Note: Calculations behind the charts in the original version of this article include a methodology problem. Short turn counts for vehicles crossing two screenlines (such as eastbound on Queen at Coxwell and at Woodbine) were distorted when these events did not occur in the same hour. Other problems included double counting of cars that looped twice at a short turn point (e.g. College Loop), and cars that were entering service via a loop being counted as short turns.
Changes in the text are shown by highlighting of the new version. All charts have been replaced.
My apologies for any confusion, but the charts used here avoid the potential confusion of values shown originally.
One of the many annoyances of trying to use transit service is to discover that your bus or streetcar has been “short turned”, that is to say, will not reach the destination advertised. This might happen before you board so that an arrival prediction turns out to be for a streetcar you can’t use, or as a “surprise” when the operator gets on the PA to announce that Transit Control wants to short turn the car.
This has been a problem for as long as I have been involved in advocacy for better transit service.
TTC Board members and Councillors hear about this problem a lot, and they in turn beat on management to eliminate the practice. This can produce unwanted side effects, notably the padding of schedules so that it is almost impossible, at least in theory, for a car to be late and, therefore, short turns should not be required.
Alas it is not quite that simple. Short turns occur for various reasons including schedule issues, crew change timing, major delays/diversions and “operational problems”, that catch-all phrase covering everything from a stuck door to a plague of locusts. (Some explanations for transit service problems have been with us so long they have taken on an almost Biblical character.)
Meanwhile, the CEO’s Report happily tells us every month that short turns are a thing of the past, that they are so rare that it might not even be worth tracking them as a service metric.
The big drop in the metric in spring 2019 coincides with a point where a “no short turn” edict was issued by the CEO. This is not really practical as there are many bona fide reasons for short turning vehicles, but the numbers obediently went down and have stayed down.
Regular riders, however, might choose to differ in their day-to-day observations.
Since 2019, we have come through the pandemic era when a great deal of traffic congestion and ridership disappeared. For a time, the type of event that would disrupt service was comparatively rare. However, with “normal” conditions returning, service is no longer insulated by these effects.
In my own travels, I routinely encounter streetcars that are not going to their scheduled destinations. Let me be the first to say that I understand the need for short turns, but am rather amazed that the reported counts stay very close to zero. This simply does not match actual experience. A short turn is a short turn, regardless of why it is required.
The question, then, is how to count these events reasonably easily without standing on street corners clipboard in hand. Vehicle tracking data that I already receive from the TTC’s Vision system (and which drives the many arrival prediction apps) provides a simple mechanism.
In this article I will review several common streetcar short turn locations to see what is actually happening.
If readers have specific bus routes and locations they would like to see, please leave your request in the comments.Continue reading