TTC Service Quality Update for September 2017

As part of the September CEO’s report to the TTC Board, management made two presentations on the evolution of service quality on the surface and subway networks.

For the surface routes, Rick Leary (Deputy CEO and Chief Service Officer) ran through an overview of two sets of statistics: on time performance and the numbers of short turns.

For the subway, Jim Ross (Deputy Chief Operating Officer) reviewed schedule versus actual capacity provided on Line 1 YUS as well as a breakdown of the types of incidents that produce most delays.

Surface Routes

For both the streetcar and bus networks, the stats for 2017 are running ahead of past years, although much more dramatically for streetcars. “On time” is defined as a vehicle leaving its terminal no more than one minute early or five minutes late.

Leary explained that many schedules have been adjusted to reflect actual operating conditions in an attempt to both reduce short turning and to ensure that vehicles arrive at terminals with enough time to spare to leave “on time”. There is a seasonal fluctuation in these numbers, although it is much more striking for streetcars. The TTC is considering adjusting its schedules on a seasonal basis to compensate for this problem.

As I have explored in past articles, there is a fundamental problem with this metric in that for frequent service, a six minute “on time” window allows service to operate in bunches without hurting the stats. The service experienced by riders is not as good as one might expect from the numbers. Even with this generous provision, the operation of only half of the trips within the target does not say much for the TTC.

The bus network does better, but it has proportionately more trips on route where traffic effects serious hamper operations. This can dilute the stats relative to the streetcar lines. To be meaningful, the TTC should break out route-by-route information, something they have “promised” to do in their Customer Charter, but have failed to deliver since the beginning of 2015.

What has improved over recent years is the count of short turns, although recent data suggests that the TTC is reaching a level below which the numbers will not fall. The challenge will be to keep to these levels rather than sliding back up through schedule tweaks to fit service within available budgets.

These two sets of charts show that changing schedules to add running time can reduce the need for short turns, but it is less effective at ensuring “on time” performance. In many reviews of route operations, I have shown that headways (the spacing between vehicles) tends to be erratic at terminals most of the time. Even when there appears to be active dispatching from the terminals, the headways drift fairly quickly and ragged service evolves along major routes.

Short turn stats are broken out for the “high rollers”, the routes that contribute most to the total. It is interesting to compare the relative importance of “construction” for the two modes. Although the streetcar network has seen a great deal of this in 2017, little of the short turns are ascribed to that source with the bulk identified as traffic and related problems. By contrast the percentage for buses is much higher. It is unclear whether this is the result of different reporting standards for the two modes.

28% of short turns in Bus Transportation in 2017 are directly attributed to TYSSE and MX construction activities around Eglinton Ave and Finch Ave West. [From presentation notes]

The “Other” category of 12% for streetcars is subdivided as:

• Disablement   3.5%
• Accidents :  3.2%
• Operator irregularity:  2.5%
• TPS/PFS/EMS:  1.1%
• Special Events:  1.0%
• Other  0.7%

Although the TTC regularly bemoans the low reliability of its streetcar fleet, a comparatively small number of delays are due to disabled vehicles.

The degree to which the TTC has adjusted schedules to provide more running time is shown in the map below. This tactic is a double-edged sword because when the schedules are too generous, this can create two problems: dawdling operation as drivers attempt to run slowly enough to avoid getting ahead of schedule, and taking long layovers at terminals knowing that there is padding in the schedule to make up time. Both of these have very annoying effects on riders in slower than necessary trips and uneven headways.

An additional set of changes addressed construction issues across the City. In the case of City projects, most of these are short term and provision for them will disappear fairly soon. The Crosstown LRT project, on the other hand, is a long-running burden on all routes along and across the Eglinton corridor.

Subway Routes

Over the past three years, the capacity provided on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina has grown slowly, although the service actually operated is less than the scheduled level of 25.7 trains/hour (equivalent to a headway of 140 seconds). The graph below consolidates measurements from 12 points along the route. Although there is an upward trend, there are some fairly wide swings with dips in early 2015 and 2016. The midwinter period is one where the subway is under the greatest stress because more travellers choose to commute by TTC rather than driving, and it is at just these times when subway capacity falls. Moreover, the numbers here are averages for four-week periods implying that there are lows within those dips that are not fully revealled because of averaging.

This is an important issue going forward when the TTC is expected to deliver substantially more subway capacity. It is not enough to do this on average over many days and locations, but consistently at a high level. To that end a further breakdown of these stats would be useful to better identify the location and timing of problems.

Headway adherence on the subway tends to be high because trains are regulated by the signal system, but again the averaging of data could be masking a range of variation in time and location. The upward trend is good, but a better understanding of the details would show, for example, whether the comparative regularity and large number of trips for off-peak service are masking peak period problems.

Delay minutes have been falling since 2014, although the number of delays has not declined as much (as reported at other meetings). This results from the TTC’s changing its delay handling procedures to reduce the time to clear a delay so that events do not have as great an impact on service as before.

Although the numbers for the first portion of the year above show a consistent downward trend, this is less evident in the chart below which shows annual data. There is a drop from 2014 to 2015, but then an increase into 2016.

The proportion of delay minutes that are “controllable” (that is, due to factors the TTC can control) has been falling slowly over time, although the amount of change in each year is small.

Of the controllable delays, the greatest counted in minutes are due to track fires. This is little surprise given both that they continue to occur with alarming frequency, and that getting the “all clear” requires a Fire Department “ok”, not simply a TTC employee doing minor repairs. “Speed Control” delays were the most numerous, according to Ross, but they are typically quite short and so do not contribute much to the delay minutes overall. This is an ongoing problem with which the TTC is wrestling and, one might hope, one that at least for the YUS, the new automatic train control system will address as it goes live over the coming two years.

Passenger illness is a major contributor to non-controllable delay minutes. A worthwhile review of the details would be to determine how many incidents and time were a direct result of overcrowded trains bringing on conditions that would otherwise not show up as an illness incident. In this sense, “illness” could be considered a “controllable” delay to the degree that crowding could be a contributing factor.

5 thoughts on “TTC Service Quality Update for September 2017

  1. Considering that schedules are adjusted to deal with longer than planned running times and the fact that there is a huge window for being ‘on time’ it is really pretty pathetic that only just over 50% of streetcars LEAVE on time. They clearly need to spend a bit more time analysing their schedules and their crewing practices and then create a metric that actually shows what service is like ‘for the man in the street”. Possibly figures of vehicle spacing at a few key points in a route – if it’s a 10-minute route then there should be a vehicle passing that point every 10 minutes – as you have repeatedly pointed out, the customer does not care if that is a vehicle running early, running late or on time.


  2. What magic was employed during the Pan Am Games to bring the trains per hour up to (what I assume is) a record high? If it’s just money and staffing, then we can see that the TTC will never be as ‘efficient’ as tax-cutting politicians demand, while also delivering maximum service.

    Steve: There was a lot of focus on doing the best possible across the system as a whole, and this was accompanied by extra funding from the Games budget.


  3. Strictly from my own observations, streetcar operators are doing a lot more vehicle trading mid-route than I’ve seen in the past, and my assumption is this is being done in lieu of short turning vehicles. Sorry to bring it up again but if the TTC knew this was going to become standard operating procedure, they should have specified an operator cab door a la the TR’s to facilitate safer changes. We know management is all about safety when it comes to streetcars!

    Steve: Trading cars has been part of the schedules for routes that operate out of more than one carhouse for decades, certainly going back to the days of the Bloor car running from Lansdowne and Danforth. Some ad hoc trades may be part of a new approach based on subway practice, but in theory cars should not be as late as in the past. I will have to delve further.


  4. How can the 52 Lawrence West be affected by the Crosstown construction along Eglinton as noted in the “short turns” section? As usual, the TTC does NOT verify the information before sending it out.


  5. In regards to Darren’s comment. It’s true that the Crosstown had significantly affected the 52 Lawrence West route. With all the lane closures on Eglinton, many drivers have chosen to use Lawrence oppose to Eglinton to access Allen Rd. The main traffic issue with that interchange is the northbound entrance ramp is a single lane on the north side. All eastbound traffic onto Allen needs to make a left while all westbound traffic have to wait. This leads to all the buses being stuck behind all these cars both directions approaching Lawrence West Station. Before the Crosstown construction, half of the traffic would had been on Eglinton.

    The condo and watermain construction at Lawrence east of Dufferin is completed by early summer. Lawrence is no longer down to single lane at that location and traffic have improved.

    TTC still doesn’t have the round trip timing right. The tweaked the 52 to fix the 52G’s lack of running time in late evening but they reduced the 52A/B’s running time leading to more bunching between these branches. I find TTC has no proper methodology in schedule writing but instead use simple trial and error method. Compared to the old 52/58 routing back in 2014, service on Lawrence is a lot better and is a major step forward.


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