Headway Reliability on 501 Queen for November 2011

This is the first in a series of posts about service on the Queen car following on from my article about evaluating the quality of transit service.  Queen is a major TTC route that includes many problems including its length, traffic congestion in certain parts of the route, and a general dissatisfaction among riders.

Just how bad is the service?  A common observation from riders is that they can walk to their destination without being passed by a streetcar.  On the outer ends of the route, service can be unpredictable especially west of Humber Loop where only half of the service is even scheduled to travel and some of that is short-turned.

The TTC’s goal is to operate 70% of streetcar service within 3 minutes of the advertised headway.  On Queen, scheduled headways at most times lie in the range from 5 to 7 minutes, and this translates to an acceptable band of service that treats gaps of up to 10 minutes as “punctual”.  In practice, the route rarely attains that 70% score.

Service at Yonge Street

The first two sets of charts show the service as it actually operated at Yonge Street eastbound and westbound.



  • Each set of charts contains 15 pages corresponding to various parts of weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  The horizontal bars give the percentage of cars at Yonge Street on various headways between 0 and 30 minutes.  (Each time interval spans from 30 second below to 30 seconds above the value shown.  The “30” bar contains any car with a headway greater than 29’30”.)
  • If service were mainly on time, then most of the trips would be cluster in a few bars around the scheduled headway (which is shown in the legend on each page).  Most of the charts do not show this pattern.
  • November 2011 saw two separate schedules operated on Queen.  For the first three weeks, it was the “normal” service, but effective Sunday, November 20, the schedule provided for a diversion around Metrolinx construction at Queen and Dufferin with extra running time and slightly wider scheduled headways.  The diversion did not actually start until Saturday, November 26.
  • On the charts, two lines are shown for each headway value with data for the period of the two schedules split apart.

During the AM peak, most of the headways westbound at Yonge lies in a band between 1 and 8 minutes.  This is roughly in line with the TTC’s ±3 minute target, although there is no peak in values right at the scheduled headway.

By midday weekdays, the values start to spread out with more in the range above 10 minutes, and a relatively high number of 1 and 2 minute headways.  The latter are, for practical purposes, cars that are running as or very close to pairs showing that bunching is developing as a common situation.  Over 30% of the headways are 2’30” or less.

By the PM peak, things are more or less back to where they were in the AM.

In the early evening, the same effect as at midday appears with headway values spreading out and bunching re-appearing.  By late evening, things get really bad with headways fairly evenly distributed between 2 and 12 minutes on a nominal 10 minute headway, and about 20% of the service is bunched.

On Saturdays, early morning service is spread over a range of headways up to 13 minutes on a nomally 7’30” schedule, but bunching is already evident.  The situation continues into the later part of the morning even though the scheduled headway is now 6’15”.  By the afternoon, the most common headways are from 2’30” down on a schedule of 4’20”.  In effect, much of the service is running as two-car trains.  This continues into the evening on a wider scheduled headway.

Sunday is even worse than Saturday with headways all over the map even though this cannot be explained by “congestion” especially in the morning.

Service to and from The Beach

The Beach provides a different view of service.  Westbound, especially early in the day, service should run close to schedule and with reliable headways because nothing has had a chance to interfere yet.  As the day progresses things can deteriorate.  We already saw eastbound service at Yonge which was quite unreliable, but at Woodbine, we see the effect of short turns at Russell Carhouse (east of Greenwood) or at Woodbine Loop (Kingston Road).




Westbound at Neville in the AM peak, the headways are clustered around the 5 minute bar as one would expect for “on time” service.  Even so, this leaves some room for variation with headways above 8 and at or below 2 minutes lying outside of the target band.

The clustering of headways around the schedule continues into midday, but by now longer gaps are showing up with several cars at over 10 minute headways.  The comparable chart at Greenwood looks much like the AM peak showing that service west of Woodbine Loop is being maintained by short-turns.  The pattern continues into the PM peak.  Through the evening, service regularity starts to unwind, especially in the late evening with a wide range of values.  (The bunching westbound from Neville is not seen at Greenwood because these are cars running in to Russell carhouse and typically following close behind a through car.)

Saturday service is not as well behaved as on weekdays, but the afternoon period is particularly bad with many wide gaps from Neville.  Again, the chart for Greenwood is better (although still not ideal) showing the effect of short-turns at Woodbine Loop.  Saturday evenings are a complete shambles even at Greenwood, let alone at Neville, in part because there are fewer cars to short-turn into gaps.

Sunday early morning service headways cluster around the scheduled value, but there instances of cars running well off-headway to be troubling.  By late morning, the service westbound at Neville and at Greenwood has become spread out into a wide range of headways.  By the afternoon, things are even worse at Neville with gaps over 20 minutes common, and although Greenwood benefits from short-turn activity, it has a lot of very short headways suggesting cars running in pairs.  Sunday evening isn’t much better, although by the late evening, some degree of clustering around the scheduled headway reappears in the data.

Service eastbound at Woodbine is considerably worse than what we saw eastbound at Yonge in previous charts revealing the effect of short-turns.  Headways are spread all over the map with multiple-headway gaps common.  Service gets to Neville almost by accident.

This confirms what anyone living in The Beach has known for years — the Queen car does not provide reliable service because so many of them short-turn and the headways are unpredictable ranging over a wide span.  This service is miles outside of the target any transit system, even the TTC, would consider acceptable.

While it could be claimed that less service is required to the eastern end of the line, the problem is that this service is unpredictable and very wide gaps are common.  The Beach is an affluent neighbourhood where driving is a common option for many residents, and the TTC service does not provide an attractive alternative.

Service in Parkdale

Most of the service westbound from Yonge reaches at least Roncesvalles although headways may be ragged by the time it arrives.  Inbound service is a mixture of through cars from Long Branch and Humber mixed in with short-turns from Sunnyside Loop.



As in The Beach, service east and west of Roncesvalles differs due to the effect of short-turns at Sunnyside.  Triller is just each of Roncesvalles, and Parkside is the eastern edge of High Park where the open track on The Queensway begins.

Weekday service does not show the peaking in data values we saw at Neville and Greenwood, and headways are scattered over a considerable range, especially late in the evening.  At that time, a 10’00” headway is scheduled, but many cars are well below and above the ±3 minute band.  Service at Triller is somewhat better than at Parkside, but the difference is not as marked we see in the east end where Woodbine Loop short turns are quite common.

Saturday service is very unreliable with headways scattered over a wide range especially in the afternoon and evening.  Service at Triller is slightly better than at Parkside.  (Note that there was no Saturday service at Triller for week 4 because of the diversion via King.)

Sunday service is more or less the same as Saturday’s.  Particularly galling is the almost uniform distribution of headway values during the late evening period.

This data suggests that little or no effort is made to manage the service to anything close to the scheduled headway, and cars will show up more or less randomly.

And Finally in Long Branch

Service west of Humber Loop is scheduled at half the level of the main Queen line to Neville.  It is subject to the compound effects of any problems east of Roncesvalles and, as in The Beach, gets service at times almost by accident.

501_2011.11_WB_Humber LB_Headways


Service westbound from Humber to Long Branch shows the effect of cars making a one-hour trip across the city.  Even in the AM peak, a nominally 10 minute headway is smeared out over a wide range of values from 0 to 20 minutes.  This pattern continues throughout weekdays and is especially bad late evenings when the 21 minute headway can be anything 5 minutes to almost half an hour with equal probability.

Weekend service is totally unpredictable even first thing in the morning.

Eastbound service from Long Branch Loop shows the effect of built-in recovery time built with headways clustered around the scheduled values.  The eastbound service is better behaved than the westbound service at Humber.  However, by late evening, inbound service is a shambles with headways ranging fairly uniformly from 0 to 30 minutes.

Saturdays start out with service reasonably closes to target, but they quickly fall apart and don’t recover for the rest of the day.  Sunday is more or less like Saturday except that the late evening service recovers some reliability.

What is particularly frustrating for would-be riders on Lake Shore between Humber and Long Branch is that outside the peak period over half of the trips are local, they are not  going east of Humber.  However, the service, if we can call  it that, is a shambles thanks to a combination of the hook-up with Queen, the effects of short-turns on what actually gets west of Humber, and absolutely no attempt to regulate headways.

I will continue this series with data for other months and with different presentations of the information to dig into what is actually happening.

Postscript — Data Preparation

This is for the benefit of comparatively recent readers of the site who have not seen my service analyses before.  It gives a once-over-lightly explanation of how these charts were produced.

  • Raw vehicle tracking data are supplied by the TTC giving the GPS co-ordinates of all cars on the line at (usually) 20 second intervals.
  • The GPS locations are “cleaned” by discarding values that are off-route (caused by diversions and by GPS resolution errors).
  • The locations are mapped into a linear set of values representing the distance from Neville to Long Branch.  This allows the creation of graphic timetables showing the “as operated” service (this method of presentation has been around since 1885).
  • An “as operated” timetable can be constructed by finding the times when each car crosses a point of interest (say Queen & Yonge).
  • From the “timetable”, headways between each car can be calculated.  The timetables for two points on the line can be used to calculate travel times from one location to another.
  • The initial analysis is done one day at a time, and the results are consolidated into monthly overviews.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but I’ve been programming since the early 1960s and much of the work is now automated.

26 thoughts on “Headway Reliability on 501 Queen for November 2011

  1. None of this surprises me – I’ve tried using the Queen & King streetcar west of Yonge for the last 6 years, and it’s always an adventure. You never know if you’re going to have to wait 20 minutes for a streetcar or see 5 of them in a row, even during rush hour. Short turns are common, even before you hit Roncesvalles. When going home from work in the evenings, I’d rather walk downtown to Queen/Dufferin than take a streetcar, it’s usually faster and you don’t have stand crushed next to other people on a packed streetcar.

    It would be interesting to do the same study on Dufferin – from my experience there is lots of bunching of the buses. A lot of times there will be several buses idling at the loop at Dufferin / Springhurst, with the drivers taking their break. Then they all suddenly leave at the same time, one-by-one. I sometimes wonder if they are trying to travel in “packs” so they can socialize, or if that’s just the best way the TTC thinks it can schedule service.

    Steve: I have done analyses of Dufferin before, and have data for that route for some of the same months as I have for Queen. It’s one I plan to turn to. Yes, the phenomenon of buses leaving Dufferin Loop in a pack has been around for a while and is a good example of the lack of proper headway management by the TTC.


  2. Steve wrote:

    “What is particularly frustrating for would-be riders on Lake Shore between Humber and Long Branch is that outside the peak period over half of the trips are local, they are not going east of Humber.”

    And this is why I have never understood why the TTC cannot dedicate one streetcar (if not two) for service along the Lake Shore only between Long Branch and Humber. They used some spare cars in 2007 during the St. Clair ROW work to do this, and can do so at the moment with spare cars off the 509 and 510. The TTC has no excuse not to use these spare cars to provide a test of this added service along the Lake Shore. Obviously, the TTC has the cars at the moment and the demand is already there.

    Steve: Outside of the peak period, when local demand on Lake Shore is particularly strong, there is no problem with spare cars. Nothing would prevent the TTC from running a service between Long Branch and Roncesvalles (so that it would connect with even short-turned Queen cars) except that they refuse to admit that through routing Queen and Long Branch was a mistake. Yes, a revised overlapped service would cost more money, but it would provide reliable service on Lake Shore.


  3. Steve,

    There is no reason why the TTC could not, on a test basis, to deploy two or three cars during the day to the Lake Shore. Simply run the 501 as is during the rush hour, and then re-assign two or three cars to run only between Long Branch and Humber. By cutting down the the number of cars ‘scheduled’ to run west of Humber from every second car to every third. This would certainly be a great way of the TTC to ‘test’ demand for local service along the Lake Shore before making any formal changes.


  4. Steve, how do your graphs handle headways of over 30 minutes? I can’t believe that the absolute maximum observable headway is in fact 30 minutes.

    Steve: As I said in the article, values over 30 are included in the “30” bar. They are rare enough on most of Queen that I didn’t want to take up the extra graph space making provision for individual values. They are there in the data. Wait for the next installment.

    I find the way to deal with the random headways is to use a real-time tool (TransSee) to check what’s coming when. If there’s a big gap, I go do something else for a while.

    Living one stop from Long Branch loop, and taking the streetcar east to Yonge at around 7 AM, prediction software doesn’t help if an operator leaves consistently early or late. In the current board period, the same operator consistently leaves 2’30” early, which I have learned to my dismay: the estimated arrival time at my stop jumps from 3 minutes to thirty seconds as the GPS detects the streetcar is pulling out of the loop.

    TransSee has the useful feature of comparing the run’s predicted/actual arrival versus the scheduled arrival.

    There’s also the problem when the software predicts a streetcar in ten or fifteen minutes, then the streetcar suddenly vanishes — it’s just short-turned at Kipling. Fortunately TransSee also provides location, so when I see the streetcar west of Kipling, at least I know it will get to Long Branch loop.

    The bottom line, at least in mornings, is to play the board period. Most operators are quite predictable, and you adjust to whether they leave early or late or on time. There aren’t too many that don’t show up at all — you learn to avoid their runs if that’s what they do.

    In the evenings, heading for Long Branch from Yonge, I go out when a Long Branch car is approaching. Usually, the operators are in a hurry to get somewhere, and may well be ten minutes ahead of schedule by the end, but I can’t honestly complain about that. Mind you, there are also operators who go slooooooowly, and manage to take an hour and a half from Yonge to Long Branch, and that’s not because there’s congestion: they are just plain slow.

    I look forward to link times and run graphs. I bet I can spot some runs that I’m quite familiar with.

    Steve: Coming soon. I wanted to concentrate on the headway charts in a format that could easily be compared with the previous article and which showed as bluntly as possible how the TTC is not managing the spread in headways. It is absolutely unacceptable to have such scattered headways on a service that runs every 10-20 minutes. One of these days, they will take something other than clean bathrooms as an important mark of “customer service”.


  5. Steve, 501’s in the Beach are a far more pleasant experience since they began running the SAC cars a few years ago. They are now fully crewed, basically 7 or 8 operators take over the cars at Russell and drive to Neville and back. The ‘main’ operator gets his break, it saves a short turn in most cases helps to get a car back on time.

    Steve: I will have to check, but I believe that SAC crews have not always been provided on Queen during some board periods, and the effect is visible in an increased amount of short-turning at Woodbine. My software tracks cars, not operators, and does not care how often a crew changes. If the car gets to Neville from Yonge, that’s one continuous trip.

    I don’t know if it’s true, but years back we were told by someone at Russell that the majority of short turns at Woodbine were more for getting the operator back on time and not getting the actual car back on time. Apparently to save overtime it’s important that the operators finish where they are supposed to, when they are supposed to. These current service adjustment cars do this as the main operator never takes his original car back on the return to Russell. (meaning they do not give these guys 15 minute breaks here). Crewing it this way does cost a lot of extra money so I do not know why the TTC can’t do this out west with a car from the subway to LB as you say.

    Steve: If the “501” route ended at Humber, then there would be a drop-back opportunity at Ronces similar to what they have at Russell. “507” cars could run independently from Dundas West to Long Branch providing a fairly regular service as these are areas where congestion delays are rare.

    On the general point of “costing money”, that is almost as standard a TTC excuse as “traffic congestion”. The question should be whether they are providing acceptable service. If not, then the money they “save” has actually contributed to ill-will among customers. They seem to understand that people prefer to ride in clean vehicles. The next step is to make them show up reliably. As you note below, the extra operators are not provided all of the time, but have a cost even when they are. How much of this might be saved by restructuring the line?

    I will say the drawback in the east is that these SAC cars only operate Mon-Fri from about noon or 1pm until 7 or 8 in the evening. Service, still as you say bunches badly in the AM with a lot of ‘missing’ cars. It’s not unusual to wait at the loop for 20-25 minutes around 900/930am to get some action. They also still run the 143 local in the PM rush to help pick up passengers at regular fare eastward from Woodbine Loop to Neville.

    Weekends are still rotten. I’m an old guy yet many times I have walked from Glen Manor east to Neville and have not had a streetcar pass me. Traffic is really not an issue either. Yes, in the rush hour it bunches at Woodbine thru to Lee with the lights and left turns but clear sailing after that and you never get stuck for long. It’s worse at Woodbine since they tore down the track and put in those 50 billion houses, each with a car or three. Your charts are interesting as I never really get downtown to see what’s going on there. Nice work sir!

    Steve: Thank you. I have been working on various ways of analyzing the TTC’s vehicle monitoring data for several years, although this is much easier now that they use GPS tracking and update the vehicle location accurately every 20 seconds. There is far less guesswork to handle bad or missing data, and the program that does this housecleaning is now considerably shorter.

    As for service evenings and weekends, I gave up going to the Fox years ago (and I live comparatively nearby at Broadview and Danforth) because getting home again was such an unpredictable process.


  6. I love seeing 501 streetcars leaving the terminals in pairs at 6am on Saturday mornings and leaving large gaps NOT.

    Steve: Cars leave terminals in pairs commonly at times when there is absolutely no excuse for this behaviour, and on many routes. My favourite example in past analyses has been on a Christmas Day with good weather when service is screwed up for no reason other than the complete absence of line management.


  7. Furthermore Mark Grimes, the Councillor of Ward 6, through which the Humber to Long Branch Loop, does absolutely nothing to get more streetcar service for his constituents. His only effort has been the premium express 145 Humber Bay bus to downtown, costing 2 tokens (a double fare), which sees more empty seats than full, in a TTC system where standing room on a rush hour bus is a bonus.


  8. Steve:

    Yes, a revised overlapped service would cost more money, but it would provide reliable service on Lake Shore.

    Surely throwing more cars (more money) at all the routes would help increase service reliability, as they could extend the terminal times and buffer the service.

    And they did this recently on 506 in the PM peak, at the sacrifice of a slight increase in the scheduled headway.

    In theory the cars should be more crowded, but in my own observations as a regular, the service does seem a bit more regular, less long delays, and less overpacked cars (because of the less long delays).

    It would be interesting to see this kind of analysis for the 506 PM peak both before and after the October 7, 2012 service adjustment.

    Steve: I don’t have the 506 data for October 2012, but I will ask for it the next time I request data. One thing I do have and will be publishing in a future article is the data for the Queen route when (a) it was diverting via Gerrard around the Queen East track and water project on an extended schedule, (b) the service restored to Queen but still on extended running times, and (c) the service after the “standard” running times were restored. This should make an interesting comparison.


  9. Just an FYI Steve:

    The 501 SAC cars stopped last summer for about 5 months during all of the construction/water main projects. They stopped running last March or April (when the 502/503 turned to buses) and I think? they started up again in late-October. Either late 2011 or Spring 2012 the hours of operation were changed slightly. They used to run 11 to 6 or so and now they run from 12 or 1230 until 730. Perhaps the odd Board when some sort of construction was scheduled they did not run but otherwise they are there.

    Also places like the Fox, who I think are with new owners once again suffer a lot in part because folks like you (and Broad/Dan IS pretty close) do not make the trek any more. I don’t blame you as evening/night service is real unpredictable like you say.

    Maybe the people out west should ‘whine’ a lot more and get the councillor more involved. We got this service in the Beach because of the new councillor pushing hard (Mary-Margaret McMahon) and all sorts of local petitions and ‘beach-whining’ that constantly barraged the TTC guys. It took a while but it eventually happened. Yes, I agree killing the 507 was a bad mistake, one which they will never admit.

    I do not know why, but there used to be a supervisor stationed at Neville to ‘release’ cars back into service. This only lasted a period and we heard from the drivers that he requested to be moved back to Russell. You could tell when he was at the loop, believe it or not, because he did not take transit, he drove the car and parked in the loop! I wonder if anybody will tell you why the super is no longer at the loop?

    Steve: A big problem the folks in Lakeshore West have is that the local Councillors are unsupportive and focus far more effort on a lightly used express bus from the Humber Bay condos than on the streetcar serving the much larger community. As for the supervisor who has to drive to Neville Loop — why does it take someone physically on the ground to do something that could be handled from a central dispatching post where the line as a whole could be managed?


  10. Steve wrote:

    “why does it take someone physically on the ground to do something that could be handled from a central dispatching post where the line as a whole could be managed?”

    Because sometimes a physical inspection works better. It’s that simple to me – it’s nice to have someone at a central location telling a driver to do this or do that, but it is also good to have an actual person present to physically see the issue. Dealing with an issue on a computer screen and seeing the issue in reality are two completely different things.

    Steve: I agree in principle, but I question the need for someone being paid around $100k to sit in Neville Loop dispatching cars at most one every 5 minutes. This is simply not a practical or reasonable use of resources that could be expanded system wide on all major lines. If the problem is that cars don’t leave terminals on a regular spacing, this is much bigger than having an army of nursemaids sitting at dispatch points all over the city.


  11. I checked the 501 schedule and there are something like 105 stops along the lines. If the odds are 99% that a car won’t get an appreciable delay at any one stop then the odds that a car will travel the entire line with no significant delay are about 35%. (0.99^105) If one car gets delayed then it ends up picking up passengers that should be on the car behind which will tend to get ahead of schedule. The line is too long to run efficiently in mixed traffic.

    If the TTC were to revert to CLRV’s instead of ALRV’s then the headways would be about 4 and 8 minutes instead of 6 and 12 which would make waiting times less. With the narrowness of most of Queen street it is not feasible to hold cars for time in the street. Even given that problem, there is no need for them to leave the terminal early or late. The GPS communication system should be able to tell when a car leaves a terminal and operators who are consistanly early or late should face some sanction.

    The line is definetly too long and the TTC made a mistake in joing 501 and 507, but they, administration, are all honourable men and their refusal to change back would have nothing to do with their not wanting to admit they made a mistake.


  12. Hey, we can solve two problems with one solution here. City-wide, there must surely be at least one plant on strike at any given time. They can send some of their strikers to critical dispatch points, such as Neville loop, to obstruct the tracks and only allow through one car every 5 minutes (or appropriate number of minutes based on the scheduled service level).

    But seriously, it really is galling that service could literally be improved by one person standing in front of the streetcar and refusing to move except once every five minutes and then only for long enough for one vehicle to get through. I think this single issue is the one that really points out that the critical problem is not funding, or infrastructure, or anything else (although there clearly are problems in those areas), but simply that management doesn’t care to instruct their workers to operate the system correctly and to have an appropriate system of discipline to ensure that the instructions are not undermined by insubordination.

    Steve: A subtle but important point here is that it should not be presumed that this type of operation is a result of evil, lazy union members undermining the noble attempts by management. The problem is that management not only does not manage, I don’t think they even know or care to know what they should be trying to accomplish. If this is painted as a union issue, this (a) portrays all operators as having no interest in providing good service and (b) absolves management of any responsibility.

    The “targets” for punctual service appearing in the CEO’s report (and the CGM’s report before it) simply take the actual level of service, as measured by a scheme in place for some time, and make that the “target”. That’s like me saying “I will get up every morning” and consider my work done when I roll out of bed.


  13. The Queen line cannot be managed well if HQ does not have all the relevant data to make a decision. In a modern control room powered by the Bombardier CityFlo150 or 250, surveillance camera feeds can viewed in real time. This way if a delivery truck is blocking the tram track, HQ can dispatch parking enforcement officers and tow trucks to the scene.

    Inside the operator’s cab, information about the line is almost non existent. On the CityFlo system, the operator can with a few mouse clicks access information like positions of other trains and wayside objects. In other word, the operator will be able to see whether a gap is developing or not. In addition, if the traffic signals are wired to the CityFlo system, the operator can see up to four traffic lights ahead with the remaining green or red time. This way it will be easier to make it through a yellow or green as oppose to stopping for a red.

    It must be added that GPS signal is only accurate within a few meter radius, so a GPS system is not accurate enough to run a heavy use tram line. A radio based system can be as accurate as 15cm.

    I believe that giving the operators and route managers more data is the better way to solve this headway issue. Most operators just want to do their jobs and not game the system.

    Steve: Whether it is Bombardier’s system or something else, the underlying issue is the desire to operate good service and use the technology available to make this possible. FYI the GPS that the TTC uses is accurate enough that I can resolve cars stopping nearside and farside at intersections in the vehicle monitoring data.


  14. Thanks, Steve, for the response. Yes, I should clarify that the main point of my comment is meant to be the “management isn’t managing” point, with only a footnote to the effect that some small fraction of operators would undoubtedly need some extra encouragement to do their job properly (and management, again, isn’t managing if they don’t provide for that). I believe many or most operators would love to start getting better information and direction from management if it made the route run better and their riders happier.

    I was actually thinking a little bit more about my “one person standing in front of the streetcars” thought experiment. Frequently, citizens who have a problem with their government or other large organization will protest. One form of protest is a blockade. Sometimes a blockade will allow some traffic through, perhaps after a delay. The citizens of the Beach(es?) have a problem with the TTC, a large organization. What would happen if the citizens organized a blockade of the Queen line to agitate for proper line management? With the strange quirk that, due to allowing through one car every appropriate number of minutes, the protest in and of itself would actually cause the service to run much better than usual.

    Not actually proposing anything, just an amusing thought that occurs to me while on parental leave.


  15. The best way to fix the 501 is to divide it up – the 507 out west (Long Branch to Dundas West), the 501 from Humber Loop to Woodbine, and a new streetcar route to operat from Neville to McCaul. There would still be overlap, the route would essentially become three shorter routes (which would presumable be easier to manage), and you get some help for the 504 King car (which could see some of its cars turned at Sunnyside.)


  16. It seems to me that the problem of route management (or lack thereof) is at least partly caused by lack of good information. The operators only know if they are ‘on time’ (unless they are in sight of another streetcar or bus). The Transit Control folk appear to be using the old CIS System (On the ‘How Should We Measure Transit Service Quality’ thread Gord just confirmed this) and the on-street inspectors appear to have paper notebooks.

    Customers have the GPS system so it appears that the customers actually have better information than the managers, supervisors or operators. (I suppose they could have the route supervisors situated at the transit shelters that have the Next Vehicle displays :-> ) Maybe time to equip the on-street folk with smart phones and have Transit Control use GPS?

    Steve: There are supposed to be new hand-held units coming for the Supervisors, but I have only seen one in use. Several years ago, there was a proposal to upgrade onboard displays so that operators would be able to see their routes and, of course, to integrate the GPS feed into the position info they have. This was a victim of budget cuts, plus (as I understand it) an attitude by some TTC management that this sort of thing isn’t important.


  17. “This was a victim of budget cuts, plus (as I understand it) an attitude by some TTC management that this sort of thing isn’t important.”

    Was bad service you describe the norm before Mike Harris was premier, when the TTC received subsidies from the Province?

    Steve: Decades ago, the ratio of service on the street to demand was higher, and some areas of severe congestion such as Queen West and the club district on King has not built up yet. When there was more service, the effect of short turns was still annoying but not as severe. The TTC is still managing lines in a style more appropriate to earlier times. On the budgetary side, cutbacks are forced for “efficiency” without taking into account just what the effects will be.


  18. in response to Mikey’s comment re: bad service the norm decades ago……

    I don’t know if you could call it bad service but here in the Beaches, short-turns (@KR) have been an annoyance since I was here in 1972.

    Check out the beginning editions of Ward 12 News (now Beach Metro) short turn complaints were a headline back in the early 70’s right on thru. I think the difference was that back in the 70’s when you got kicked off QUEEN (coming EB) at Coxwell or Kingston, by the time you got to the curb and lit a cigarette, another PCC was right there for you to board. Service was every 2 or 3 minutes back then.

    As Steve has pointed out many times before, if the headways are 2 or 3 minutes and a car or two does not show up, it’s a 3 or 6 minute wait. Nowadays if a 501 car or two does not come it is anywhere from a 7 to 20 minute (or more) gap. That is a huge difference.

    Steve: Some time ago, I wrote about the saga of the Queen car, and more generally of the study co-ordinated by the Streetcars for Toronto Committee in 1984 to document just how bad service was on many lines. A copy of the study is linked from my article.


  19. I was thinking that a constrained budget has forced the TTC to prioritize. But then again, those priorities might be influenced by politicians. If the TTC prioritized good service and management, who knows what political pet projects would have to be sacrificed?

    Steve: What’s more, politicians love to talk about building stuff because it means promises for the future, job creation, and all sorts of things that have nothing to do with making the system work better today. Also, capital projects tend to be paid for by someone else, while better service comes out of the City’s pocket through better subsidies.


  20. Everyone needs to have some skin in the game…everyone from the CEO down should have their bonus affected by the total number of obvious issues – leaving in a pack from endpoints should be calculated and the worst offenders identified…unless specifically approved by management (ie in high load situations). This stuff is ridiculous and now that the GPS is fleet wide for over 2 years, there is no reason this should be happening anymore…it shouldn’t happen in the first place, since if drivers can see the car in front of them leave the station they should be able to figure out how long they need to wait at the station for – but it definitely shouldn’t happen now because they should be enforcing it with a stick.


  21. I wonder if anyone has gone out with an iPad / tablet with a NextBus app to get a live and realtime picture of operations on a route like the 501 (or perhaps a shorter route).

    I’m curious to see how technology is allowing the interested public to have access to information that was once private with access limited (like those old supervisor clipboards…I wouldn’t dare take a peek or ask.

    Steve: I use NextBus on my Blackberry all the time to look at the condition of routes I am trying to use. It’s a lot easier than trying to look up the stop number for a connection point that I won’t arrive at for, say, 10 minutes.


  22. Today — January 23 — would be an excellent day to see how bad the Queen route can get.

    There was obviously trouble before the AM rush hour even got under way, and service to Long Branch seemed to have thirty-minute gaps (I didn’t bother walking to the stop to see for myself). However, service in the core section along Queen couldn’t be much better, as my streetcar left over fifty people at various tops from about Brock right through Spadina. One guy went into a whole rant about streetcar service (from the curb; he could not get on). As the headways seemed to be at least 10 minutes in the “frequent” section of the route, I doubt he could get on the next one either, assuming it came.

    The really bad thing is, here we are at 11 AM, and there are still herds of two to four streetcars running, and huge gaps all over the map. For instance, the only westbound car east of the Don River is currently in the Beaches, somewhere around Lee.

    Mind you, I also suspect that the on-line tracking systems aren’t working quite properly either. That can’t be attributed to the cold weather and icy rails, though.

    Steve: Looking at NextBus at 2:20 pm, the service seems to be all there and in roughly its usual midday condition. I would not be surprised if several runs did not get out of the yard on time for various reasons. This will be an interesting month to pull CIS data because we will see what the system looks like when things are really bad.


  23. The advent of proper vehicle tracking (over the TTC’s previous reliance on mirrors and a sextant) did get my hopes up for a while. However my expectations of better route management once again range within the narrow band between zero and zilch. It’s satisfying to know there is fulsome data nonetheless.

    Steve: I am always amused by the unintended double entendre that “fulsome” brings. Common usage imparts a meaning of “abundant”, but the other meaning of “flattering to an excessive degree” seems more appropriate for the type of “good news” stats the TTC puts out regularly. These days we see “fulsome” used a lot where “complete” or “substantial” might do. “Fulsome praise” is a particularly hilarious example where it can mean the exact opposite of what the speaker thinks it does — praise that is so obsequiously over the top as to clearly be ironic.


  24. Yes, the January 23 mess cleared up in an hour or two. Makes me wonder if there was a shift change or something in the CIS room.

    On a more general note, are there general policies and principles that CIS follows in managing a route, or is it ad hoc and up to whoever is on the board? It seems to me that this is a perfect opportunity for scenario-based training on a simulator. Some streetcars not available for service in the morning? Make your changes, and see how it works out. Accident blocking the tracks? Start diverting and short-turning. The route simulator could deliver stats on how effective, or not, your management was.

    While this morning’s weather was pretty messy, the Queen car was running fine. Either ALRVs are less susceptible to slush than they are to extreme cold, or there was a bit more effort on the part of TTC staff to get things running properly today.

    Speaking of cold weather, half the ALRVs seem to have defective heating, often in the rear part, but sometimes all over. Nothing like an hour’s ride on a cold, clammy streetcar where you can easily see your breath if you have the energy to exhale some.


  25. Yesterday and today were ugly days for headways. If NextBus is to be believed, there are 30 minute gaps on Queen in the middle of the afternoon. The snarky thing to say would be that no one noticed the difference from a regular day.

    Right now they have a rather large Coxwell-Queen-Parliament diversion of the 506 happening due to an accident at Broadview. Something like that leaves a lot of customers out in the cold. I wonder if the NextBus screens rolling out at selected transit stops has a provision to enable diversion announcements and if not, it should definitely be considered for the next software update in lieu of laying down more diversion trackage.

    By the way since someone mentioned it, I don’t know if this is a new thing but I have noticed a cold draft sneaking on to the streetcars via the rear doors. I avoid the seats immediately behind the rear door now.


  26. For an idea on how bad service was on the day of the snow storm, my transit prediction website, TransSee, got almost twice as many hits as it ever got before.

    Nextbus can show information messages for the system or individual routes. San Fransisco MUNI uses it all the time, but I only saw the TTC use it once, to apologize for showing the system wide data before it was ready.

    WhereIsMyStreetcar that shows recent messages from the TTC twitter account related to the route being viewed.

    TransSee shows off route vehicles so you are see the location of vehicles on diversion.


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