The Myth of “No Short Turns” (July 2022)

This post includes short turn counts for the month of July on the major east-west streetcar routes downtown. See also:

Updated August 14, 2022: Charts of travel times on King between Strachan and Dufferin have been added to show that although there were congestion problems, they existed only on specific days due to special events, not pervasively through the month of July.

According to the TTC CEO’s Report, short turns (a situation where a vehicle does not reach its scheduled destination but instead turns back at an earlier point) were all but eliminated in May 2019.

This is not to say that short turns should not exist. They are an inevitable part of transit operations where delays can occur, and are essential to restoration of regular service. Back in 2019, the TTC’s problem was that they were used very frequently either as a lazy way to manage service or in response to unrealistic schedules. Now they occur but are not reported.

Meanwhile, other problems with service such as bunching, gaps and missing vehicles are not reported or tracked (at least publicly) at all.

There is no way to avoid saying this: the reported level of short turns is a total misrepresentation of what actually happens on the street as any regular rider knows. Management gets to claim they have eliminated a problem, but in fact it persists.

  1. Methodology
  2. 501 Queen Eastbound at Kingston Road
  3. 504 King Westbound at Spadina and at Bathurst
  4. 504 King Eastbound at Parliament
  5. 504 King Eastbound at Dundas/Broadview
  6. 505 Dundas Westbound at Lansdowne
  7. 505 Dundas Eastbound at Parliament
  8. 506 Carlton Westbound at Lansdowne
  9. 506 Carlton Eastbound at Coxwell

Methodology

From TTC vehicle tracking data, it is possible to count the number of streetcars passing any point on the line. In order to determine how many short turns occur at a specific location, counts on either side of a turnback will reveal the answer.

For example, if the screenlines for counts on Queen are defined as Coxwell Avenue and Woodbine Avenue, then the difference in counts shows how many cars short-turned at Woodbine Loop.

For these analyses, the counts are grouped by hour and by day through a month. Next, all weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays are consolidated to show the difference between types of day. The weekday counts are broken out by week to catch short-lived effects.

Friday, July 1, Canada Day, is counted as a Sunday. Note that this means that there are six “Sundays” and only five “Saturdays” included in the totals. That is the reason the count of trips within the month is higher for Sundays than for Saturdays.

An important distinction in any analysis is between overall averages and a detailed view of operations. TTC has a bad habit of reporting stats, when they do so at all, on a monthly average basis. This blends together periods when service is good with periods when it is very bad giving the impression that things are going fairly well. Riders, of course, encounter and are angered by the bad times which happen too often and fairly predictably.

The raw data are at a minute-by-minute, vehicle-by-vehicle level. In the charts here, I have tried to strike a balance between “information overload” with too much detail, and high level views that obscure what is happening on the street.

501 Queen Eastbound at Kingston Road

The screenlines for these charts are eastbound at Coxwell and at Woodbine Avenue. Any car crossing Coxwell that is not also seen at Woodbine must have short turned at Woodbine Loop (Kingston Road). Only 501 Queen cars are counted, not the 503 Kingston Road cars which turn off here as their normal route.

Service to Neville Loop was suspended on the evenings of July 21-23 for the Beaches Jazz Festival, and all cars turned back from Woodbine Loop. These are not counted in the chart below.

Of the 3,868 trips counted here, 321 were short turned. The proportion varies by time of day, and there are more short turns, proportionately, as the day wears on. In a few cases, the proportion of short turns exceeds 20 per cent (i.e. the through trips are less than 80 per cent of the total).

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2574 (202), Saturdays: 581 (64), Sundays/Holidays: 713 (55)

504 King Westbound at Spadina and at Bathurst

The 504 King service was once trumpeted as a shining example for the TTC because of the benefits of transit priority. The service actually operating there today is very badly tarnished. Cars are scheduled to operate to Dufferin Loop, but in practice many of them short turn either at Spadina or at Bathurst.

A major upheaval on King during July 2022 was spillover traffic caused by the Molson Indy’s takeover of road capacity during July 15-17. Transit service suffered badly. However, the proportion of short turns is high even in non-Indy weeks.

The chart below shows the effect of short turns at Spadina (via the Spadina, Adelaide, Charlotte loop). The screen lines for the counts are at Peter (one stop east of Spadina) and at Portland (midway between Spadina and Bathurst).

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 4863 (290), Saturdays: 1151 (327), Sundays/Holidays: 1223 (284)

Of those cars that get past Spadina, many short turn at Bathurst (typically to Fleet Loop, but sometimes north to Wolseley Loop at Queen).

The combined effect of the two short turn locations is shown below. Note that less than half of the service survives the turnbacks at some times. Short turns occur even in the early morning period weekdays and weekends.

In all, over 7,000 trips/week cross Peter Street westbound, but over 2,000 of these are short turned. This is nowhere near the claimed “no short turns” statistics presented by TTC management.

The screenlines for these counts are at Peter Street (east of Spadina) and at Tecumseth (west of Bathurst).

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 4863 (1419), Saturdays: 1151 (447), Sundays/Holidays: 1223 (437)

Updated August 14, 2022 at 2:15 pm: Utility construction east and west of the Atlantic Avenue Underpass has restricted King Street to one lane in places, and track work at Dufferin has added another layer of obstruction. All streetcar service is routed to Exhibition Loop via Bathurst from August 13 to 18. This is outside of the time period covered by these charts.

The charts below show travel times westbound between Strachan Avenue and Dufferin Street for the month of July. Note the big jump for the Indy race days in mid-July. Saturday July 30 was the day of the Caribana Festival.

The point of these charts is that although there were some days where “traffic congestion” had a bona fide effect on service, this was not the case over this route segment for much of the month.

Eastbound:

504 King Eastbound at Parliament

Short turns on the east end of the King route occur mainly at Parliament Street, although these take two forms: looping via Parliament, Dundas and Broadview, or looping via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament. Counting the short turns is also complicated by the Distillery Loop branch which is a scheduled service.

Cars heading east on King at Parliament may branch off there (a short turn), at Sumach (headed to the Distillery), at Queen/Broadview (headed to Leslie Barns), or at Dundas (a short turn).

In order to chart the short turns of 504B Broadview Station cars at Parliament, the count of cars arriving there is reduced by the count of cars that went to Distillery Loop (route 504A). This allows calculation of the proportion of 504A service that was short turned north on Parliament.

The screenlines used for these counts were at Berkeley (one block west of Parliament), Power (one block east of Parliament, and River. Cars that crossed Power but did not cross River are assumed to be 504As.

The short turn proportion is particularly striking on Sunday afternoons.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2407 (46), Saturdays: 541 (12), Sundays/Holidays: 669 (106)

504 King Eastbound at Dundas/Broadview

Of the cars that get to Broadview northbound, most of them run through to Broadview Station, but some turn west at Dundas to return via Parliament southbound.

The screenlines used for counts here are northbound at Kintyre (between Queen and Dundas) and at Gerrard.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2361 (78), Saturdays: 522 (3), Sundays/Holidays: 627 (21)

505 Dundas Westbound at Lansdowne

A common short turn for both the Dundas and Carlton routes is at College Loop, the triangle formed by College, Dundas and Lansdowne.

There are many short turns here particularly in the evening. To be fair, the full service is not required all the way to High Park Loop, but under normal circumstances the western terminus would be Dundas West Station and service to an important subway connection would be affected.

For this chart, the screenlines are at Dufferin and Roncesvalles. Any car that crossed the first screenline but not the second must have short turned at Lansdowne.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2285 (315), Saturdays: 549 (57), Sundays/Holidays: 625 (112)

505 Dundas Eastbound at Parliament

A common short turn for Dundas cars is a loop via Parliament, Gerrard and Broadview. The screenlines for this chart are at Jarvis and just west of Broadview. Any car that crossed Jarvis must have turned off at Parliament if it was not also seen at Broadview.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2145 (141), Saturdays: 510 (23), Sundays/Holidays: 614 (60)

506 Carlton Westbound at Lansdowne

As on Dundas, the common west end short turn is at Lansdowne via College Loop. Short turns are particularly common in the evening. The screenlines used here are at Dufferin and at Howard Park. Any car seen westbound at Dufferin that does not reach Howard Park must have short turned at Lansdowne.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2389 (150), Saturdays: 586 (65), Sundays/Holidays: 691 (59)

506 Carlton Eastbound at Coxwell

A common short turn for Carlton cars in the east end is at Coxwell with streetcars running south to Coxwell-Queen Loop rather than north and east to Main Station. For this chart, the screenlines are west of Coxwell on Gerrard and north of Gerrard on Coxwell.

Saturdays and Sundays show a notch in the chart for the 8am slot. This was not associated with any one weekend, but rather was occasional cars distributed over the month with the likely cause being that they were late into service eastbound from Roncesvalles.

Total trips (short turns):

Weekdays: 2300 (95), Saturdays: 509 (32), Sundays/Holidays: 597 (54)

4 thoughts on “The Myth of “No Short Turns” (July 2022)

  1. As usual, your analyses are useful and back up one’s own observations. Though a ‘short-turn is a short-turn” – there is MAYBE a difference between one in a car that is signed “Short Turn” (which at least warns people) and one where a ‘surprise’ short-turn is announced by the operator as he/she puts on the brakes and opens the doors.

    Steve: A short turn regardless of the “flavour” is equivalent to a gap in service, a delivery of less than what is promised. That the TTC has for three years claimed that they don’t happen is an indictment of how the organization values image over real achievements.

    What is particularly galling is that there is no mechanism within the arrival predictions apps and displays at stops to signal where a car is actually headed, as opposed to its scheduled destination. This sort of thing should have been built into the new Vision system, but of course that would require TTC to acknowledge an event they claim does not exist.

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  2. Hi Steve.

    The last three weeks I’ve had to take the 505 ( usually westbound) on a pretty regular basis.

    It’s a workaround from the elevator I need to use at Y/B being out of service for heavy maintenance & the one at Bathurst, being completely disgusting & frequently out of service for hours at a time..

    Out of around 27 trips I’ve taken on it, around 17 were short turned at Lansdowne, & 3 at church.

    This is really frustrating when needing to get to medical appointments or employment.

    Emily

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  3. Today all westbound 503 service is being turned back at Church due to “congestion”. Why bother running the service at that point?

    A few days ago the service alerts announced this…

    504 King: Major delays near King St East at Parliament St due to construction and multiple events.

    503 Kingston Rd: Minor delays near King St East at Parliament St due to construction and a planned diversion.

    503 Kingston Rd: Detour via King St E, Church St and Queen St E due to traffic congestion.

    No one at the TTC or city should have been caught off guard by these pinch points. Armchair hosers like us saw this coming and the professionals stood by to do nothing.

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