The Evolution of Service on 512 St. Clair

The St. Clair streetcar route has seen its share of political battles over the years. Back in 1972, it was the heart of the fight to save the streetcar system from a plan that would have dismantled all routes by 1980 when, wait for it, the Queen subway would have opened. As a first step, trolley buses (remember them?) displaced from the North Toronto’s route 97 Yonge were to take over St. Clair with buses replacing streetcars on a 1:1 basis, a huge cut in the line’s capacity.

An ironic point about this plan shows how riding patterns can shift depending on other aspects of the network. Before the Bloor-Danforth subway opened in 1966, St. Clair had very frequent service (every 1’00” between Oakwood and Yonge including the Rogers Road cars), and the line carried many people east to the Yonge subway. Vaughan Loop was a major transfer point to the Bathurst cars which ran into downtown via Adelaide Street, returning on King.

After BD started running, many riders shifted to north-south routes to reach the new subway line and its connection to a route downtown via the uncrowded University subway. Demand and service on St. Clair declined. Years later, with the opening of the Spadina subway, many riders shifted back to the streetcar because it provided a direct link to the University line with one less transfer. More recently, the population along St. Clair is growing adding to demand on the line.

Unlike most streetcar routes in Toronto, 512 St. Clair operates on a street with more than four lanes. The TTC proposed conversion to a reserved right-of-way in the early 2000’s and this was approved by Council in 2005. The actual construction took forever thanks both to a legal attempt to block construction and to fouled-up co-ordination between various agencies and meddling by local Councillors in the timing of work. (You can read the whole sad story on Transit Toronto’s website.)

By spring 2007, the first segment from Yonge to St. Clair West Station was completed, and streetcar service returned, briefly between St. Clair Station and Keele Street. Summer 2007 saw the launch of work on the western portion of the line, and it did not fully reopen until summer 2010.

Recently, the TTC has been messing around with the schedules on this route and adding supervision in an attempt to provide reliable service, a sad situation given that the route is entirely on reserved lanes. The evolution of schedules from 2007 to 2015 is intriguing, and speaks to the failure of what should be a showcase route.

512_ServiceHistory

The information in this table is organized with the impending March 29, 2015 changes at the left and progressively older schedules moving to the right. Only the January schedules are shown for 2011-2013 to save on space during a relatively quiet period for service changes on this route.

  • April 2007: The line operated over its full length, but with a right-of-way only on the eastern leg.
  • June 2010: Service resumes over the full route with shorter running times, particularly on weekends, and more frequent service than in most periods in 2007.
  • January 2011: Service during some periods on Saturday and Sunday has been improved by 2011 to handle demand on the route.
  • January 2012: Weekday midday service has improved over 2011, but there are no other changes.
  • January 2013: Peak service has improved slightly, offset by some weekend service cuts.
  • January 2014: A 2012 service cut on Sunday afternoons was partly restored during 2013.
  • July 2014: Slightly wider peak service (typical for summer) with improvement in Saturday early evening and Sunday morning service.
  • October 2014: Running times substantially increased in response to a large number of transit priority signals being out of order (13 along the route)
  • March 2015: Running times reduced (but not all the way to July 2014 levels) in response to repair of most (9) of the non-working TSP locations, and experience from a higher level of route supervision implemented in fall 2014.

It is worth noting that during almost all schedule periods, the allocated running times in October 2014 were equal to or longer than those used in April 2007 when most of the route ran in mixed traffic. Some of this was due to added recovery time (weekday schedules), and some to added travel time. In effect, the benefit of the right-of-way on scheduled speed was almost completely undone. This is partly, but not completely, corrected with the March 29, 2015 schedules, but there is still generally two minutes more running time for the route compared with most schedules from 2010 onward (presumably for the residual effect of non-working TSP locations).

A related problem on St. Clair has been irregular headways. The TTC’s stock response to complaints about this sort of thing is that “traffic congestion” is the root of all evil, and reliable service is impossible. In fact, as has been demonstrated by repeated analyses on this site, the real problem lies in uneven departures from terminals and from intermediate time points along the route. This cannot be explained by saying that operators are adjusting to known conditions because these irregular headways appear under all seasons, days of week and hours of the day.

In the fall of 2014, the TTC added route supervisors on St. Clair to act as dispatchers and regulate the service. This had some effect, but the level of on-street supervision cannot be afforded across the system. Indeed, there is no reason why dispatching on headways cannot be achieved centrally and at least in part automatically. This problem is not confined to streetcar routes, and it is a fundamental issue that TTC  management must address particularly as the effects of larger vehicles and wider scheduled headways accentuate the problem on streetcar and articulated bus routes.

How has the actual service evolved over the years? For this we must turn to the TTC’s vehicle tracking data. As regular readers will know, I have been looking at routes on a selective basis since 2007. The discussion below includes data from April 2007 (pre-construction), July 2010 (full line re-opened) and September-November 2014 (pre/post implementation of longer running times and more aggressive supervision).

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