Where is my Streetcar?

TTC website and related services claim to provide riders with information about streetcar and bus routes so that riders have up-to-date information. This is critical not just for schedule changes, but many diversions and special services related to construction, street festivals, civic events, to name a few.

Alas, the actual structure and behaviour of the TTC’s website works against easy navigation. Information is scattered in different parts of the site. Some of it is out of date. Some of it is incorrect and contradictory. Some notices that should be there just don’t exist at all.

The current site is the product of a redesign that is now about a year old. There has been some tweaking along the way, but the site still leaves a lot to be desired. This article is an exploration of the TTC website structure as it relates to current service information and planned changes.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 12:50pm: Sundry typos and grammatical fixes.

The Short Read

The TTC Website has evolved since the current version went live. It was far from perfect then, and has since grown additional problems even as those from version one were fixed.

This article looks mainly at service information, probably the most common reason someone would go to the TTC site. There is a big problem that this information is scattered through many places and is rarely complete on one page. Attempts have been made to cross-link some pages, and more of the frequently used pages have gained banner links on the main page.

However, the whole thing has a feeling of being built and maintained by multiple people who do not talk to each other, and who do not explore the various places information might hide to ensure that “their” part of the site is consistent and complete.

This compounds problems that arise when the announced version of services do not match what is actually operating. You might or might not track down information about your route, or even worse be given wrong info. A related problem is that trip prediction and planning apps do not necessarily use the live configuration of routes and can mislead riders about how they might travel and where vehicles actually are.

The TTC really needs to do a thorough review of how it publishes service information and ensure that “one stop shopping” is available for information about routes, or where appropriate, areas of the city that are affected by multiple changes.

Main Page (Desktop Version)

Note: There are additional issues with the TTC site as it appears on various devices, but there is a limit to how much work I am going to do chasing these. One common problem is that some pages are quite long on a desktop, and they are even longer on a phone.

The main page is fairly long and one must scroll through it to find various links. In the snapshots here, I have reduced the font size from the default so that I could carve the entire page into only six of them. The default font is fairly large. These images were created from the TTC site at 7:50 am on Sunday, September 11, 2022.

The yellow band at the top of the page is normally larger than it appears here, but is in small type because I reduced the font size. It contains key, current alerts including hot links to the general Service Alerts page.

An important point is that the TTC has different classifications including “alerts”, “advisories” and “notices”. This creates an immediate problem that someone unfamiliar with a route might not know that it is subject to one or more long-running construction projects, may have had a recent change in service and/or structure, and could be subject to an alert due to a temporary situation. Indeed, unless they explore the website, they might never find the links to each collection.

Main Navigation Bar

The main navigation bar (in red) appears on all pages. It includes links to:

  • The trip planner
  • The Routes and Schedules page
  • The Fares page
  • Service Advisories
  • More …
    • Wheel-Trans
    • Accessibility
    • Riding the TTC
    • News
    • Jobs

Body of the Main Page

There is an obvious conundrum early in this page: it claims that there is “normal service” on all four subway lines even though Line 1 is closed with shuttle buses from Sheppard to St. Clair as per the yellow band of alerts. There are no active “alerts” for surface routes, but finding service on many streetcar routes can be challenging with many diversions in place.

“Travelling on the TTC” contains a link to Helpful tips which turns out to be entirely concerned with fare payments.

There is a link to the Film Festival diversions page, but no indication on the main page which routes this would affect.

The “Latest news” band includes a link to the September service adjustments page about which more later. These are not the only service adjustments in effect, but the link to those is further down the page.

“Connecting you to Toronto” includes a link to Riding the TTC which is itself a menu of various options, including service info, a FAQ, and a link to Service Advisories. I will deal with each of these in detail later.

The Customer Service link has its own banner, and, yes, there is service information buried in there too.

“Improving Transit for All” includes a grab-bag of links, but oddly enough nothing about major projects. They are hidden elsewhere in a link from the footer band.

“my TTC e-services” contains a Sign me up link that actually goes to the general page for maintaining your profile for various alerts that can be delivered as and when they are issued.

Footer Bar

The footer (yes, we are finally at the bottom of the page) includes various links. This appears at the bottom of all pages just as the yellow alerts band appears at the top.

Some of these items duplicate material in the main page. This is a leftover of an earlier time when they did not have their own band on the page itself (e.g. News, Customer Service). For example, Access to Board agendas and reports was originally buried under “Transparency” but it is now also in the “Improving Transit” band.

  • “About the TTC” includes various links including:
    • The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page. One might reasonably expect that “frequent” questions might be answered somewhere a bit more prominent than a page linked from the footer band. It is also linked from “Riding the TTC”.
    • The Projects page contains a grab bag including planning studies, station accessibility plans. This does not affect service per se but does explain construction projects at various locations. In turn this has a link to:
      • The Major Projects page primarily concerned with rapid transit plans, and a link to a rather elderly page on the “new subway trains” for Line 1 which have already been in service for five years or more.
  • “Transparency & Accountability”
    • This contains links to various plans and reports, and also includes the link to the Transit Planning page where reports and stats about the TTC are located.
  • “Projects & Plans”
    • This points to the same page that is linked from “About the TTC” above.
  • Public Meetings
    • These meetings are public consultation sessions, as opposed to meetings of the Board and various committees.
  • Jobs
    • This points to the same page that is linked from the main navigation bar.
  • Doing Business with the TTC
    • Among other things, this page links to Filming on TTC Property which includes the blanket exemption for non commercial photography (also explicitly included in the TTC Bylaw at section 3.17). This should be printed in very large, easy to read type for every officious TTC employee who has ever hassled a photographer.
  • News
    • This points to the same page that is linked from the main navigation bar.
  • TTC Shop
    • Also linked with its own banner on the main page.
  • Customer Service
    • Also linked with its own banner on the main page.
  • By-law No. 1
    • The official do’s and dont’s of the transit system.

Hunting For Service Info

If you have just landed on the main page and don’t want to explore too extensively, probably because you are in a hurry and wondering where the TTC has sent your streetcar today, you will probably look under Routes and Schedules, or Active Alerts, or Service Advisories, or maybe even Latest News which has an item about schedule changes.

Routes and Schedules

Within this page, one can enter a route name or number and get a menu of many items (mainly stop identifiers). Fortunately, the route(s) matching the query come at the top of the list. Selecting 504 gives us the King car (among other things), and the top of its page is shown below. The Service Advisories band is not open by default, but I have expanded it here.

Three advisories are listed:

  • One for TIFF
  • A temporary route change dated September 4
    • This is a cut-and-paste job from the King/Sumach trackwork notice and really deals with the diversion around work at King and Shaw.
    • The route for the replacement bus it describes includes the “stage 2” diversion for the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles (KQQR) project, but not “stage 3” that is about to kick in on September 13 (over a week later than expected).
    • Just to confuse things, the map in this notice correctly shows that there is no service on Sumach/Cherry, but shows streetcars running via King rather than via Parliament and Queen.
  • A second temporary route change dated August 30
    • This updates the King/Sumach diversion notice for a project that will run at least two weeks longer than expected.

Because the route change notices do not include their location in their titles, a reader has to open them to find out what is going on and where. One must also hope that any map in the notice is accurate.

So far, so good, but there are other places one might look for service information.

Active Alerts

Depending on when one looks, there may or may not be alerts within this pop-up. They do not always match the alerts seen at the route level on the schedule pages.

Service Advisories

The Service Advisories page contains links to other pages that might have information of interest. Three of these are mode specific with subway, streetcar and bus service getting their own sub-menus. Note that there are also pages for construction notices, service changes and service alerts.

If we go into Streetcar Service, we get a menu of many notices of which several are no longer active. Yes, they can be filtered, but a reader should not have to do this. If the TTC wants to keep old notices online, there should be a toggle between “past” and “current” available with “current” as the default.

If we select “504” to filter the list, we get no information about King/Shaw nor the KQQR project.

The Construction Notices page includes an old item about the KQQR project, but this points readers to the Service Changes page for specifics on diversions.

The Service Change page includes the original notice for King/Sumach which claims that there is a replacement bus service for Sumach/Cherry (it was discontinued on September 4), a link to the King/Shaw notice mentioned above, and a link to the September 4 service adjustments page which is mistakenly dated July 31 thanks to cut-and-paste editing from the previous version. That page, if I scroll down far enough, contains information about the then-planned changes on the route, some of which are out of date due to changes in effective dates.

Latest News

The Latest News band on the main page includes a link to the September 4 service changes which, as already noted, is not current on all counts, and is now “old news”.

Overall the problem is quite clear: information is posted in a variety of locations and is not all maintained. There is a sense that different pages are the responsibility of different groups and nobody deals with them all as a package for consistency and currency.

There is a further issue that hard copy notices posted on stops or at stations are only as current as the date they were printed, and this can lead to problems when events do not occur as scheduled. For example, the delayed start of KQQR Phase 3 on September 13 (probably) rather than September 4 left many notices about stops being out of service on the earlier date while buses continued to operate on their usual route. When this happens, it is essential that online info be up-to-date and explain why the expected diversion has not yet been implemented. (Similar problems apply to the about-to-begin reconstruction of College Street.)

September 4 Service Adjustments

There are several problems with this page.

I will say at the outset I sympathize with the folks who have to build this every month. The source material is the same service change memo from which I build my own articles as each new set of schedules comes into play. When there are a lot of changes, it can be challenging, and some of the items in the memo are modified by the time operations actually begin.

First, the page begins with “Effective July 31”, but this is left over from the last change and was not updated. (The page is recycled rather than setting up a new one for each schedule change.) This could be confusing for someone who thinks changes have come into effect at the earlier date. I have made this sort of goof myself, but the page has not been changed since it was posted. The body of the article has the correct date.

Entries for many routes in this post are formatted as if they are hotlinks to route-specific articles. Some of them work, and some don’t. For example:

  • On the left below, the format implies an external link for the 38 and 938 Highland Creek routes. These are dead links. The other links jump to later sections of the same page describing changes for each route, and these work.
  • On the right below, there is an external link symbol for three entries, but no actual link to a detailed article. Many other null external links appear throughout the article.

Some of the information is not correct:

  • In the description of the 501L Queen loop at Dufferin, the direction is described as counterclockwise (north via Gladstone), but the actual implementation was clockwise (north via Dufferin) so that a convenient transfer point could be established at Queen and Gladstone. This was one of those last-minute changes I mentioned above. It is picked up on another service alert, but this one was never changed.
  • The effective date for the 504 King diversion changes at KQQR was changed to September 13, but this is not reflected here because the original TTC plan was to take effect September 4 as shown on all of the diversion signage along the route.

Other Pages With Service Info (or not)

Customer Service

This page includes a link to Service Details which only has a calendar of schedule changes and a list of hours of service. There is no actual information about service.

There is also a link to the Daily Customer Service Report which is supposed to give an overview of service on the previous business day. It has not been updated since August 22 (the snapshot was taken at 5:30 pm on September 12). (The content of this report is of dubious value given the level of averaging across routes and time-of-day, but that is a matter for another article.)

Riding the TTC

This page contains links to several articles, but almost none of them deal with service.

  • The first link is to the Helpful Advice page described earlier which is all about fare payment and Presto.
  • There is an article about real-time load reporting from the automatic passenger counters on buses. This is available via the Rocketman app.
  • There is a link to the Service Information FAQ which is also linked from the page footer.
  • There is a link to an Updates page which in turn links to several articles including some, but by no means all, service notices. It is not a comprehensive index to “news” from the TTC. It includes a link to a notice about Queens Quay Station which has expired.

Live Service Alerts

The popup in the lower right of all pages includes current alerts with link to the full menu including:

  • All service alerts: this is the same info as on the popup, but with additional entries if they won’t all fit.
  • Accessibility alerts: this list has only one entry as of 5:50 pm on September 12, and there are many more elevator and escalator alerts on the main page.
  • General alerts: As I write this, no alerts are active.

Trip Planner

This is a Metrolinx service. It is not integrated into TTC service and route adjustments in real time. For example, it does not know about Tiff and other short term diversions, and is driven by published schedules (GTFS) that might not reflect actual operations. For example, Triplinx still thinks that the 504/506 bus to the Distillery District is running when in fact it has been discontinued. It also offers trips that include the Union-Pearson express as part of a local journey in Toronto even though this is an extra fare service.

20 thoughts on “Where is my Streetcar?

  1. Great article and you note:

    “However, the whole thing has a feeling of being built and maintained by multiple people who do not talk to each other, and who do not explore the various places information might hide to ensure that “their” part of the site is consistent and complete.”

    This is VERY common at the TTC and another example is the lack of coordination between those who plan routes and those who maintain stops etc. It’s great to have route numbers on bus and streetcar stops but then you need to maintain them! Two recent examples in my neighbourhood are the introduction, in May, of the 172 Cherry Beach bus. Most of the stops on Cherry Street still have stops labeled 121 (the former route number). Then the 65 bus route was changed in the spring but stops on Princess southbound were unchanged, though the 65 then went only northbound. Now the 65 goes right to Queen’s Quay but there are still stops marked 65 where none run any more – in any direction!

    Of course there are also the bus and streetcar stop notices that linger LONG after they have expired. In the ‘good (?) old days they were paper and, eventually, rotted. Now they look better and are plasticised (and sometimes stuck to Astral Shelters) but they do not fade away! If someone at the TTC puts up these notices, surely the same person should be expected to remove them!

    I am not a transit savvy person but I can judge if the small (and simple) things like stop signage and notices are properly handled. When I see they are not I must say I have FAR less hope that the (more complicated) things I do not understand (vehicle maintenance!) are handled any better. How hard would it be to regularly send someone around all bus & streetcar route to look at all the stops, ensure the signage was right and current!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hopefully, someone at TTC headquarters reads your helpful reports and is moved to act on your suggestions. As it is, I never head out to use the TTC (mainly the Queen (usually)-car and the Yonge Line) without making certain that I also have enough cash for a taxi.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This makes me wish I had checked it over this morning! There was an overnight shooting (“police investigation”) on Queen west and a collision at Dundas and Bathurst in addition to the sometimes on and sometimes off TIFF shutdown of King which in turn caused “major delays” to the following streetcar routes this morning: 501, 503, 504, 505, 506, 511, and 512. 501 and 503 cars were all lining up and using McCaul loop while 512 cars were entering service via Dundas. The 510 was also delayed but I’m unsure if that was due to the same or a different set of factors. That was pretty much every route in the city.

    Steve: However, alerts were not issued for all routes, nor details on partial services, and some of the alerts were still up well after the problem cleared.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Further issues around service advisories:
    1. they’re rarely posted online or on transit stops *before* their effective dates
    2. phone customer service reps rarely have that information and have to go hunting
    3. @TTCNotices social media posts about service advisories are typically reactive, if posted at all
    4. service changes/advisories don’t seem to be shared with vehicle operators. More than one has told me they were given obsolete route maps when starting a shift on a new route.

    The abrupt end of the 504/506 replacement bus to the Distillery Loop with zero notice to customers was unnecessary. Post Labour Day, transit use picked up significantly. The end of the service just as that was starting? Baffling.

    Steve:

    1. Oddly enough, notices about KQQR phase 3 were up all over the place telling passengers at stops on Ronces to walk west to Parkside effective September 4. The revised start date according to the City’s website is today, September 13, but the buses are still running on Roncesvalles, as well as via Dufferin & Queen westbound.
    2. I am not surprised one bit.
    3. @TTCNotices tends to deal with emergency changes, not re-routings. They put up friendly tweets pointing to the catch-all September 4 notice which is inaccurate.
    4. Vehicle operators never seem to know where routes are going. One of the major frustrations of riding replacement buses operating from suburban garages is that the ops don’t have the faintest idea where anything is downtown let alone where the routes go. They might know their own route, sort of, but connections? diversions elsewhere? not a chance.

    This is an organization-wide problem.

    Like

  5. The TTC website seems to have been developed by people who were novices at developing websites. I am a retired IT computer programmer, who starting with the mainframe using the old punched cards, went into CICS (the old display screens) programming, and ended with the start of interfacing with desktop computers. Most of the IT departments I’ve been in slowly grew over the years to keep up with the changing technology.

    The TTC’s IT department missed the part of conferring with the end user to get suggestions, improvements, and problem solving. They went straight into a complete rewrite of the website, without the needed qualified personnel needed in their IT department.

    Steve: I too date back to the punch card era, CICS and all the joys of text-based user interfaces. The new TTC website was available for time so that people could “kick the tires”, but it had a lot of problems. Suddenly, it went live, and I suspect there was some management push to just get the project finished. There were a lot of post-go-live cleanups, and I was tracking problems in an article here for a time. Since then, the site appears to have been meddled with by various people, or to keep various departments happy by giving “their” info more prominence. It is quite clear that more than one group is responsible for maintaining different parts of the site given the duplications and inconsistencies.

    The previous version of the site got an award, one of those self-nominated things where there are so many categories that everyone gets an award for something. I am sure the new site will get something too that will allow management to crow to a board of commissioners who, mostly, don’t deal with riders’ problems or the possibility that the TTC itself might be responsible.

    Decades ago, I remember a story that the then-head of Corporate Planning was hunting around for awards the TTC could win. With the recent APTA award to Rick Leary, with a citation that was clearly written by his own PR staff, the tradition continues.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In other words, the web site is like the TTC itself.
    SNAFU Situation Normal All FxxKED UP!

    Steve: The important point is to get somebody in the TTC to actually take responsibility for fixing these problems. A shelf full of awards is no substitute for real action.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Steve says

    “The important point is to get someone in the TTC to actually take responsibility for fixing these problems.”

    I suggest the solution is a website manager/editor who has final responsibility for the site, for ensuring that all info is current and, as much as s/he can that updates are provided quickly. The current site is clearly NOT managed (or ‘managed’ by many people, who seldom speak to each other) and reminds me of the definition of a camel. “A horse designed by a committee”!

    Steve: The first problem will be getting the many fingers out of the pie and forcing those with info that needs to be on the site to co-operate in making it available. You also have to remember that we who look at what is happening out on the street often see things that some of the customer-facing staff at the TTC don’t know about.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The lack of information is not limited to streetcars.

    I don’t know if you’re aware, but the buses have been offloading people at the front entrance of the station at Islington, and now all the buses are using a single platform (the outer part of the former busbays) to load people.
    However, there are absolutely no information about changes at Islington Station anywhere on the TTC and a lot of people are still not aware about getting off at the entrance of the station. (For those paying cash, they need their transfer to enter the station now.)

    I am wondering why the TTC is refusing to post such important information.

    Steve: This sounds as if the structural problems at Islington are worse than before. I will chase this with the TTC to see what is going on.

    I concentrated on streetcars because (a) they’re local to me and (b) were particularly screwed up in September, but know that this problem extends across the city. I’m waiting for the confusion when Line 5 Crosstown opens and many routes change at the same time.

    Like

  9. Don’t get me started with the inaccurate arrival/departure times on all the Transit apps. Or the TTC site on smartphones.

    Steve: I know there are problems with the phone version of the site too, but the article was long enough just dealing with the desktop version. Also fixing the desktop will resolve some of the phone-based problems too.

    Like

  10. Steve said

    You also have to remember that we who look at what is happening out on the street often see things that some of the customer-facing staff at the TTC don’t know about.

    My comment:

    Reminds me of the situation wherein those monitoring the dispatching and running of vehicles are not sufficiently aware of what the Operators are facing and dealing with as well as driving to suit themselves and NOT the paying customer. The lack of on-street Inspectors is to blame for this situation. In addition I understand those who do remote computerized monitoring are NOT experienced Operators unlike the Inspectors that preceded them.

    Furthermore, eons ago they had Checkers riding buses monitoring and notating schedule adherance, counting passengers boarding and leaving at EVERY stop. As a result things ran great. On Time (never early) etc. At least until the Checkers were finished their stint!

    Recent (today) personal experience. Circa 1 pm in the Junction. Northbound on Keele at Dundas. Light changes, 941 artic moves away following on his back bumper is 41, 189 and 89! Light changes. Nice!

    Steve: Schedule adherence and passenger counting is now automated. The issue is whether the info is used in real time to manage service.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent article, as always.

    I will try to add to it here, by saying, garbage in, garbage out.

    Or to put it more thoughtfully, the TTC does a terrible job informing itself and ensuring the right type of data is in its system in real time, before we even get to the failings of how it comes out the other end to the customer.

    I offer this example. Dawes 23, last night, Main Station. The service is actually running almost properly…….the next bus indicator on the platform says ‘7 minutes’, then 17 minutes (which on an every 10M route is fine.

    But….I watch, as a bus pulls off Danforth………and the operator changes the sign to ‘Not in Service’……….instantly, the next bus indicator drops the 7M bus, saying ‘next bus in 17M’.

    So here, we have technology actually accepting the real-time data feed, but reading the ‘not in service’ bus as no longer an active run on Dawes.

    As a result, anyone relying on Next Bus/Umo is now getting incorrect information.

    It was indeed incorrect, as when the operator returned from their break and put the sign back to Dawes 23 (bus parked on the far side of the station); the time again adjusted to Next Bus 1Minute.

    ****

    One can choose to call that a coding error given TTC SOP; or one could call it an SOP error, but either way, the customer information is wrong, because the data is being interpreted incorrectly.

    ****

    In the same vein, all that software that can track where service is; and whether its crowded and whether it has reasonable headway seemingly doesn’t make it to route supervisors in real time; which in turn means the software is not being used to recommend solutions either, which it should be able to do.

    A lot of money invested in poorly used, poorly understood and poorly relayed information.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. 22 Coxwell states that the TTC ‘management’ cares too much about on time performance.” The August CEO report notes that streetcars were, even by the TTC’s rather useless metrics on time only 63.8% . If this is how the thing Mr Leary cares about looks ……

    Steve: There is a big problem that they have to explain away the poor performance by noting there are many construction projects. This masks the fact that they can’t run decent service even in areas not affected by construction.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I checked with the TTC, and this is due to the start of reconstruction at the station for accessibility. They forgot to mention this on their project page or issue any sort of customer alert. This will be fixed, I am told.

    Like

  14. Speaking of poor dissemination of information, for some bizarre reason, the majority of westbound 504 cars will display “504 KING” alone on the destination signs. Only a few odd cars will display “504 KING TO BATHURST” and I’ve seen a couple displaying “504 KING TO EXHIBITION” as one would expect.

    Steve: Yes, this has been going on for a while. Rather than displaying a destination that will inevitably change, just the generic route name. Even without all of the other upheavals on the route, Tiff is a terrible time of year for service there.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “TTC Management cares too much about on time departures from end terminals and not what happens during the entirety of the route.”

    I thought that Steve’s charts showed that they don’t care about that either…

    Steve: Officially they report on time “performance” at terminals, although those numbers are quite suspect.

    Like

  16. I’m not a fan of the generic/blank destination sign. It leaves customers in the dark and puts a new twist on surprise short turns.

    What’s pathetic is they had the resolve to program that into the computer but failed to program the Bathurst extension of the 503 in so they all still read Spadina via King.

    Like

  17. The TTC’s “Public Meeting” page is still blank, after s-e-v-e-r-a-l months. During previous civic election periods, they still showed the dates of upcoming public meeting, but not now. Why? Are they “classified”? Is this part of the small “c” conservative public consultation?

    Maybe we will have to try our minds to declassify them.

    Steve: Because there are no dates set for any meetings.

    Like

  18. I am fairly certain now that the Fleet loop-Church 504 operation is internally scheduled as such despite having nothing officially posted on the 504 route page on ttc.ca.

    Steve: It would make sense especially for the 504A cars that do not have enough time to make Broadview Station combined with the delays on Parliament Street.

    Like

  19. Line 1 has reopened early today, Sunday, September 26, 2022. No one it seems to have informed the bus drivers.

    Andy Byford! We need you!

    Steve: Actually it opened on Saturday at about 5 pm. The only notice has been an eAlert sent yesterday. No press release. Nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

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