Updated June 25, 2013: At the June 24 Commission meeting, CEO Andy Byford presented further details of the roll out plan. This information is added to the end of the article along with additional information I received from TTC staff.
Updated June 23, 2013: A section has been added at the end of the article discussing service levels and fleet planning during the transition from CLRV to LFLRV operation on routes.
The TTC has released its roll out plan for the new fleet of low floor light rail vehicles.
The TTC proposes to increase capacity on all routes during peak periods, although by varying amounts. Off peak headways will be almost unchanged with an effective doubling of capacity on all routes using the 50-foot CLRVs, and a 1/3 improvement on routes with the 75-foot ALRVs. As a general policy, this is a very good start because it avoids replacing capacity-for-capacity with concurrent widening of headways and degradation of service.
The new service levels are shown on the presentation at pages 7-8, and the changes in peak period capacity are summarized in the following table.
The amount of added capacity varies by route and between the AM and PM peak periods. This is supposed to represent the TTC’s estimate of provision for unmet demand although some numbers are a bit hard to believe.
Oddly enough, by the time the new fleet is in place, all of it has been used up serving existing routes (with a 20% allowance for spares).
Off peak services are almost unchanged with the odd effect that there is better planned midday and evening service on some routes than in the peak periods. The TTC claims that the off-peak levels are set based on a minimum headway policy. However, it does not make sense to cut service during the peak period. This seems more the product of two separate plans drawn up without cross-reference to each other than the outcome of careful planning.
Retiring the Current Fleet
The TTC plans to retire the ALRV fleet first as it is less reliable than the CLRVs. However, the fleet plan (page 34) appears not to take into account where these cars are actually used.
There are 38 ALRVs in scheduled service — 31 on Queen and 7 on King (April 2013 schedules, before the summer service cuts). The plan calls for all ALRVs to be retired by the end of 2015 with most going in 2014. However, the routes they serve will not be converted to LFLRVs until 2015-2017.
57 CLRVs (plus spares) will be required to provide equivalent capacity. These will come from the early conversions of routes that will free up CLRVs — Spadina, Bathurst, Harbourfront and finally Dundas — which collectively use 56 cars in the AM peak.
However, this means that there will be no ability to add capacity on the “late conversion” routes in the short term because the CLRV fleet will all be spoken for replacing the ALRVs. Riders on some routes will wait several years to see an improvement in their service even as the new fleet rolls out on other streets.
The fundamental question here is why the ALRVs must be retired so soon on a schedule that guarantees capacity constraints for many years.
Bunching and Short Headways
The TTC makes a virtue of wider headways claiming that it will reduce bunching. This canard has been around for years and it is based on a simulation of very frequent service on King Street during the peak period. The comment may have some validity for very frequent service where bunching caused by traffic signals is inevitable, but this is not true for wider headways.
As any regular system user knows (and as several analyses on this site have shown), service is bunched on both streetcar and bus routes even when the scheduled headway is well over the 3-minute level cited by the TTC. This is a question of line management, and if headways do grow into the 5-minute or greater range, we can expect wider gaps and even spottier service than today unless the TTC makes significant changes in its strategy for operating and spacing service.
At the other end of the scale, wider headways, even if they do bring net improvements in capacity, will affect wait times, a critical component of transit’s attractiveness. Riders are very sensitive to wait times, especially if they are unpredictable. Routes with scheduled branches or turnbacks will see a compounding effect on their outer reaches. Thanks to the TTC’s plan to retain current off-peak service levels, this will not be as bad as a strict capacity-based service replacement would have entailed. However, this must also pass the test of politicians who will complain about less-crowded cars and ask whether money is wasted in running so much service.
Keeping the Fleet Running
Part of the CLRV fleet is receiving an overhaul to keep it operating until the replacement by new cars is completed. This will patch up some CLRVs, but all of the fleet is needed until at least 2016. Those who follow TTC service alerts will know that streetcar breakdowns are becoming steadily more common. Is this a matter of reporting, is it function of the aging fleet, and or do breakdowns afflict cars that have not been overhauled disproportionately? These are vital questions for the transition years as the new fleet comes into operation.
Reliability of the new cars will be essential, and the TTC cannot afford a repeat of the problems encountered on the new TR subway fleet.
The TTC will begin moving to PRESTO with the rollout of the new cars. For some time, both old and new fare media will be accepted for the simple reason that the remainder of the system — buses, the subway system, the older streetcars — will require it until the conversion finishes sometime around 2020.
Fare vending machines will be placed on board the new cars and at major stops. These will issue receipts (in effect, transfers) to those who pay with Presto, credit card, token or cash. Riders with tickets (seniors, students, children) will use separate fare validators that will issue receipts. This complex mixture of fare media and collection will continue for several years until the TTC reaches an “all Presto” system that accepts only Presto cards (which will take over the function of passes, tickets and tokens), credit cards and cash.
The TTC will have to roll out fare inspectors to its routes as they convert to LFLRVs.
(These changes will also be required on bus routes that switch to artics over the next few years as they will use all-door loading. The TTC has not yet announced a plan for this transition.)
The combined capacities of the three carhouses (page 15) are 264 LFLRVs, 60 more than the fleet now on order. This gives room for expansion with new cars for waterfront services and growth into future decades.
Once Harvey shops ends its role as a streetcar maintenance facility, it is unclear what will be done with that building, the TTC’s original 1920s era main shops. Some bus overhauls are done there, but large sections of the building will be replaced by Leslie Barns.
The TTC has a contingency plan to store up to 22 CLRVs at Exhibition Loop in 2014 depending on whether the arrival of new cars precedes the availability of Leslie Barns. This is an interim arrangement not intended as a new location for overnight servicing.
The Leslie Barns project is currently running about 6 months behind schedule.
Upgrading the Overhead Power Distribution
The new cars are capable of running with trolley poles, but they draw about 50% more current than the existing fleet (this is a net saving against cars that are half the size). However, the required power cannot be delivered to the cars through the comparatively small contact area of a shoe on a trolley pole, especially on parts of the network still using older wire. This wire is adequate for the demands of CLRVs and ALRVs, but cannot handle the LFLRVs. Moreover, the contact area of the shoe limits the current available to the car.
The LFLRVs will use pantographs, long standard in the rail industry, both to increase the contact area with the wire and to eliminate problems with dewirement of poles. This requires all of the overhead system to be rebuilt — initially a dual-mode configuration is used that can be operated by either type of power pickup, but eventually when all older cars are retired, the system can move fully to pantograph-only overhead.
Page 24 shows a map of the conversion plans for the overhead system. The tangent wire will be upgraded to a heavier gauge and the suspension will be changed to work with pantographs. Although the map shows many areas as already completed, this applies only to the “tangent” wire, not to the intersections, many of which cannot now support pantograph operation.
A related issue is the presence of other wires and signs near existing TTC overhead. Some of these do not pose a problem for trolley poles, but the wider clearance needed for pantographs will require some changes.
(Please do not complain about the track map under the overhead plan being out of date. Probably the strangest thing already happening is the installation of new overhead the “wrong way” on one way streets where the track has already been removed or disconnected from the network.)
A major challenge for the new cars will be accessibility for those with mobility devices. The second module of each car includes a ramp system at the doors that can deploy either to a platform (e.g. on Spadina or Roncesvalles) or to the street pavement. This scheme is complicated by variations in car height, rail wear and the “landing” point for the ramp.
Riders who wish to use this door must push a button on the car exterior to deploy the ramp, but they must roll out to the car to so do, possibly through traffic that may be less than co-operative, or may not understand what is going on. The first place this will occur will be on Bathurst which does not have loading islands at all stops.
(As a side note, the existing narrow island northbound at Queen will be replaced later this year, and new islands will be installed both ways at Niagara Street to serve relocated stops.)
The vestibule inside the second car section is designed for those with mobility issues.
Notable by its absence from the overall cost summary of work needed to implement the new fleet is any reference to track. This implies that the existing network is compatible wit the new cars and that maintenance/replacement will not be elevated above current standards.
That said, it remains to be seen whether the LFLRVs will be as forgiving of track conditions as the CLRV/ALRV fleets and the PCCs that preceded them.
Among the outstanding issues on the network is the replacement of the electric track switching systems including the control electronics and antennae. This is a long-standing project, but the continued use of unreliable equipment, or worse the reversion to manual operation, will be a major problem for operators of the new cars. The TTC must get away from the need for operators to manually reset switches as much as possible.
Fleet Planning for CLRV to LFLRV Transition (Added June 23, 2013)
The TTC plans to continue operating routes on CLRV-based headways during the transition to the new cars (see presentation at page 20). This will have the effect that until the number of LFLRVs available for a route reaches the requirement of the “new” schedule, capacity will grow for those runs operating with the new cars.
However, once the transition to LFLRV-based headways occurs, the TTC will have to ensure that sufficient cars are available that we do not see CLRVs attempting to carry LFLRV headways. This sort of thing has happened for years on Queen where overloaded CLRVs fill in on runs that are scheduled for the 50% larger ALRVs. With schedules based on cars double the size, replacing an LFLRV with a CLRV will produce severe crowding and delays.
The worst situation would be to have CLRVs sprinkled among several routes that have been officially “converted” even if LFLRV delivery schedules and/or reliability to not support that level of operation.
This article will be updated as more information, including the presentation and discussion at the next Commission meeting, becomes available.
Updated June 25, 2013
The roll out plan’s presentation to the Commission triggered considerable debate about service capacity and frequency especially during the transition to the new fleet. Andy Byford’s presentation was somewhat inconsistent mainly because details were missing, or were selectively cited.
For example, Byford noted that stop service times would drop due to all door loading and proof-of-payment fares (POP). However, the degree to which this would affect routes and periods of service was not explained. The effect will vary with the greatest benefit coming at heavily used stops. The time needed to pick up or discharge a few passengers will not change.
Later in the discussion, Byford noted that ridership growth would require that additional cars be purchased. This would bring the fleet size back roughly to where it is now, and headways on some routes would be at least as good as they are today. Again, this was not quantified, although projections of such strong growth belong in the public to buttress calls for much improved service.
There will be a line item included in the 2014 Capital Budget for a proposed additional 60 LFLRVs, although no funding for them has been identified and this would be a “below the line” item. The net change is actually smaller as provision for cars for the new Waterfront services has been in the budget, also below the line, for many years. Storage capacity at the three carhouses (presentation page 16) is 264 LFLRVs compared to the current order for 204. Any growth beyond 264 cars would require additional storage elsewhere.
Enough of the CLRV fleet can be kept running at a modest cost ($7-million capital) to keep the fleet size up pending arrival of a proposed add-on order late in this decade. One would hope the TTC would have the sense to schedule these cars to operate only at peak hours to minimize extra labour costs, although given historical practices with fleet assignments this may be a lot to ask.
Regardless of how many CLRVs have their lives extended, the plan to retire the ALRV fleet will constrain the TTC’s ability to improve service on the streetcar system for several years. No explanation has been given of the cost or implications of keeping the ALRVs long enough for CLRVs to be released from the first wave of conversions to replace them, let alone to add service on routes that will remain with CLRV operation until late in the decade.
Byford and Chair Karen Stintz cautioned against long-term retention of the CLRVs, even though this appears superficially cheaper than more LFLRVs, because this would affect the accessibility of services where the CLRVs continued to operate. A more cogent argument is financial: the cost of significantly extending a CLRVs life is somewhere between $1m and $1.5m, and it would take two refurbished CLRVs to replace one $5m LFLRV. With a much shorter lifespan and the woes of an older, incompatible fleet, the CLRV option does not make sense.
If the TTC were to negotiate a speed-up in deliveries from Bombardier, this would affect the timing of other system changes including overhead conversion for pantographs, curb cuts for accessibility, and fare vending equipment at busy stops.
Questions were asked about how the LFLRV service levels were determined. For weekend service, the rationale was that no route should have more cars in operation than during the peak period. For Dundas, that number of cars is 14, but with variations in the running time, this translates to better service on Sunday than on Saturday. This is a bizarre way to plan service. The number of cars in service should be dictated by the frequency needed to meet demand, not by an artificial link to peak operations. In any event, service levels will be adjusted to actual demand once the effects of added capacity (and any improvement in line management and service reliability) work their way into the system.
I have requested, but not yet received, details of the methodology for setting proposed service levels.
When the roll out begins in 2014, the first routes will be converted on a “big bang” basis — Spadina and Bathurst — and this will coincide with conversion of these routes to POP fares. According to the presentation (page 12), 40% of riders are expected to require some form of fare receipt (pass holders don’t require one), although this proportion will vary by section of the network and time of day. After the full conversion to PRESTO for all fare types except cash, the proportion drops to 10%, still a hefty number of riders on a busy route.
Testing of the new cars is going very well with only some minor glitches described as “small surprises”, but no significant problems. The new cars have visited all parts of the system and operated through all special work (curves, switches) without incident showing that the engineering work on adapting Bombardier’s standard design to Toronto’s challenging track geometry was successful.
Although much of the overhead system has not yet been converted to pantograph compatibility, testing has been done on the west end of St. Clair where the changeover is complete. The map detailing the transition to new overhead (presentation page 24) shows only the status of tangent wire, not of special work at intersections and curves most of which remain to be converted.
St. Clair will not see the new cars for several years because St. Clair West Station is not accessible. The first community meeting on this project takes place this evening (June 25), and project completion depends on funding and overall priorities.
Accessibility tests of the ramp system with members of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) will take place today (June 25).
The Commission requested additional information from staff, and the matter will be back on the agenda for the July 24 meeting.
In a separate article, I will explore the implications of vehicle assignments and service levels during the transition from CLRV/ALRV operation to the new fleet.