Service Analysis of 501 Queen 2013 to 2015: Part 1, Headways

Of the TTC’s many routes, 501 Queen is the longest and the subject of ongoing complaints about service quality and reliability. Two standard explanations are offered to the long-suffering riders: we cannot operate a reliable service thanks to traffic congestion, and we have no equipment with which to operate more service.

I have published detailed reviews of individual months of operation in past articles, but an accumulation of data for various periods and conditions now makes a retrospective look at the route’s behaviour possible.

The data used in this analysis come from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system which collects GPS information on the fleet every 20 seconds. The raw data are transformed by several programs I have developed over the years so that they can be presented in a consolidated format. Interested readers should see Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data for details of this process. The data were provided by the TTC, but the analysis and interpretation are entirely my own.

Service History

The last significant change to 501 Queen schedules occurred in Spring 2013 when weekday services were adjusted to address overcrowding. Since then, there have been only two basic schedules used on the route:

  • The standard schedule provides service between Neville Loop in the east and Long Branch Loop at the city’s western edge. Half of the cars are scheduled to short-turn at Humber Loop, and except for overnight service, from that point westward the scheduled service is half the level of that east of Humber.
  • On some occasions, construction has required that the line operate in two segments. One is from Neville to Humber, and the other (using buses) is from Humber to Long Branch. Service east of Humber is similar to that on the standard schedule. To the west, scheduled bus service is more frequent to allow for the capacity of low floor buses versus the two-section streetcars (ALRVs) used on 501 Queen. (A variation on this includes a shuttle service from Humber Loop to the condos east of Park Lawn, but it does not alter the service provided on the main part of the route east or west of Humber. This shuttle is not part of the service analysis.)

501_ServiceHistory

This table shows the two service designs for 501 Queen including the headways (scheduled time between vehicles), numbers of vehicles, end-to-end trip times and “recovery” time.

This last item deserves comment because it is not, as the name implies, intended to give operators on this extremely long route a break after their journeys. Instead, its primary function is to make the schedule work out so that the round trip time is a multiple of the headway. Because of the difference in trip times on the two branches of the route, this can produce long recovery times at periods in the day when they are not badly needed simply to make the schedule work out properly. I will turn to trip times and reliability in the second part of this series.

This article covers the following periods of operation on 501 Queen:

  • August-October 2013 (service split at Humber Loop after Thanksgiving weekend)
  • January-April 2014 (service split at Humber Loop for April)
  • September-October 2014 (service split at Humber Loop)
  • March-May 2015

As a general observation, service on much of the Queen route is very unreliable and, in some cases, to the point where it exists more in theory than in practice. Bunching is commonplace, and there is no evidence of any attempt to keep cars spaced apart from each other even long before they enter the most congested section of the route. If there is an operating discipline, its aim is to keep operators on time, with service to riders coming as an afterthought. In principle, if all of the service is on time, then reliability will take care of itself. However, in practice, the service routinely operates well off of its scheduled headways. This cannot be put down entirely to “traffic congestion” given how pervasive a problem this is and has been on 501 Queen for years.

Service on this route, particularly on its outer portions, has been an issue for as long as I can remember, and the TTC always has an excuse. If only they would expend one tenth of the effort to manage headways on this major route as they do to tell us about their latest of clean subway stations and other “customer service initiatives”, there would be many happy riders, and an incentive to bring even more. The route is developing medium and high intensity buildings along its length, but the service levels are unchanged since 2013 (and with only minor changes before that).

The TTC plans to introduce new schedules on Queen later in 2015 (or possibly early 2016) to address some of the reliability problems. However, without the will to ensure that vehicles on this very  long route maintain proper spacing, the concept of reliability, let alone the “ten minute service” network of which Queen will be a part, will be meaningless.

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