Much discussion of improved service has talked about bus riders in the suburbs who have long trips and whose bus routes lost peak service when the crowding standards were rolled back in 2012.
Peak period crowding standards had never been improved for streetcars because there were no spare vehicles, and so there was nothing to roll back. However, over past decades, that shortage of streetcars limited peak service in a way that the bus system didn’t have to deal with. This was compounded by two factors:
- The TTC opened a new Spadina-Harbourfront line without increasing the fleet. This was possible because service cuts on the early 1990s left Toronto with “spare” streetcars.
- The project to buy new streetcars dragged on for years thanks both to the embrace of 100% low floor technology, and the obstructions posed by Mayor Ford to streetcar and LRT plans in general.
Between 1998 and 2014, the total number of streetcars scheduled for the peak periods has risen only 10%, and there is no headroom for further growth with the existing fleet. Indeed, service quality is compromised by vehicle failures, and the scheduled service may not all get out of the carhouse.
This year, the TTC will finally take delivery of the first “production” vehicles in its new fleet, and claims that service will operate as of August 31, 2014 on 510 Spadina with the new cars. Whether the line will convert 100% to the new fleet in one go remains to be seen.
The TTC Fleet Plan contains no provision for improving service on any streetcar route beyond the higher capacity that new cars will provide. This will come only as the new fleet rolls out line-by-line and some routes will wait until late this decade to see more capacity (and even then with less frequent service). Existing cars would be retired at a rate that matches or exceeds the new fleet’s ability to replace service, and would also eliminate any spare capacity for growth on lines running older cars.
This is what passes for responsible planning in an organization that claims a dedication to “customer service”.
This article looks at each streetcar route in turn and at a possible revised fleet plan that would make provision for short term improvements as the new fleet arrives.
Service Levels Past and Present
The following table lays out the level of service and vehicle assignments to the streetcar routes in October 1998 and April 2014. The route-by-route discussion draws on this table, but on a summary basis rather than all of the gory details.
In 1998, the Bathurst car operated with ALRVs except on Sundays. On a capacity basis, service in 2014 is the same as or lower than in 1998 except on Sundays.
Service on Carlton in 2014 is generally less frequent than in 1998 with a few exceptions: weekday midday and early evening, and Saturday late evening.
Service on Dundas in 2014 is less frequent than in 1998 except for weekend afternoons and evenings.
The service design on King is unusual among streetcar routes because of the behaviour of its AM peak. There is a base service running between Dundas West and Broadview Stations to which trippers are added over parts of the route that effectively halve the headway when and where they operate. Some of the trippers are ALRVs to add capacity, but most are CLRVs.
The base level of AM peak service in 1998 operated every 3’12” with only 4 trippers added in, but by 2014, the base level widened to 4’00” with 22 trippers. The effect of the trippers is that there is a “wave” of 2’00” headway lasting about 90 minutes that passes Bathurst eastbound between about 7:45 and 9:15am. The number of trippers has grown over the years, and with it, the length of the 2′ wave .
(There is an operational problem with this scheme in that the trippers do not always enter service at the times and locations planned on the schedule, and there are not always vehicles and/or operators available to fill all scheduled trips. This has shown up in reviews of vehicle tracking data I have done for the route.)
Service during the remainder of the day is considerably better than it was in 1998, and this is the only streetcar route where that occurs. Weekend service has also improved substantially.
The effect of new residential, work and school populations along the line is quite evident. As redevelopment of the old city spreads north, we can expect similar pressure on other routes.
501 Queen & 508 Lake Shore
Queen is the only route to operate with a dedicated fleet of ALRVs (at least on paper) although CLRVs can often be found in service when ALRVs fail or are not available even to leave the yard. The result of substitutions is that the capacity actually provided is less than what is scheduled.
Peak service on Queen is almost unchanged from 1998, while off-peak service on weekdays has generally improved. Some weekend periods show improvement while others show cutbacks over the years.
Queen is the one route where the replacement ratio of new low-floor cars for old streetcars will be roughly 1:1 with the result that headways will not change, but capacity will increase. However, the current fleet plan calls for the old ALRVs to be retired well before the new LFLRVs replace them, and there is no provision for switching the line to CLRV operation on shorter headways to compensate. TTC management wants to get rid of the ALRVs as quickly as possible, but has not planned for the consequences. I will discuss this later in the article.
502 Downtowner & 503 Kingston Road Tripper
Service on Kingston Road from Queen to Victoria Park is provided on weekdays by these two routes, of which the 503 only operates in peak periods. Evenings and weekends, the 22A Coxwell bus operates (as the Kingston Road Coxwell car did until 1966), and there is actually better service on the 22A than there is on the streetcar at midday.
During peak periods, the two routes are scheduled to head into downtown on a blended 6′ headway alternating each route with the 502s going along Queen to McCaul Loop and the 503s going via King to York & Wellington. Outbound service in the PM peak on Kingston Road can be quite spotty because there is no attempt to merge the two services, some cars may be missing, and it is not unusual to see short turns.
A related problem is that some 502 trips short turn westbound at Church and return eastbound from Victoria without ever picking up at the busy stops from Yonge westward. This is a perfect example of operating a route to keep operators on time while denying the customers a reliable service.
The scheduled service for these routes is unchanged from 1998.
512 St. Clair
The St. Clair car in 1998 did not operate on a reserved lane. Service during almost all periods is now more frequent than it once was.
The Spadina car began operating in July 1997 (the original Harbourfront route was merged into it, and track had not yet opened west of Spadina to Bathurst for the 509 car). Service in 2014 is better in almost all periods than it was in 1998, and Spadina boasts very short headways outside of peak periods.
An Alternative Fleet Plan
The fleet plan proposed in mid-2013 by the TTC presumed that new cars would begin to appear on Spadina late that year rather than at the end of August 2014. (See page 33 of the plan for the route by route roll out details.) The plan proposed that most of the ALRV fleet would have been retired before new cars began to operate on Queen.
This creates an interim period where there would not be enough ALRVs to operate the route, but there would also be a shortage of CLRVs to reschedule Queen with an equivalent capacity service. Only when all of Spadina, Bathurst and Dundas are converted would there be just enough CLRVs to cover the Queen route.
Moreover, dedication of all CLRVs released from the early conversions to replacement of the ALRV fleet, coupled with the speed of CLRV retirements, would leave no headroom for better service on some routes for many years.
The poor reliability of the ALRVs is a major problem for the TTC, but the nine-month delay in rolling out the new cars means that at least one more winter’s operation of the ALRVs is inevitable. There simply won’t be enough CLRVs released by conversions in 2014 to provide equipment for the Queen line at comparable capacity. The TTC should plan for the additional period of ALRV operation and revise its fleet plan so that it better addresses service improvements around the system as a whole.
What follows is an example. It is not included as a definitive plan, and I am quite sure there are many variations that readers will concoct. Please don’t send them to me or leave comments niggling about the way I put this together. The purpose is not to prescribe specifics beyond the following goals:
- Maintain service capacity on routes using ALRVs until there are sufficient new streetcars to convert these routes.
- Improve service by 10% on selected routes during peak periods (by analogy to the proposed improvements on the bus network).
- Provide a worked example that the TTC will have to refute rather than simply saying “it can’t be done”.
This plan assumes delivery of 3 cars/month beginning in April 2014, and it has the following stages:
- By the end of 2014, 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront would be converted. Because Harbourfront now operates with buses and 510 Spadina only operates to King Street, this would release only the CLRVs now operating on Spadina.
- By April 2015, there would be enough new cars to allow conversion of 511 Bathurst. At this point, surplus CLRVs would be redeployed to improve service on Dundas, Carlton and St. Clair, as well as to replace the ALRVs now operating on King. That would permit an improvement of the service on Queen.
- Conversion of Queen to new cars would follow through 2015 and would be about 75% complete by year end. This would ensure that most of the ALRV fleet would be retired before the winter of 2015-16. The conversion would be completed in May 2016.
- Conversion of King to new cars through 2016-17 would be completed by July 2017.
- Dundas, St. Clair, Downtowner, Kingston Road and Carlton would be converted from summer 2017 through fall 2019.
This schedule could be accelerated if the delivery rate from Bombardier is increased as the TTC has stated is possible.
Additional considerations include:
- The timing of a proposed order for a further 60 cars intended mainly for ridership growth.
- The service design for the new Cherry Street branch off of King that will open in mid-2016.
- The timing of a Waterfront East LRT and proposed services both to the Port Lands and an extended Broadview Avenue south to Lake Shore Blvd.
If the TTC is to resume a policy of increased capacity, reduced crowding and more attractive service, this should be done system-wide recognizing the important role of the streetcar network in the old City of Toronto where new development is spreading out along these routes. The fleet plan should reflect a desire to achieve the most possible to improve service for riders present and future.