Service on 501L Queen to Long Branch

Apologies in advance to readers as this is a long post with a lot of charts both inline and linked. It is intended as a resource to show how the TTC has provided less than sterling service on the 501 Queen route west of Humber Loop over past years, and especially since mid-February 2018.

Updated March 19, 2018 at 7:30 am: The TTC has assigned 15 additional buses to the 501L service to deal with overcrowding and the route extension from Windermere (planned) to Dufferin (actual).

Updated March 20, 2018 at 9:15 am: A chart of the time spent by buses at Long Branch Loop for the first two months of 2018 has been added at the end of this article.

Riders on the western end of the 501 Queen route might be forgiven for thinking that the TTC really does not want their business. For many years, service west of Humber Loop has had the feeling of an afterthought, an unimportant outlying part of the TTC’s system.

Until 1995, the (507) Long Branch car was a separate route operating between Humber and Long Branch loops. This split was a vestige of the former zone boundary at Humber when the service further west was outside of the City of Toronto, and a recognition that demand on Lake Shore Boulevard was not at the same level as on the principal route as (501) Queen further east. The forced transfer was a mixed blessing in that service west of Humber was immune to disruptions on Queen Street downtown, but riders bound to and from destinations east of Humber always faced an uncertain transfer connection thanks to the frequent short-turns of Queen cars at Sunnyside Loop. During off peak periods, demand west of Humber is more local between the residential and commercial areas, and a dedicated service gave rider some certainty that a car would show up reliably.

When the two routes were amalgamated, service on Lake Shore was always at the mercy of short turns on the Queen car and the inherently “gappy” nature of service arriving westbound after an hour or more crossing the city from Neville to Humber.

When the Long Branch route operated separately, it had strong ridership, almost 15,000 per day in 1976. This fell over the years for various factors including the declining industrial base on southern Etobicoke, a reorientation of traffic to north-south routes linking with the Bloor Subway, and a decline in service level. In the last year for which the TTC reported separate ridership numbers on the two routes, 1993, Long Branch was down to 7,000 riders per day. Over the same period, Queen fell from 66.5k to 49.4k partly due to riding losses brought on by less frequent and reliable service with the route’s conversion to the larger ALRV streetcars on wider headways. Daily car mileage on 501 Queen fell from 8,263 in 1976 to 4,300 by 1993. The early 1990s were also a period of recession when riding on the TTC as a whole fell back from historically higher levels in the 1980s.

Recent years brought a partial restoration of local service to Lake Shore thanks both to schedule tinkering and to complete shutdowns of streetcar service for track and road works. Buses operating on the “501L” service run much more frequently thanks to the TTC’s substitution for streetcars at a high ratio to compensate both for vehicle capacity and presumed requirements for extra construction-related running time. Riders tend to like these substitutions if only for the more frequent service. Reliability, however, is another matter and the TTC’s supervision of “temporary” construction routes tends to be even more “hands off” than for regular routes.

Service on 501L is further complicated by the lack of a proper turnaround at Roncesvalles where the streetcar route has ended for over a year, and the buses have, until recently, been scheduled to operate east on Queen and then south to Dufferin Loop which they shared with 29 Dufferin and 514 Cherry. This takes the route through a notoriously congested part of Queen Street.

From February 18, 2018 onward, the service design has been completely out of whack with actual operations because the 501L buses, scheduled to terminate at Windermere on the assumption that streetcar service to Humber would resume, are operating east to Dufferin.

Route History Since 2016

The information below is based on scheduled changes. Some construction projects did not match the scheduled dates. Services to Marine Parade (501M and 66 Prince Edward) are not included in this history.

Pre 2016: Streetcar service operated between Neville and Long Branch Loops with alternate cars turning back at Humber.

January 2016: Service split at Humber Loop with CLRVs operating to the west (effectively a restoration of the 507 Long Branch car in all but name) and ALRVs operating to the east except late evenings and overnight.

May 2016: 501 Queen service diverted via Shaw, King and Spadina for watermain construction from May 8 to December 9. Long Branch service unaffected.

September 2016: Queen diversion continues. Running time on Long Branch service increased during peak periods and early evenings, and one car added to deal with congestion west of Humber Loop.

October 2016: Provision for the watermain diversion was removed from the schedule, but cars continued this operation until December 9. Buses replace streetcars between Coxwell and Neville Loop for track work at the loop.

November 2016: Streetcar service restored east of Coxwell.

January 2017: Effective January 8, service to Long Branch replaced with 501L buses operating between Long Branch and Dufferin Loop. Streetcar service cut back to Roncesvalles. Major reconstruction work on The Queensway and on Lake Shore affected 501L bus service from April onward depending on work locations and road restrictions.

Late March 2017: Streetcar service diverted between Shaw and Spadina for completion of water main and sidewalk construction begun in 2016. 501L bus service not affected.

May 2017: Entire 501 route converted to bus operation for various construction projects. Buses operate from Neville Loop to Long Branch or to Park Lawn Loop in a route design comparable to the merged, pre-2016 streetcar service.

September 2017: Streetcar service restored between Roncesvalles and Connaught (Russell Carhouse) with bus operation from River to Neville due to track construction at Coxwell. Route diverted downtown via King between Church and Spadina due to bridge construction west of Yonge and track work at McCaul. 501L bus service resumes operation between Long Branch and Dufferin Loops.

October 2017: Streetcar service restored to Neville Loop. 501L bus service unaffected. 501J shuttle bus service added between Bathurst and Jarvis. Route diverted via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament for repairs to the Don Bridge between October 30 and November 7.

November 2017: 501J shuttle discontinued. Peak bus trippers added between Woodbine and Sunnyside Loops.

February 2018: Streetcar service scheduled to operate between Neville and Humber Loops, but actually short turned at Roncesvalles pending completion of Humber Loop construction. 501L bus service scheduled to operate between Long Branch Loop and Windermere, but actually extended east to Dufferin looping via Gladstone and Peel. Bus trippers from Woodbine discontinued. (These changes were part of a larger reorganization of streetcar and bus services and the need for buses on the 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton routes during 2018.)

April 2018: Tentatively, streetcar service to Humber Loop is planned to resume. The arrangements for bus to streetcar transfers have not yet been published.

Mid-May 2018: Tentatively, streetcar service is planned to resume over the entire route between Neville and Long Branch Loops. The service design has not yet been published.

Despite the upheavals on the main portion of 501 Queen east of Humber, riders on the 501L Lake Shore have been comparatively isolated from the effects.

Headway Statistics Eastbound From Long Branch

The charts in this section are in a format that will be familiar to readers of the King Street Pilot Analyses. They show for each weekday the range of headways (the time between vehicles) of service eastbound from Long Branch. In practice, the screenline for this measurement is east of the loop at 38th Street to avoid confusion in arrival and departure times of vehicles laying over on Lake Shore east of Brown’s Line (Highway 27).

Here is a sample chart for 2017 for the vehicles leaving eastbound between 8 and 9 am.

The green line is the 50th percentile showing the value above and below which half of the values fall. It sits quite consistently at about 5 minutes which is roughly the scheduled headway.

The red line is the 100th percentile showing the maximum value observed. It is well above the TTC’s own standard of up to 5 minutes behind time which, for this circumstance, would be the 10 minute line.

The yellow line is the 85th percentile showing the value below which roughly 6 in 7 values fall. This line is usually within 5 minutes of the median.

The purple line is the 25th percentile, and this should be as far above the axis and close to the median as possible. When the 25th percentile is a low value, this indicates that at least one quarter of the trips are closely spaced and service is leaving the terminal in bunches.

Why does the scale go up to 60? Because on rare occasions this was needed. Note that where a value of 60 minutes is shown, the actual number could be higher because anything above that level was included.

Each set of charts contains five pages corresponding to the periods:

  • 8:00 to 9:00 am Morning peak
  • 1:00 to 2:00 pm Midday
  • 5:00 to 6:00 pm Afternoon peak
  • 8:00 to 9:00 pm Early evening
  • 10:00 to 11:00 pm Late evening

Headway Statistics Westbound From Royal York

The charts for westbound service use Royal York Road as the screenline. This avoids the complexity of picking out individual services at screenlines further east between Roncesvalles and Park Lawn, but is still representative of the quality of westbound service on Lake Shore Boulevard.

In the year-by-year descriptions below, I have included the 5-6 pm outbound service for comparison with the inbound morning service. For the full sets of charts in each direction, open the linked pdfs.

Fall 2015: Streetcar Service Before the Route Split

501_2015_LongBranch_EB_HeadwayStats

The service inbound from Long Branch is considerably worse than the rather benign graph shown as an example above. The AM peak period, shown below, is the best of the five periods charted through the day. The median should be at 10 minutes (roughly the scheduled headway) but is routinely higher especially through September and early October. As the day wears on, the maximum values rise especially in the PM peak and early evening when values at or well above 20 minutes are seen. These are a direct result of short turns that prevent cars bound for Long Branch from reaching their destination leading to erratic inbound service.

501_2015_RoyalYork_WB_HeadwayStats

Westbound service was considerably more erratic with higher maxima and many days where the 25% line runs close to the axis showing streetcars running outbound in pairs on what is supposed to be a 10 minute headway in the AM peak. The situation worsened as the day goes on and was particularly bad in the late evening.

2016: Split Service With Streetcars

The improvement in service quality from late June onward had nothing to do with the schedules or other ambient factors, but with the addition of line supervision to ensure that cars left Humber Loop properly spaced. This benefit is fairly clear through the daytime period, but by late evening, the service quality deteriorated.

There are no data for February 2016 because I do not have them, nor any for March 16-18 when no streetcar service operated west of Roncesvalles, but the replacement bus service did not appear in the CIS data.

501_2016_LongBranch_EB_HeadwayStats

 

501_2016_RoyalYork_WB_HeadwayStats

The PM peak hour outbound is shown below.

2017: Split Service With Buses

The scheduled headway for replacement bus service on Lake Shore was about 5 minutes throughout 2017, as compared to 10 minutes for the streetcars tis replaced. As a result, all of the values in the chart, particularly when the service is “well behaved” shift downward. Note the difference between inbound and outbound service in the AM peak when the 25% line outbound at Royal York lies consistent at a low value indicating bunching of service. This is common to all charts of outbound service through the day. Maxima of over 20 minutes are common all day long despite the nominally 5 minute headways.

501_2017_LongBranch_EB_HeadwayStats

501_2017_RoyalYork_WB_HeadwayStats

The afternoon peak service outbound is noticeably worse than in the morning peak with higher 85% and 100% values.

2018: Split Service With Buses

The service plan from late 2017 continued into 2018, but effective February 18, 2018, there was a major revision. When the schedules had been drawn up (typically two months of more before they are actually operated), Humber Loop was expected to re-open sooner. This did not happen both because of construction delays in 2017 and the unusually bitter winter weather.

The 501L schedule was drawn up on the basis that buses would loop at Windermere & The Queensway, but in fact the service operates east to Dufferin Street looping via Gladstone and Peel (the route used by the 29 Dufferin bus before new underpass opened). For the first few weeks of operation extending into early March, service was extremely erratic with wide gaps and little apparent effort to regulate service using the available vehicles.

501_2018_LongBranch_EB_HeadwayStats

501_2018_RoyalYork_WB_HeadwayStats

In the charts above, a very wide gap opened up in the AM peak on Wednesday, February 21. This was not the result of traffic congestion, but simply of the complete absence of any attempt to space out the available vehicles as shown in the service chart.

The day starts out well enough with regular service east from Long Branch, but then there is a gap just after 6:30 am. This is caused by a bus arriving at about 6:45 am and taking a roughly 15 minute layover. Following buses arrive and also take layovers (they also take breaks at Dufferin Street before returning west to Long Branch). Just before 8:00, a bus leaves eastbound, and nothing follows it for over 45 minutes. The service did not sort itself out until later in the day, but buses were still taking lengthy layovers especially at Long Branch.

Although February 21 was a worst case, the quality of service on the 501L was substantially worse with the new schedules.

The effect of the laissez-faire attitude to line management shows up particularly badly on weekends when headways from Long Branch inbound could be extremely wide.

Sunday, February 18

This was the first day of operation of the new schedules and headways from Long Branch were all over the map with very wide gaps, and some buses leaving the terminal very close to each other.

Monday, February 19 was Family Day and a Holiday service was operated. There is a very marked change in service quality after noon when headways started to assume a reasonable pattern. The handful of very short headways after 6 pm are likely vehicles going out of service in the transition down to evening service.

February 24 was the first Saturday with the new schedules. It is not as bad as the original  Sunday, and there are even periods when the headways are fairly regular. However, these are the exception.

February 25 was the second Sunday with the new schedules and service was somewhat better behaved, albeit still with very short headways where one would not expect to see them.

If anyone needs an example of how badly service can be screwed up with buses when there is little or no line management and an unworkable schedule, this is it.

One must wonder why, with weeks to prepare for this problem, the TTC did not build an alternate timetable that would respect the work hours for which drivers had already signed, but which also would provide a credible service between Long Branch and Dufferin Street, preferably with some extras supplementing the service.

Recent Events

A “Long time reader and Long Branch resident” sent this photo taken on Lake Shore east of Brown’s Line at 12:45 pm on Sunday March 11, 2018. Eight 501L buses are laying over at the end of the line at a time when only ten were scheduled. I look forward to seeing exactly what was going on with the route at this time with the detailed March 2018 data. For the record, there was no eAlert on March 11 indicating any problem that would affect bus service on route 501L.

Not long afterward, I saw a Tweet from a very happy rider on the 501L thanking the TTC for making such a huge improvement in the service. This prompted me to write to the TTC’s Brad Ross asking if there had been a recent change.

He replied:

The 501L bus service is currently operating on an unscheduled basis due to unforeseen delays in construction at Humber Loop. This began with the start of the February Board Period, on February 18. As a result, a number of buses are operating without a schedule and depending on the level of supervision at the terminals and the headway being operated, this may cause some of the longer layovers observed.

Much greater route management is now in place.

When the March data come in, we will see how effective the change has been, and whether it applies to only certain periods of operation.

Updated March 20, 2018: Layover Times at Long Branch Loop

Following up on the problem with buses taking long layovers at Long Branch, here is a chart showing the stats for the time spent at Long Branch. This is measured as a round trip from the screenline at 38th Street used for the headway analysis, and so a short amount of the total time is travel time from 38th to the loop. The minimum values observed were in the 4-5 minute range, and this indicates the basic travel time before any layover is included.

Median times (50th percentile) lie in the 15 minute range indicating that buses were typically taking at least a 10 minute layover. Median and peak values rose during the last part of February with the schedule change.

The fact that almost all buses had a quite generous layover at Long Branch shows that irregular headways eastbound from the loop are not a matter of recovery from delays, but of leaving when it suits operators to do so rather than on a regular headway.

501_2018_LongBranchLoop_Terminal_Stats

8 thoughts on “Service on 501L Queen to Long Branch

  1. Many thanks for this analysis Steve!

    “The effect of the laissez-faire attitude to line management shows up particularly badly on weekends when headways from Long Branch inbound could be extremely wide.”

    “…a very wide gap opened up in the AM peak on Wednesday, February 21. This was not the result of traffic congestion, but simply of the complete absence of any attempt to space out the available vehicles”

    “If anyone needs an example of how badly service can be screwed up with buses when there is little or no line management and an unworkable schedule, this is it.”

    Those unabashed characterizations of poor service and their implications for the reliability of transit in the area capture things very well. I have two questions, which I will post separately.

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  2. Steve, you note here, and elsewhere, the decline of 501 ridership in South Etobicoke.

    “[Ridership] fell over the years for various factors including the declining industrial base on southern Etobicoke, a reorientation of traffic to north-south routes linking with the Bloor Subway, and a decline in service level”

    But it sounds like you might view the north-south routes as a cause of declining 501 ridership, rather than declining 501 service as a cause of increasing N-S ridership.

    I know that the last time I tabulated, the total daily ridership of 44/110/76/66 bus routes was about 40,000 per day. Obviously not every trip originates in the 501’s catchment, but a lot do. So I was wondering if one day you would consider a holistic historical assessment of S. Etobicoke ridership? In other words, look at 501 ridership ebbs and flows alongside both the N-S bus route ridership patterns and Mimico+Long Branch GO ridership.

    I suspect that there is a considerable shifting of ridership away from 501 that I don’t feel the Waterfront Reset consultants, for example, fully recognize when estimating the potential for ridership increases out to 2041 with the provision of truly reliable service.

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  3. What do you see as the solution Steve? Is it as simple as having supervisors stationed at Roncesvalles and/or Long Branch Loop from 6am – 8pm? No doubt expensive, but how do you measure that against the cost of unreliable service to both the TTC, in the form of lost revenue, and to transit patrons?

    I know that you have advocated for a 507 route that runs to Dundas West station. I don’t really understand how that could be made to run reliably, given the operational challenges of having it leave Dundas West station to scheduled headways, when it’s sharing platforms with 504s and 505s on layover. If you can solve that problem, can’t you solve the 501’s problems, with three dedicated loops (Long Branch, Kipling, Humber)?

    I realize the Waterfront West LRT will resolve reliability in the long-term, but that’s 15-20 years out and unfunded. What do we do until then?

    Steve: There are a few problems here. First is the question of reliable headways. The TTC and its acting CEO talk a good line about managing headways at terminals, but they don’t actually do this. They are perfectly capable of doing the same kind of analyses I publish here, and use them to inform reviews of actual operations including trouble spots where route supervision is needed. They have been able to monitor vehicles centrally since the 1990s, but actually managing and regulating the service is comparatively rare. Whether this will change with a centralization of monitoring to Transit Control at Hillcrest I don’t know.

    A related problem is that operators get away with behaviour in making up their own schedules that simply should not be tolerated, but is. And there is a vicious cycle where the operations branch keeps asking for more running time, and layovers at termini get longer and longer while the whole “game” consists of driving as fast as possible from one end of the line to the other.

    This is as much of “The TTC Way” as all their self-congratulatory publicity.

    Re 507 to Dundas West. This was intended as an off-peak service, or maybe evenings and weekends, not a full time route. During peak periods and maybe daytime, the 508 would operate through to downtown. Think of it as an analog to the 502/503 daytime service on Kingston Road which becomes the 22 Coxwell bus.

    The purpose was to increase through service via King, not Queen, to the core when that is a major destination. Evenings and weekends, it would give the Long Branch riders a subway connection and avoid a transfer at an out of the way and sometimes inhospitable location, Humber Loop. This would also add service to Roncesvalles which, at the time, had chronic problems with cars turning back eastbound from the carhouse creating large gaps north to Dundas West Station.

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  4. Re: Sunday March 11th picture

    Whenever I drive by the bottom of Brown’s Line in the daytime there always seem to be a few buses parked there.

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  5. 1. The streetcar service east of the Humber Loop should be at or close to the headway of the buses.

    2. Should the 507 return, the east terminal should be Roncesvalles (looping via Roncesvalles into and out of the Roncesvalles yard).

    Would prefer Dundas West Station as the west terminal, but they’ll need to rebuild the station for 3 [Long Branch?] (or 4 [Junction?] or even 5 [Exhibition?]) streetcar routes first. Not going to happen.

    Steve: Please see my reply to a previous comment about the structure of a restored 507/508 service.

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  6. Dave M wrote: “I suspect that there is a considerable shifting of ridership away from 501 that I don’t feel the Waterfront Reset consultants, for example, fully recognize when estimating the potential for ridership increases out to 2041 with the provision of truly reliable service.”

    I know for one that I use the GO train, and the integrated TTC fare over the 501 streetcar. The through car was unreliable. It was better after the split at Humber returned but still not as fast as the GO train. The extra fare is worth the time saved.

    As for the comments on the 507 returning: I am in favour of keeping the 507. During the rush hour, run the 508 more often downtown, but move the 507’s eastern terminus to Dundas West. Some 504 cars could then be re-routed to Humber Loop to make room and provide for some integrated service along the Queensway. But keep at least one car dedicated to the Long Branch-Humber run for local service.

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  7. In 1995, the 507 Long Branch officially merged with the 501 Queen. In 1995, there was little or no condos around Windermere nor between the Humber Loop and Park Lawn. There still is developments occurring even now and planned for the entire stretch.

    The TTC will need to increase service of streetcar service to match the PLANNED developments NOW, not 10 or 20 years from now.

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  8. If the TTC did indeed add 15 buses to the 501L, that would bump the allocation to around 25 buses, give or take a bus, over most of the day. I suspect that what was really meant was that the allocation was bumped to 15 buses. That could be easily resolved by watching real-time data to see how many different buses are out on the route.

    An inspector is generally present at the Long Branch layover location during the day. It’s a bit too dark to see if one is out there at 6 AM. However, by 6 PM it seems the inspector has gone home.

    Despite the inspector, service westbound to the loop is still erratic. Yesterday afternoon, around 5 PM, I just missed a pair of 501L buses westbound at around Thirtieth. After ten minutes or so, three buses showed up in a tight group.

    A little later, after doing some shopping, I saw NINE 501L buses laying over. There was no way to get them all in one picture frame, as they stretched from one leg of the Brown’s Line ramp to the other leg, i.e. from west of Fortieth to east of Thirty Eighth.

    The inspector might be spacing them out, but the buses are still bunching and taking long layovers. Assuming they are being dispatched every four minutes or so, the tail-end bus in that lineup would have a layover of more than half an hour, easy!

    Steve: When I get the March CIS data in early April (not that far off), I will be able to see exactly how many buses were in service and when. Stay tuned.

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