Analysis of 512 St. Clair Operations for July 2010 — Part I (Introduction)

Updated at 3:20 pm, December 27: The scale on the headway charts has been changed to 30 minutes with 3-minute gridlines, and on the link time charts to 18 minutes with 3-minute gridlines.  The intent is to spread out the data points to give a better view of the fine details.

[My apologies for the appearance of this series many months after the fact.  It took quite a while to get the GPS-f0rmat data from the TTC for reasons unknown.

I look forward to the plans for an Open Data access to data for all routes as a regular online service so that this type of analysis will not require special requests for data extracts.  Whether the “new” TTC goes ahead with providing this data remains to be seen, although “transparency” is supposed to be a watchword in the new administration.]

June 30, 2010, brought streetcar service to the full St. Clair route out to Gunn’s Loop for the first time since 2007.  In an earlier article, I reviewed the line’s operation in April 2007.  This was a “before” snapshot intended as a comparison to the “after” construction line behaviour for which we have waited so long.  Now we can look at the “new” St. Clair to see the benefits, such as they might be.

On two weekends, service did not operate over the entire line due to street festivals.  No sooner was streetcar service restored to Keele, but it vanished again on July 3-4, and again on July 17-18.

This article reviews the basic information available and some of the analysis I have done using a single weekday as an example.Overview of Service

July 5, 2010, was the first day of “regular” weekday service after the Canada Day weekend.  The chart linked below tracks the movement of all vehicles on the route.

2010.07.05 Chart

This format of chart dates back to the late 1800s when it was invented in France for building railway schedules, and it is still used today for that purpose.

Time flows from left to right beginning at 4:00 am and running over 8 pages to 4:00 am the following day.  (Night service on St. Clair is provided by a bus that runs with a different route number, and even if the buses were sending GPS-based data, it is not included in an extract for route 512.  A similar problem afflicts the NextBus system which does not integrate daytime and overnight routes as one entity.)

Distance flows on the vertical axis with St. Clair Station (the eastern terminal) at the bottom and Gunn’s Loop (the western terminal) at the top.  Major intersections are noted by lines across the chart.

All positioning data are GPS based reported every 20 seconds from the vehicles.  Wiggles in the lines show the variation in speed, and horizontal stretches indicate that a vehicle is stopped.  This is notable at the termini and at St. Clair West Station, but also for shorter periods at intersections where it is possible to distinguish the nearside and farside stops.  (Occasionally, a vehicle reports a rogue location from its GPS.  These are usually trapped out in the data mapping process because they are not reasonable locations for a vehicle on the route.  Sometimes, an erroneous location will appear that is near enough to the route to appear as “real” and this can cause a larger wobble in the chart line for the affected vehicle.)

At St. Clair West Station, westbound cars appear to change direction, but this is caused by their moving around the loop to the exit track which brings them back slightly east.  At St. Clair Station, the majority of the layover time is taken on the offloading platform and cars move to the loading platform for a comparatively brief period before circling through the loop and back out onto the street.  The very bottom of the chart is the east end of the loop.

Short turns are easily seen as cars that do not reach the termini, but sit at an intermediate location waiting to re-enter service.  For example, just after 6:00 am, a car (dark orange line) short turns at Earlscourt Loop (Lansdowne).  This was not a scheduled move, but I suspect that the car entered service late from Roncesvalles Carhouse and is getting back into position.  (Looking at other days, this is a fairly common event.)

There are no scheduled short turns on the 512 route now and all service is supposed to operate from Yonge to Keele.  Before the line was rebuilt, there was a scheduled short turn service to Lansdowne in the AM peak period.

At about 10:20 am, service was blocked eastbound at about Old Weston Road.  This cleared at about 11:05.  Construction was still underway at this location, and this may have contributed to problems at the intersection.  The first car (green line) to be held went out of service eastbound suggesting that it was involved in a collision.  The other three cars were short turned at various places to get back on time.  All other cars short turned at Lansdowne to maintain service eastbound.

Bunching is evident in various places.

  • At times, we can see a slow car with its follower catching up.  For example, the red and mauve lines westbound from Yonge just after 13:00 show two cars converging, but they re-establish their headway eastbound from Gunn’s Loop.
  • Conversely, some cars run for extended periods as if they were coupled together.  Just before 15:40, a pair of cars (one of which has just entered service) heads east from Gunn’s Loop.  They stay close together until about 18:10 eastbound at St. Clair West Station.
  • Around 17:40, one car (dark blue) makes a round trip during which it is gradually joined by not one but two following cars (pale and dark turquoise respectively).  The headways during this period are quite erratic thanks to this bunching which has no apparent cause.  Indeed, there is more reliable service late at night (after 22:00) than during the early evening, although some bunching does occur caused by extended layovers, not by that old TTC bugbear “traffic congestion”.

Link Times

Of particular interest given the stated goals of the St. Clair right-of-way is the ability of service to operate reliably over the route without interference from traffic.  Variations in running time should arise mainly from boarding delays at heavy stops rather than from traffic interference.

The next pair of charts shows the times required to traverse each section of the route.

2010.07.05 Links Westbound

2010.07.05 Links Eastbound

The location “St. Clair Station” is east of the off-loading platform.  Therefore, the link westbound from the “station” to Yonge Street represents the departure trip, while the eastbound link includes the layover at the platform.

The westbound links are generally uneventful, and stay fairly well clustered around the trend line showing that running times are quite consistent from car to car.  Over the day, there is little variation in the trend line indicating that peak period effects are quite small.  There is somewhat more scatter in the data for the link through St. Clair West Station (Tweedsmuir to Bathurst) showing the variation in dwell times at that location.  One outlier at about 21:40 is a car that took a long layover in the station and then re-entered service.

The eastbound links show the effect of the delay at Old Weston Road.  The first car was held in the Keele to Caledonia segment, while the following three remained west of Keele, and their delay shows up in the Gunn’s to Keele segment.  Within the Caledonia to Landsowne segment, we see the effect of crew changes at Lansdowne, a few of which hold cars for extended periods.  The Yonge to St. Clair Station segment shows the size of and variation in layovers taken at this terminal.

Overall, there is little visible effect from the peak period on running times over the entire route.  In a later post, I will review this data looking at the month as a whole, and at the route as a whole.


Although the link times show no pervasive effects from traffic congestion or loading delays at any time of day, the picture for headways is far from ideal.  The scheduled headways on St. Clair are:

  • AM Peak:  2’55”
  • Daytime:  6’00”
  • PM Peak 3’30”
  • Early Evening:  6’00”
  • Late Evening:  9’00”

2010.07.05 Headways Westbound

2010.07.05 Headways Eastbound

A common situation in all of the headway charts is the spikiness of the line tracing the data.  Although the trend line follows the overall pattern of the scheduled headways, the individual values wander quite a bit from the target.  By TTC standards, a vehicle can be up to 3 minutes off schedule and be considered “on time”.  This produces the absurd effect on a route like St. Clair where pairs of cars can operate together (one 3 minutes ahead, one 3 minutes behind schedule), providing much worse than the advertised service, and still be considered “on time”.  Statistics purporting to show service quality using this type of metric are meaningless.

The effect of the delay at the west end of the route is obvious at Yonge Street in the late morning and midday when headways widen due to short-turns further west.  Of particular note is the large gap at about 12:30 over an hour after the delay at Old Weston Road cleared.  Looking at the chart of all service, one can see that short turning to sort out the headways didn’t actually begin until about 12:10.

Bunching is common through the PM peak and early evening causing headways well above the advertised level.

The eastbound headway charts show similar behaviour.

What is quite striking here and in charts for later days in the month is the degree to which headway regularity is not a hallmark of the operation even though the major source of delay has been eliminated with the right-of-way.  I will return to this in the next article.

11 thoughts on “Analysis of 512 St. Clair Operations for July 2010 — Part I (Introduction)

  1. A number of questions I haven’t seen the answer to anywhere. What procedure does the TTC in general, or its individual line managers, use for line supervision? It’s sort of difficult to divine this from what one sees riding the streetcars. For instance, at Spadina station sometimes the supervisor will direct the streetcar to a specific terminus (King, Queen’s Quay, or Union) and regulate how many people board each streetcar and when it departs. And sometimes the driver will decide all this on their own.

    Steve: A lot of this depends on the supervisor. Some are very active and good at organizing the service on an ad hoc basis to provide reasonable headways along the line. This is most easily done on a short route like Spadina where it is impossible for operators to get wildly off schedule relative to the point at which they are due for breaks. Some supervisors do little more than chat with passing operators, occasionally producing significant gaps in service in the process, and note the passing car. The most amusing situation sees two supervisors who are supposed to be managing the line from different points of view keeping each other company on a street corner.

    There was talk of giving the supervisors hand-held displays showing the location of cars on their routes. Oddly enough, this info is available to anyone with a browser, but not from the TTC. It’s a situation that cries out for the use of wireless technology, but the TTC hasn’t made it past pencil and paper yet.

    As for drivers deciding things on their own, this tends to happen at off hours although what looks like a driver decision may be a response to a message from CIS Control who are watching the lines centrally.

    Let’s consider the most state-of-the art line management system we can think of. What sort of equipment is used to obtain the GPS position of the car and relay it to NextBus? How hard would it be to relay that information to a supervisor as well? How hard would it be to establish two-way communication between the supervisor and the streetcars? If NextBus and the taxi system already do portions of all of the above, how hard would it be for the TTC to set up such a system without spending millions more on some consultant? Would this give us anything, for instance would the supervisor then be able to direct cars in the middle to the line to space themselves out evenly?

    Steve: The technology exists already. The problem is that the TTC does not exploit it as well as they might. Indeed, I believe that they don’t even do the sort of analysis I have been performing here for four years to see how well, or not, their line management techniques work on a day to day basis.

    Finally, we have to recognize that the streetcar system used to have reasonable line management without any fancy GPS-real-time route displays, just with a larger number of supervisors posted at intersections along the line. How did TTC line management procedures differ then as opposed to now?

    Steve: The Inspectors (as they were then known) had a good feel for the lines they worked on, and they also actively managed service including holding cars where necessary to space out the runs. They knew which operators had a tendency to run hot leaving their followers in a big gap (aka “soaking”), and would try to compensate. They also knew which operators were good at making up time and counted on them to help fill gaps.

    Two major changes have happened since “the good old days”. First, there is a lot less service on the street, and there are fewer vehicles to play around with. Short turns create even bigger holes in service, and riders (those who remain) feel the effects more today than 30 years ago. Second, the TTC went through a period when all supervision was transferred to central CIS Control and in the process the “feel” for routes and operators was lost. We now have a hybrid arrangement, but the quality of info available to those on the street needs a lot of improvement. I can probably find out more in 15 seconds on my Blackberry than a supervisor standing at King and University knows (unless he uses the same approach).


  2. Interesting article. I hope TTC starts to improve on headway management, as more months of experience are accumulated. A simple metric on quality of headway management might help. For example, fraction of cars with headways < "x" minutes, where "x" could be a constant value like 10 minutes, or something more sophisticated like " 2 x scheduled headway". I personally favour 10 minutes as a reasonable upper limit for how long a suffering passenger should have to wait.

    There are about 240 movements each day. For example, if you pick x = 12 mins (for convenience, as it is easy to pick off the graphs, although this is generous), the westbound headway management index is about 232/240 or 96.7% and is relatively constant over the entire westbound route. Eastbound, the index is more variable, with the poorest performance near the eastern end at about 225/240 = 93.7%

    Ideally the metric would be tracked by TTC and reported and hopefully we would see improvement over the months.

    Steve: It is important to take this measurement at different times of the day rather than using all day averages. Another important consideration is that service that is off headway causes uneven loadings on cars. In the worst case, one could have two cars, one full, one empty, with an “average” load that met the Service Standards. It might even trigger a reduction in service. If the cars ran on something vaguely like proper spacing, everyone would have a more pleasant journey, and the average wait would be lower. This is the single largest problem with transit service, but for years the excuse of “traffic congestion” has been used to avoid proper headway management. There are limits on this in mixed traffic, but it’s not impossible, and complete abdication of responsibility is not a valid approach to provision of good service.

    I will contemplate this and see if I can come up with an easy way to digest the data into the sort of format you suggest.


  3. Most of the gaps and bunches are caused by that short section of track east of Yonge that is not on a ROW. That section is always congested with cars and streetcars get delayed, first while waiting to turn left out of St. Clair Stn., and second while they inch their way to the Yonge and St. Clair intersection. Yonge gets all the green time.

    Steve: Actually, that is not true. The link times westbound from the Station to Yonge are quite consistent. The departure times from the station (and from Gunn’s Loop) are not. Often there is no apparent attempt to space the service along the way, and pairs of cars travel together for an entire trip.

    Sorry, but you can’t blame flaky headways on the west end of the line on a small piece of street running east of Yonge. Are you thinking of becoming a spokesman for TTC?


  4. If a paper schedule at a streetcar stops indicates F.S. (Frequent Service- 10 minutes or less), does that mean during that period of F.S. that the management is headway based? Or is there still a schedule for streetcars during F.S.?

    Steve: There is a schedule, although it is meaningless given that +/-3 minutes is considered to be “on time”. I occasionally see posted schedules with every single trip listed, even if there is no branching involved. Oddly enough, the one streetcar route where this would be useful, the 501 to Long Branch, rarely has posted times, although given the reliability of that route they wouldn’t mean much anyhow.


  5. For the link time charts, could you produce a set where the maximum value on the y axis is about 15 minutes rather than 42? It would make it much easier to see the amount of variation, even though some points would be off the chart.

    Steve: I will fix this. I noticed it after I had started to write the article and will redo the charts with a different maximum Y value.


  6. I recently drove west along that section of St. Clair every day for the last eight months (from Mt. Pleasant to Christie) at various times of the day and saw with my own eyes what was happening from the loop to St. Clair and Yonge. My car was backed up just like the streetcars trying to get through the Yonge-St. Clair intersection. I suggest you head out there one day and look for yourself. Data is data — my eyes are my eyes.

    Steve: I know it happens, but it doesn’t explain the utter absence of headway management on the rest of the route.


  7. As I have seen streetcars on St. Clair in bunches of four, I’ll agree with you on that, although in fairness to the TTC, some of it is attributable to the ripple effect of a delay propagating across the route.

    What I’d like to know is how you can justify advocating for more light rail in Toronto with the knowledge that it will be subject to the same kind of craptastic route management that St. Clair currently experiences. Explain to us how this will magically change with TC. Will Metrolinx outsource TC operations to a private operator with a different operating philosophy/culture?

    I can just see it now … an Eglinton LRT with erratic headways in the underground section — and a TTC blaming everything on service hiccups propagating west from the surface sections in the east.

    Steve: On that basis, I wouldn’t trust them to run a bus, let alone a subway train. As you know, they work much harder at maintaining headways on the subway, and do some fairly aggressive things with crew swaps to recover from major delays without having to short turn every train. Even so, we hear grumbling about all the things passengers do to hold up the service, even though the schedules actually have enough padding that queues at terminals are not uncommon when service is running without incident.

    The nature of the subway is such that operators cannot run hot (the signal system manages the headways unless the line is badly screwed up), and the idea of taking a siesta at a terminal is unheard of. Even so, one can find occasions where a crew change didn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped and this creates a delay. However, that tends to get smoothed out by the dispatch at time points and, possibly, by intervention from Transit Control holding a train with a gap behind it.

    As I have noted many times before, surface route supervisors, at least those on the street, still don’t have the ability to “see” the next car even though I can do it on my Blackberry, and don’t have as good tools as the subway folks (or the level of manpower) to manage their lines.

    As for LRT advocacy, well, we could spend $3-billion to build a subway to carry a handful of people, and have a gzillion supervisors ensuring that the three riders waiting for each train would see a regular headway, or we could spend a lot less and work on applying some decent line management to the operation. I fail to understand why we should pay an enormous premium for infrastructure to overcome the TTC’s attitude to surface routes as a second-class operation.


  8. “I fail to understand why we should pay an enormous premium for infrastructure to overcome the TTC’s attitude to surface routes as a second-class operation”

    Because TTC (surface vs. subway) culture is unchangeable. The subway is serious business, and operators know they can’t mess around down there. For example, and this is going way WAY back — as you know, when the Bloor subway first opened, many of its operators were former Bloor streetcar drivers redeployed to the subway. Well, I remember these former streetcar drivers requesting transfers back to surface operations en masse (like rats from a sinking ship) only a few weeks after the subway opened. Why? …

    a) they didn’t like the very strict schedule adherence the interlined subway required (vs. the flexibility in operation that they previously enjoyed on the surface)
    b) they didn’t like the mandatory unplanned overtime forced upon them each day on short-notice (a side-effect of the entire 3-route system gradually drifting off schedule as the day progressed).

    Of course the wye was the culprit, but I mention this story only because it says a lot about the cultural difference between the streetcar and subway camps within the TTC. It’s also a good indicator as to why, given that same culture, unplanned/on-the-fly overtime and headway-based management on, say, Queen are unworkable strategies.


  9. I am on other transit web sites and the Globe and Mail comment section and I have found, though I haven’t taken a poll or anything, a lot of annimosity of commentators toward the Transit City Plan and they use St. Clair ROW as an example of why LRT won’t work!! I know the St. Clair ROW is not exactly like the planned LRT but their are some similarities. One thing that keeps on popping up, and I am almost positive that it is misinformation, is that the St. Clair ROW had huge cost overruns! I wasn’t aware of this and I am starting to think that a lot misinformation is being spread about this project! I might be wrong but I thought it was close to the planned budget but it went a little over on the scheduled time to construct this ROW.

    Another note that I have read people comment on, is that business’ have suffered from this project! I don’t know if this is misinformation as well because I don’t get up there that often, but the few times I have seen it- St. Clair seemed pretty vibrant to me with lots of pedestrian traffic- lots of shoppers- meaning good economic activity (I know it was the holiday season recently but I don’t have a lot of time off anymore and can’t observe the area everyday). Like I said the street looked pretty vibrant and, maybe they exist, but I didn’t notice any pawn shops or cheque cashing business, but rather healthier type of business and restaurants on this avenue.

    I was hoping you could clear a lot of misinformation (I hope it is) by Transit City foes who use the St. Clair Streetcar ROW as ammunition to try and squash this LRT plan, which is a little different then a streetcar on a ROW. Also I don’t have a pre-construction view of St. Clair before this ROW was constructed because I arrived here indirectly from Vancouver and this project was already on. Maybe business and traffic is better maybe not- what I have seen though the street looks like it is working- as I said earlier, St. Clair looks quite vibrant from what I saw during my time off this holiday season.

    Steve: The trolls who hate me hang out on other sites, and I have reached the point where I only go to the Transportation Forum on Urban Toronto on rare occasions because I learn that there’s something I need to read. I may be accused of being LRT-centric to a fault here, but I try to be fair and let reasonable debate flow in the comments. There is a double standard among many in Toronto that the most outlandish claims can be made for subways, but let an LRT advocate suggest that there might be another way to do things, and they get pummelled.

    As for shops going out of business, yes, any type of construction will make life difficult for businesses along a street. However, I live in a reasonably well-off neighbourhood (Broadview and Danforth), and there are a few shops empty here quite routinely. They went out of business because they were not selling stuff people wanted, or because the landlord wanted too much rent. Some have remained vacant despite the absence of construction or of streetcars on Danforth.

    A badly done construction job can really cock up a neighbourhood, but it’s not the only reason stores go out of business.


  10. I live near the western end of the line, and you can’t blame the problems on delays coming out of St. Clair Station. I frequently see two cars running convoy out of Gunns Loop. I think the farside stops contribute something as well, as we have delays for advance greens which allow cars to get bunched up whilst waiting to cross the intersection and again to let passengers disembark.

    And I don’t know why this has to be pointed out every time, but this issue with gaps and bunches is not a LRT-specific issue. The same thing happens on every frequent-service bus route, whether it be a long route like Dufferin or a shorter route like Symington (to name two in the same part of town). Using the argument that TTC culture will never change as an excuse to build more subways is pretty weak tea. If Ford wants to argue that streetcars are unreliable and cause congestion, let him prove it by implementing better service on the 90% of surface routes that aren’t streetcars.

    Steve: It’s worth looking back at my analysis of 29 Dufferin from Christmas Day 2006 and related articles. I am looking forward to the availability of data for the entire system, assuming that the TTC makes good on the previous Commission’s direction to make archival data available through the Open Data portal, so that I can review operations on many routes without waiting months for a special-request data extract. Meanwhile, you will likely be able to watch the routes in real time on a few non-TTC sites discussed in another post on this site.


  11. “Steve: The trolls who hate me hang out on other sites, and I have reached the point where I only go to the Transportation Forum on Urban Toronto on rare occasions because I learn that there’s something I need to read …”

    I don’t go there anymore either — the conversation on that board consists of the same 8 or 9 1001 Queen W. escapees spewing venom back and forth, rehashing the same arguments over and over and over. What’s the point?


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