The Decline of Service Capacity on 501 Queen (Updated)

Updated September 5, 2018: A history of service levels on Queen Street back to 1954 has been added at the end of this article.

While Toronto celebrates the success of the King Street Pilot, only a few blocks away on Queen Street transit service is not quite so rosy. Like much of the transit system, service on 501 Queen has not changed substantially over the years, and this has been compounded by various construction projects that disrupted service and fragmented the route.

One long-standing issue on Queen has been the type of vehicle assigned to service. Until February 2018, the service design assumed that the two section Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) would operate. However, it had been common for years to see the smaller CLRVs mixed in to the service despite their lower capacity. This was a direct result both of declining ALRV reliability and the concurrent use of these vehicles on other routes, King and Bathurst.

The February 18, 2018 schedules specify a mix of CLRVs and ALRVs on 501 Queen, and provide shorter headways (the time between vehicles) to compensate for the lower vehicle capacity. However, even this change did not completely fix the problems.

Although the ratio of service design capacities is about 3:2 for the two vehicles (108 vs 74 during the peak, 61 vs 42 off-peak), and 10 of the 35 cars on 501 Queen were scheduled to be ALRVs, the change in headways did not compensate for the lower average capacity. In the table below, the “after” vehicle capacities are a weighted average of ALRV and CLRV standards based on the proportion of vehicles scheduled. In practice, the TTC rarely achieved this ratio, and the capacity actually operated was lower. (Note that “capacity” here is the service design load, not the crush vehicle capacity.)

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
Before
Headway 5’00” 5’20” 5’10”
Cars/Hour 12.0 11.3 11.6
Vehicle Capacity 108 62 108
Route Capacity/Hr 1,296 701 1,253
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 83.7 47.4 83.7
Route Capacity/Hr 1,180 597 1,038

When streetcar service returned west of Humber Loop, the scheduled service on the Neville-Humber portion was not changed. On the Long Branch portion, the service design calls for 7 CLRVs weekday daytimes supplemented by 5 AM Peak CLRV trippers that operate through to downtown. (These will be discontinued in September due to the shortage of cars.) In practice, at least one of the cars operating west of Humber is typically an ALRV, sometimes more, even though these vehicles should be on the Humber-Neville service.

With the declining availability of ALRVs, if the present schedules are operated with 35 CLRVs rather than the 25+10 CLRV+ALRV mix now planned, the scheduled capacity is further decreased.

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 74 42 74
Route Capacity/Hr 1,043 529 918

During July 2018, there were only 12 ALRVs operated in service at various times, and some of these disappeared as the month wore on. Some of these cars, notably 4207, were assigned to the AM peak trippers to conserve their limited availability.

By month-end, only 7 ALRVs were showing up on Queen, and the number has been declining through August. As I write this on August 31 at 9:30 am, only ALRVs 4221, 4226, 4240 and 4249 are on the route.

I wrote to the TTC’s Brad Ross to inquire about plans for service and capacity on Queen Street. Here is his reply:

1) The reduced availability of ALRVs in recent weeks is due to a deep inspection of the entire fleet to assess their condition, which is not good.

Service Planning is working at making further changes to the Queen route in the new year that assumes no ALRV availability to ensure that we are operating adequate capacity. If ALRVs are available, they would operate either as trippers or replace a CLRV as “bonus” capacity. All of our advance planning for construction service on Queen in 2019 assumed CLRV-only operation and was budgeted accordingly.

2) 501 QUEEN will be the next route to receive the new streetcars after the deployment on 504 KING is complete at the end of 2018. They will be deployed 1-for-1 to CLRVs and the proportion of service operated by low-floors will vary throughout the year as construction at King-Queen-Roncesvalles progresses and the streetcar portion of the route is adjusted.

The detailed plans for staging the trackwork at Roncesvalles as well as the reconstruction of The Queensway with reserved streetcar lanes west to Parkside Drive (the eastern limit of the existing right-of-way) have not yet been released. Riders can expect various replacement bus services, again, from late winter through (at least) early summer.

One unhappy consequence of declining capacity is that vehicles are more crowded, take longer to load, and discourage more riders from even trying to use the TTC. Lost riders are hard to recover, and incentives such as cheaper fares cannot compensate for inconvenience and the discomfort of packed cars.

The following section updates charts presented in an April 2018 article Service Capacity on 501 Queen with data to the end of July.

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