Reviewing the New Schedules on 501 Queen for January 2016 (Part I)

Effective January 3, 2016, the TTC introduced a major revision in service on the 501 Queen route. The changes included:

  • Substantially more running time was allocated for almost all periods so that cars would not fall late thanks to congestion and heavy demand, and most of the service could reach the terminals.
  • The route was split at Humber Loop (see note below) so that the Humber-Neville service operated independently of the Humber-Long Branch service, the arrangement that had been in place until March 1995. This is supposed to be “temporary” pending the availability of enough cars to operate the full line with the longer ALRVs or new Flexitys. Service to Long Branch operates with CLRVs (the shorter streetcars) except for some runs that are through-routed from the main part of the route.
  • The section of the route west of Humber Loop was added to the “10 minute network” so that it is guaranteed frequent service at all hours (except overnight).

(Note: Due to the condition of the “Long Branch” side of Humber Loop, the service captive to the west end of the line was discontinued for the last week of January, and “Long Branch” cars ran through to Roncesvalles Carhouse as their eastern terminus.)

The “before” and “after” service designs are summarized in the following table.


In this article, I will review the operation of the 501 Queen route in December 2015 and January 2016 with a focus on headways (the time between cars), reliability (variation in the headways) and the quality of service on outer ends of the line (the compound effect of reliability and short turns). In the second part of this article I will turn to the effect of additional running time in the schedules.

General Observations

Service in January 2016 is much more reliable, especially on the outer ends of the route as the need to short turn cars simply to stay on schedule is much reduced. On the west end of the line, service on Lake Shore is considerably improved both because this is now part of the “10 minute network” and because cars are now dedicated to serving the segment west of Humber.

Short turns still do occur, although for the most part this is now due more to local incidents such as collisions than congestion. In other words, short turns occasionally spike at a specific time and day rather than being chronic throughout all days and hours of service.

Weekend service was particularly bad in December partly because there is less (or no) unscheduled extra service to fill gaps, and partly because line management seems to apply to weekends with the focus being on “on time” performance rather than actual service levels. This problem is reduced but not eliminated in January.

Wide gaps in service and the complementary effect, bunching, were much more prevalent in December than in January, but unreliable headways are still a problem, albeit at a lower level. Combined with the higher likelihood that cars will run through to their advertised destinations, the length of time a rider must await a through car, and the anguish about whether one will ever appear, is improved.

Cars depart inbound from terminals more reliably, generally within the TTC’s goal of a six minute “on time” window. However, this goal still allows for uneven spacing relative to a six minute scheduled headway, and by the time cars reach Yonge Street, the unevenness of terminal departures is magnified. On Lake Shore, headways are uneven at times even with the dedicated local service simply because cars do not leave terminals on a regular spacing. A six minute “on time” window allows most of these to hit the target, but they still contribute to uneven service

The added running time allows more service to reach its scheduled destination, but during some periods it also contributes to noticeably slower operation. If the schedules are padded, then it should be possible to space service midway along the route. From a traffic viewpoint, the question then becomes whether it is better to have streetcars sit killing time at key locations rather than dawdling along the route to burn up excess time in the schedule.

Inbound From Long Branch Loop

Service to Long Branch was without question the worst among negative effects of the 1995 amalgamation of the 501 and 507 routes. Already irregular service westbound from the core area would suffer short turns at various points, and the surviving through service to Long Branch was very spotty. On top of this, the very long trip from Neville Loop which could take 90 minutes at the best of times triggered a lengthy operator break at the western terminus whether the schedule allowed for this or not. Service eastbound from Long Branch did not leave at its scheduled times.

Politically, the east end of the line in The Beach tended to be the squeakier wheel, and much effort was made by the TTC to improve service at that terminal, albeit with mixed results.

The new schedules bring two important changes: the “507” service has returned in all but name as an independent route, and the service is now supposed to be every 10 minutes or better. This improves the quality for local riders west of Humber Loop (who are the majority of demand during the off-peak). Through riders from downtown must transfer, but the more critical issue is that all of the 501 Queen service actually reaches Humber rather than short turning at Sunnyside or further east. The added running time on the main part of the Queen route guarantees this except under extreme conditions, and if anything the schedule is now too generous rather than too tight. (I will explore this in Part II of this analysis.)

The following charts summarize service eastbound from Long Branch for the months of December 2015 and January 2016.



In each set of charts, the first set of pages show the distribution of headways week-by-week, and then for all Saturdays and Sundays. The last three pages show the average and standard deviation (SD) values on an hourly basis for each type of day. (The SD values are a measure of the degree to which data values are scattered around the average with higher values indicating a wider range of scatter.)

The difference between the December and January charts is quite striking. In December, headways well above 20 minutes are common, and the SD values are also high. This is the hallmark of irregular, unreliable service with gaps between cars that exceed the TTC’s target of ±3 at a breathtaking level. By January, the service is much better behaved, even in the final week when operations at Humber Loop were not running to plan. The SD for weekday operations runs at about 4 minutes, higher than it should be to fit within the target, and indicating that uneven departures from Long Branch remain a problem, only a much smaller one than in December. (Note that January 1 and 2 were operated on the “old” schedules.)

Even so, the SD value for service from Long Branch Loop sits in the 3-4 minute range, and this is beyond the outer edge of the TTC’s “on time” target. Note that if the SD value is 4 minutes, possibly a third of the trips will lie beyond a ±4 minute range. The degree to which this occurs can be seen in the detailed MonthHeadway charts.

Another way to view the data is to review the behaviour of headways over a longer period.


These charts track the average headway and SD values on an hourly basis, week-by-week for March to May 2015 and from September 2015 to January 2016. The values tend to bounce around a lot, especially in 2015, because the number of vehicles (i.e. the number of data points) is small for each interval that is averaged, and the individual values are quite irregular. By 2016, the averages settle down particularly later in the day.

The condition of service west of Humber has been a long-standing complaint about which the TTC did little beyond complaining that with congestion downtown they could not possibly provide good service on Lake Shore. Although the route split is supposed to be temporary, it is hard to ignore the improvement provided by the combined effect of better scheduled service and dedicated cars running on the west end of the route.

Outbound from Humber Loop to Long Branch

When the service was operated as one continuous route, service westbound at Humber was subject to whatever upheavals and delays beset the route further east. Unlike the inbound service, outbound headways did not benefit from whatever smoothing layovers at Long Branch might provide. Particularly striking in January 2016 is the much lower SD value for service originating at Humber as compared to the through service from downtown in 2015.




Short Turns Outbound to Long Branch

The following charts show the percentage of short turns by date and time of day for the months of December and January. Note that the calculations are based on cars that actually made it past Humber Loop, not on the scheduled service. If no cars ran beyond Humber within an hour on the day in question, the charts shows a zero value.

The data are subdivided by week through each month, and the days of the week have a consistent colour (Monday is red, etc). For partial weeks at the beginning or end of a month, separate colours are used. Each line traces over the course of a day the proportion of service which left Humber Loop westbound and arrived at Long Branch Loop.

The last page of the charts reverses the axes to plot each hour as a separate line with the days across the horizontal axis. This picks up time of day effects, if any, where the line is more prone to a larger proportion of short turns.



In December, it was common for a substantial portion of the service leaving Humber not to reach Long Branch because it short turned at Kipling. Short turns are a chronic problem throughout the day, every day of the month, although Christmas does give a slight reprieve.

By contrast, most of the service in January reaches Long Branch Loop with few exceptions.

Specific events causing major interruptions or no recorded service were:

  • Sat. Dec. 5: No service west of Humber from 8:00 am to noon due to Lake Shore Santa Claus Parade.
  • Sun. Dec. 6: Missing data for west end of route from 2:00 to 4:00 pm.
  • Mon. Dec. 7: Overhead down at Humber Loop from 7:00 pm.
  • Sat. Dec. 12: Missing data for west end of route from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.
  • Sat. Dec 19: Service diverting via Shaw and Roncesvalles for much of the day.
  • Sun. Jan. 10: Service blocked by fallen tree and overhead down east of Royal York from 4:40 to 10:00 pm.
  • Mon. Jan. 11: Service held west of Kipling from 9:00 to 10:00 am.
  • Tue. Jan. 26: Service held near Long Branch Loop by a collision from 2:20 to 3:10 pm.

Where service generally reaches the terminal with interruptions only for delays such as collisions, the charts have most lines at the upper end of the range with occasional downward spikes for these events. By contrast, when much service is short turned, the lines do not stay at the upper end, but bounce around at lower values showing a chronic problem with short turns.

Inbound from Neville Loop

Route behaviour near Neville Loop is measured at Silver Birch Avenue, the first stop west of the loop, to avoid problems with the location where cars lay over at the loop. If service is measured at the loop, layover time could be included in trip time and give an erroneous picture of arrivals and departures.




In December 2015, service westbound from Neville was erratic and not at 100% of the scheduled level. The MonthHeadways chart shows a considerable number of cars at headways above 10 minutes, and some above 20, where the scheduled headway is about 6 minutes. There is also a large amount of bunching with many cars on very short headways, and standard deviations of headway values that are close to the average. The average headway on weekdays is at roughly the scheduled level until mid-morning when it rises to the 7-8 minute range and stays there all day.

The situation is completely changed in January 2016. Most of the headways are below the 10 minute line, there are fewer very short headways (bunching) and the SD values stay below 4 minutes.

The HeadwayHistory chart reveals that even before the schedule change, there was a change in line management tactics at least for the morning period beginning at the end of November when average headways from Neville drop to January levels. This appears to be due to the addition of ten “run as directed” buses effective November 23 that were used to fill some of the gaps that would otherwise have been seen at Neville. The benefit is less evident later in the afternoon at Neville, and there is no change in the evening when these buses were not operating.

Eastbound from Yonge Street

Service eastbound from Yonge sits generally near the scheduled 6 minute headway on average throughout the day in both December and January, but the SD values are lower in January. This reflects a less erratic service with fewer wide swings in indivual headways. This is visible in both the MonthHeadway charts where values are less scattered in January, and in the HeadwayHistory where the SD values drop in January compared with 2015, particularly in the afternoon peak.




Short Turns Outbound to Neville Loop from Yonge

A perennial issue for 501 Queen riders has been the low proportion of service leaving downtown that actually reaches Neville Loop. The combined effect of erratic headways and unpredictable destinations makes waiting for a through ride on Queen a challenge. This problem has been substantially reduced with the new schedules because more service reaches the terminal, and the spacing between cars at Yonge is more reliable.

During December, the proportion of service running through to Neville regularly fell below 70%. The problem was particularly bad on some weekends (Saturdays are purple lines, Sundays are black) when there was much less active line management and no unscheduled extras to fill gaps in service. The weekend problem also shows up on January 1 and 2, 2016 which were operated on the “old” schedules. It’s a sad comment on service quality when even on a statutory holiday, the TTC cannot run most of its service through to terminals.

January values are better than December, but there are still periods, notably evenings and weekends, when the proportion of cars that do not reach Neville is troubling. The TTC claims that short turns have been “fixed”, but this is not uniformly the case.

A caveat about the numbers in these charts:

  • In order to “count”, a vehicle must be seen in a continuous trip from Yonge to Neville. Extras that are inserted on the east end of the line are not included. Note that from a rider’s point of view such vehicles don’t exist at Yonge. Seasoned riders may opt to take the first vehicle that appears, but if extras running shuttle service to the terminals are not routinely available, there is no incentive to do this.
  • Diversions interrupt trips and these are not counted.
  • These charts do not reflect the number of vehicles in a period, only the proportion of them arriving at the terminal.



Major events which interrupted service included:

  • Sun. Dec 6: Diversion via Gerrard until after 1pm
  • Wed. Dec 9: 3:00 pm to 8pm Taxi protest at City Hall;  10pm collision at Scarborough Road blocked service
  • Sat. Dec. 12: 7am to 10am Diversion due to collision at Queen & Victoria; 8 pm collision at Queen & Spadina
  • Wed. Dec 16: 12nn Collision at Queen & Coxwell
  • Tues. Dec 29: 8am Flood on Lake Shore at Park Lawn
  • Wed. Dec 30: 1pm Collision at Dunn Ave
  • Thurs. Dec 31: 11am to 1pm Broken concrete at Coxwell
  • Mon. Jan 4: 9am Service held eastbound at Spadina; 6pm fire investigation at Neville Loop
  • Tues Jan 12: 1pm Wires down at Queen & Boulton
  • Wed. Jan 13: 9am-12nn Overhead repairs
  • Tue Jan 19: 7-8am Stalled streetcar at Queen & Wineva
  • Wed Jan 27: 6pm Service held in The Beach

Service Westbound from Yonge Street

As with the eastbound service, the average headway at Yonge is close to the scheduled value, but the SD values indicate a lot of bunching, especially in December 2015. There is some improvement in January 2016, particularly on weekends.




Short Turns Westbound from Yonge Street

The difference between December and January operations is quite striking with much less service reaching Humber Loop in December than in January. This is seen most easily by comparing the last page of each months charts where data for the entire month are shown together.

As with eastbound service, there is a visible difference in the proportion of short turns on January 1 and 2 which operated on the “old” schedules.



The large number of short turns in December is important in the context of the schedule design where half of the runs are through trips to Long Branch. In effect, these runs provide the “Humber” service allowing many of the trips scheduled for Humber to short turn further east. This shows up in a chart of service from Yonge Street that reached Roncesvalles indicating that a good deal of the Humber service did not even reach that point.


Major events which interrupted service included:

  • Tue. Dec. 1: 1200nn Collision at Queen & Lansdowne; 6pm collision on The Queensway
  • Sat. Dec 5: No service to Long Branch during morning and early afternoon with many short turns at Roncesvalles
  • Wed. Dec 9: 3-6pm Taxi protest at City Hall
  • Sat Dec 12: 7am to 10am Diversion due to collision at Queen & Victoria
  • Mon Dec 21: 5pm Collision at Queen & Roncesvalles
  • Tues Dec 29: 7am Flood at Park Lawn & Lake Shore; 9pm collision at Queen & Spadina
  • Thurs Dec 31: 11pm New Year’s Eve
  • Tues Jan 12: 1pm Wires down at Queen & Boulton
  • Wed Jan 13: 9am Echo of delay due to overhead problems in The Beach; 1pm stalled streetcar at Queen & Simcoe
  • Fri Jan 15: 9pm Severe bunching WB from Neville with many short turns
  • Tue Jan 19: 10am Collision at The Queensway & Glendale
  • Wed Jan 27: 7pm Echo of earlier delay in The Beach

3 thoughts on “Reviewing the New Schedules on 501 Queen for January 2016 (Part I)

  1. The March board period will see more running time added as well as weekday PM rush extension for the 507 portion. Currently there isn’t enough, especially with all of the condo construction. 1 swing run is removed from 2 other routes for both rushes to be provided as extra runs, as well as 2 additional all day gap cars (used for gaps, change overs, etc.). The March board improvements should see the new changes and the removal of these unplanned extras.

    Having the line supervisors on the ends, as well as a Connaught supervisor has greatly improved dispatch end times (note the west end is Humber Loop for both directions). There have been days where a short turn has not occurred, however this has only been mostly with weekday service. Most riders at Humber Loop have stated that they prefer the new arrangement, but have still noted spotty Lakeshore service (core reasons noted above). As with any first phases of implantation there will be tweaking, but it is a huge improvement for riders.

    Thank you Steve for your analysis, your readers always appreciate your hard work and dedication!

    Steve: Thanks for the update. Sometime next week, I will publish Part 2 on running times. The dawdling effect of too much time in places is quite evident in the stats. As for Lake Shore, I can understand peak time (primarily AM), but not offpeak. Cars easily make the trips now in the allotted time.

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  2. This would seem to reinforce the position that supervision on the street is necessary to make things work properly. It would further appear that the new person in charge is making a difference. Did Andy Byford bring this man in board? New eyes from out of the country see a better way of doing things. TTC’s way of doing things the same old way and refusing to make changes is a disaster. More needs to be done on this route and many others.

    Keep a close watch on things so they don’t sabotage it the way they did awhile ago when Queen was split into two parts.

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  3. Thanks for the post, Steve. From my experience and observation overall the service west of Humber is far more reliable. Yes, there are times when it is not right on 10 minute service, but at least I know that there is a car coming! I have noticed that most evenings during the rush hour, a supervisor is on site at Long Branch Loop to help spread out cars – drivers seem to get a short (washroom) break, move up to the shelter, wait a few minutes, and then depart. And this seems to occur for most of the streetcars I have seen at the loop, so this seems to be part of the plan – and it seems to help. The driver gets a short break, but the cars are kept moving.

    Still, when more streetcars come available, I’d love to see the 508 Lakeshore return with more than three streetcars for those who want to go downtown from the west end during the rush hours.

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