This article continue the series reviewing routes where the TTC alleges that service has improved during 2019. Please refer to the first two parts for introductory information.
- When Better Service Isn’t – Part I: Scarborough
- When Better Service Isn’t – Part II: The Three Yorks
- When Better Service Isn’t – Part III: Etobicoke
- When Better Service Isn’t – Part IV: Central Toronto
This concluding installment in the series reviews the streetcar routes. The comparisons here are different because the roll out of the new Flexity fleet combined with service resiliency changes and the substitution of buses for streetcars on some routes makes a year-over-year comparison only a snapshot of one point in the transition. Instead, this article compares service in January 2015 when the new fleet was fairly small and the network was operated, for the most part with streetcars, to the service in January 2020.
There is now a pervasive problem on streetcar routes with the amount of time allocated to travel plus recovery, to the point that there can be congestion of multiple cars (or buses as in the case of 505 Dundas) at terminals. This represents a waste of equipment by over-allocation of time so that even the worst case trips will not be late. Most are early, and operators get generous breaks as a result.
When contemplating service levels on the streetcar network, remember that all surplus cars were used up in 1997 when the 510 Spadina line opened, and the fleet did not get net new capacity until the Flexitys began to arrive. There is quite a backlog of demand for better service and more capacity as King Street showed.
In 2015, service on 501 Queen still operated with one branch running Neville-Humber and the other Neville-Long Branch. This meant that service levels west of Humber Loop were determined both by the level on the common downtown part of the route and on the lack of reliability in vehicle spacing, not to mention short turns. The Humber-Long Branch segment is now its own route 501L except late evenings, and it is also part of the 10 minute network. This is a very substantial improvement from past years. The other major change riders have seen in 2019 is the replacement of CLRVs by the new Flexitys which have double the capacity.
East of Humber Loop, the service has been evolving. In 2015 it was scheduled for ALRV-sized vehicles, but as these were withdrawn from service, the schedules were not adjusted for the lower capacity of the CLRVs until comparatively recently. Now the route is operated entirely with Flexitys. Tracking the capacity actually provided as the fleet changed is a topic for a separate article, and I will return to that after there are a few months of full operation with new cars as a basis for an “after” comparison.
Note the huge increase in scheduled round trip times between Humber and Neville from 130 minutes (plus 5 for recovery) in 2015 to 164 minutes (plus 12 for recovery) in the AM peak on 2020. The change in the PM peak is even more substantial going from 138+6 minutes to 192+13. Whether all of this additional time is needed is open to debate because some of this is a “resiliency” change intended to eliminate the need for short turns. The question is whether better service could be provided without unduly harming overall operations, and whether the backlogs of streetcars at terminals can be justified on an ongoing basis. (This problem is not unique to 501 Queen.)
502/503 Kingston Road Services
In 2015, both 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road were operating with CLRVs on a combined peak headway of 6’00”. Today, service is provided by the 503 Kingston Road bus operating every 6’30” in the AM peak and every 7’40” in the PM peak. Off peak service is more frequent now in recognition of the smaller sized vehicle.
504 King / 508 Lake Shore
Between 2015 and 2020, the 504 King route went through a major restructuring first with the addition of route 514 Cherry and later with the new 504A/504B services and the elimination of through runs between Broadview and Dundas West Stations.
In 2015 there were many bus trippers in the peak period, but all service is now provided by Flexity streetcars operating on considerably improved headways on the common portion of the route from Dufferin to Cherry, and with larger cars.
The 508 Lake Shore trippers have returned after an absence due to car shortages, and there are now 5 Flexitys where previously there were 3 CLRVs, a substantial increase.
The Dundas route has operated with buses for a few years thanks to the streetcar shortage and ongoing watermain reconstruction along the route. It will resume streetcar operation on March29, 2020.
The level of service now operate with buses is more frequent than the CLRV streetcars they replaced in recognition of vehicle size, but also with some addition of capacity in certain periods.
Running times for the bus service are in some cases longer, some shorter, and some about the same compared to streetcar services five years ago. The planned service for mid-February 2020 will restore some of the extra running time used during construction as a resiliency adjustment, and this implies that streetcar scheduled times will be longer than they were in 2015 when rail service returns to Dundas. The TTC has not yet announced service levels for streetcar service, but has indicated that as on some other routes, streetcars will be supplemented with peak period bus trippers.
In 2015, the Carlton route operated entirely with CLRVs, and together with Bathurst this continued late into 2019. The schedule for 2020 shows a marked widening of peak headways, with lesser increases at other times. This provides riders with less frequent service, but with more capacity. The challenge is that on wider headways, gaps and short turns have a greater effect and it is not clear that the route will be better behaved with the new cars.
As on other routes, resiliency adjustments have created longer travel times and terminal layovers.
Between 2015 and 2020, Harbourfront converted from CLRV to Flexity operation. Demand has been strong on this route, and the capacity has generally increased thanks to larger cars. The changes in headways up or down vary by time period.
In 2015, Spadina had just begun its conversion to new cars, and the schedules were still based on CLRV capacity. The Charlotte Street loop was still in scheduled use at King Street with one third of the service turning back there during many periods. By 2020, all service was scheduled to run south to Queens Quay reflecting the demand south of King Street.
The ratio of cars/hour with the Flexity schedules to CLRV is generally better than the change in the service frequencies, almost all of which are less frequent with the new cars.
In the AM peak the service went from 2’40” to every 4’23”. In the midday, PM peak and early evening, headways doubles or worse representing a net loss of service. Other periods saw wider headways, but not as marked a change.
Spadina has received longer travel and recovery times for resiliency, but this poses a challenge as it is not possible for cars to take long layovers at either terminal. Instead, operators take breaks at Bremner Boulevard which is of little use to them (e.g. for a washroom stop) and the stop delays passengers.
Bathurst was the last route to formally convert from CLRV to Flexity operation. Headways on the new schedules are generally wider than they were for the CLRVs with the biggest effect coming during peak periods.
The travel and recovery times on Bathurst have been lengthened quite substantially for “resiliency” with total peak period times in 2020 that are 50% longer than in 2015. I plan to review actual operations and the time required for this route in a future article.
512 St. Clair
As on other routes, the replacement of CLRVs by Flexitys brought wider headways notably during peak periods. What is quite striking, however, is that a route operating on its own reserved lanes also had substantial changes for resiliency with longer travel and recovery times. Service is now slower than it was before reconstruction of St. Clair occurred.