South Spadina Headways: What the Riders See

The matter of service on Spadina south of King has been before the TTC on two previous occasions, most recently in March 2011.

In brief, local riders and their Councillor, Adam Vaughan, complain that service is poor and riders are packed into streetcars.  TTC staff reply that the average load on a streetcar south of King is 29, and therefore additional service is not justified.  This matter was held down in March in order to get updated riding counts on the route.

The problem with the TTC’s analysis is that it looks at overall averages, not at the specifics of actual experience on the route.  Most importantly, if a service that is supposed to run every 7’30” is badly disrupted and unreliable, then wide headways will be common.  Because more riders accumulate waiting for long gaps than short ones, the “average” rider’s experience will be a long wait followed by an overcrowded car.  This situation exists on many TTC routes, but it is particularly troubling if that is the case on a short route with an entirely private right-of-way.

First, let’s have a look at how well behaved headways are in this area.  Before you even open the file, I will warn you that it’s a real mess.  The intention is to show the mess before attempting an analysis.

South of King Northbound Headways February 2010

Those of you familiar with my previous analyses of TTC’s vehicle monitoring data will recognize this chart as a scatter diagram of headways by time of day.  Each dot represents one car.  The vertical position on the chart is the headway as seen just south of King Street northbound, and the horizontal position is the time of day.

If the service were well-behaved, these points should be clustered on either side of the scheduled headway through the day.  However, the points appear as a cloud with little discernible concentration.  This means that the actual headways seen by customers are essentially random, and they are spread over a wide range.  Many cars run close together, and gaps over 10 minutes are common.

My next step was to break down this information based on the TTC’s standard that service ±3 minutes of schedule is considered to be “on time”.  Of course riders don’t care about the schedule, only the headway, and it is the headway that determines the wait time and average load on a car.  For the purpose of this analysis, I subdivided the information about each car into three categories:

  • Early (headway less than 4.5 minutes on a 7.5 minute schedule)
  • Late (headway greater than 10.5 minutes on a 7.5 minute schedule)
  • On time (headways between 4.5 and 10.5 minutes)

It’s worth noting that, assuming a uniform arrival rate for passengers, that a car carrying a 10.5 minute headway will have over twice the passengers than one carrying 4.5 minutes.

Headway Distribution ±3 minutes South Of King Northbound February 2010

There are four pages for this chart, one for each half-hour interval from 0700 to 0900.  The vertical bars represent each weekday, and the rightmost bar averages the values over the month.

The dark red portion of each bar shows how many cars were “on time”.  The cream and blue portions are the “early” and “late” cars respectively.

On a 7’30” headway, there should be 4 cars in each half hour, although minor variations may give us 3 or 5 where a car expected in one period actually arrived in an adjacent one.

Between 0700 and 0730, things are fairly well behaved, but the service becomes less reliable as the AM peak continues.  At least half of the service fails the TTC’s own “on time” test, even averaged over the entire month.  For some periods and days, most of the headways lie outside of the acceptable range.  This means that a large proportion of the riders on the south end of Spadina receive far worse service than is advertised, or even what is considered acceptable by the TTC’s own standards.

If we considered a tighter standard allowing only ±2 minutes, the situation is even worse.

Headway Distribution ±2 minutes South of King Northbound February 2010

When the TTC reports its riding counts, it does not include any information about the reliability of service.  Moreover, if short turn trips are mixed in, these may be counted and dilute the average even though they are not of use to all riders.

In the case of northbound service at King, this isn’t an issue.  However, short turns southbound do affect the quality of service on Queen’s Quay eastbound to Union Station, as well as westbound for riders wishing to travel northwest to locations on Spadina.  During the AM peak, almost all of the scheduled service reaches Union Station, albeit on an erratic headway.  However, starting about 9am, short turning at Queen’s Quay Loop becomes fairly common and disrupts service reliability on Queen’s Quay.

York Eastbound Headways February 2010

This chart contains five pages.  The first is the monthly headway scatter diagram similar to the one shown above for service northbound at King.  Once again we see a cloud of data points spread over a wide range of values.  It is worth mentioning what the scheduled headway is supposed to be here:

  • AM peak: 7’30”
  • Midday: 5’40”
  • PM peak:  6’00”
  • Early evening:  6’00”
  • Late evening:  6’00”

The next four pages of the chart break down the cloud of data into individual weeks and add trend lines for each day.  These lines show how the typical headways are, overall, higher than the scheduled value.  This is due to short turns at Queen’s Quay Loop.  The variation in headways with many values well over 9 minutes (the high end of the “on time” standard for a 6 minute headway) shows just how far actual service quality is from what the TTC advertises.

Soon, the bus network will switch over completely to GPS-based vehicle tracking, and the data stream is supposed to be made public.  Whether this actually happens depends in part on the success of TTC managers, who prefer to hide information about service quality, in convincing the new Commission of the need for this secrecy.  In our new era of “Customer Service” and “Transparency”, there will be no excuse, and we may finally start to see just how bad service is on the system as a whole.

Meanwhile on Spadina, TTC staff will again claim that there is lots of service.  The problem is that it does not run reliably.  Capacity could be provided out of thin air simply by spacing cars regularly so that wait times were predictable and loads accumulated more evenly.  However, that would require the TTC actually do something about its service rather than gripe about the cost of more service, the lack of equipment or traffic congestion.

Subway City? (Update 3)

Updated April 2, 2011 at 6:30 am: Additional details about the plan have been provided by Metrolinx.  The dialog below has been slightly edited from email exchanges, but preserves the sense of the conversation.

Q:  The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) refers to both Black Creek and Jane as western terminals for the Eglinton line.  However, these are over 1km apart.  Where will the line actually end?  How will the line connect with the GO corridor if it ends at Black Creek?

A: The exact terminus for the Eglinton line, which is in the Mt. Dennis area, will be determined through a future additional study due to the vertical and horizontal alignment (how steep the grades can be climbing out of the tunnel and which side of the road we will be on to approach the yard) between Black Creek Drive and Jane Street. The objective is to make the connection to the GO rail corridor.

Q:  When does Metrolinx expect to have a preliminary design proposal for the section of the line east of Leaside that will now be substantially underground?

A:  We are meeting with the TTC now to discuss the timing for the preliminary plans and profiles for the underground segment.

Q:  The SRT replacement is described as ending at STC. Does this mean that McCowan will be abandoned as a station? Will the proposed right-of-way beyond McCowan to Sheppard and Malvern be protected to allow for future extension of the route? Is there any plan for an eastern yard so that trains would not all have to be based at the Black Creek yard?

A: The Scarborough LRT would follow the same route as the existing SRT and will include McCowan Station. At this time, there are no plans to close McCowan Station. We do see value in potentially re-using the McCowan yard for at least a layover site and we will need to study this further.

Q: Although the MOU states the number of stations on the Toronto projects, it does not mention this with respect to Eglinton.  The press release specifies 26 stations.  When will Metrolinx produce a station plan for the new line?

A: The exact number and location of stations for the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT project will be finalized as part of the environmental assessment amendment process.

We expect the Eglinton project will have about 26 stations along a 25-kilometre stretch, and we’re pleased to provide this as a single-seat trip for residents from Scarborough to the Mount Dennis Area.

Since the new Eglinton project has changed from the previous concept, the working assumption now is that the station spacing across the route is approximately at 1 kilometre.

We want to make certain that residents get the best use from the Eglinton line, so we are taking more time to study the specifics of the project to determine the exact number and best locations for the stations along the Eglinton line.

The finalization of the Eglinton line and the locations of the station will be part of the preliminary engineering and Environmental Assessment, which is expected to be completed in the coming months.

Comment: The 26-station count includes not just Eglinton but also the SRT.  There were 26 stops on the Transit City version of Eglinton, not including Kennedy, and 6 more on the SRT.  The new combined route will have to go on a diet, and the roughly 1km average spacing implies that some stations will be dropped.  Throughout the Transit City debates, Metrolinx consistently wanted fewer stations on Eglinton, although at the time the underground section was shorter.

Q: Although the MOU makes reference to “LRT”, for certainty does this mean “Light Rapid Transit” as in the Flexity cars recently ordered from Bombardier, or is Metrolinx contemplating a return to ICTS Mark II technology once proposed for this route? This is an important decision as it affects the ability of the line to be extended.

A: On June 14, 2010, Metrolinx announced a $770M purchase of Light Rail vehicles from Bombardier, which included vehicles for the SRT upgrading project. We expect that we will need about 130 LRTs for the adjusted plan, but we will have to sit down with Bombardier and discuss the details. At this time, we do not plan to change from LRT to ICTS MARK II technology.

Comment: “At this time” are three little words that could do a world of damage to future LRT expansion in Toronto.  Metrolinx owes us a definitive answer in the context of their Big Move plan.

Q: The Sheppard East LRT’s costs to date are chargeable to Toronto, but one piece of work already underway is the Agincourt Station grade separation. Is this going to proceed independently of the LRT project as a GO improvement? If so, will it be built with room for a future LRT right of way if that scheme is resurrected?

A: At this time, there are no plans to change the current design for the Agincourt grade-separation. The grade separation construction work that is currently underway at the Agincourt GO Station to separate the GO tracks from Sheppard Avenue will proceed independently of the former LRT project.

It is important to note, though, that this grade separation construction work is an important safety improvement for GO commuters and drivers that use Sheppard Avenue. This grade separation is a project that has benefits to GO’s operations and traffic.

Continue reading

Rob Ford’s Designs on Metrolinx (Update 2)

Updated 9:45am: Environmentalists scoffed at plans to convert rail corridors to roadways.  “Electrification of GO was our big chance to show the world just how green a transit system could be”, said Jamie Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.  Trains would not just run with clean electricity from overhead wires, they could be covered with solar panels to provide supplementary power, and wind turbines could be mounted on every car.

“We always suspected Metrolinx didn’t believe in electrification, and Queen’s Park’s quick embrace of Ford’s scheme shows we were right”, said Kirkpatrick.

Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne refused comment on rumours that a new “Ministry of Highways” would be unveiled in the coming provincial election campaign.

Updated 9:00am: Sources inside the Harper Campaign leaked word that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, eager to show Federal support for Mayor Ford, will ditch their hopes for GO rail service to Peterborough.  In its place will be the “Shining Waters Expressway” linking directly into Toronto’s highway system in the Don Valley.  The Harper Government, if re-elected, will support the project through PPP Canada.

Mayor Ford welcomed the early endorsement of his rail corridor plan saying that with the private sector involved, the taxpayers of Ontario and Canada will benefit from his own innovative financing for the Sheppard subway.

Original post from 8:00 am:

As illustrated on our banner, the Ford clan has secret plans for conversion of the commuter rail network to a new highway scheme.

After banishing LRT from city streets, Mayor Ford continues the hunt for public spaces that are wasted on transit.  Ford argues that the rail lines are empty most of the time, and they’re a vital resource in re-establishing the balance between transit and cars.

Premier McGuinty was not available for comment, but sources tell us that he’s open to any reasonable suggestion from his friend at City Hall.  The Air Rail Link may be the first candidate for this scheme, although community opposition may demand that the line be reserved for hybrid cars.

More info as this story develops.

(Thanks to Len Dieter and Mike Sullivan for catching a test run of Ford’s proposal.)