Looking Back: Restoring the Peter Witt Cars 2766 and 2894

1973 was quite a year for the streetcar system in Toronto.  The TTC had just decided to keep its fleet, and embarked on the rebuilding of its PCCs.  At the same time, an interest in TTC heritage led to the creation of the “Belt Line Tour Tram”, a regular fare tour car looping around downtown.

Only one small problem: the TTC didn’t have any cars fit to use for this service.  Car 2766, the last Witt on the property, only operated occasionally around Hillcrest for special events.  Car 2894 was sitting in a barn in Hawkestone, Ontario near Barrie.

Continue reading

Downtown Traffic Operations Study

The City of Toronto is studying transportation in the downtown.  The study area is bounded roughly by Lake Shore Boulevard/Harbour Street, Queen Street, Jarvis Street, and Bathurst Street.  The scope extends just north of Dundas between University and Yonge.

The intent is to find short-to-medium term improvements that are possible:

… getting more out of the existing transportation infrastructure, in an attempt to make travel in the downtown less challenging and more efficient for all road users.

There will be an Open House for this study in the rotunda of Metro Hall (John Street south of King) on Wednesday, March 27 from noon to 9:30pm.  The study’s website includes a link to a short survey of travel patterns.

This post will be used as a repository for updates on the study as well as comments from readers.

Second New Streetcar Enroute to Toronto (Updated)

Updated March 25, 2013 at 1:50pm:  The TTC has advised me that 4402 has been unloaded at Hillcrest and is now in the shops for inspection and testing.

Thanks to reader NickL who included a link in a recent comment to a photo of car 4402 on a flatcar coming to Toronto.  The photo is by Eric May on the Railpictures.ca website.

Car 4401 remains in Thunder Bay as Bombardier’s test car.

What Should Be In The Metrolinx Investment Strategy?

With much talk about “new revenue tools” and debates over the least objectionable way to extract $2-billion or more from taxpayers in southern Ontario, the actual purpose of the Metrolinx “Investment Strategy” has faded into the background.  Somehow the act of collecting all that money has become more important than figuring out what, exactly, we are going to do with it.

But, you say, don’t we have the Quick Wins?  The Big Seven?  The Second Wave?  Shovels are in the ground and all we need is the will to spend!

Things are not quite that simple.

What we do not have is a clear sense of what we will achieve and when we will achieve it.  In 2008 Metrolinx produced The Big Move, our regional transportation plan with two very broad objectives — a 15 and a 25 year plan.  Demand projections, including a vision of what traffic and transit might look like, only considered the fully-built 25-year plan, something we already know will not be finished (if ever) within the projected time span.

Some projects received a “Benefits Case Analysis”, but these studies considered each line in isolation rather than looking at what subsets of the whole plan would contribute to the network.  Indeed, the biggest “benefit” of many lines would be the money spent to build them, not their contribution to transit overall.  This would follow the tradition of transit projects in the GTHA as economic and job stimulus packages first, with transportation improvements as an afterthought.

An “Investment Strategy” is not simply a matter of figuring out where new revenues might be found, but of recommending the best way to use them, to “invest” in the future of the region. Continue reading

Kingston Road Construction News

The City of Toronto has issued a preliminary notice of the reconstruction of Kingston Road from Queen Street to Victoria Park Avenue.  This work will take place starting in June 2013 through to December and will include replacement of all the streetcar track.

This is the last major piece of track in regular service to be rebuilt to new standards introduced almost 20 years ago.  (Downtown tracks on Victoria, York, Richmond and Wellington will be replaced over the 2013 and 2014 construction seasons.)

York Street Construction News

The City of Toronto has issued a preliminary notice regarding the reconstruction of York Street from Wellington to Queen.

This will include pavement and sidewalk reconstruction, water main work, and the installation of new track.  This work includes replacement of the intersection at Queen & York, but not at King & York which is comparatively new.

Only the northbound track will be retained and, as I understand current plans, the special work at Adelaide Street will be removed.  If at a future date, the TTC decides to reactivate Adelaide Street from Charlotte east to Victoria, the York Street intersection will be dealt with at that time.

The City is studying Richmond and Adelaide Streets with a view to installing cycling lanes, and the reconstruction of Adelaide will depend on the design that emerges from this process.  A related issue is the ongoing construction of condos along Adelaide requiring curb lane occupancy and causing  damage to the road from heavy trucks.

Co-ordination with the Spadina & King project during August will be needed to ensure that there is one street clear for King and Queen services through downtown.

Saying “Sorry” Is Only The Beginning

TTC CEO Andy Byford’s Youtube apology for subway service fiascos on March 18 stirred a lot of interest, along with an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning.  This will no doubt continue at a town hall meeting tonight (which I cannot attend due to scheduling conflicts).

Monday afternoon’s peak was not a good one for TTC subway service:

  • 5:16 Trains holding for smoke at track level at Eglinton Station (cleared 5:31)
  • 5:25 Trains holding for smoke at track level at Keele Station (cleared 5:33)
  • 5:58 Power cut at Dupont halting service from St. George to St. Clair West.  Train doors opened in the tunnel.  24 minute delay

The times shown for the smoke delays are from timestamps on TTC e-Alerts, and the actual duration of the delay was probably longer.  We know from Byford’s comments that there were a few passenger assistance alarms from people requiring medical assistance, but these never showed up as official alerts to riders.

The TTC’s daily measurement of service punctuality for the Yonge line fell to 93%, below the target of 96%.  This is an all-day average of performance at many places on the line, and it takes a big upheaval in service to make a dent in the considerable amount of more-or-less punctual service rating for the line as a whole.  The index has never been known to fall below 90%.

The delays were only part of the regular menu of service disruptions including mechanical failures of trains, track and signal problems, weather, security incidents, not to mention suicides.  Running a well-behaved service can be quite challenging.  One of those challenges is to simply keep people informed about what is going on when multiple delays interact to foul up service, and info about what is left running changes from moment to moment.

Seeing Andy Byford there on YouTube with his mea culpa is a nice touch, but there is a limit to how many of these the TTC can issue before riders simply say “oh no, not again”.  The TTC’s new Customer Charter commits the organization to improvement, but the message coming through loud and clear at public meetings is “show me”.

Monday’s events highlight some obvious issues for managing complex events, but they also raise questions about how much we can reasonably expect of the transit system.

The incident with the doors opening on a train between stations was a matter of human error by the Guard who inexplicably opened them when the train was stopped north of Dupont Station at a red signal.  Automatic Train Control could have prevented this, but that’s years away and, fortunately, this sort of incident is extremely rare.  The TRs will only open their doors when the train is stopped, and indeed the sensing associated with this feature is part of the extra delay time when trains arrive at stations.

Updated Mar 21:

There has been another incident of train staff accidentally opening doors in the tunnel as reported today by the CBC.

Any incident like this, and including fires or smoke, requires a power cut and affects service in both directions, whereas an ill passenger, most of the time, holds up service only one way for a brief time while they are assisted off of the train.

However, there are a lot of incidents, and each of them adds to discontent among the affected riders.  Even if someone only encounters a major delay once or twice a month, that’s the experience they remember and tell their friends about.  What’s more, if the system cannot get through the rush hour without, simply as a matter of probabilities, having a few non-trivial delays, this compromises the TTC’s ability to achieve its planned capacity.

A few years ago, the TTC had an independent review by UK-based transport consultants who found that, generally speaking, the TTC subway wasn’t all that bad for systems of comparable age and technology.  However, the consultants warned that hoped for increase in capacity required more reliability in trains and infrastructure, fewer incidents of passenger illness caused by crowding, and a general attention to running as tight an operation as possible.  Some delays are inevitable, and for them the issues are incident management, good communications with passengers, provision of alternate service if possible, and quick recovery of full subway capacity.

When we talk about how close the TTC might be to running out of capacity, optimists love to quote the highest possible figures — automated trains running on the closest headways, passengers flowing quickly to and from trains to minimize dwell times, equipment with superb reliability, and a magic world in which nothing ever goes wrong.  That’s not how the subway actually operates, and Byford’s task is to expunge every source of “controllable delay” from the system.

On Metro Morning, Byford made a passing remark about improving terminal operations and getting trains out promptly.  That’s an important change, one that is essential to maximizing the trains/hour actually operated and maintaining good service spacing.

Getting the subway to work as well as it possibly can is an important start, but it’s only part of the job.  We will probably never see YouTube apologies for the large gaps in service on surface routes, but instead will have small tutorials on why short-turns are required.  Sadly, “TTC Culture” still includes too strong a sense that most of the problems are external and this must change.

A target of 65% for “punctual service”, itself based on a generous 6-minute-wide margin for service relative to scheduled headway, accepts that the odds are better than half that a rider will encounter a significant gap at least once a day, probably more if they take multiple trips.  What we don’t see is a measure of how well or poorly passenger loads are distributed among buses and streetcars, and what the riders see rather than what the hourly or daily averages report.

If transit really is going to attract more riders, especially those facing longer trips, reliability is key.  To some, the solution is a network of subways, but that simply won’t happen thanks to cost and the time needed to build them.  Some new rapid transit capacity is overdue, but it must be placed where it will do the most good, not as pet projects of particularly noisy and influential members of Council.

Meanwhile, the TTC must address service quality on that vast part of the network not served by subways, and Andy Byford must be just as prepared to take responsibility for the Finch and Dufferin buses and the Queen streetcar as he is for the Yonge subway.

Analysis of 29 Dufferin for March 2012 — Part II: Running Times (Updated)

In Part I of this series, I reviewed problems with headway reliability on the 29 Dufferin route.  An issue commonly raised by operators is that there are times when schedules do not provide enough time for vehicles to make their journey, and this results in a variety of problems including irregular service.

In Part II, I turn to the actual time required for buses to make their journey on the route during the month of March 2012.

Updated March 20, 2013: In the comment thread, there was a question about whether different vehicles operating on this route showed any difference in travel times.  I have added a section to the end of the article to address this.  (The short answer is “no”.)

Continue reading

Board of Trade Advocates New Revenue For Transit

The Toronto Region Board of Trade has announced its support for new revenue streams that could fund the Metrolinx “Big Move” Investment Strategy and more.

Matt Elliott (aka @GraphicMatt) has produced a chart showing the contribution of each of four recommended sources and the range of possible incomes.

The Board of Trade has launched a new website under the name letsbreakthegridlock, and this includes a background paper on the evolution of their recommendations.

Most striking about the proposed revenues is that even the “low end” total is close to $3-billion per year with the high end over $4b.  The Board of Trade is not recommending specific levels for the new revenue stream, but the Toronto Region and Queen’s Park need to aim high.  The Metrolinx Big Move plan was priced at $2b/year, but that estimate is several years out of date and does not include inflation.  It also does not include any money for local transportation improvements that was recently announced as part of the “Next Wave”, and which would increase the total needs by one third.

This is not some wild-eyed, pinko-commie, downtown bunch of granola-eating, pot-smoking, tree hugging, tax-and-spend radicals — it’s the Board of Trade, and they claim wide support from their members.  Congestion and the lack of good transportation options within the GTHA are strangling business and making the region uncompetitive.  That’s the kind of effect businesses notice, and they recognize the effect of decades of disinvestment in the transportation network.

Continue reading

Ed Levy Writes About Rapid Transit in Toronto

Being around long enough to see the way things really work is a huge advantage both for a blogger like me, and for professionals who have a long, if somewhat jaundiced, view of the evolution of transit plans in Toronto.

Ed Levy has just released “Rapid Transit in Toronto”, a webbook tracing the history of a century of transit schemes for our city.  This was produced with the support of the Neptis Foundation.

The online version of the book covers a wide range of topics and is filled with maps, history and observations about the evolution of transit plans (much more so than actual construction) in Toronto.  The book is downloadable in chapters sized either for email circulation or full resolution (see the PDF page).

I have only quickly browsed the chapter outlines so far, but there is a lot of material here, and it is so good, finally to see all of this in one place.  If nothing else, it will save those of us with shelves full of studies having to actually pull out the hard copies whenever we need to check something!

Congratulations to Ed, a fellow advocate for better public transit, on publishing such a major overview of our history.