King Street Update: March-April 2019 Part III (Revised)

May 13, 2019 at 9:00 am: In response to a reader’s comment, I have modified the analysis of operations at Dufferin Loop to split out time spent within the loop itself from queuing southbound on Dufferin approaching the loop.

This article continues the analysis of 504 King operations in early 2019 with the following posts:

A major problem with 504 King car operations at both Dundas West and Broadview Stations is the queuing of streetcars approaching the station but unable to enter because the platform space is occupied. As the route changed over from the “standard” length streetcars around which these stations were designed to the double-length Flexitys, what had been an occasional nuisance is now a daily experience.

Living near Broadview Station, I am quite aware of this problem (not to mention the flocks of 505 Dundas buses which are quite another matter), but with the TTC’s May 12, 2019 schedule changes that will add running time to 504 King, there is the potential for this problem to become even worse. This article looks at the situation at all four of the loops used by the 504A/B King service: Broadview Station, Distillery, Dufferin and Dundas West Station in April 2019. I will update this information when data for May is available and a before-and-after comparison will be possible.

Unlike the travel time charts in other articles where the route segments extend over many city blocks, the “map” used for this analysis is very finely-grained with screenlines at spacings of under 100 metres. Please refer to the Appendix to this article for notes about methodology and the choice of screenline locations for calculation of travel and queuing/layover times.

The chart below is taken from my summary of the May 12 service changes.

  • During most weekday periods, the number of streetcars in service goes up, but the headway stays the same or gets wider. The result is that cars have more time to get from one end of the line to the other.
  • During weekday early evenings, headways widen from 6’30” on each branch to 8’00” and running times are increased.
  • On weekends, there is a combination of wider headways and/or added cars to produce additional running time.

From the actual data showing time spent by streetcars at the four terminals of the 504 King route (Broadview Station, Distillery Loop, Dufferin Loop and Dundas West Station), it is far from clear than any additional running time is actually needed during many periods of operation. The TTC appears to be making a broad brush change to the schedule rather than targeting fixes to periods and locations where they will actually improve service.

Moreover, at a recent meeting of City Council, TTC staff advised that there would be more cars on King starting in May, but neglected to mention that this would not improve the scheduled service level, and in some cases would actually reduce service. Further changes on 504 King are expected in the fall, but the details are not yet available.

Apologies to readers for the plethora of charts in this article. I have used excerpts from chart sets for each location and included a link to the full sets for those who want them.

Broadview Station

The screenlines at and near Broadview Station are:

  • South of Danforth on Broadview
  • Crossing Danforth
  • North of Danforth at the station entrance
  • The north exit from the station

The geometry of this location is such that cars travel north through the station (albeit with a diagonal veer to the east), and so the time spent in each segment can be calculated from the times when cars cross each screenline northbound.

Queuing on Broadview South of Danforth

On occasion, cars are forced to wait south of Danforth because the “slot” north of the intersection is already occupied by a waiting streetcar. This is comparatively infrequent and not as lengthy as on the north side.

Full chart set: 504_201904_SofDanforth_Danforth_MonthLinks

Queuing on Broadview North of Danforth

The problem with cars sitting on Broadview waiting to enter the station is worst on weekday evenings when waits of over five minutes can occur. The chart below shows the data for Week 3, the week before Easter (hence no Friday data).

This situation can snarl traffic and interfere with operation of the bus routes attempting to leave the station depending on where an operator stops their streetcar on Broadview.

The problem grew in the last week of April. The outlier at about noon on Wednesday, April 24 (yellow dot) was caused by service holding at Broadview Station due to a collision at Danforth.

Full chart set: 504_201904_Danforth_NofDanforth_MonthLinks

Time Spent in Broadview Station Loop

Streetcars spend from three to five minutes on average in Broadview Station itself, but with some times considerably longer. The data for April Week 4 are shown below.

There is a lower bound of about a minute which would correspond to cars that arrived and departed as quickly as possible, but many cars sit for over five minutes occupying the station and preventing following cars from entering. This is particularly so in the evening, and this corresponds to the period when queuing times for cars approaching the station are highest (above).

Full chart set: 504_201904_NofDanforth_BroadviewStnExit_MonthLinks

Elapsed Time From South of Danforth to Broadview Station Exit

When the time taken including the layover within Broadview Station and the queuing time outside, the full effect of the schedule is evident.

It is ironic that the TTC eliminated the northbound stop at Danforth as a way to reduce running time on this route when, in fact, the actual operation at Broadview Station often causes extended travel times. Queuing time on Broadview contributes to the total trip time, but this is wasted time for both the operator and for passengers who are trapped in streetcars waiting to get into the station.

Running times on King will be extended effective May 12, and this could worsen the problem by having more cars arrive early at the terminal and being forced to wait on the street for platform space. Operators are supposed to take most of their recovery time at Dufferin Loop, but if they are early arriving at Broadview, they will sit at least until their scheduled departure even if there are cars waiting behind them.

Full chart set: 504_201904_SofDanforth_BroadviewStnExit_MonthLinks

Distillery Loop

At Distillery Loop, streetcars enter and leave from the north. Unlike the subway stations, there is no queue outside of the loop to measure and the time spent in the loop can be determined by the crossing of a nearby screenline in each direction. At the Distillery Loop, this is at Mill Street just north of the loop.

Although some trips run through the loop and leave quickly, as shown by some points in the 1-2 minute range, many cars, especially in the evening, spend a long time sitting at the loop. These layovers are substantially longer than one headway, and it is not unusual to have two cars sitting in the loop together. On weekends, layovers here are not as long but they can still be generous. Part of this can legitimately be described as “recovery time” so that depending on the variation in conditions elsewhere on the route, there remains enough time for cars to get back on time at terminals. However, the TTC is adding more time to trips at all times of the day and evening suggesting that they do not know which periods of operation actually need them.

Full chart set: 504_201904_DistilleryTerminal_MonthLinks

Dufferin Loop (Revised May 13, 2019)

At Dufferin Loop, like the Distillery Loop, has room for more than one car within it. However, queuing on the approach still occurs. Typically this is southbound on Dufferin north of Springhurst (the street immediately north of the loop) so that waiting streetcars do not block the loop entrance on Springhurst which is also used by Dufferin buses.

In the revised analysis, there are two screenlines used to measure dwell times by streetcars:

  • At Thornburn, the second street north of Dufferin Loop
  • At the north side of the loop just south of Springhurst

As at the Distillery, streetcars in the evenings have some very long layovers at Dufferin Loop although the length varies immensely.

The appendix (bottom of the article) has been updated to include Dufferin Loop.

From Thornburn to Dufferin Loop

Queuing on Dufferin north of the loop occurs primarily on weekdays during late afternoons and evenings. The amount varies from day to day, and on some days no cars queue here at all.

Full chart set: 504_201904_Thornburn_DufferinLoop_MonthLinks

At Dufferin Loop

In the evening, dwell times at Dufferin Loop are high mainly in the evenings, although the amount varies from day to day and week to week. Below are the charts showing the first and last weeks of April 2019.

Full chart set: 504_201904_DufferinLoop_MonthLinks

Dundas West Station

The screenlines at and near Dundas West Station are:

  • South of Bloor on Dundas
  • Crossing Bloor Street
  • North of Bloor at the east side of the station

Dundas West Station has a longer platform than Broadview Station, and this allows two Flexitys to occupy it at once. On-street queuing is less of a problem here, although it does occur. As at Broadview, the period when streetcars typically spend long periods in the station because they are early is in the evening. This corresponds to times when cars can be held outside of the station.

Time Spent in Dundas West Station Loop

The chart below shows the time spent within the Dundas West loop (including time on Edna Avenue leaving the station) for week 3 of April 2019. Other weeks have similar data. The time spent at the loop is considerably higher during the evening that the daytime showing that cars generally arrive early enough at the loop for an extended layover.

Full chart set: 504_201904_DundasWest_TerminalMonthLinks

Between Bloor Street and Dundas West Station Entrance

Queuing at this location is less common than at Broadview because there is space in the station for two cars. The problem shows up in the evenings particularly when layover times at Dundas West are very long.

Full chart set: 504_201904_BloorWest_DundasWestLoop_MonthLinks

South of Bloor Street

Some queuing occurs south of Bloor, but as to the north this is mainly in the evening when cars at Dundas West have long layover times.

Full chart set: 504_201904_SofBloor_BloorWest_MonthLinks

Appendix: Methodology

Readers of this site will be familiar with analyses of travel times and service reliability such as those posted in the first two articles in this series.

For the overall analysis, the route is subdivided into 10 metre long segments as if the line were a piece of string that had been stretched out straight. The GPS co-ordinates of streetcars are mapped into this one-dimensional view of the route. Vehicles report their location every 20 seconds, and if they are stationary, they will appear in the same location more than once. This allows the creation of a chart showing where streetcars are most likely to be found because they stop at certain points rather than simply travelling by.

The route is subdivided into sections using screenlines or time points at major intersections such as Parliament, Jarvis, Yonge, etc, and these are placed in the middle of the intersection so that, usually, streetcars will be moving when they reach the line, not sitting at a stop, possibly with a variable location. Screenline to screenline values measure the travel time, while vehicles passing a screenline measure the headways. These values produce the charts used in the articles linked above.

In order to look at the terminals on a fine-grained level, I set up a special “map” with closely-spaced screenlines near Broadview and Dundas West Stations. In both cases, cars approach the terminal from the south and move through one or two potential hold points before reaching the platform. They continue north or west, respectively, to leave the station. The situation at Distillery and Dufferin Loops is different in that there is room in both loops to handle multiple vehicles, and time spent at the loops can be measured using the round trip from a screenline just north of the loop (e.g. Mill Street at Distillery Loop).

This level of detail is possible because the data extract provided by the TTC from the “old” CIS tracking system gives the GPS location of each car every 20 seconds. This is not yet possible with extracts from the new VISION system because its extracts give only observations of stop arrivals and departures, not a continuous view along a route. I hope to receive full GPS tracking extracts from the VISION system in the near future so that I can resume reporting on routes that have converted from CIS (much of the bus fleet is now on VISION).

As a starting point, one can get a sense of where streetcars are stopping a lot by looking at the number of times a car is “seen” at each point along the route. The charts below take small slices out of the route at the subway terminals showing cars approaching and sitting at the loops. Both charts should be read left to right.

  • The numbers on horizontal axis are the internal co-ordinates for the locations in 10 metre increments in the mapped view of the route.
  • Locations that are used as screenlines are named on the axis.
  • The vertical axis is the count of the number of observations at this location from Monday April 22 to Friday April 26, 2019. The longer a car sits at a point, the more it contributes to this total.
    • Many cars stopping for a short period can produce the same count as fewer cars stopping for a longer period.
  • Within the clump of values for each point, there is one vertical line per hour.

At Broadview Station, it is no surprise that streetcars are most commonly found within the station, but they can also sit on the approach and south of Danforth. There is also a peak north of the station where streetcars are stopped on Erindale before turning south for their westbound trip.

At Dundas West Station, there is a peak south of Bloor, although it varies by time of day, but there is less queuing south of the loop itself because unlike Broadview Station, Dundas West can hold two Flexitys. This is clear with the two peaks inside the station itself. Most of the cars are at the second peak (1370-1371) corresponding to the west end of the platform, but many are at the first peak (1366-1367) corresponding to the second berth for a car at the east end.

Technical note: There is a side effect of the mapping algorithm which treats Dundas Street north to Edna as a separate segment from the loop. Because there is no northbound operation on Dundas from the station entrance to Edna Avenue, there is no data for these points (1357-1360) for cars arriving at the station . The loop itself is mapped east-west from values 1361 to 1373.

Revised on May 13, 2019: Chart for vehicle locations at Dufferin Loop added.

At Dufferin Loop, streetcars primarily take layovers within the loop, but they also queue sometimes in the evening north of the loop on Dufferin Street.

6 thoughts on “King Street Update: March-April 2019 Part III (Revised)

  1. Hi Steve, quick local note. At Dufferin Gate I have seen streetcars waiting on Dufferin Street, north of Springhurst, to enter the loop area. (Possibly because queuing on Springhurst itself is discouraged as cars would have difficulty passing?) Maybe have Thorburn or Temple be the screenline there? Not that the chart isn’t incredibly distressing already…

    Steve: Yes. Looking at the detailed data of where cars wait, I can see that there is queuing north of Springhurst. I will have to tweak the screenlines to distinguish between waits in the loop itself and on the approach. Stay tuned for an update, and thanks for the local info.


  2. Steve, a thorough, detailed analysis as always. What are your thoughts on how to provide better service and handle log jams at the stations?

    Steve: First and foremost, cut the running time, don’t pad it, and figure out a way to ensure that operators do not take extended siestas especially at Broadview and at Dundas West.

    A big change is that the TTC has to figure out how to schedule for and manage service on lines that have day-by-day and seasonal fluctuations. One of the odd things about the data is that some of the longest layovers seem to occur on Friday evenings when I expect that, if any time, cars would have longer travel times through the entertainment district. However, TTC may be short turning operators, not cars causing odd behaviour at terminals. I have to run a separate set of end-to-end travel times for the streetcars, not the operators, to get a better sense of what is happening.


  3. All this ridiculous nonsense sure makes the TTC look like a bunch of rank amateurs! Hardly the #1 transit operation it pretends to be.


  4. Why doesn’t the TTC implement step-back drivers at the terminals? Surely the extra cost of the spare drivers is better than having $15 million worth of vehicles full of passengers waiting to enter the stations. Keep the vehicles (and the customers) moving while the drivers are taking their breaks.

    Steve: They have done this in a few places on occasion, but the practice never seems to last. It survives only on the subway. I suspect that part of the problem is that if the idea of a guaranteed break at the end of a line were to creep in, the cost system wide would be considerable. That’s why for years the schedules have referred to driving time and “recovery time” separately. Oddly the latter exists mainly to make the headways work out right, especially on branching routes, and there are cases where routes with somewhat generous allowances for “recovery” off peak have little or none in the peak.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Re Queuing: This, of course, has been a sore spot for years. Through it all, I don’t recall a single [public] attempt to ask the TTC drivers for solutions. I know that sounds naive in this era of incorporated union control, but something needs to be done to narrow the huge gap that has opened up between workers and management. In successful companies, ALL employees feel that they have a stake in the welfare of that entity.

    Steve: A big problem with TTC operations (management) has been that their one-size-fits-all solution to route problems has been more running time. This creates built-in queues and an expectation of substantial layovers at terminals. Even if “recovery times” are short on the schedules, ops have to drag their butts across the city to avoid getting early. However, the management “target” is to minimize short turns and that is done most simply by making it almost impossible to be “late”. A related problem is the management avoidance of overtime caused by being late.

    The union has a legitimate beef with schedules that are so unrealistic that operators can never count on the scheduled breaks or finishing times, but conversely padded schedules are annoying to all riders who, in some cases like the approach to subway terminals, endure long travel times they should not have to put up with.


  6. Shaking my head while reading Steve’s and other people’s comments about streetcars being prevented from entering, loading and leaving Broadview and Dundas West stations promptly enough to clear the space and prevent back-ups on the streets while still maintaining adequate service levels for the actual passengers. It seems a page needs to be taken from the book of the passenger who dared Mayor John Tory to ride the air conditioning-less subway cars along the Bloor-Danforth line three years ago to show what sweating passengers had to deal with each and every day riding transit.

    Perhaps it is time for TTC CEO Rick Leary and all the TTC Board Members to take a couple of separate trips on 2 or 3 different days at different times of the day, catching a King St. streetcar from the vicinity of City Hall and taking a ride up Broadview Avenue to see what “the fuss is all about.” Because I believe that, until “the powers that be” actually EXPERIENCE what’s happening on the ground – riding a mile in the train car of those “complaining” – for them, everything is only in the abstract, with a bunch of statistical numbers not showing anything about the whole picture – or even *part* of the picture. Being stuck in a 4-streetcar line-up, waiting for 30+ minutes somewhere along Broadview Avenue – and NOT being allowed to disembark – might give them a better sense of the frustration of riders and help them think a bit more clearly about implementing more *effective* solutions.

    Transit drivers need and must be allowed layover time to use the washroom and have a break out of their seats at stations and this has to be factored into vehicle scheduling. Traffic conditions are variable every day and how they affect the smooth (or not) flow of transit vehicles cannot always be clearly anticipated. But, if there are particular and established guidelines for scheduling, in terms of spacing and tracking of vehicle speed and the effect of other traffic issues that can be adjusted “on the fly” as needed, then it should be a relatively basic exercise in analysis (sort of what Steve does all the time on this blog – for free!) in order to determine what works and what doesn’t and how to know the difference.

    When the product you sell is timely delivery (of passengers), there is no excuse for you to fail on a regular basis. And those in charge need to be held accountable; this also includes elected officials, as representatives of the public (who are the passengers). But, until those elected and appointed officials actually understand and even briefly live the problem – even if only for part of a day or two – they won’t care enough to ensure that changes are made to better the situation for all transit users. They need to keep an eye on the TTC brass and staff to make sure they are always held to account. Or, in other words, do the job that they are supposed to, making sure that the TTC folks are doing their jobs to better serve the riding public.

    Steve: According to the service design, operators are supposed to take their breaks mainly at Dufferin and Distillery Loops (although the only washroom at the Distillery is in the nearby theatre, not at the loop). However, if the schedules are padded so that Rick Leary gets a gold star for eliminating short turns, cars usually get to Broadview and Dundas West early. What are they to do? Disobey the schedule and leave, or wait for their time?

    Such is life in the fantasy world of TTC management.


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