Updated May 20, 2019 at 4:40 pm:
Another factor in the travel time conundrum may be related to a “no short turns” edict that went into effect for the second half of April 2019. One effect of this can be that there are often large gaps and associated loading delays which drive up travel time. This will be the subject of a separate article.
Updated May 21, 2019 at 8:45 am:
Charts for detailed changes in eastbound travel from Humber to Neville have been added to this article.
With the June 23, 2019, service changes, the TTC will officially make route 501 Queen a low-floor streetcar route. Concurrent with this change, the number of cars on the route will be reduced during all operating periods. The degree of reduction should be cause for celebration because reduction in cars is nowhere near the ratio of low-floor to CLRV capacity. However, at the same time, the TTC will substantially increase running times during many periods. The combined effect of fewer cars and longer scheduled trips will be much wider headways than are now provided, especially on weekdays.
The number of cars/hour will be cut by about one third on weekdays and one quarter on weekends. This is very much the sort of change Queen Street riders saw when the two-section ALRVs replaced the shorter CLRVs, and the end result, thanks to the lackluster line management, was a loss of 1/3 of the route’s riding. This is precisely the opposite direction the TTC should be moving at a time when there is known demand on the streetcar lines as shown by the King Street Pilot.
When the fact that 501 Queen is already partly served by the larger Flexitys, the capacity on the route will actually be reduced on June 23 compared to what is operating today.
In the peak periods roughly half an hour will be added to the scheduled round trip time from Neville to Humber (from 149 to 176 minutes AM, and from 169 to 205 minutes PM) resulting in much wider headways that would be provided if the Flexitys ran on the same operating plan as the existing service.
TTC management seek to reduce or eliminate short turns with extended running times, but in the process produce a service plan that will be demonstrably worse for all riders. The wider scheduled headways will be compounded by the uneven spacing of cars that is commonly seen on Queen and other routes, and it would not be surprising to see pairs of cars travelling on headways over 10 minutes almost all of the time.
This would be a far cry from the type of service that clearly warrants transit priority on King Street. Any discussion of priority for Queen would first have to ask why the streetcars that are so infrequent would deserve so much road space to be devoted to them.
Such a large change in scheduled travel time raises the question “why”. Is this simply a padding of schedules to minimize short turns and make life easier for operators, or is it a shift to recognize a change on the route? If the latter, what has changed and how have travel times evolved over time.
Looking into the details, what appears is that there has been a build-up in travel times across the route over the past year, and particularly in recent months. Further exploration will be needed to determine what is happening, but the situation is cause for concern when there can be such a large change in travel times and, in turn, a degradation in service frequency.
501 Queen Trippers
The schedule in effect in May-June 2019 includes five tripper cars operating from Russell Carhouse (at Greenwood/Connaught) in both the AM and PM peaks. Three of these provide through Long Branch/Downtown service. In the AM peak the other two provide two round trips between Greenwood and Sunnyside Loop (runs 83 and 84 below). In the PM peak , they make only one trip from the carhouse west to Humber and back to Neville (runs 88 and 89).
The choice of timepoints below may look a bit odd, but these are the ones used in schedules exported by the TTC to NextBus. Glendale is the St. Joseph’s Hospital stop west of Sunnyside Loop. Triller is the first stop east of Roncesvalles.
In the June-July schedule, buses will provide three trips each way from Kingston Road to Sunnyside in both peak periods. These are separate vehicles, six in all for both peaks. These are one-way trips. With the peak design load of a bus being about 40% of a Flexity, this does not represent a substantial amount of service beyond what the streetcars will provide.
Eastbound from Sunnyside:
- AM: 8:15, 8:20 and 8:25
- PM: 4:30, 4:40 and 4:50
Westbound from Kingston Road:
- AM: 8:15, 8:20 and 8:25
- PM: 4:35, 4:45 and 4:55
The 501L Long Branch service is not affected by the schedule change according to the service memo. I will verify with the TTC that the Long Branch/Downtown tripper streetcars remain in the new schedule.
Trip Times on 501 Queen
Travel times across the Queen route can vary substantially by day of the week, within weeks of the month and of course seasonally. No “one size fits all” schedule is possible especially if the goal is to completely eliminate short turns. If running times are so padded that even under the worst conditions cars will never need to turn back, they will have extremely long layovers at terminals, assuming there is even space for the vehicles there. This is a waste of streetcars that could be providing service rather than sitting near the end of the line.
On a full month average basis, the travel time between Neville and Humber Loops follows a similar pattern in each direction. (The measurement is from the first stop west of Neville at Silver Birch to a point on The Queensway just east of Humber Loop to avoid including terminal layover times in these values.) The one way time peaks at about 90 minutes for cars leaving the terminals in he hour between 5 and 6 pm. Equally important, however, is the standard deviation value which is typically close to 10 minutes. This means that a substantial proportion of the trip times lie in a band ±10 minutes of the average. This is far to large an amount to be absorbed into scheduled recovery time.
Breaking down the values by week reveals that the last two months of April (green and blue below) saw longer trip times than the first two (red and orange). This begs the question of whether some change on Queen Street affected service from that point onward. Later below I review the route segment-by-segment and this shows that the changes vary by location and time of day. The effect is widespread enough that one must ask whether there has been a change in (or removal of) transit signal priority at some times and locations on the route.
Even more variation is revealed on a day-by-day basis. The charts below are for Week 4 (including the two days of the short Week 5) which had some of the highest travel times. Note that these charts are clipped at 120 minutes, but there are some values above that line. (Each dot represents one car’s trip, and the collection of dots lies generally within a 20-minute wide band as the 10-minute SD value leads is to expect.)
Full chart sets:
The new schedule’s PM peak round trip time is 205 minutes (192 minutes driving time plus 13 minutes of recovery). With the high end of average trip times sitting at about 90 minutes each way, and allowing 8 minutes for each terminal, a long round trip should take less than 200 minutes. The actual scheduled value is generous and will minimize, but not eliminate, the need for short turns.
Also important will be headway management so that streetcars, including those that are short turned, actually operate on a regular headway. The TTC “standard” allowing a six minute “on time” window would allow peak period streetcars on Queen to run in pairs every 13 minutes or so while being “on time”. That is not acceptable service on what is supposed to be a major route.
CLRV vs Flexity Trip Times
Among the reasons cited by the TTC for a jump in short turns on this route during March 2019 was the claim that operating characteristics of the new Flexity and legacy CLRV fleets made for uneven service requiring more short turns.
The actual average travel times for the two vehicle types are slightly different, with the new cars being a bit slower, but not by a wide margin.
The Evolution of Trip Times on 501 Queen
Updated May 21, 2019 with charts for eastbound data
Current travel times across Queen are now higher than scheduled times, and that is part of the reason for the schedule change. This prompts the questions of when the change happened, and where along the route. This section delves into those questions for travel between Neville to Humber. Westbound and eastbound data are similar in character although some of the details vary because demand and congestion effects vary with direction and time of day.
The chart below shows the average travel time from Silver Birch to The Queensway just east of Humber Loop in (mostly) April of each year from 2012 to 2019. Each group of bars shows the progression of values over the 8 years for each hour of the day. (The time refers to the point where a car left Silver Birch, and so the 6:00 bars show data for cars westbound from the Beach between 6:00 and 7:00 am.)
Small annual increases occur, but there is a large jump in most periods in 2019.
Eastbound travel times show the same general pattern.
Of equal concern is the evolution of the standard deviation values. Although there are some spikes in earlier years, 2019 stands out for very large SD values indication a wide variation in the range of travel times particularly during the AM peak and immediately following.
Looking at the past year on a more detailed level, month-by-month, reveals that the jump is quite recent. This chart shows a slight growth over the past year for most time periods, but a big jump in April particularly in the mid-day and PM peak. The change is more pronounced for westbound travel than for eastbound.
Looking at the data on a geographic basis with the route broken into segments shows that there are increased travel times in April 2019 compared to April 2018 on most segments of the route except west of Roncesvalles:
- Neville to Jarvis (red): Travel times on the eastern part of the route are up particularly in the midday period.
- Jarvis to Bathurst (yellow/orange): Increases for this segment are greater in the PM peak.
- Bathurst to Roncesvalles (green): This sement shows increases through the midday and into the evening.
- Roncesvalles to Humber (blue): There is little difference in travel times over this, the only segment which is largely on private right-of-way.
This appears to be a route-wide problem and cannot be explained by the possible diversion of traffic from King to Queen Street which, in any event, would already have been well underway by April 2018.
Looking at an even more detailed level reveals which parts of the route have seen the most change. This is broken down in five charts because there is too much information to fit on one page.
- Neville (Silver Birch) to Woodbine (red/brown): Travel times in this segment are up from 9:00 am onward. This suggests that there may have been a change in traffic or parking restrictions, or possibly in signal timing after the AM peak.
- Woodbine to Coxwell (green): Like the section east of Woodbine, the area to the west to Coxwell shows a jump in travel times after the AM peak. Again this suggests a change in traffic regulations or signals.
- Coxwell to Greenwood (blue): The data here are similar to the other segments.
The effect is stronger in the westbound than the eastbound direction.
- Greenwood to Broadview (red/brown): There is a slight increase in average travel times during many periods of the day for this segment.
- Broadview to Parliament (green): Travel times are up slightly across this segment.
- Parliament to Jarvis (blue): Travel times are up slightly here only for the period from 8:00 to 11:00 am.
- Jarvis to Yonge (red): Travel times are up here from 8:00 am until the early evening.
- Yonge to University (yellow/orange): There are large changes in travel times here especially from mid-afternoon through early evening.
- University to John (green): There is a small increase here through much of the day.
- John to Spadina (blue): Travel times in this short segment have not changed much, and in some cases are slightly lower.
There is a pronounced difference in the eastbound data compared to westbound for this section of the route with less change, especially from University to Yonge, eastbound.
- Spadina to Bathurst (red): Travel times here have not changed much at all westbound, but have risen eastbound.
- Bathurst to Ossington (green): Travel times are slightly increased in both directions.
- Ossington to Dufferin (blue): Travel times here have changed slightly in some periods both up and down.
- Dufferin to Lansdowne (red): Travel times here jump from 11:00 am onward right through the late evening westbound, but are almost unchanged eastbound.
- Lansdowne to Roncesvalles (green): Travel times here are up a bit with the largest changes in the off-peak hours westbound, but for eastbound travel there is a major change throughout the day.
- Roncesvalles to Humber (blue): There is a small increase in travel time mainly in the evening westbound, but through much of the day eastbound.
Full chart set: