TTC Service Changes for November 23, 2014

The service changes effective November 23, 2014 primarily deal with the end of many construction programs and the return to “normal” schedules. There are a few minor service improvements as well as reversals of cuts related to the bus shortage, but overall the service now on the street is what Toronto will see for the remainder of 2014.

Service improvements that had been planned for fall 2014 have been deferred because there is a shortage of vehicles, and this is compounded by greater than planned construction-related service.

Regular service hours per week are up 1.2% for November-December 2014 over the corresponding period in 2013. However, unplanned construction services consume resources that otherwise could have provided a further 1% improvement in regular service.

To reduce the scheduled requirement for streetcars, some trippers on 504 King will be replaced by buses. This sets the stage for the resumption of 501 Queen service west of Humber Loop on December 22 when, for the first time in over two years, the entire streetcar network will be in operation. The problem will persist until deliveries of new streetcars resumes and allows full streetcar operation. (As I write this, a revised delivery and implementation schedule has not been published by the TTC.)

Other factors in actual-vs-budget comparisons for November-December include:

  • The delayed retirement of high-floor, lift-equipped buses with low floor vehicles. This would have required more service to compensate for the lower capacity of the low floor buses.
  • Additional running time on the subway introduced in the October schedules. This increased the number of trains in service during peak periods.
  • The reduction in service hours due to articulated bus roll outs has been less than expected because the order of route conversions is different than planned, and running times on converted routes proved to be longer than expected requiring more vehicles to maintain headways.
  • Conversion of the 501 Queen and 504 King routes from ALRV to CLRV operation to permit retirement of the ALRVs has not happened. This would have required more service hours by the smaller CLRVs.


Some Friendly Advice For The Mayor Elect

Toronto has elected a new mayor, John Tory, who will formally take office in December 2014. The ancien régime may be on its way out the door, but this is not the time for dancing in the streets with bonfires and blazing effigies.

Part of me secretly yearns for the first of many speeches in which a Tory administration bemoans the Ford legacy, just as Ford bemoaned the Miller years, but that leaves us focussed on retribution, not on progress. Toronto’s job now is to look forward and to undo the damage that four years of narrow-minded, simplistic policies brought us.

The very first question we — and I say “we” because the responsibility of citizens does not end the moment they cast a ballot — must answer is “what should Toronto be”. In this article, I will address only transit issues and their general political context and will leave other portfolios to commentators and activists in their respective fields. However, the question is the same for all.

The Importance of Listening

Throughout the campaign, Toronto heard endlessly about Tory’s plan. Right up to the last debate at CITY-TV where I was a member of the “expert panel”, Tory’s response to criticism was to cite his confidence in Toronto and belief that his plan would work. Wonderful sentiments, but one cannot dismiss alternate viewpoints with a wave of the hand and a Pollyanna-like belief in a bright future.

At some point in the campaign, Tory allowed that he must learn to “listen more”. That’s not just a question of being polite so that a speaker can make their point, but of recognizing the validity of alternate outlooks and absorbing the best of them into a broad-based policy. Tory wants a collegial atmosphere at City Hall, and that requires more than everyone singing his tunes and hanging a SmartTrack map in every office.

A vital first step lies in the creation of a new Executive and Standing Committees, and in the selection of new members for the TTC Board. Will Tory take the same route as Ford in favouring only the sycophants, the Councillors looking to share a new mayor’s power, or will the boards and committees represent the whole city geographically and politically?

The condition of transit requires serious debates about service quality, maintenance and the future role of the TTC network. These are not simple issues, and Council needs to be given honest advice and a broad menu of options, not simply a “stand pat” budget that pretends we can get by with flat-lined subsidies.

In August, the TTC Board passed a motion directing staff to include provision for various improvements as options in the 2015 budget. Does John Tory want to hear what it will cost to improve the TTC, or does he want that muzzled so his SmartTrack will stand alone as the only topic worthy of debate and funding?

Budget Committee meetings of the Ford era treated those who might ask “please, sir, we want some more” to open contempt — the sense that people who made time to come to City Hall for their paltry 3 minutes were slackers who should be out working. City Council owes Toronto a collective apology for this treatment and a commitment to do better. Yes, deputations are tedious to listen through, and a Council less dismissive of alternative voices might find a way to actually hear them.

If we begin from an attitude that people who want better services are somehow undeserving of attention, that they are special interest groups, and most importantly that they are somehow not representative of “taxpayers”, then the new administration will be no better than the old.

The Importance of Transit Service

“City Hall doesn’t listen to us” is a common complaint both downtown and in the far reaches of Etobicoke or Scarborough. When “downtowners” complain of poor transit service, they make common cause with riders all over the city. Yes, we have subways downtown, but much of the “old city” depends on surface routes for transport. There will never be a subway under Dufferin or St. Clair any more than there will ever be a subway under Lawrence or Islington.

Technology battles use up a lot of ink and web space, but regardless of who “wins”, much of the transit system remains unchanged.

Tory’s campaign was all about SmartTrack to the exclusion of almost all other transit issues. The gaping hole in his platform was any real mention of better service on the existing system, and he dismissed out of hand the TTC’s August suggestions (and rather conservative ones at that) of potential improvements. That’s a position of someone who has a blinkered view of city life and of the real needs, today, that should be addressed.

What we know so far is that Tory would look at express buses to solve some “squeaky wheel” problems like transit from Liberty Village, but duplicating existing services this way won’t make much difference for the vast majority of travellers. First off, most routes into downtown are already crowded with traffic, and an “express” bus would still make a slow, expensive journey. Second, many trips are not headed to the core area in the peak period, and these trips require better service on the grid of routes we already have.

Third, needless to say, is that the TTC claims to be unable to run more service until at best 2018-19. In other words, we might see more service just when the next election campaign heats up. That position was useful to Tory in downplaying Olivia Chow’s credibility, but it undermines his own. Any municipal agency’s job is to provide advice on what can be done and how to do it. If the city says “build me a subway”, then that’s the TTC’s job. If the city says “run better service”, it is not the TTC’s job to say “that’s impossible” especially when the statement is a flat out lie. Challenging, yes, but not impossible if the city will provide the resources.

A mayor’s job is to lead, to set goals for the city and, indeed, that’s what the whole SmartTrack campaign, flawed though it might be, is about. Tory stuck with his plan, but now is the time to see how transit overall can be made even better, how it can provide more than superficial improvements in the short term.

This will require using all of the resources the TTC has available today, and accelerating capital purchases that now languish in future years of the budget.

For more about what we can do to improve transit today, see my previous article on the subject.

The Simplistic Proposal for a Fare Freeze

Every politician, especially every new mayor, loves to give the voters something as a reward: a tax cut here, a free service there. Tory (like his two opponents) wants to freeze TTC fares. That would be a terrible decision, and could set the TTC back even further than it has been under the Ford years.

Fare freezes do nothing to improve service, and in fact they hobble service growth unless the freeze is matched by increased subsidy. Roughly speaking, such a move would cost at least $25-million, and that is revenue that is lost not just this year, but every future year because today’s fare becomes the base against which future increases grow.

It’s easy to say “people pay enough already”, but in fact many riders are quite capable of and willing to pay more if only their bus would show up with space for them to board. Yes, there are lower-income riders who deserve a break, but they should get one directly as a targeted subsidy.

An important fare change under discussion (and likely to be forced by the move to Presto) is the implementation of time-based fares as a replacement for transfers. The TTC estimates the cost of a 2-hour fare at $20m annually, but such a change will make travel cheaper for many riders who now make separate, short hop trips, but not with sufficient frequency to warrant buying a monthly pass.

Such a fare will also make regional integration much simpler because boundaries could disappear. Two hours’ riding is two hours’ worth regardless of the colour of the bus.

Why don’t we discuss this sort of forward looking fare structure but instead simply say “freeze the fares” as if it will solve everyone’s problems? The discussion and the subsidy debate will be right back on the table in 2016 and every year after that.

There is basic math in the TTC budget large and complex as some of its details may be. The cost of running service is driven by two factors:

  • Increases in the cost of labour and materials, and
  • Increases in the amount of service provided.

There are “efficiencies” here and there such as a move to larger vehicles, but these are one-time savings once they are rolled into the system. If both service and the cost of providing it go up, so must the subsidy unless the difference comes from the farebox.

For as long as I can remember, the TTC has been saying “we should have regular, small increases in fares” because experience shows that at this scale, riders stay on the system. What we do not need is an artificial freeze followed by big changes when the budget pressure at the City becomes overwhelming. Toronto has been through this before, and it worked against the larger goal of getting more people onto the transit system.

Is there a Mayor, a Council, with the backbone to argue that short-term cuts and freezes don’t benefit the city and its transit riders in the long term?

The Technology Wars

Regular readers here will know that there are long discussions about what transit technology Toronto should embrace and where various lines might be built. I am not going to repeat that debate.

However, there are three hangovers from the election campaign:

  • A decision has been made to build a subway in Scarborough, and there is strong pressure for more subways elsewhere.
  • The regional rail network, call it GO RER or SmartTrack, will feature more prominently in transit planning that it has for decades.
  • We might, maybe, someday, see progress on a Downtown Relief Line (whatever it is called).

In all three cases, major studies will be needed to finalize basic details such as alignments, engineering challenges, station locations and cost. These studies should not be short-circuited with political rhetoric, nor should they reach “directed” conclusions to support a favoured result.

Toronto needs to understand the costs, benefits and limitations of various options so that Council and our friends at Queen’s Park can see how everything might fit together. This is not a matter of nay-saying, or delay for its own sake, as Tory’s campaign would argue, but of really knowing what we might do, how much it will cost, and how well any projects will improve the network.

There is far more to planning and building a network than printing hundreds of thousands of campaign handouts with a map of one route on them.

What Is SmartTrack?

As the campaign wore on and challenges to SmartTrack grew, it became obvious that the original proposal needed work, and this was only grudgingly conceded late in the game. The line was not worked out for its engineering challenges even on a rough basis, and its designers even made the fundamental mistake of not visiting potential sites. When someone like me does this, the epithet is “armchair railfan” or “wannabe engineer” if not worse. When a campaign does it, then it’s “a professional opinion” carved on stone tablets (although sandstone may be the actual medium).

I won’t belabour that debate as the challenges in SmartTrack have been addressed elsewhere, but now is the time for many questions to be answered. Just a few:

  • Is SmartTrack really a separate service, or is this simply a rebranded version of something GO was planning to run anyhow?
  • Why the insistence on veering west on Eglinton with a difficult route under Mount Dennis when (a) SmartTrack could continue northwest on the rail corridor and (b) the Eglinton-Crosstown line could continue west as originally planned?
  • At the proposed level of service, can SmartTrack actually benefit would-be riders at the “in town” stations proposed for this line, or would trains be full (just as GO is today) when they arrive?
  • How will a Relief Line eventually fit into this mix?

Toronto is being asked to believe that one line on a map can solve almost every problem, and that is simply not credible. We need to move beyond the campaign and talk about how GO’s RER, Smart Track and other parts of the TTC will co-exist and what role each part will play.

Waterfront Transit

I cannot end this article without mentioning the waterfront. Two major transportation issues face Council on waterfront developments in the coming term:

  • On the western waterfront, what will expansion of demand at the Island Airport do to the waterfront neighbourhoods, to the road and the transit systems serving that facility?
  • On the eastern waterfront, we are about to build a small city of 50,000 residents and at least as many workers and students over the next two decades. This was supposed to be a “transit first” undertaking, but what is actually happening is that transit comes up last. We risk building on a scale that could dwarf Liberty Village but without good transit to move people in and out of the new developments.

Yes, the waterfront is “downtown”, that place so vilified in recent political discourse, but it is a signature project for Toronto, something with which we show the world how well we can build our new city. Failure here will be front and centre, part of the picture post card of Toronto. Our new mayor cannot allow this to founder.


After four years of cutbacks and budgets that strangle the TTC’s ability to grow, it is time for real improvement in Toronto’s transit system. Some of this will come with the usual megaprojects, but attention must be paid to the day-to-day work of providing better transit. That means more service, a commitment to maintenance and fleet expansion that will allow the TTC to attract more riders, not simply keep the minimum possible service on the streets.

John Tory has a chance to show what he can do for transit and for Toronto, to show real improvement before he stands for re-election in 2018. Please let his record be something more than cleaner stations and a pile of discarded maps.

Why I Voted For Olivia

On the first day of the Advance Poll, I was down at City Hall queued up to cast my vote, and it went to Olivia Chow.

Why Olivia? Just for starters, she is the only candidate talking about the quality of transit service, not simply pie-in-the-sky plans for rapid transit lines we might build some day, if only a whole army of Tooth Fairies descends on Nathan Phillips Square.

Full disclosure: I was asked to advise about better bus service back at the start of the campaign, but what I advocated and what wound up in the platform were quite different. Chow’s platform was rightly criticized as being inadequate to the problem, and this was compounded when the TTC started shooting holes in her proposals. I can just imagine how a Tory or a Ford would have reacted to a city agency undermining their campaigns, but Chow just soldiered on and even bought a chunk of the TTC’s position.

Olivia Chow believes in LRT lines even in the teeth of a brigade of Scarborough politicians who convinced their voters that only subways are good enough, and not just for Scarborough but for all of Toronto. I agree with Olivia, and fully expect that one or two election cycles from now, people will be wondering where all those promised transit improvements are.

Riders will still be out in the cold waiting for a bus that never shows up or a jammed streetcar because a Tory or Ford mayoralty means more of the starvation diet for the TTC, more cutbacks in the name of watching taxpayer dollars. Earth to Mayor’s Office: transit riders pay taxes too, and we also pay a good chunk of the cost to run the TTC.

Olivia Chow also believes in subways, where they are justified, notably on a Relief Line, whatever pseudonym we use to disguise construction south of Bloor Street from the jealous suburbs. Indeed that whole suburbs vs downtown fight is a political creation brewed up not to benefit the city, but to pit factions against each other with the eventual result that nothing gets done.

Olivia isn’t just about transit, although that’s one big plank in her platform. I’m not going to walk through every portfolio here, but the common thread is that Olivia cares about the city, about all of the people who live here, and about making Toronto better for everyone.

The advocates of strategic voting caution that I am wasting my vote, that a true blue anti-Ford vote has to go to John Tory. There are several reasons I won’t go down that path.

First off, lest anyone think I am soft on the Fords, I believe that they are a blight on Toronto that must be expunged. Yes, people voted for Rob and they will vote for Doug, in many cases because they don’t see anything better on the ballot. They’re entitled to their view.

Toronto does not need four more years of a pitched battle among Council factions and the Mayor’s Office. It won’t be smiles all around, but we certainly should not be facing rampant incompetence and bullying in our city leadership, let alone the need for Council to seize control of the Mayor’s powers.

Second, John Tory can be a nice guy, friendly, he chats with lots of people, but he can also be maddeningly thick on basic issues. His classic radio interview starts with a long, error-filled polemic which the hapless guest spends valuable time trying to correct.

On the transit file, he has one answer, SmartTrack, that will solve everything. It doesn’t matter where you live, or what your travel plans might be, SmartTrack is the ticket. Heck, it might even be a solution to world peace. In fact, most of SmartTrack is cribbed from the Metrolinx “RER” plan, and the one significant add-on is a poorly considered, unbuildable fantasy on Eglinton West. For funding, see “Tooth Fairy” above. What has become clear as the campaign wore on is that Tory’s “experts” more or less made up the plan on the back of an envelope, notwithstanding their glossy literature. They don’t have the detailed answers anyone with an $8-billion plan should be more than willing to provide.

Tory’s standard response to criticism is that this is just naysaying, a preference to carp and obstruct rather than believing in Toronto’s future. Well, John, wrapping yourself in the flag is an old trick, but it’s a poor response especially to people like me who want to improve transit plans generally regardless of who is Mayor. If you assume that you are right and everyone else is not just wrong, but can be ignored as disloyal to the cause, well, that’s no way to build a collegial environment at City Hall.

I do not play golf, other than mini-golf in my now-distant youth. It did not qualify as a career-advancing move.

I am a strong supporter of the arts both as an essential part of the city, an industry deserving of support in its own right, and for the benefits arts can bring not just to the big-ticket “high culture” companies, but to neighbourhoods across the city. Even in his arts platform, Tory drags in SmartTrack claiming that resentment for arts spending downtown is caused by the fact people can’t get there as consumers. He is silent on whether SmartTrack will provide better access to golf courses so that the deprived among us can build better business networks.

Tory may talk a good line about communication and co-operation across the political aisle, so to speak, but the ability to compromise or to even consider alternatives during the election is notably absent. If we have a Tory administration, I hope it’s not just Rob Ford policies with Rosedale manners. We need a mayor who really will work with Council, not dictate an agenda that brooks no dissent, criticism, or improvement.

John Tory will probably be Mayor, but I am convinced he has more than enough votes to defeat Doug Ford without my help.

Olivia Chow should have as strong a showing as possible. There’s an outside chance she could win, but placing second would show Toronto that Ford isn’t even good enough to be second choice. She is my candidate, my first choice for Mayor.

SmartTrack: That Pesky Curve in Mount Dennis (Updated)

Updated October 17, 2014 at 4:15pm:  Information from Metrolinx about the revised design for the Air Rail Link spur line from the Weston subdivision to Pearson Airport has been added.

John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal has been roundly criticized by various people, including me, on a number of counts. When one looks at the scheme, it is the technical issues — the degree to which SmartTrack will crowd out the Metrolinx RER scheme (or simply take over its function), the question of capacity at Union Station, the route along Eglinton from the Weston rail corridor to the airport. But the biggest challenge is the link from the rail corridor to Eglinton itself.

Let’s get one issue out of the way up front. Writing in the Star on October 6, Eric Miller states:

And it’s interesting to note that very little criticism deals with the basic merit of the proposal as an addition to Toronto’s transit network. The design logic to address major commuting problems is self-evident; analysis to date indicates high ridership and cost-recovery potential that is expected to be confirmed by more detailed post-election studies; and it is modelled on successful international best practice.

Criticisms have, instead, focused on the line’s “constructability” where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme. As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot. And with respect to financing I would suggest that all three mayoral candidates and most of the popular press still have this wrong.

In fact, constructability and the technical issues are precisely what could sink this proposal. Dismissing this as a “tempest in a teapot” is a neat dodge, but it is the academic equivalent of “you’re wrong because I say so”. Many who support Tory’s campaign see criticism of SmartTrack as the work of naysayers who, like so many before us, doom Toronto to inaction.

This is tantamount to saying we cannot criticize the plan because doing so is disloyal to the city’s future. Never mind whether the plan is valid, just don’t criticize it.

Miller’s comments in his op-ed piece (linked above) also don’t line up with statements in the “Four Experts” article of October 9 where he and others talk about what SmartTrack might do. Miller is much less in agreement that SmartTrack could achieve what is claimed for it. Should we dismiss his comments as being irrelevant or counterproductive? Of course not.

This article deals with the challenge of getting from the rail corridor to a point under Eglinton Avenue West at Jane Street, the first stop on the journey west to the airport. To put all of this in context, it is vital to look at the details of both the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (including amendments) and at the Metrolinx Georgetown South project in the rail corridor.

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Olivia Chow’s Lost Momentum on Transit

That I would prefer Olivia Chow, of the three major candidates, win the Toronto mayoralty is no secret. All the more disappointing that her campaign has aimed low playing to the “no new taxes” mentality of the Ford years rather than showing ambition for what the city could have if only someone had the leadership to actually pay for it.

My comments, as with those on the Tory and Ford programs, are on the Torontoist site.

Updated October 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm:

The Chow campaign objected to an original remark I had made:

… missing from her proposal is the substantial capital funding needed for stopgap repairs to old buses, and to permanently increase capacity by purchasing additional vehicles and adding more garage space. Moreover, Chow’s plan is silent on the streetcar network, where service has not improved much in 20 years.

Details of a capital funding plan were included in an early September announcement about a proposed bump in the Land Transfer Tax. Unfortunately, Chow took the TTC’s August proposals for service improvements uncritically and simply plunked down $184-million that would purchase:

  • The missing half of the funding for McNicoll Garage ($100m).
  • 10 additional streetcars (part of the proposed 60-car add on, $60m).
  • 40 additional buses ($24m).

Most of this money would not in fact allow Chow to provide the service improvements she proposed, but would simply backfill holes in the TTC’s long-range capital plans. 40 buses won’t go very far especially with a peak service of over 1,500, and with a delivery date out  in 2018.

The most disappointing part of this? Chow could have demanded that the TTC be more responsive and show what it could do. It’s hard to imagine a mayor Tory or Ford putting up with a shrug and “we can’t do it” as an answer from staff, especially when alternatives should be on the table at least for discussion.

Streetcars Return to Queens Quay

After a two-year absence, streetcar service returned to Queens Quay today with the 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront routes resuming their normal operation.

Construction has not yet finished — there are sidewalks still to be finished, a bit of roadwork, the construction of the new bikeway and pedestrian area on the south side, and finally the trees — but that will all be finished for spring 2015.

For those who could not make it down to the waterfront on a fine Sunday morning, and for my out of town readers, here is a sample of views along the line.

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Who Subsidizes The TTC? (Updated)

Updated October 11, 2014 at 12:45 pm:

This article and accompanying charts have been updated to include data from 2010-2013. (A further update was added on October 13 to show the breakdown of declining reserve funds.)

We hear a lot from every government about how much money they shovel out the door to support transit in Toronto, but it is useful to look at just how much they are spending, where it goes, and most importantly whether there are ongoing increases in funding levels.

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Getting Ready For Streetcars Returning to Queens Quay

After many delays, the Queens Quay reconstruction project will be completed to the point that streetcars can return on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, October 12, 2014.

Years of utility construction, rebuilt sidewalks and a completely new trackbed for streetcars are almost over. When the project finishes in 2015, Toronto will finally see more than beautiful presentations and websites, we will see the street as the designers intended.

Updated October 8, 2014

Test car 4164 ran to Union Station on October 7.

Photos from Harold McMann:

View from 4164 eastbound at Lower Simcoe and Queens Quay:

Oct 07, 2014/Toronto, ON:   TTC. EB #4164. Queens Quay at Simcoe St. First car to Union, testing track & overhead structure.

Union Station Loop:

Oct 07, 2014/Toronto, ON:   TTC.  #4164. Union Station Loop. First car to Union, testing track & overhead structure.

Photos linked from a comment by “Thomas”:

Approaching Lower Simcoe Westbound

West of Lower Simcoe

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Measuring and Reporting on Service Quality

On September 30, 2014, the TTC’s Bloor-Danforth subway suffered a shutdown from just before 8:00 am until about 3:00 pm on the segment between Ossington and Keele Stations. The problem, as reported elsewhere, was that Metrolinx construction at Bloor Station on the Georgetown corridor had punctured the subway tunnel. While the weather was dry, this was not much of a problem because, fortunately, the intruding beam did not foul the path of trains. However, rain washed mud into the tunnel to the point where the line was no longer operable.

In the wake of the shutdown, there were many complaints about chaotic arrangements for alternate service, although any time a line carrying over 20k passengers per hour closes, that’s going to be a huge challenge. The point of this article is not to talk about that incident, but to something that showed up the next day.


According to the TTC’s internal measure of service quality, the BD line managed a 92% rating for “punctual service”. This is lower than the target of 97%, but that it is anywhere near this high shows just how meaningless the measurement really is.

The basic problem lies in what is being measured and reported. Actual headways at various points on the line and various times of day are compared to a target of the scheduled headway plus 3 minutes. This may look simple and meaningful, but the scheme is laden with misleading results:

  • On the subway during peak periods, service is “punctual” even if it is operating only every 5’20”, or less than half the scheduled level. Off-peak service, depending on the time and day, could have trains almost 8 minutes apart without hurting the score.
  • There is no measurement of the actual number of trips operated versus the scheduled level (in effect, capacity provided versus capacity advertised). Complete absence of service has little effect because there is only one “gap” (albeit a very large one) after which normal service resumes.
  • There is no weighting based on the number of riders affected, period of service or location. A “punctual” trip at 1 am with a nearly empty train at Wilson Station counts the same as a train at Bloor-Yonge in the middle of the rush hour. There are more off-peak trips than peak trips, and so their “punctuality” dominates the score.

An added wrinkle is that the TTC only includes in its measurements periods of operation when the headway is unchanged. With the service being so often off-schedule, it would be difficult to say just what the value of “scheduled headway plus 3” actually is at specific points along the route during transitional periods.

All the same, we have a measurement that has been used for years in Toronto and it gives a superficially wonderful score. Sadly, the formula is such that falling below 90% would require a catastrophic event, and some silt in the tunnel does not qualify.

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