This article was originally going to be a very long reply to a comment left in the Spadina vs Bathurst thread, but I have moved it to its own article for better exposure.
I received the following comment from someone whose identity I will keep to myself. You know who you are.
Steve, I am a political strategist at the municipal level here in Toronto. I have a meeting with some new inner city Councillors next week (+ the Mayor) who are interested in this issue of streetcar speed and reliability (as am I as a fervent reader of your blog!).
Putting aside cost and political barriers for the moment: from a purely technical perspective, what measures would you recommend implementing on the Spadina and St. Clair streetcar routes to speed them up without losing ridership?
Are there any stops on the Spadina line, near or far side, that could be eliminated while still retaining the riders who use those stops via other stops?
What kind of TSP [Transit Signal Priority] extension would yield the best results if having to choose between the two: extending the seconds of green light extension OR maintaining the green light extension window while simultaneously allowing for more active TSP (ie rather than just if it’s late)?
How much time would be saved if all far side stops were eliminated on Spadina and St Clair?
How much delay does the lack of grade separation for the final/first leg of the St Clair route (ie when it’s entering or leaving the station and having to wait for cars and pedestrians) cause? Would installing a signal system for that unprotected stretch that prioritizes the streetcar result in any substantial gains?
Open to all thoughts and suggestions – many thanks 🙂
I am replying to this in public because (a) the comment was left in the public thread rather than sent in a private email, and (b) my answers will be of interest to other readers.
The October 2022 CEO’s Report has been posted on the TTC’s website. Although most of the charts in this edition run only to the end of August, the ridership and crowding chart data extends to the end of September. The two charts below show how strongly ridership improved between the summer and fall periods.
At the end of September, bus demand on weekdays rose to 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, while streetcars sat at 55 percent and the subway at 63. The difference reflects the weak return of demand in the core area which is served by streetcars and the subway.
The TTC reports that in pre-pandemic times, post-secondary students and office workers represented 22 and 38 per cent, respectively, of total demand. Downtown offices were about one-third full in mid-September.
In the chart below, note that although the streetcar portion (green, hiding behind the boxes with values) has not widened very much and sits roughly at summer levels. The green stripe sits higher because the bus (red) and subway (blue) portions of the bars have grown.
How long this will persist is difficult to project. Anecdotal observations from my own travels on streetcars give the sense that demand was up in October, but the actual stats will not be out for another month.
Another factor whose effect is hard to judge is the many construction projects that remove streetcar service, or interrupt it with bus replacements. Some trips might never be taken, or might travel via a different route served by buses. The streetcar system will not be back to “normal” until early 2023, and there is always a lag between loss of ridership and recovery as would-be users discover that service has improved. Although the TTC plans a campaign to lure riders back, there has to be something worth riding.
Another measure of demand is the rate of bus occupancy at various levels. This is measured with Automatic Passenger Counter data. The streetcar fleet does not yet have APCs installed on all vehicles, and so comparable stats for the streetcar routes are not available. (Note that this chart goes back to January 2020 whereas the chart of boardings above only begins in April 2022. Earlier boarding figures are available in older CEO reports.)
An overall observation here is that in the absence of a major new wave triggering reduction in travel, the chart shows a consistent growth. Even the dip in mid-2022 is a typical seasonal decline and the September data continue the trajectory of Spring 2022 numbers. This is for the bus network, and a comparable trajectory does not necessarily apply to other modes as shown in the boarding counts above. Crowding numbers can also be affected by service levels, although there has not been a major jump in service that would dilute the occupancy numbers.
Particularly striking here is the big jump in trips above 70% capacity which are now about 10% of total trips, and a similar large jump in trips above 50% capacity to about 23% of total trips. This reflects a demand growth that is greater than the rate of capacity growth.
The TTC observes:
While crowding has increased in line with boardings demand heading into September, the continued growth in high-occupancy bus trips suggests demand is growing more concentrated around a number of key trips.
TTC CEO’s Report, October 2022, p. 27
As the busy routes become more crowded, more riders will see a crowded bus even though the majority of trips will still be uncrowded. The perception of crowding will be greater than the overall average value. This is an inevitable situation on a transit system where demand is not evenly spread in time or place on the network.
However, if the stats are misinterpreted or misrepresented by those looking for “efficiency”, the problem is that the capacity from emptier trips cannot always be reallocated. Some routes have strongly directional demand, and will always be lightly loaded in the counter-peak direction. Those trips, however, are an integral part of the route even though they can pull the “average” load down.
In an extreme example, if a bus is at 100% capacity travelling east and 0% going west, the “average” says that only half of the one-way trips are crowded. Obviously one cannot have the eastbound trips without the westbound returns. Real routes are more complex, but this shows how simplistic analysis can lead to dubious conclusions.
Some routes have lighter demand, but still meet the TTC’s Service Standards for boardings per bus hour. They might never accumulate a full load and therefore appear to be targets for service cuts. However, in the process the service becomes less attractive and ridership can fall further.
A critical factor will be service reliability which, as I have documented at length elsewhere, leaves much to be desired notwithstanding TTC metrics that purport otherwise. Some crowding is a direct result of bunched and missing vehicles which create gaps and heavier loads than evenly spaced service would.
The City faces a large operating deficit both for 2022 and projected for 2023. To what extent this will result in limits on TTC service and a move to improve “efficiency” with more riders per bus remains to be seen.
This is the second round following preliminary sessions in June-July. The planners reviewed overall goals in light of changing demand patterns and system-wide rerouting associated with the closing of Line 3 SRT and opening of Line 6 Finch West. (The network changes for Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown were dealt with in the 2022 ASP, although there has been slight tweaking.)
Some of the 2022 Plan’s proposals have not yet been implemented, although they remain on the books as “approved”:
8 Broadview: Extension south from O’Connor to Coxwell Station
118 Thistle Down: Extension northwest to Claireport Crescent
150 Eastern: A new route from downtown to Woodbine Loop (on hold due to potential construction disruptions)
In 2023, there are considerably more proposed changes than in 2022, and for the purpose of consultation the TTC broke the system into segments. Each of these is detailed later in this article.
Consultation is now underway with the following planned schedule:
October-November: Public consultation. (See schedule above.)
Late 2022/Early 2023: Councillor briefings
February 2023: Final report to the TTC Board
Spring 2023: Implementation begins
Through 2023: Five Year Service Plan “reset” continues
The 2023 Annual Service Plan web page includes a deck of panels that will be used for the consultations. In this article, some maps are taken from that deck, and some from presentations to community groups.
One key point we will not know until late 2022 or even early 2023 will be the TTC’s budget target. How will this shape service changes, be they additions, re-allocations or cuts? Mayor Tory talks about supporting transit, but we will see just what this means when he tables the City’s 2023 budget.
Note: I have not included all of the information posted by the TTC here, and I urge readers to review the presentation panels and any other information the TTC publishes as this process goes on.
Although this article is open for comment, is you have specific concerns and wish to participate in the consultation process, be sure to complete the TTC’s survey or otherwise communicate your feelings to the TTC. I am not the TTC Planning Department, and grousing to me, or proposing your own maps here will not feed into the process.
I have often written here and on Twitter about the proliferation of service change cards and posters as the constant changes in streetcar routes occur. Combined with conflicting and out-of-date online information, it is common to find at least two different versions of notices at the same stop, not to mention “stop not in service” notices in locations where streetcars are actually running.
Without question, the constant shifts in the operating plan are challenging to keep up with, but the lack of attention to removal of out of date information, particularly when new notices go up at the same location, does not serve riders well at all. Operating staff, in good faith, give out incorrect info leading passengers astray, and I have rescued a few lost travellers over past weeks.
This is a very serious issue given the amount of construction that will affect TTC routes (and not just the streetcar network) in coming years. Riders have enough challenges with service quality without having to divine whatever route their service might be taking today. There is a clear fragmentation of responsibility for keeping route information up-to-date and consistent within the TTC. Even in a recently announced reorganization, the responsibility for “closures and diversions” is in a separate branch (Operations and Infrastructure) of the TTC from “service delivery” (Transportation and Vehicles).
The phrase “Beware of the leopard”, for those who know the reference, seems particularly apt for some TTC “communications”.
The TTC needs to figure out how communications about service plans and changes can be centrally accessed and administered so that all notices speak with the same voice and contain current, accurate information.
Updated October 9, 2022 at 11:40pm: It turns out that there are four pages within the TTC website where service information might be found. At last count, the list includes:
There is the parent Service Advisories which links three of the four above. Some but not all of the items in the Updates page are also displayed on the main page under “Latest News”.
Although the same topic might be found through different pages, the text is not always the same indicating that multiple versions of the information have been posted. In this situation it is easy for their content to drift thanks to selective updating.
There are few service changes in the October schedules taking effect on Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
Route 501 Queen streetcar service will be extended nominally to Sunnyside Loop, although pending completion of overhead in the loop, cars will circle Roncesvalles Carhouse instead. The last westbound and first eastbound stops will be on the east side of Roncesvalles at Queen. 501L bus service will continue to operate from Dufferin to Long Branch with a small reduction of service in some periods.
Some routes have added trips to serve school trips and other time-of-day specific demands (details in the linked spreadsheet):
25 Don Mills
84 Sheppard West
New express stops are added on:
905 Eglinton East Express
985 Sheppard East Express
86 Scarborough Saturday late evening service adjusted for earlier Terra Lumina closing time.
172 Cherry Beach weekend service suspended (weekday service will operate until November 18).
175 Bluffer’s Park service suspended.
31B Greenwood to Eastern Ave service end-of-line location shifted west from Minto to Knox and Eastern.
55 Warren Park adjusted to consistently leave Jane Station on the :15 and :45 after the hour.
506 Carlton shifted from Roncesvalles Carhouse to Leslie Barns.
This article continues a review of what the TTC aims for, at least on paper, in service quality, and how their success (or lack of it) in providing good service is reported for public and political consumption. The framework for this commentary is the CEO’s Report, using the August 2022 version as a reference point.
I deliberately broke this discussion into two parts. The first looked at the various figures related to system performance are presented and how they reveal or hide critical information.
The TTC Board is notoriously unwilling to get into the weeds on system statistics, operations and finances. Superficial analyses in the CEO report give them nice pictures and charts to look at, but that is not the same as a discussion of key issues and future risk. This is vital in any planning for recovery from a pandemic that will continue to affect the TTC in 2023 and beyond. There is a separate detailed quarterly report that reviews finances and the state of major capital projects, but it does not address many issues notably the cost and capability for growth as ridership returns to the system.
While it may suit those who run the TTC and the City to keep this discussion under wraps, that cannot be done for long as the 2023 budgets will be upon us immediately after the coming municipal election. There is a lot of great talk about the importance of transit, but this does not translate into real understanding and support beyond a few very large construction projects. (That statement applies equally to Metrolinx and GO, but my focus here is on the TTC.)
Although fare revenue recovery is reported, this is not matched against cost growth. Fares have been frozen through the pandemic. Even at recovery to 100 percent of pre-pandemic ridership, the proportion of costs borne by fares will have fallen and the need for subsidy will be higher. “Full service” will cost more in 2023 than it did in 2020, even without the added cost of improving beyond historic levels.
Ridership recovery takes place at a different rate on different routes and modes, not to mention time-of-day.
Underutilized fleets provide a reserve for service improvements, provided there are drivers for the vehicles, up to the point where the need for spare buses and streetcars limits service growth. After that point, growth hits a knee in the cost curve as new capital assets must be acquired.
Asset reliability is reported as the proportion of scheduled service actually operated, but with no sense of how much reserve exists in the fleet.
Fleet reliability is reported in a way that prevents direct comparison between segments, notably various types of buses. Although there is a target for reliability, the degree to which this is exceeded (in effect the headroom for better utilization) is not reported.
Service reliability and quality are reported on broad averages across routes and days, with no indication of the variation across the system. Purported “on time” metrics do not reveal actual rider experience.
There is no report of:
the amount of scheduled service that does not operate because no driver is available;
the utilization and effectiveness of Run-As-Directed buses;
the amount of bunching and gaps as a proportion of service operated;
routes with demand, service levels, crowding and headway reliability issues.
This review does not look at the WheelTrans system and accessibility in general because it has a raft of issues of its own on matters such as adequacy of service, dispatching, the online booking interface, qualification for service and the TTC’s attempt to shift riders at least partly onto the “conventional” system through the “Family of Services” program. An important issue for WheelTrans overall is that it is entirely funded by the City of Toronto with no assistance from other governments. This makes it particularly vulnerable to penny-pinching efforts by those who guard our “precious tax dollars”.
Some of the material in these articles will be familiar to readers, but my purpose here is to consolidate many thoughts, some old, some new, in one piece. My hope is to inform discussion about transit’s recovery in Toronto and in particular to provide context for the inevitable political debate about what we should attempt, and the managerial issues of knowing whether we have succeeded.
Updated Aug. 30/22 at 1:25pm: Sundry typos and grammatical faux pas corrected. No substantive change to the text.
Since early 2020, the TTC and transit systems everywhere have wrestled with the ridership and revenue losses of the pandemic era. The goal of both management and politicians has been to just “keep the lights on” and provide some level of transit service. Toronto, with the aid of Ontario and Canadian governments, has worked particularly hard to continue an attractive service, at least on paper.
Service quality is a real bugbear for me, and the widening gap between the advertised service and what is actually provided should be a major concern. Next year, 2023, Toronto will likely see the end of special Covid-related subsidies, and a growth in demand back to pre-pandemic levels, although the timing of these events could prove challenging. Meanwhile, City Council “net zero” emission plans call for a major shift of travel onto transit. This will not happen with a business as usual approach to transit.
The focus must shift from muddling through the pandemic to actively improving the transit system, and to doing that with more than a few subway lines whose first riders are almost a decade away.
Key to running more and better transit is a solid understanding of how the system performs together with a planning rationale for growth. This brings me to two documents: the TTC’s Service Standards and the monthly statistics included in the CEO’s Report.
In this first of two articles, I will review the Service Standards and discuss some general principles about reporting system behaviour. In the second, I will turn to the CEO’s Report.
There are two essential problems:
The actual machinery of the Service Standards is not well understood, and the current document was endorsed by a previous TTC Board almost without debate. Superficially, the standards appear to call for good service, but in practice they hide as much as they show in reporting on quality. The Board did ask for follow-up information on improving standards (more service, less crowding), but management never delivered this feedback.
To the degree that management reports system performance, this is done at a summary level where the day-to-day reality of transit service and rider experience are buried in averages that give no indication of how often, when or where the standards are not achieved.
The spreadsheet detailing all of the changes has been added at the end of this post.
The number of the Mimico GO shuttle has been corrected to 176.
Transfer arrangements at Queen & Dufferin for the 501 bus and streetcar services have been clarified.
Transfer arrangements at Queen & Roncesvalles for the 501 and 504 bus services have been added.
Updated September 5, 2022:
The spreadsheet listing all of the changes has been corrected for route 504 King. The original version included a description of the route carried over from the August version. This has been changed to reflect the September arrangements.
The TTC will make many changes to its scheduled service on September 4, 2022 with restorations of previous service levels on many routes. This will not get the system back to 100% of pre-pandemic levels.
An important distinction is between three values:
The amount of service scheduled before Spring 2020
The amount of service budgeted for 2022
The amount of service scheduled for 2022
The TTC plans to be back to 97% of budgeted service for bus, 84% for streetcar and 92% for subway. The overall numbers are compared below.
January 2020 Scheduled
September 2022 Budgeted
September 2022 Scheduled
In the original 2022 service budget, the TTC planned to be back to roughly the same level of service as in January 2020 by September 2022. However, slower ridership recovery coupled with staffing constraints produced a lower scheduled service expressed as hours/week.
There are further caveats:
The distribution of hours by time of day might not be the same in 2022 as in 2020 because of changing demand patterns.
Changes in running times to deal with congestion or service reliability can mean that the same service hours are stretched over wider headways. Not all vehicle hours are created equal.
All that said, there are many changes in service levels, and with the bus network being back to 97%, the schedules for September 2022 are often based on old versions before service cuts were implemented. Another change for this month is the reintroduction of school trips on many routes.
In a recent article, I reviewed route-level ridership data cited in the 2023 Annual Service Plan as well as the 2019-2021 numbers posted on the TTC’s Planning web page.
During debate at the July 14 TTC Board meeting, an issue came up about the unexpectedly poor performance during the pandemic era of 25 Don Mills. This got me thinking about how the “results” could be influenced by when counts were done and particularly on routes that have both express and local branches under different route numbers.
To explore this, I recast the 2019-2021 stats in tables with and without the express 9xx routes consolidated into their local equivalents.
First, here are the stats with the local and express routes separate. The gallery below contains the first set of routes, but the complete list is in the following pdf. The data here are the same as presented in the previous article, but reformatted for easier browsing.
The three express/local routes on these sample pages show the differing effects.
% Recov 2020
% Recov 2021
In all three cases, the express service did not operate in 2020, and so all of the riding, such as it was, occurred on the local route number. This inflated the apparent ridership retention of the local route over the actual level on the corridor considering the two routes as one operation.
The effect was so strong on Dufferin that its local recovery rate went down slightly in 2021 because growing demand on the corridor was not enough to offset the shift of riders back to the express service.
The moral of the story here is that looking at stats in isolation can lead to incorrect conclusions if the underlying network and service plan are not taken into account. This applies to simplistic rankings such as “top 20” and “bottom 20” that can exclude routes with almost identical performance. A better metric would be the collection of all routes above or below a certain recovery rate.
Politicians who fund and, nominally, direct transit systems love easy-to-understand metrics that often hide or even distort what is going on. I will turn to TTC measurement indices and standards in a future article.
There will be a small number of changes on July 31 for the schedule period running through to the Labour Day weekend.
Line 2 Service Improvement
Service on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth will be improved during all operating periods, notably off-peak and weekends. This will not fully restore pre-pandemic levels on the route, but should reduce crowding that has become a problem over past weeks.
King & Sumach Track Repairs
The intersection of King and Sumach (the point where the Distillery line branches off) will be rebuilt in an attempt to reduce noise and vibration.
During this work, all 504 King service will operate to Broadview Station via Parliament and Queen Streets. The 503 Kingston Road route will also use this diversion.
A shuttle bus will operate to provide access to the Distllery, and it will also provide coverage for the 506 Carlton line during construction at Church Street (see below).
Church & Carlton Track Repairs
The intersection of Carlton and Church will be rebuilt as part of the regular maintenance program. This work will not include the addition of missing curves in the southeast quadrant.
506 Carlton service will divert around construction via Parliament, Dundas and Bay both ways. A replacement bus service will operate from Spadina Station to the Distillery District. The map below shows a proposed alignment for this service. This is subject to change depending on possible modifications to turn restrictions due to construction at College & Yonge.
Running times on 32 Eglinton West will be adjusted to provide for delays due to the Line 5 Crosstown Extension construction, as well as to restore covid-era service cuts.
A planned reconstruction of the terminal at Kipling Station will require consolidation of loading areas and move of some routes to stops outside of the station. This project has been deferred to 2023, but a schedule change to support this work was already in the pipeline for the coming period. The 40 Junction and 49 Bloor West routes will be interlined.
Route 172 Cherry Beach will shift from “Old” Cherry Street to the “New” street across the future path of the Don River between Commissioners Street and the Ship Channel. Buses will use Old Cherry Street north of Commissioners Street, then jog west to New Cherry Street to cross the new river course.
Route 174 Ontario Place weekend and holiday service was dropped in June due to conflicting activities at the CNE and Ontario Place grounds. This change is now officially in the schedules.
Details of the new service levels are in the spreadsheet linked below.
Reconstruction of Russell Carhouse will begin both to make it fully compatible with the Flexity fleet, to improve the quality of yard paving and convert the overhead system for pantograph operation.
In the first phase of this work, the site’s capacity will be reduced to 28 cars including spares. Only the 504 King service will operate from the yard. Here is the new allocation of routes to the three carhouses.
Note that the maximum number of cars in service is well below the fleet of 204. Bus substitutions on portions of 501 Queen, 504 King and 506 Carlton will continue through the balance of 2022.
As the work at Russell progresses, the capacity of the site will change.