Presto Comes to Spadina

With the beginning of service today (November 30, 2014), Presto is available on any of the new streetcars running on Spadina.

That said, the implementation is ill-conceived, and how this can possibly be rolled out successfully system-wide is a mystery.

At each doorway (and on both sides of the double-width doors) there is a Presto reader. So far so good — make it easy to tap on as people enter.

However, if you need a transfer (and lots of riders do), you have to go to one of the two TTC fare machines which are (a) on the other side of the car and (b) nowhere near two of the four doors. There, you tap again and the machine issues a transfer.  All this assumes it’s not busy serving customers paying with cash or tokens.

Anyone who has been on one of the new cars when Spadina is busy will know that internal circulation just doesn’t happen. It’s hard enough to move around within the module where one boards, let alone get to another module where there’s a fare machine.

On the subway, the TTC doesn’t have this problem because transfer machines are available for all riders inside the paid area of a station, and a Presto rider is no different from someone who paid with another medium. Not so on the streetcars.

There is no sign of Presto support at the on street fare machines.

Why, oh why, wasn’t the Presto reader integrated with the TTC machines?

Meanwhile, we see another cocked up implementation of technology, one that TTC will get most of the blame for. Fortunately, there is little market penetration of Presto on TTC beyond downtown commuters because that’s the only place their card works. Until the TTC provides Metropass functionality via Presto, there is no incentive for the most frequent users to convert, and then it will have to work on all vehicles.

This has more the smell of publicity — “look what we did” — for the Presto project than it does of a useful addition to the system.

Half-baked would be a generous overstatement.

At Last! 4404 Arrives (Updated)

Updated November 30, 2014 at 6:20 am:

Car 4404 entered revenue service on 510 Spadina just before 6:00 am today. This also marks the introduction of Presto! on the Toronto surface network. Later today, 4400 should join 4404 in service, and by Wednesday, December 3, 4403 is expected to be on the street as well.

Delivery of additional Flexities from Bombardier has been slow because the TTC is insisting that quality control at the plant be improved, and they will not accept cars only to have them fail in Toronto during testing. The TTC is also working with Bombardier to get the production and delivery rate up to a higher level so that the conversion of routes to Flexity operation can get underway properly.

Meanwhile, as already announced by CEO Andy Byford, the coming 2015 budget will include money for renewal work on the ALRV fleet (the articulated streetcars used mainly on King and Queen) to extend their lives and retain their higher capacity during the transition to Flexity operation.

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John Tory Discovers Buses

John Tory’s election campaign had a single focus: his SmartTrack plan for service on GO Transit lines to link Markham, Scarborough, Union Station, the Weston corridor and the Airport. With the election over, Tory has been briefed by senior staff in various agencies including the TTC, and to his credit is now looking beyond SmartTrack at the larger system.

In his State of the City address today (November 27), Tory spoke quite openly about the damage to the transit system through funding cuts imposed during the Ford era in 2011 and 2012. (Full video of Tory’s remarks is available from CP24.)

To his credit, he wants those cuts reversed, subject to the usual caveat of whether Toronto can afford to spend more. That, of course, is as much a question of what Toronto wants to afford as we have seen through both the elimination of the Vehicle Registration Tax and the levying of the Scarborough Subway Tax.

I wrote recently about the crisis in service capacity, but for the benefit of the Mayor Elect and the incoming Council, a refresher course about what might be done with transit service.

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The Not So Speedy 509 Harbourfront Car

Streetcar service resumed on 509 Harbourfront on Sunday, October 12, after an absence of over two years. The Queens Quay reconstruction project started at the end of July, 2012, and was supposed to be complete in the spring of 2013. For many reasons, things didn’t quite work out that way (this has been discussed in other posts and I won’t repeat the chronology here).

Although the line re-opened for streetcar service, the operating speed was, putting it mildly, glacial thanks to a whole new set of traffic signals that gave a new meaning to the antithesis of “transit priority”. Even with relatively little demand for road traffic on Queens Quay, the vast majority of time was devoted to moving the few cars that showed up now and then, while the streetcars waited for occasional, and very brief, green windows, even at locations where the “traffic green” and “transit green” would not have produced conflicting movements. Despite over two years to plan how the signals might operate in the interim configuration for this stage of the project, the arrangement had all the earmarks of a last minute scheme with a one-size-fits-all approach to programming intersections.

This arrangement lasted until late in the first week of operation, but there is still no co-ordination between transit and signals, and there are now many more places where streetcars can be held waiting for their chance to proceed. Even with the fixes, streetcar service is slower than the bus route it replaced (which did not have to deal with anywhere near as many signals) and slower than the streetcar service operated before the reconstruction.

The TTC, City and Waterfront Toronto face an acid test in their combined commitment to transit as the primary mode of access to the waterfront — if they cannot manage at least to equal the performance of the streetcar route before construction started, what is the future for surface transit in general?

Because the final arrangement won’t be in place until Queens Quay reverts to two-way traffic in the spring of 2015, we will not know just how “intelligent” the traffic signals will be about transit. The worst outcome would be to open the finished street with a disastrous arrangement for traffic control.

In this article, I will review actual running times for 509 Harbourfront in October 2014 with both the bus replacement service and the return to streetcars, and will compare this to data from February 2010.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, January 4, 2015

The January 2015 schedules bring several changes, but no substantial additions to service due to the shortage of buses and streetcars.  Notable among them are:

  • The end of several construction projects, or at least their deferral until later in 2015.
  • Increased running time on the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina (Union) services to cope with conditions on Queens Quay, notably the absence of transit signal priority which will not be functional until the road assumes its final layout later in the year.
  • Extension of some 510 Spadina King trips south to Queens Quay Loop.
  • Introduction of articulated buses on the Finch West Humberwood service.
  • Replacement of some 12m buses by artics on the 320 Yonge Night bus for Saturday late night and Sunday early morning service.
  • Increase in the number of 504 King trippers operated by buses rather than streetcars, and the discontinuation of PM peak service on 508 Lake Shore.


Transportation in Toronto: Achievements & Prospects

On November 18, 2014, I spoke as part of a panel on this subject at the University of Toronto. Other speakers were Leslie Woo from Metrolinx and Stephen Buckley from the City of Toronto.

The text linked here was my originally prepared text from which I departed somewhat in spots either due to comments made by other speakers, or time pressures.


The Creeping Presence of Buses on 504 King

Toronto’s streetcar shortage is about to show up quite graphically on the King car where many peak trips now operated by streetcars will change to buses. This begins with the schedule change on November 23, and continues with the January 4, 2015 schedules. Also, in January, 508 Lake Shore PM Peak service is discontinued.

                                   Oct 12     Nov 23     Jan 4
                                   2014       2014       2015
                                   Veh Hdwy   Veh Hdwy   Veh Hdwy
AM Peak
Dundas W to Bview Stn (CLRV)       32  4'00"  32  4'00"  33  4'00"
Dundas W to Bview Stn (ALRV)        7          7          7
Dundas W to Bview/Queen (CLRV)      8          4
Ronces/Queen to Bview Stn (CLRV)    3
Ronces/Queen to Bview/Queen (CLRV)  2          2
Ronces/Queen to Bview/Queen (Bus)             11         20
Lake Shore (CLRV)                   3          3

PM Peak
Dundas W to Bview Stn (CLRV)       45  3'10"  40  3'30"  38  4'00"
Ronces/Queen to Bview/Queen (CLRV)  3   6*                2
Ronces/Queen to Bview/Queen (Bus)             12         18
Lake Shore (CLRV)                   6          6

* Most trippers make only one trip. For the PM Peak in October, 3 cars make two trips each.

These changes are alleged to be due to the shortage of streetcars, a situation that is not helped by the late deliveries of new Flexities from Bombardier, as well as the resumption of full streetcar service to Long Branch in late December. However, there are a few anomalies in the plans.

  • The reduction of cars in service comes entirely from CLRV runs even though the TTC has repeatedly claimed that it is the ALRV fleet which is the less reliable.
  • The TTC is widening the off-peak headways on King by extending running times without adding vehicles, and claims that this is needed because of the “shortage”. Of course, there is no shortage of vehicles off peak, only the will (and budget) to operate more of them.

The TTC has still not produced a fleet plan showing expected deliveries for new streetcars, their proposed rollout on the system, and details of extending the lifespan of the ALRVs as mentioned recently by CEO Andy Byford.

… we are taking another look at our fleet plan to maximize the number of higher capacity, articulated streetcars, or ALRVs, on King (and Queen) before the new streetcars enter service on these routes. We had originally intended to retire the ALRVs first as they are less reliable than the standard-sized cars, but our 2015 budget request will seek funding to extend the life of the ALRVs to maximize capacity and mitigate crowding.

Second, we are reviewing the roll-out plans for the new streetcar to see if sufficient vehicles can be delivered in time for earlier deployment onto these two major routes, rather than the current plan of 2016/17. [Toronto Moves November 7, 2014]

With the uncertainty on the TTC budget status at Council until well into 2015, and the lead time to implement new schedules, we can expect to see bus operations continue on King until at least late spring 2015.

[I will publish full details of the January 2015 schedule changes by the end of November.]

Perspectives on Regional Planning and Transportation: A France-Canada Forum

This forum will take place on November 17-19 at the University of Toronto and it includes two public events for which tickets are still available.

On November 17, a panel of Paul Bedford, Brad Graham and Zack Taylor will discuss “Regional Planning in Toronto: Achievements and Prospects”.

On November 18, a panel of Stephen Buckley, Leslie Woo and I will discuss “Transportation in Toronto: Achievements and Prospects”.

Six visitors from Europe will respond to both panels.

A lecture by Catherine Barbé, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Société du Grand Paris, on November 19 has been sold out for some time.

For more information: France-Canada Forum

Another Look at A Grand Plan

Warning: This post will be offensive to those with sensitive egos.

In recent months, probably thanks to the election campaign, I have acquired a few “followers” who have enough working brain cells to put together rants on a daily basis. They decry my antipathy to anyone-but-Chow, subways, SmartTrack, and various other schemes claiming that I am eminently unqualified to run this blog. One regular writer even claims that I should “resign” so that some more enlightened soul can be “elected” by the readership to mind the store.

One wonders what part of a personal domain name this person (or persons) does not understand, or the idea that the marketplace will determine whether writings here have credibility and influence.

Those with nothing better to do but criticize almost certainly have not put in the decades of watching, commenting, advocating, consulting and even occasionally getting paid (!!!) for their thoughts on transit. Early in this blog’s history, back in March 2006, that little agency called “Metrolinx” did not yet exist, and in anticipation of its creation, I wrote an article about how the region’s transit should evolve.

I gave credit to other organizations, notably the Toronto Board of Trade, as well as the army of professionals and amateurs with whom I have discussed transit over the years.

The plan included:

  • Much more extensive use of the rail network for improved GO service.
  • Much improved service on the surface bus and streetcar network including an increased bus fleet and purchase of an accessible low-floor streetcar fleet.
  • An Eglinton LRT line including an underground section from Leaside to Keele including service to Pearson Airport.
  • A Don Mills / Waterfront east line [Since 2006, I have come to think that a full subway would be better south of Eglinton as the line would be entirely grade separated anyhow. As for the waterfront, the planned development between Yonge and the Port Lands is now much more extensive and requires far more than a DRL or SmartTrack station to serve the entire site.]
  • Various other LRT lines including one in the Weston corridor using the space that has now been consumed by the UPX trackage.
  • A Yonge subway extension north to Steeles.

… and much more.

The plan isn’t perfect. My opinion of some lines has changed over the years, but the basic premise has not. Toronto must think of transit as a network with many parts, not just a bauble here and there to get someone through an election, or a showpiece for one municipality or transit operator.

Yes, I’m an advocate for LRT, a mode that other cities were building while Toronto wasted four decades on the anything-but-LRT attitude that dates back to Bill Davis. I make no apology for that, and only wish we had built more over the years rather than pursuing pipe-dreams and fighting over the selection of new routes.

By now, we could have had a network of LRT lines plus frequent GO service in two or three corridors serving Scarborough. What we got was the Toonerville Trolley to STC.

Some folks see me as a critic, a nay-sayer who denigrates new plans and opposes “progress” (a word that usually means building what they want). I have seen plans come and go, a lot of false starts, and too many cases where small-scale, short-term thinking wasted opportunities for real progress on transit. Far too many hobby-horses, far too much vote-buying, and far too much fiscal fantasy about something-for-nothing transit systems.

So the next time you feel like leaving a really snotty comment here about how I don’t care about anyone outside of downtown, how I am single-handedly responsible for the decline of civilization as we know it, take a few moments to polish off your resumé. Tell us all what you were doing for the past 40 years, and how carefully you have thought about the transit system. Then start your own website.