The Myth of “No Short Turns” (Revised)

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.

Source: June 2022 CEO’s Report

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.

501 Queen Eastbound to Neville

A short turn long-feared by 501 Queen riders is the discovery that a streetcar supposedly bound for Neville Loop is actually short turning at Kingston Road into Woodbine Loop.

To determine how many times this happens, I compared the counts of streetcars crossing a screenline east of Coxwell to the counts at Woodbine. If a car is seen at the first screenline, but not at the second, there is only one place it could have gone.

A few explanations are in order here:

  • For each hourly group of columns, the first the values are for all weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays respectively.
  • The other five columns break out data for weekdays on a weekly basis to show the variation through the month.

On an all-day basis, fewer cars reach Woodbine than are seen at Coxwell, and these are the short turns. Note that there are more of these on weekends (orange and green bars for Saturday and Sunday) than on weekdays (red) in the “All Day” values. The proportion of service that gets through to Woodbine (and hence to Neville) varies by time of day and is sometimes below 80 per cent, notably on Sundays.

Considering that on a weekly basis, there are almost 4,000 scheduled trips to Neville Loop, that is more than a handful of short turns.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2833 (140), Saturdays: 505 (51), Sundays: 463 (53)

Dundas Westbound to High Park

A common short turn for Dundas cars is at Lansdowne using “College Loop”, an around-the-block loop formed by the Lansdowne-College-Dundas triangle. The screenlines here are westbound at Lansdowne and at Roncesvalles. (Note that all 505 Dundas service is diverted to High Park Loop due to construction at Dundas West Station.)

As the chart shows, there are a lot of short turns at Lansdowne especially in the evening. One could well argue that the full level of service is not required beyond this point and the short turns concentrate cars where they are most needed. However, this does not make them vanish from the counts.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2431 (272), Saturdays: 338 (56), Sundays: 305 (57)

The Dundas route also has a common east end short turn via Parliament, Gerrard and Broadview, but until June 19 Broadview was the eastern terminus due to construction. I will return to this when data for July are available.

Carlton Westbound to High Park

The premise for 506 Carlton cars is similar to 505 Dundas with a screenline at Dufferin counting the “before” values, and another at Roncesvalles counting how many cars went through to High Park.

As on other routes, values well below 100 per cent are not uncommon here, especially just after the AM peak (9-10am) when many cars short turn at Lansdowne.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2624 (358), Saturdays: 424 (77), Sundays: 408 (49)

Carlton Eastbound to Main Street Station

A common short turn for Carlton cars in the east end is to run to Coxwell-Queen Loop rather than going the full distance to Main Street Station. Note that all service on 506 Carlton originates at Roncesvalles Carhouse and so no trips end at Coxwell as running-in trips to Russell or Leslie.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2520 (204), Saturdays: 401 (42), Sundays: 390 (21)

King Westbound at Spadina and at Bathurst

King cars have two common short turns westbound at Spadina (looping via Adelaide and Charlotte) and at Bathurst (looping south to Fleet Loop or north to Wolseley Loop).

For these charts, the screenlines are westbound at Peter (two blocks east of Spadina), at Portland (one block east of Bathurst), and at Tecumseth (one block west of Bathurst).

Short turns at Spadina are not uncommon.

Short turns at Bathurst compound those that have already occurred at Spadina.

When the effects of the two short turns are measured comparing service east of Spadina to west of Bathurst, here is the result. This affects service to Liberty Village, and does not bode well for the eventual restoration of streetcar service to Roncesvalles Avenue late in 2022.

Total trips (short turns):

At Spadina Weekdays: 5129 (283), Saturdays: 693 (41), Sundays: 705 (28)

At Bathurst Weekdays: 4922 (456), Saturdays: 670 (39), Sundays: 690 (34)

With the eastern part of 504 King under construction until June 19, I will leave analysis of short turns there until the July data come in.

13 thoughts on “The Myth of “No Short Turns” (Revised)

  1. Doesn’t some streetcar service leave Queen Street to Kingston Road on route 503? Or does your vehicle tracking data only count streetcars displaying 501 Queen to Neville Park as their destination sign?

    Steve: I am only counting the 501s, not the 503s. I looked at that route too, and relatively few of those cars short turn.

    Also, could some of these short turns be scheduled, I.e. where the vehicle goes the entire route displaying an alternate destination, sort of like the 510C Spadina to Charlotte loop streetcars?

    Steve: No. All cars are scheduled to go to Neville. There are some short turns further west for cars running in to the barns, but as they don’t even get to Coxwell, they are not included in my counts.

    Thanks for all your analysis. If only you were on the TTC board!

    Steve: That would be a thankless position where I would be (a) bound by confidentiality rules, (b) almost certainly be a minority of one or two, (c) be roundly criticized for trying to tell management how to do their job. I can have more impact from outside by demonstrating how the TTC is not doing its job, and management is hiding the info.

    Thanks for reading!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “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.”

    Many years ago, when I was taking my undergraduate degree at U of T (Trinity College), I once did a stand-up comedy routine entitled, “Why the TTC is like a Bad Girlfriend.”

    Yes, the TTC is like a bad girlfriend because of the lying and lack of service and then lying about the lack of service. And the repeated broken promises to get better, which we both know are yet more lies. But I keep hoping against hope that this time, somehow, miraculously, the broken promises will actually be kept. But no, reality crashes in and the latest promises turn out to be nothing more than yet more lies and broken promises.

    The problem is that we can dump the bad girlfriend and try to find someone with a bit more honesty. But we are stuck with the TTC. With the TTC, we are trapped in an abusive relationship of lies and dishonesty. And it really makes very little difference how I vote in October’s municipal election. The system is rigged to ensure that the incumbent politicians will be overwhelmingly re-elected so there is no way out of this abusive relationship.

    It is my opinion that this reality of being trapped in an abusive relationship of lies and dishonesty is the source of a lot of the raw, naked anger at the TTC. This anger expresses itself in many ways, from vandalism to fare evasion. After all, why should I be honest and pay my fare to an organization that is aggressively dishonest and repeatedly lies to me?


  3. Steve: I am only counting the 501s, not the 503s. I looked at that route too, and relatively few of those cars short turn.

    Does your data set capture all cars even if they do not appear in the NextBus predictions?

    Steve: I get the raw data from TTC without NextBus’ helpful omissions.

    I’ve observed and experienced times when the predictions would indicate 20 or 30 minute gaps but cars would appear in their scheduled time slots (headways). Essentially they were invisible in apps and on GPS service maps but were in actual operation. At other times a 30 minute gap in the predictions turned out to be actual 30 minute gaps in the service. Of course there were the times when cars appeared in predictions and on GPS based service maps but were not actually in service because they were deadheading to try and get back on to schedule.

    Steve: Those are symptoms of fairly standard NextBus problems. It is possible for a car to still be “signed on” and therefore tracked even though it is actually not in service. In other cases, especially when there are new schedules, if a car is running with a run number that is not in the schedule, NextBus does not track it because predictions are always based on scheduled service, i.e. run numbers that are defined. There have been occasions when a new schedule has very different run numbers from the old, but NextBus is still running with the old version. There is a similar problem with extras which do not exist in the schedule and therefore are not tracked.


  4. The following comment is posted anonymously at the writer’s request. And, yes, I plan to review the operation of 504 King when more data are are available for the new configuration.

    Since the restoration of 504 service in the east end I’ve noticed a dramatic increase of 504 cars short turning at Bathurst down to Fleet Loop. I’m operating the 511 and sometimes there are 2 and sometimes 3 504 cars in Fleet Loop. Every trip, all day, my entire shift. I’m not sure if this is being done to reduce congestion at Dufferin Loop, but it appears 504 service is absolute mess. It might be worth while to revisit the 504 short turn data again in July.


  5. From a brief bit of watching the maps, it looks like they’re operating all westbound 504A service to Fleet loop which could mean it isn’t technically an unscheduled short turn and therefore doesn’t affect or get captured in the CEO’s metrics.

    Short turned westbound 504B cars seem to use Charlotte loop and I saw one sit in the loop for over 30 minutes, which included extra laps around the block whenever a 503 car showed up, only for it to merge back into the eastbound flow directly in front of another eastbound 504B.

    Of note there is no service advisory or anything on the TTC web site which I could find that announces this change.

    Steve: If the schedule says they are supposed to go to Dufferin, then it’s a short turn regardless of the sophistry that might be deployed to claim otherwise. Two 504Bs in a row? Surely you jest!


  6. By evening last night, all 504 cars were operating through Dufferin loop and that appeared to continue through the AM peak period and midday so far. Maybe someone in management was reading yesterday and realized that people were on to them?


  7. But of course as soon as I posted that I saw a 504B heading south on Bathurst to turn around at Fleet loop.


  8. I put the service tracking map app up on the second screen on July 12 to watch what was happening on the 504. Just glancing at the map periodically between early afternoon and late evening I noticed half a dozen short turns at Bathurst, one at Spadina, several at Church, and one at Parliament. During late PM peak one particular pair of 504 cars left Broadview Station together and what followed was a gap of 16 minutes and another 16 minute gap after. That’s double the normal scheduled headway of 8 minutes. One of the cars out on an all day run was short turned four times.

    I watched the map today (July 13) for about 30 minutes during the early PM peak and added the 501 and 503 to my list. Within those 30 minutes, a WB 504 turned in at Bathurst, two EB 504 cars at Church, several 504’s at Spadina (both directions), two WB 503 cars (one at Church, one sitting on Parliament southbound), and three WB 501 cars used McCaul loop.

    Some of this may have been due to residual effects from two earlier disruptions: an “operational issue” on Queen near Broadview and a gas leak on Gerrard near Pape but I fail to see how that might have caused the short turn at Spadina in a parade of four 504A cars. A short time later there was a collision on King which forced EB 503 and 504 cars to divert and no doubt caused another set of short turns.

    I look forward to seeing the actual number being reported in a future CEO report later this year when I’ll find out my eyes were lying to me.

    Steve: No doubt those “short turns” were only a software glitch in the tracking system 😉


  9. Steve do you happen to have the 504 data for Saturday May 14 of this year? It was the day of game 7 for the Leafs and I believe there was also a Jays home game on that date. There was not a lot of congestion that I could see from the street and there were no TTC service alerts but there were massive gaps on the line in both directions through the core.

    Steve: The service on King was fairly stable until the afternoon when congestion between Strachan and Dufferin Loop started to build up, as well as westbound at Spadina. Short turns at Bathurst and at Spadina occur occasionally between 1 and 4 pm. The situation worsens later in the afternoon, and several cars short turn at Spadina both westbound and eastbound. Much of the service is bunched in groups of three or more cars. From over an hour, a “mechanical problem” held all service westbound near Bathurst according to a service alert issued at 8:27pm. This triggered many short turns at Spadina. The all clear alert was issued at 9:40pm. Even through the late evening near midnight short turns both ways at Spadina continued. I suspect that this was an ongoing effort to put all cars back on time. The last of the wide gaps crossed downtown just after midnight.

    And I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here but today I’ve literally glanced at the tracking maps twice and both times I saw several 504 cars being short turned. Four 504B cars using Fleet loop just now, and cars short turning at Bathurst, Church, and Parliament just before noon.

    Steve: It appears that much of the service from Broadview Station is running only to Bathurst to offset congestion from the Indy.


  10. FWIW they’ve stopped looping the 504 buses at Exhibition loop presumably because of the Indy and extended it to Spadina and now all 504B cars are headed to Fleet loop. I did see a few 504B cars sneak west of Bathurst a bit earlier. I wasn’t aware that the Indy affected operations at Exhibition loop. There is no alert about this change.


  11. Friday night’s service on King looks even more gross than last night’s service. I look forward to seeing the receipts.

    Steve: Yes, lots of short turns and a few parades of cars with wide gaps.


  12. This comment was left in another thread by Peter Lebensold.

    Comments on the short-turn issue are closed, so i’ll leave this here:

    Steve: No, there is a major revision of the short turn article, but the old one was left online for reference. The new one (this one) has comments enabled.

    It seems the termination of the westbound Queen cars at Bathurst is not considered a « short turn » because it’s pre-planned, but the effect on riders is the same (especially those who don’t read the display or are new to the route). Last week, 3 or 4 streetcars emptied at Bathurst before the first replacement bus arrived, so that it was filled and many (having already waited for up to 45 minutes for that first bus) had to wait for a second bus to arrive in order to board. There was a lot of swearing, I can tell you.

    Steve: I only counted cars that did not reach their scheduled destination. Yes, the streetcar/bus transfers don’t work very well at some locations.


  13. Another Friday night and another slowly rolling disaster on the 501 and 504. I watched a convoy of half a dozen 504’s moving along King, and despite Queen being shutdown east of Woodbine loop due to a collision and chopping 5 km round trip off the top, there were 45 minute gaps according to NextBus.

    When I was physically out on the streets earlier in the day, it was more of the same. I only spent 25 minutes or so on the system this evening but just within that span of time, I saw 2 504’s short turned at Spadina and another 504 behind it signed for Bathurst.

    A bit earlier I spotted a 503 that was being short turned in all but name. It was signed NOT IN SERVICE on the actual streetcar which was shuffling along King, but it was showing up in Nextbus predictions, and TransSee’s trip history was showing it in service on the 503 for the whole day.

    There needs to be a reckoning for those at the top.


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