignment of ALRVs now used on the west end of 501 Queen to the 504 King car.  Contrary to the report, the availability of more ALRVs is one of the reasons behind the proposal.  The whole point is to make an integrated set of changes to address a number of service problems.

Customers who use the service on Lake Shore Boulevard, west of Humber Loop, would benefit from some degree of improved reliability and, as noted before, this is the primary concern of customers on Lake Shore Boulevard.  It is not possible to accurately predict how much the reliability of the service would be improved by shortening the route.  As a result, the number of customers who would be attracted by the resultant improvement in service cannot be projected.  Based on the cost increase of $825,000 per year, the service change would have to attract approximately 740 new customer-trips each weekday – or an increase of about 13% — in order to meet the TTC’s financial standard of 0.23 new customers per dollar of net direct additional operating cost.  Staff’s assessment is, however, that it is unlikely that the service would meet this ridership and financial target.

As I have already discussed many times before and residents on Lake Shore have repeatedly complained, service west of Humber Loop is extremely unreliable.  These data are available to TTC staff through this website, and I have often offered to meet with them on the more general issue of service reliability and the use of their own vehicle monitoring data to evaluate service quality and operations.  This offer has never been accepted.

To say that it is impossible to predict how reliability would improve and what ridership gain might result is an abdication of the very purpose of service planning.  The ability to predict ridership effects is at the heart of TTC service standards.

The claim that 740 trips is 13% of current riding implies that the daily ridership on Lake Shore is about 5,700.  However, the TTC’s own statistics show that over 8,000 riders used the service west of Humber Loop in 2006.  Other statistics and personal riding experience show that this route has strong local demand for travel within the Lake Shore area, particularly in the off peak.  Improved service reliability on The Queensway and on Roncesvalles may also contribute to demand.

… the operation of this additional service at Dundas West Station would cause operational conflicts with the 504 KING route and, as a result, it would likely reduce service reliability on that route.

This implies that 507 Long Branch cars would take long layovers at Dundas West and, thereby, block the 504 King service.  This is a dubious claim for three reasons:

  • 507 Long Branch being a shorter route on less congested streets that 501 Queen would require much less “recovery time” to deal with random delays.  This would substantially eliminate extended layovers on this route.
  • Operators on the 507 would still enjoy a break with no worry of conflicting 504 service at Long Branch Loop.
  • Service on the 504 in peak periods is much more frequent than the proposed 507 route, and most 504 cars would not be dealing with a 507, assuming the 504s even reached Dundas West Station.
  • 504 cars themself take breaks (commonly seen at Broadview Station), and if anything it would be the 504 that would have “operational conflicts” with the 507.

TTC staff revert to the proposal of a single 501 service from Neville to Long Branch, and construct a straw man argument about the use of resources in difficult financial times.  Having systematically ignored or misrepresented the purpose and benefits of the 507 Dundas West proposal, it is no surprise that they suggest the money spent on it would be a disproportionate use of scarce funding.

The issue of equity relates to the investing of increased resources in the transit service along the Lake Shore corridor, compared to other neighbourhoods in Toronto.  There are other bus and streetcar routes where service reliability continues to be a concern to the TTC and to customers.  In all cases, investing more resources, above and beyond what is currently supported by the Commission-approved service standards, would improve service quality, and would make transit better for customers.  Faced with limited operating resources, however, how should the Commission determine if it appropriate to spend more resources to improve service on Lake Shore Boulevard in particular?  In either case, there are no funds for such purposes included in the TTC’s 2010 operating budget owing to the current financial pressures facing the TTC and the resulting need to reduce operating costs to address projected shortfalls.

The Queen route has been plagued with problems ever since it was consolidated with Long Branch in 1995 as, among other things, a cost saving measure.  Residents of Lake Shore have been paying that cost in service reliability.

As I have already noted, this proposal is not only about riders on Lake Shore, but also on Roncesvalles and on King Street West.  Portraying the 507 Dundas West proposal as benefiting a limited part of the city misrepresents both its intent and scope of effect.

The TTC’s job is to provide service, and at times this requires spending money either on trial operations to test a proposal, or permanent changes in recognition of the cost of doing business.  If this were a “squeaky wheel” proposal, funding might appear out of thin air after superficial debate, while changes to the Queen car, debated at length for years, is dismissed on financial grounds.

By contrast, the Humber Bay Express bus was approved by the Commission.

It is projected that the service would be used by approximately 380 customer-trips each weekday, of which approximately 40 would be new to the TTC and would be attracted by the new express service. The total amount of new fare revenue attributed to the service would be $153,000 per year, of which approximately $30,000 would be from the regular fare and premium fare from new customers, and approximately $123,000 would be from the additional premium fare paid by existing customers who would switch, primarily from the existing 501 QUEEN and 508 LAKE SHORE streetcar services.

The service would require three buses in the morning peak-period and two buses in the afternoon peak-period. The additional direct operating costs, net of the additional fare revenue, would be approximately $96,000 per year. The service would generate 0.10 new customers per net direct dollar spent. This is below the TTC’s minimum financial standard of 0.23 and, for this reason, the new service is not recommended.  [See report from November 26, 2008]

The Commission approved this service which, reportedly, is carrying very few riders, despite the fact that even as a premium fare route, it requires additional subsidy, and was expected to draw riders mainly by diversion from existing streetcar routes.

The current report concludes with this statement:

Proposed changes to the streetcar service on Lake Shore Boulevard, for the purpose of improving the quality and reliability of streetcar service, would add between $825,000 and $2.4-million to annual operating costs for this route. There are no funds in the 2010 Operating Budget for such initiatives.

The daily cost of operating the Queen car is $87,500 according to the 2008 Service Improvements report.  Scaling up to a year (using a factor of 300 to allow for weekends) brings the annual cost of the Queen car to $26.25-million of which the proposed change represents just over 3%.

The $2.4-million figure cited here applies to through-routing all Neville cars to Long Branch, and this is not the proposal under discussion.

I can only conclude that the report is deliberately written to make the effects and costs of changing the service seem much worse than they are, to minimize or ignore offsetting service quality benefits, and to manipulate Commissioners and Councillors into rejecting the scheme.

21 thoughts on “Still Waiting For A Long Branch Car (Updated)

  1. So if I’ve understood the report correctly, the TTC is admitting they can’t predict possible outcomes of service changes, and they can’t schedule routes/drivers so that streetcars don’t bunch up at Dundas West Station. Aren’t these fundamental things to running a transit operation? This sentence in particular made my jaw drop:

    “It is not possible to accurately predict how much the reliability of the service would be improved by shortening the route. As a result, the number of customers who would be attracted by the resultant improvement in service cannot be projected.”

    This admission is mind boggling.


  2. I wouldn’t blame staff for approving the Humber Bay Express bus. The commission approved it over staff objections. They may yet approve the Long Branch service.

    (Humber Bay Express bus might have better ridership if the westbound schedule wasn’t still missing from the web site.)

    Steve: I’m not blaming the staff for the Humber Bay bus. The point here is that the Commission approved a “squeaky wheel” request from one of its members who happens to represent the area, but they seem unwilling to take on staff on the much larger issue of the Queen car even though the cost, as a percentage of the total operating cost of this immensely long route, is small.


  3. When does the Humber Bay Express come up for review? As far as I can tell, it’s a complete turkey. I’ve seen three people aboard the bus, eastbound in the morning in Mimico, from a Queen car with 40-50 people.

    I am not sure that pushing for a route change is worthwhile at this time. The “trials” seem to be set up to fail (Queen car split).

    Why are we suggesting “solutions” when it’s clear that TTC staff do their best to shoot them down, distort them, or implement them in a guaranteed-to-fail way. It may be marginally more effective to keep hammering at the problems, and see if the TTC (i) actually admits there’s a problem, followed by (ii) the TTC’s solution.

    Steve: The Humber Bay express started in the fall of 2009 and under normal circumstances would come up for review then. The election may get in the way.


  4. I am amazed that a rebuttal came back so quickly on the 507 Long Branch/501 Queen service request. Too bad we couldn’t get the same response for the transit priority traffic signals. They must have had it response ready and filed away.

    Steve: The Commission directed staff to report in June, and they appeared to have received that memo.


  5. Remove the premium fare and ridership on the express bus would go way up.

    Steve: But at an even greater subsidy. Peak-only, point-to-point services are saddled with high unit costs that are hard to justify except on a political rather than a financial basis.


  6. The proposal to operate the Lakeshore West 507 streetcar to Dundas West Station makes far too much sense for the TTC to even consider on a trial basis! The TTC arguments are confusing and muddled.

    Meanwhile, the Lakeshore Express Bus Service is operating with only a handful of patrons.


  7. Just this morning I was blessed with a 25+ minute wait for a 508 streetcar. I timed it. I barely missed the 7:40 (at Royal York) car, which is usually reliable plus or minus 5 minutes. The next one came at 8:08. Was it the 7:53 running exceptionally late or the 8:05 on time? Who knows. I’ve written the TTC several times trying to get an answer as to why they can’t even get the 508 Eastbound schedules sorted EARLY in the route. No answer.

    Last week we had the pleasure of waiting through 4 streetcars downtown to finally get on a 501 Long Branch…which…was short-turned at Roncesvalles. This is not a rare occurence.

    I see the Humber Express bus roll by most mornings. When it gets to Mimico it’s maybe got 10 riders. The additional fare is a big turn-off for me given that the 508 SHOULD be running when I need to commute along a similar line and with similar arrival times downtown.

    The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the TTC does not care to provide reliable service to the commuters living on Lake Shore and have no interest in even attempting to increase ridership in my area.


  8. “As I have already discussed many times before and residents on Lake Shore have repeatedly complained, service west of Humber Loop is extremely unreliable.”

    If only it was just west of Humber Loop. The entire Queen route is unreliable and erratic – that’s why I stopped taking it in favor of the King car. I got tired of waiting two minutes one day and twenty minutes the next at the exact same time of day – the six westbound cars I would see go by within that twenty-minute period only made it even more enjoyable.

    Steve: I agree that the whole route has problems. This post is only in the context of a proposal specifically for the west end of the route. Shortening the 501 would have spin-off benefits notably shorter trip times for operators.


  9. There is only one answer. Clean house! Metrolinx needs to take direct control over the TTC and then remove each and every person on staff who in any way obstructs goals aimed at good customer service. Perhaps when enough have been eliminated those remaining will get the message and get on board with the program.

    Steve: The problem here is that Metrolinx has no interest in local transit operations, and indeed has shown little indication of being significantly more “with it” than TTC at the detail level. The basic problem is that Metrolinx is a planning agency. They have merged in GO Transit, but they run a much simpler system. Metrolinx itself has no mechanism for public input. If they were handling this file, we would not even have a mechanism to demand public accountability let alone corrections.


  10. I recently heard from a bus driver on Roncesvalles that the plans for Roncesvalles have been scaled back to pretty much the design of the line before the reconstruction. What has happened?

    Steve: I was talking to the Councillor for this ward who was heavily involved in the design, and as far as he knows, the plan is going ahead as proposed with bump-outs of the sidewalks at the stops.


  11. Has there ever been any thought given to running an airport express bus from Long Branch GO. Would get decent trade I think from E/W
    commuters and could probably be done with a total of 3 buses. Worth a try?

    Steve: Possible, although scheduling would be tricky. The off-peak service stops inbound on the :48 and outbound on the :02. Presuming the market is primarily for people living to the west, buses would have to lay over at Long Branch to make this work, and there would be little demand for trips that did not meet trains. Peak period travel would not be as much of an issue because the trains stop more often.


  12. David O’Rourke says:
    May 28, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    “I recently heard from a bus driver on Roncesvalles that the plans for Roncesvalles have been scaled back to pretty much the design of the line before the reconstruction. What has happened?”

    Steve: “I was talking to the Councillor for this ward who was heavily involved in the design, and as far as he knows, the plan is going ahead as proposed with bump-outs of the sidewalks at the stops.”

    I just got back from spending a week in New Orleans and the St. Charles line, the oldest street car line in the world staring in 1834, has bump outs for loading in some of the street running sections of the line and it seems to work very well. There is no reason why Roncesvalles should eliminate them.

    If you want a spare ratio there are 35 Pearly Thomas cars built in 1920 available for St. Charles with 12 scheduled cars though I do believe that they operate a lot of extras. Even if they operate one extra for every service cars that still leaves 11 spares out of 35 cars. New Orleans has three new “Street Car” lines planned. These are street are not LRT lines. St. Charles is not ADA compliant but is a designated historical landmark so maybe it is exempt. The 3 street car lines carry very well and they have a lot of local traffic as well as a lot of tourist who haven’t been on public transit since trolleys were abandoned in their hometown. The only non railfan tourist I met who had a clue how public transit and street cars worked was from Boston and said that she never drove a car in Boston as she was on the Green Line.


  13. The Humber Bay Express bus that went eastbound past Colborne Lodge Dr. (i.e. had picked up all the South Etobicokans it was going to) at 7:10 this morning had two passengers. I doubt this service would stand up to any kind of performance review.


  14. With your 507 Dundas West proposal, does the total cost to operate the streetcar network remains unchanged? That is, are you just reallocating existing streetcars among routes rather than putting additional vehicles into service? (The reason I ask this is that I thought the streetcar fleet was maxed out with the only spares being streetcars waiting for repairs or streetcars idle due to temporary line closures.) If this were the case, then the $825,000/year cost would seem to be an arbitrary accounting allocation.

    Steve: The main difference is that there are more of peak cars in service than at present. The TTC has raised no issues about peak fleet availability for this proposal, and the available fleet should be growing gradually due to long-overdue repairs. We will see how they do come next January when, in theory, all of the streetcar routes should be back in full operation.


  15. Would advocating for increased service for the 508 Lakeshore route also produce a satisfying outcome?

    Steve: Advocacy is rarely satisfying as the Commissioners are loathe to overrule the supposedly sage advice of their staff. This time out, they ducked the whole issue until the 2011 budget.


  16. Does the off-peak demand on Lakeshore west of Humber Loop necessitate streetcar service (as opposed to bus)?

    If not, then here is a possible solution that should cost less than running 507 to Dundas West:

    1) One branch of bus 66 (Prince Edward) gets extended along Lakeshore to Long Branch at all times. The frequency would have to be increased to match today’s average frequency of 501 Long Branch.

    2) 501 streetcar is shortened and runs between Humber Loop and Neville at all times.

    3) 508 streetcars run between Long Branch and downtown during peak only, but make more trips than today. (Today it is 7 trips each direction per day; would need 15-min headways during AM and PM peaks).


  17. More 508 service would be welcome, especially if they can get the scheduling sorted so it can be relied upon. It’s a heavily used route and standing room only by the time we hit the Dufferin/King area in either direction.

    Interestingly the current diversion of the 508 down Queen due to construction seems to have helped the Humber Express Bus a bit. There were close to 20 people on it this morning and about 15 on the way home last night. Still ridiculously underused and overpriced, but it is faster than the diverted route, at least in the morning. As previously noted, the bus might be more utilized if the pm schedule was accurate. The 4:10 and 4:40 (Yonge/Adelaide) bus is supposed to be a 145 to Kipling. These buses are in fact being run as 145A, forcing all the folks who live further out to transfer to the streetcar and eliminating any savings of time, as we all know what 501 service West of Humber is like.


  18. I think the reason why the staff at the TTC don’t want to send the 507 Long Branch up Roncesvalles is that the plans for the Waterfront West LRT may use those vehicles from along Lake Shore Blvd. to Union Station. A possibility, but still not enough of a reason to send every other vehicle up Roncesvalles, as well.

    Steve: Considering that the WWLRT is scheduled for sometime over a decade away in the TTC’s capital plans, I think they might do something about the Lake Shore service in the interim. Frankly, I doubt the WWLRT will ever be built given that it’s been such a patchwork planning and construction effort over the years.


  19. My wife and I were in Toronto yesterday to go to the museum and then a restaurant at Dufferin south of King. We took the King car to Shaw and then the shuttle bus to Joe Shuster Way. The line supervisor said that it was too bad that we didn’t wait for the next car as it was turning at Dufferin. The king car is losing about 15 minutes per trip going up Shaw and along Queen.

    On our return trip we got on the King car NB on Dufferin and road it back to Spadina. There seemed to be one King car on Dufferin for every 2 to 3 buses, not bad for an unscheduled service. I also saw a lot of EB king cars that were turning at Church or Parliament but not as many as at Dufferin. How is this detour affecting the 501 and 508 or do they get more time than the 504? Why don’t they turn all the cars at Dufferin or is their something magical about a one seat ride to Roncesvalles and Queen while it is OK to force a two set ride to Dufferin? It would save them some buses and streetcars plus operators.

    Steve: Queen is much slower than King in that section, and the running time to accommodate it is already built into the 501 schedules.


  20. Steve: “Queen is much slower than King in that section, and the running time to accommodate it is already built into the 501 schedules.”

    Let me guess; the TTC did not give the King cars anymore time so it is an impossible schedule to keep. How many months is this diversion in for?

    Steve: It is supposed to last until the end of August.


  21. If $26.25-million is the annual operation cost of a new Queen Streetcar, what is the annual operation net cost? Is it deficit, surplus, break-even?

    Could this be the cost of operating a surface LRT line as well? Of course, ignoring the underground segments.

    Steve: Calculating a net cost is rather tricky because there is no accurate way to allocate fares in a free transfer system, not to mention with the effect of passes.


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