Analysis of Route 70 O’Connor for October 2019

When I publish route analyses, they are usually of the heavyweights like the King and Queen streetcars, or major bus routes like those on Finch, Dufferin, Keele, or Don Mills.

Back on Saturday afternoon, October 5, 2019, I was watching my Twitter feed, and a message went by from someone complaining “where is my bus?” about 70 O’Connor. I looked at Nextbus and to my amazement, all four of the buses were running in a pack headed eastbound on O’Connor, and there was no service anywhere else on the route. I camped on to the route to see what would happen and this is how they evolved.

  • 3:55 pm: Four buses headed outward on the common section of the route on O’Connor
  • 4:00 pm: Two buses are headed east to Warden Station and two northeast to Eglinton
  • 4:33 pm: All four buses are southbound on Coxwell
  • 4:37 pm: All four buses are at Coxwell Station

To put this in context, here is the section from the TTC’s Scheduled Service Summary which describes the service as it should be on 70 O’Connor. (Click on the table to expand it.)

Before we go any further, there are a few important points here:

  • 70 O’Connor is not the most important route in the TTC’s system, but it serves Toronto East General Hospital and one would hope that this connection to the subway would be reliable. This route carried 7,745 riders per weekday in December 2016, the date of the most recent route-level statistics published by the TTC on Toronto’s “Open Data” site. This puts it in the same league as 6 Bay and higher than the express service to University of Toronto Scarborough.
  • When buses run together for an extended period with no visible effort to space out the service properly, this shows that nobody is “minding the store”. From a rider’s point of view, the long gaps in service are precisely why “TTC” means “Take The Car” when they cannot depend on service to show up. This theme was part of my recent exploration of the 41 Keele bus.
  • Service that operates this erratically will not attract customers, and even worse, a lot of the space in that pack of four buses was probably empty. When the TTC looks at vehicle loads, they do this on an average basis, and will see low utilization, a possible incentive for a service cut.

Making routes like this work properly (not to mention the really big routes that carry tens of thousands daily) is important. This is central to making transit service attractive.

On Saturday afternoon, there are four buses providing, in theory, a combined service every 11 minutes on the common portion of the route, and every 22 minutes on the branches.

After seeing this, I thought, well, maybe it’s an oddity, something must be wrong, and surely the TTC will sort things out. But just for interest, I added route 70 to my request for vehicle tracking data to see how it behaved for the rest of the month, including the parts of October 5 I had not been watching online. The results were not at all pretty, and I let loose a blast on Twitter about the appalling state of service. It struck a nerve and sparked the most activity I have seen on a Tweet of mine for quite some time. Riders, and not just on O’Connor, see bad service every day.

There is a problem with NextBus (the source of all vehicle tracking seen outside of the TTC) in that it only tracks scheduled runs. Applications that use a route-based data feed from NextBus will not “see” any extra unscheduled buses because NextBus does not follow them. However, they should still exist in the TTC’s source data somewhere. The data I use comes from the TTC, not from NextBus, and should at least show all vehicles that are “signed on” to the route, not just the scheduled buses. If an extra is not signed on to route 70, it will not show up in the data I receive for that route.

The TTC’s position is that I do not have the portion of the tracking data showing unscheduled extras (also known as “RADs” or “Run As Directed” buses) that were used to fill gaps on the route due to construction. My response is that this is as much a face saving stance than an examination of the details. It is one thing to have an extra filling in for extra running time caused by construction, but quite another to have all of the scheduled buses in the same place at the same time with no evident attempt to sort out the service. If the TTC does have records of where the extra(s) operated on O’Connor, I would be happy to receive them and blend them into my analysis. After all, the TTC should be doing the same thing itself already.

Here is what I found, at least for the buses reported in the data provided by the TTC.

Updated 5:56 pm November 20, 2019

The CBC posted a story on their site about this today.

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A Potpourri of TTC Items

Several items have languished unreported here for a while, and it’s time to push them all out of the door in preparation for the deluge of budget information and the new Service Plan that will come in December. My apologies for not keeping you as up to date as I might have.

The items covered here are:

  • Ridership and revenue
  • Vehicle reliability
  • Service quality (briefly)
  • Automatic train control
  • eBuses (electric buses)
  • Fare evasion

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Downtown Premium Express Routes Move To King Street

With the schedule change coming on Sunday, November 24, 2019 (for which details will appear in a separate article), the routing of the Downtown Premium Express 14x series will be shifted off of Adelaide and Richmond Streets to the King Street Transit Corridor.

New stops will be created eastbound along King at Peter, Simcoe (west of University), Jordan (west of Yonge), George and Parliament. The one exception will be that the 142 Avenue Road service will stop for unloading only eastbound on King farside at University, the streetcar stop.

New westbound stops will be at George, Yonge, York, and Peter.

All of the stops for these routes will be separate from those used by streetcars to avoid confusion between local and express services.

Services from the east (141 Mt. Pleasant, 143 Beach, 144 Don Mills) will loop via Spadina, Adelaide and Charlotte with a stop southbound on Charlotte at King.

Services from the west (142 Avenue Road, 145 Humber Bay) will loop via Sherbourne, Front and Berkeley with a stop northbound on Berkeley at King.

The 141 Mount Pleasant bus will jog east via Adelaide to George before continuing south to King where there will be an inbound stop. Outbound service will stop on Jarvis north of King.

The 143 Beach and 144 Don Mills services which come through the Richmond/Adelaide interchange east of Parliament Street will turn south from Richmond via Parliament with a stop at King. Outbound services will turn north on Power from King Street to reach Adelaide. (As a matter of historical interest, the original name for the spaghetti junction east of Parliament was the “Duke and Duchess Interchange” after the names of these streets in the old town.)

The 145 Humber Bay service will enter downtown via Adelaide Street from Bathurst, but will turn south to King at Charlotte using the common stop with services from the east. Outbound buses will continue west on King to Bathurst, then turn south.

The 503 Kingston Road bus will continue to operate on King Street looping via York, Richmond and University.

With all of these bus routes and a new set of stops on King, cyclists will find the transitway somewhat more challenging and motorists will have to deal with buses blocking the curb lane at stops. Turning movements at Spadina could be challenging as there is no priority for streetcars when they turn off of King, let alone for buses. This will add to delays that are already a problem at this location.

It is also unclear what the effect of these routes will be on the ambience of the curb lane cafe spaces along King should the operation last into the good weather in 2020, nor how these arrangement would be affected by the TIFF diversions.

There is no end date announced yet for this trial, nor for the outcomes on which it will be measured. I will continue to track the speed of streetcar operations in the corridor to determine whether the additional buses have an effect on streetcar service.

Service Quality on 41 Keele: Fall 2019 Update

At the TTC Board Meeting of September 24, 2019, a motion was introduced by Commissioners Shelley Carroll and Brad Bradford on behalf of Councillor James Pasternak in response to a citizens’ group, Action Keele, who have many requests regarding changes to the service on the 41/941 Keele bus routes. Two deputations from Action Keele, Matt Davis and Paul Grey, spoke to the request:

  • a. Include the #41 Keele bus route on the 10 Minute Network.
  • b. Increase the intervals for the green light facing west, at St. Clair Ave. and Old Weston Rd for easier turning maneuvers.
  • c. Move the Sir William Hearst bus stop further north to avoid extra congestion with vehicles accessing and exiting Highway 401.
  • d. Restrict the right-hand lanes, both northbound and southbound, at the Keele St. and Wilson Ave. intersection, to right turn only lanes, for better access of buses to the stops.
  • e. Add more vehicles to the local (not express) #41 Keele route to facilitate access to the network for individuals facing accessibility and mobility constraints.
  • f. Limit the main #41 Keele bus route to operate between Keele Station and Finch West Station and consider adding a #41B Keele bus route to operate less frequently from Keele Station to Pioneer Station.

Matt Davis noted that these proposals come from riders and staff, and that Action Keele had spent much of the year on surveys. He said that TTC data ranks Keele low on reliability, and riders complain about crowding and long waits.

Grey continued this theme stating that one of the main recommendations is the first, that Keele have 10 minute or better service all of the time. A consistent issue from riders at all stops was the frequency of service. One night of a survey during the coldest part of last winter, they canvassed at Keele and Lawrence where 10 people were huddled inside a shelter anticipating 20-30 minute waits for a bus.

That is not service that attracts riders, but rather drives away any who can afford to avoid it by moving or by getting a car.

Commissioner Carroll, although she presented the motion, was somewhat hostile to the deputants saying that their list of changes may or may not be implemented, and hoping that they understood there were financial impacts to this. Grey replied that there is a certain expertise gained in daily riding and operating on a route, and Action Keele thinks they have done their due diligence to produce helpful recommendations.

Vice Chair Alan Heisey asked staff if items b through d fell under the city’s Transportation Department. They do, and this part of the request would have to be dealt with there, although the TTC could provide an advocacy role as they claim to be interested in transit priority.

As for the service design, staff replied that they would review this route as part of their service plan, that there had been a service reliability improvement in September, and that they would report back. Furthermore, Keele and Lawrence has been identified as a “super stop” in the new plan now under development.

This sounds good, but it is a misleading response.

The service change in September consisted of stretching the running time allegedly so that buses could stay on schedule, but without adding vehicles so that headways actually became noticeably wider (see service history below). The reliability of service remains spotty as a review of vehicle monitoring data shows.

The TTC has a cultural inability to recognize that service does not operate on a reliable headway, and that bunching and gaps will not be fixed simply by padding running times. On routes like Keele where the scheduled service is infrequent, bunching can cause very wide gaps in service even though all of the scheduled trips are operated and few or no buses are short turned.

Commissioner Jennifer McKelvie asked when the five year service review coming back to the board. Staff replied that this will be in December 2019, and will be a “big picture” review to set up the plan for implementation. Changes will come in following years as the multi-year plan is updated. McKelvie was concerned that ad hoc requests from the community for service would be lost in this process.

Commissioner Carroll observed that requests from a local community to the TTC Board are not precedent setting giving the example of the Dufferin bus. Councillors who do not sit on the board historically bring forward concerns this way. Keele has been a problem every term of Council for a long time. Carroll mentioned demand at York University, although she missed the point that there is much demand on the Keele route that is completely separate from the university which now has two subway stations. Carroll emphasized that the Board wants engagement at this level saying “I don’t want to crap over that level of engagement”.

The request was referred to staff for consideration as part of the Service Plan on December 19.

Prologue

This is a long article with a lot of detail intended for those advocating for better service on Keele Street, and to balance TTC claims that it has “improved” service with new schedules in September 2019. Some readers don’t want all this detail, and you can bail out when it gets tedious. I won’t mind.

Several issues common to Keele and other routes are evident here:

  • Service does not leave terminals within the TTC’s 6-minute target, and irregular headways are common even where buses are supposed to be “on time”.
  • Service gets even worse as vehicles move along the route and closely spaced buses catch up to each other leaving wide gaps behind them.
  • TTC only measures service quality at terminals and, therefore, reports only on the best case situation along a route.
  • Service quality varies enormously by time of day and day of the week, but TTC reports only average values thereby burying the poor performance of the worst periods.
  • Express service runs on erratic headways which counter the supposed benefit of a faster trip.
  • Padding schedules with extra running and recovery time does not guarantee reliable service.

Some of 41 Keele’s problems are worsened by the use of articulated buses on wide headways. These vehicles were purchased for frequent routes like Finch West and they are out of place on Keele where they contribute to the very wide headways and the fact that this major route is not part of the Ten Minute Network. Unofficially, I have learned that there are plans to move the artics back to 7 Bathurst and change the 41 Keele local service to use standard sized buses with a concurrent reduction in headways. However, without an attention to service reliability, riders on Keele will still suffer.

To this I must add that TTC’s portrayal of service “improvements” work counter to the goal of both better service and a higher regard for the TTC. Schedule changes that make service worse for riders, not to mention “new” express services that are nothing more than a rebranding exercise, might play well with TTC Board members who do not look at the details. However, real improvements require better management of service on the street, an end to laissez-faire attitudes about bunching and the band-aid “fix” of extended running times, and a recognition that Toronto needs more service, not just tinkering for the sake of appearances.

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How Reliable Are TTC Statistics?

Ben Spurr in the Toronto Star published an article on September 30 about the mis-reporting of vehicle reliability for the fleet of Bombardier Flexity streetcars.

In brief, the TTC reports defects for the new cars on a different basis than for the old ones (the CLRVs and the recently retired ALRVs), and this has two effects:

  • The reliability of the old cars looks worse by comparison to the new ones, and this supports the argument that the old cars should be retired as soon as possible.
  • The new cars have recently crested the performance specification from the Bombardier contract, but this is based on the way the failure rate is calculated.

The September 2019 CEO’s Report contains Mean Distance Between Failure (MDBF) charts for both types of streetcars still in active service. August 2019 saw the new fleet’s reliability go about the 35,000 km MDBF, and CEO Rick Leary reported at the TTC Board meeting of September 24 that the current number was running above 50,000 km.

By contrast, the CLRVs have failed roughly every 4,000 to 6,000 km for much of the past three years with problems more common during the cold months. Note that the scales of the charts below are not the same.

However, according to Spurr’s article, the basis of calculation is different for the two fleets. In the case of the new cars, only failures chargeable against Bombardier’s contracted reliability level are counted while for the old cars any failure counts. This makes a big difference when one considers how many of the in service failures were not included in the calculation for the new fleet.

Spurr writes:

The vehicle contract the TTC and Bombardier signed in 2009 set a MDBF target of 35,000 km. The cars were supposed to reach that figure by the time the 60th vehicle was delivered. That car arrived in January 2018, but the new fleet failed to hit the target then or in subsequent months.

That changed this summer. As Bombardier edged closer to completing its delivery of the 204-car fleet, and the TTC weighed the option of placing an order for additional streetcars with the company, the publicly reported reliability figures shot up.

They showed the cars had an MDBF of 36,500 km in July, and 51,500 km in August, the best the fleet has recorded since the early days of the order. CEO Leary cited that most recent figure at last Tuesday’s meeting as evidence the cars are “performing exceptionally well.”

However, over the same period the unpublished reliability figures didn’t improve. The “legacy” numbers showed an MDBF of just 16,400 km in August, which while much better than the early months of the year, was virtually unchanged from the mark set in May.

The unpublished “legacy” figures are consistently significantly worse than those the contractual numbers.

He goes on to write:

Internal TTC documents reviewed by the Star show that in [August] the new streetcars experienced dozens of delays related to faulty brakes, malfunctioning doors, broken HVAC units, and short circuit warnings. The agency tabulated 43 significant delays during that period, but only 15 were deemed Bombardier’s responsibility and included in the version of the stats that are made public.

That lower delay figure led to the contractual number of the cars running more than 51,500 km without a failure.

Readers can judge for themselves the type of delay that is omitted from the TTC’s reliability numbers from the following table which is compiled from TTC delay reports.

TTC_201908_LFLRV_DelaySummary

There are 56 items in the list and several patterns are immediately obvious:

  • Problems with the power collection system are common including pantograph failures, lost trolley poles or defective shoes, and dewirements snagging poles and/or damaging the overhead.
  • Brake problems
  • Mobility ramp problems
  • Failures early in the morning on cars that are probably just entering service

Many of the problems have nothing to do with Bombardier reliability stats and are not included in the calculation included in the CEO’s Report. If they were, the numbers would not look anywhere near as good.

Something that is evident in reported reliability stats is that there can be large variations in MDBF values from month to month. The TTC does not make huge changes in the mileage operated by its fleet each month, and so the large swings must be due to a relatively low number of incidents. For example, if there were typically 100 incidents per month and this swings up or down by 10%, then the MDBF would not change much. However, if there were typically only 20 incidents per month, a small change in the month-to-month numbers would produce a big swing in the MDBF. This is evident in the Flexity reliability values and in those cited for the subway fleet, notably the newer TR trains on Lines 1 and 4.

Even if all types of failure were counted, the service delay it causes must be five minutes or more. This is a standard adopted from the NOVA group of rapid transit operators and really is more appropriate for rapid transit lines.

An important distinction is that vehicles that run in trains have the capability of “getting home” even if one unit is disabled under most circumstances, and reliability stats for this type of operation will be higher than for single vehicles on a streetcar system. Also, rapid transit lines operate at higher average speeds, and failures that are affected more by hours of service than by mileage are spread over a larger distance operated. This is quite evident in TTC subway stats where the MDBF is much higher than for streetcars.

By contrast, it is difficult to imagine how a bus breakdown can cause a significant service delay except in comparatively rare circumstances, and the five minute delay screen for a chargeable delay makes no sense for the bus fleet.

The question of just how reliable various vehicle types might be is part of a larger issue with the selective, and possibly misleading reporting of statistics by TTC management.

Delays to service, especially on the subway, are caused not just by equipment failures, but by a raft of other subsystems and problems such as signals, track, power supply, fires, passenger assistance alarms and track level incidents. The TTC tracks the various types of delay, but reports on them only rarely in public. This means that sources of service delay that might be under the TTC’s control are not tracked in a report that is routinely seen by the TTC Board, nor is there any tracking of the effects of preventative maintenance or capital works to reduce this type of delay. One obvious example is the new Automatic Train Control system which is now operating on about half of Line 1 YUS, but we know nothing of service reliability on that section, Vaughan to St. Patrick, compared to the old signals still in use from St. Patrick to Finch.

Bus reliability is reported in the aggregate for a fleet that ranges in age from brand new to over twelve years old. The TTC used to keep buses for at least 18 years, but now chooses to replace rather than rebuild old vehicles. Retiring a large tranche of 12-20 year old buses in recent years has had three effects:

  • The average age of the fleet is now quite low, and it will continue to drop. Half of the fleet is less than five years old, but as the “bulge” of new buses ages, the fleet reliability will fall.
  • With many new buses coming on stream, the TTC can keep old buses in service and maintain a high ratio of spares to service requirements. The situation is very different for the streetcar fleet where with the retirement of old cars, the fleet is too small to provide service on all routes with an adequate number of spares for maintenance.
  • The large order of buses soaked up the then-available funding for transit infrastructure as it was the only way Toronto could spend its allocation within the short timeframe dictated by the federal government.

For reasons best known to the TTC, the chart above is clipped at 20,000 km rather than showing the actual variation, and this has been the case since early 2018. It is unclear whether the actual numbers are rising or falling over the past two years. Moreover, the values average the reliability for the entire fleet rather than showing subsets such as diesel and hybrid buses, or buses of varying ages or manufacture. This type of breakdown is vital in understanding fleet planning, not to mention tracking the benefits (or not) of technology changes such as the move to an all-electric fleet which is only just beginning.

The TTC fleet of buses is much larger than its requirement for service. In total, as of the September 2019 vehicle list (taken from the Scheduled Service Summary, last page) shows a total of 2,076 vehicles as compared to a peak service requirement of 1,626 (p. 63 of the same document). This is a generous spare factor of over 27%, or one spare bus for every four in service. It is easy to get very good performance from your fleet with such a high ratio, but this also means that, in effect, the TTC operates one garage worth of spares for every four garages worth of regular service. This is far higher than the target spare ratio for rail vehicles.

In a separate post, I will turn to the question of service reliability, scheduling and the way in which service quality is presented by management to the TTC Board. This is another area where there has been a lot of work to make the numbers “look good” but with detrimental effects on the system.

Questions for the TTC:

I have posed a series of questions to the TTC and await answers from them. This article will be updated when they reply.

1. Has the Flexity reliability number always been quoted on the basis of failures chargeable to Bombardier, or was there a change in the methodology somewhere along the way? To put it another way, was there a change in what counted as a failure that created an artificial improvement in the reported numbers?

2. What is the situation with subway delays and MDBF numbers? Are all failures counted (at least those producing a 5 minute or greater delay) or only those considered to be the manufacturer’s fault? Is the calculation done the same way for the TR and T1 fleets?

3. The NOVA metric which the TTC uses is based on the idea of a failure that causes a delay to service. This only makes sense in the case of rail modes where a car/train failure can block the line. For buses, only a rare and well-positioned failure could actually block service. How is a chargeable failure calculated for the bus fleet?

4. Are numbers available for subsets of the bus fleet (e.g. all buses from the same order, age, technology) so that reliability figures can be compared as they have been with rail modes?

5. The CEO’s Report includes only stats for delays caused by vehicle faults, not from other sources such as infrastructure failure. Why is this info not also tracked in the report so that the effects are clear on a proportionate basis? In particular, there is no tracking of signal failures on various parts of the subway with older and newer technologies.

Summary:

TTC management should report vehicle reliability numbers on a consistent basis for all types of vehicles.

The calculation of service interruption rates should reflect what riders experience, not simply numbers to establish contract performance for suppliers or to artificially enhance the reported performance of some vehicle types.

The reliability statistics for the bus fleet should be broken down by major vehicle groups (manufacturer, propulsion technology, age) to allow meaningful comparisons and to ensure tracking of maintenance/reliability as parts of the fleet age.

The very large spare ratio for the bus fleet should be reviewed to determine whether this size of fleet is actually required, or if more service could be operated if only the TTC would budget for the cost of its operation.

Delays caused by infrastructure issues and other interruptions should be tracked and reported so that their effect on service quality can be seen in comparison to vehicle related problems.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, October 13, 2019

The TTC will make many changes to its services on Thanksgiving weekend, Sunday, October 13, 2019.

These include:

  • The formal introduction of new Flexity streetcars on the 506 Carlton route on a scheduled basis.
  • Implementation of the route changes flowing from the Junction Area Study.
  • Construction at Runnymede Station for the Easier Access Program trigger some route changes and interlining.
  • Many “service reliability improvements” intended to make scheduled trips better match actual operating conditions.

Of particular concern in this round of changes is that a policy adopted by the TTC Board in June 2019 allows schedule changes intended to improve reliability to take precedence over loading standards. Several routes where service is nominally “improved” will also have crowding beyond the Board approved standards. This is caused by a shortfall in the budget which does not provide enough resources, the TTC claims, to operate service at a level that meets the standards. There are no numeric values given and so the degree of overcrowding is not known. The affected routes and time periods are shown in the chart below.

On a related note, a few routes which are now part of the Ten Minute Network will slip beyond that target headway.

The intent is to correct these situations either through the 2020 budget or by reallocation of service from other routes.

(The two charts above are included in the PDF containing all of the schedule changes at the end of this article.)

In response to my query about these practices, Mark Mis, Manager of Service Planning replied:

Q1:

SM: … it was my understanding that the table of crowded routes was going to be published regularly, but nothing has appeared after the first iteration … [earlier this year].

MM: The TTC will be reporting on crowded periods of operation in the CEO Report later in the fall when we have a complete board period of service reliability data. We think it is important to report on both crowding and reliability at the same time.

Q2:

SM: … does this footnote mean that the affected services are being scheduled at over the Service Standards for loading?

MM: The footnote is an internal note in the Board Period memo for record keeping purposes. It indicates a period of operation that is scheduled over the crowding standard because of a change in running time as opposed to demand. This strategy to address service reliability was approved by the Board on June 12, 2019 in the Improvements to Surface Transit Schedules report. This is important to note when you take the response to Q1 into account.

The June 2019 report included the following observations:

An effective transit schedule is comprised of two key components:accurate estimates of demand and cycle time—the time for an operator/vehicle to complete a round-trip. If the cycle time is insufficient, a transit schedule can not be delivered as planned resulting in customers experiencing unreliable service and higher levels of crowding than intended.

Customers value consistent and dependable schedules because it improves their trip planning, reduces wait times and reduces trip durations. This was demonstrated by the King Street pilot. A key outcome of it was more consistent and less variable service which resulted in tremendous increases in ridership. [p. 3]

The TTC is leveraging new technology and applying a new approach to preparing reliable schedules which includes setting cycle time at the 95th percentile of observed travel time along a route in a given period of operation. This is meant to ensure that operators have sufficient time to deliver service as planned and advertised during most of the operating period. [p. 5]

The TTC 2019 Operating Budget includes some funding to improve service reliability and capacity. It is not possible to bring all schedules that actually operate outside of the tolerances of service standards in line with them within existing funding. The new schedules will reflect actual operating conditions and will result in more reliable service for customers. [p. 7]

On several routes that already have new schedules, a common observation is that vehicles cluster at terminals because they generally arrive early and/or have long scheduled layovers. Despite this, the vehicles do not manage to depart on a regular headway (time between vehicles) nor do they achieve the “on time performance” goal. The TTC is quite generous with a six-minute window in which a departure is considered “on time”. Service becomes progressively more bunched as cars and buses proceed along their route, and there is no measurement of service reliability other than at terminals.

This begs the question of rejigging the schedules in the first place when service can be so irregular. In almost all cases, the “improved” schedules offer less frequent service because existing vehicle spacings are stretched to give longer trip times. Longer trips may reduce short turns, but this is only one of several possible measures of service quality. See Zero Short Turns Does Not Equal Better Service.

Streetcar System Changes

The 506 Carlton route is now officially a low-floor streetcar service with Flexitys scheduled at all hours. Bus and CLRV trippers will supplement peak services. Further details are in a previous article.

The 505 Dundas route remains a bus operation, but the schedules will change to remove extra running time added for water main construction in the central part of the route. This may relieve the worst of the bunching of Dundas buses now seen at terminals. Riders on the 505 will see improved service, or at least the bunches of buses will come slightly more often than they do today.

Conversion of 505 Dundas to Flexity streetcar operation is planned for the winter/spring after conversion of the overhead on that route for pantograph operation.

Routes 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront will get new schedules with blended services during most off-peak periods at Union Station. Scheduled headways will be the same on each route with the intent that cars will alternate on a regular, reliable basis. The downside to this scheme is that service on 510 Spadina will run less frequently, and layover times, which already cause queuing problems at the terminals are increased. 509 Harbourfront will see less frequent service as a regular seasonal change.

Overnight service on 306 Carlton will change to every 20 minutes, and on 310 Spadina to every 15 minutes to push a few more cars out of the crowded carhouses. It is unclear how long this practice will actually last once the CLRV fleet is retired because capacity will be lost at Russell Carhouse for construction starting in 2020.

Bus Network Changes

Construction of the new mouth of the Don River in the Portlands has progressed to the point that on October 30, 2019, Commissioners Street will be closed between Cherry and Saulter for excavation of the new river. A new Commissioners Street road bridge will cross the river, but at this point there is no money in the Portlands project for a streetcar bridge although provision exists in the plans. This would allow the eventual connection of an extended Cherry Street service east to Leslie Barns via Commissioners.

The route changes from the Junction Area Study will go into effect concurrently with route modifications to accommodate elevator construction at Runnymede Station.

The new route structure, in brief:

  • Route 30 High Park will operate from High Park Station to Runnymede Loop taking over the route number formerly assigned to Lambton.
  • Route 40 Junction – Dundas West will operate from Dundas West Station to Kipling Station with a short turn service to Jane Street.
  • Route 71 Runnymede will keep only its branch to Industry Street in Mount Dennis.
  • Route 189 Stockyards will provide service from the subway at High Park and Keele Stations to St. Clair and Scarlett Road.

Due to construction, no buses will be able to loop at Runnymede Station triggering the following changes:

  • Routes 71 Runnymede and 77 Swansea will be interlined.
  • Route 79 Scarlett Road will loop via Annette, High Park and Bloor Street as shown below.

Seasonal service will end on:

  • Weekend evening service to the Zoo on 85 Sheppard East and 86 Scarborough
  • 121 Fort York – Esplanade to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach
  • 175 Bluffers Park

The details of all changes are in the file linked below.

2019.10.13_Service_Changes

Service Changes Coming to 506 Carlton in October 2019

With the shift to the larger low-floor streetcars, the TTC will begin schedule changes on Sunday October 13 (Thanksgiving weekend) for route 506 Carlton. In many periods of operation, the headways will widen in recognition of the capacity of the new cars, although the change will also bring a capacity increase.

The schedules are designed on the basis that most service will be provided by Flexitys, especially in the off-peak period. This could lead to problems such as those seen on other routes where CLRVs operate on headways designed for larger cars and are badly overloaded as a result. A lot depends on there being enough new cars to fully populate the route.

On the schedules, the only CLRVs remaining in operation will be the 506 Carlton trippers and 511 Bathurst (which is planned to start conversion late in 2019).

The TTC Service Standards set design capacities for vehicles which in theory dictate the level of service a route received. The standard is more generous for off-peak than for peak service.

Peak Off-Peak
CLRV 74 42
Flexity 130 70
Ratio Flexity:CLRV 1.76 1.67
Ratio CLRV:Flexity 0.57 0.60

If service were replaced purely on the basis of scheduled capacity, then there would be about 60% as many Flexitys/hour as on a schedule for CLRVs.

The new service design (click to enlarge, or retrieve PDF version) is shown below.

The change in AM peak and midday headways is from 5’40” (340 seconds, 10.6 cars/hour) to 7’50” (470 seconds, 7.7 cars/hour), a decrease in cars per hour to 72% of current service. This will be partly offset by the larger capacity of the new cars plus the benefit of trippers scheduled during the height of the peak period.

The change in PM peak headways is from 6’00” (360 seconds, 10 cars/hour) to 8’30” (510 seconds, 7.1 cars/hour), a decrease in cars/hour of to 71% of current service.

This change comes on top of wider headways introduced in August in an attempt to improve route reliability by giving streetcars more running time and longer terminal layovers in a bid to cut down on short turns.

The capacity goes up, but the service frequency worsens. This will almost certainly be compounded by the TTC’s inability to maintain even spacing of vehicles as they move across the route. Even though they might leave their terminals somewhat “on time”, this situation quickly deteriorates into bunches and gaps.

There is always a challenge when the TTC substitutes larger vehicles on a route and widens the headway. Laissez-faire route management that might work tolerably on shorter headways falls apart when headways are wider. If two vehicles nominally ten minutes apart actually operate as a pair, then there is a twenty minute gap and the service might as well not exist at all. Equally, the short-turn stats might look wonderful because both cars have time to reach their terminal, but riders see the same gap they would have if one of the cars short-turned.

The TTC has a huge challenge in this regard, but shows little sign of trying to fix the problem preferring to assume that more running time and longer layovers will do the trick.

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TTC CEO’s Report: August 2019

Although the TTC Board takes a long siesta through the summer, the CEO produces a monthly report even in months when the Board does not meet. The August 2019 edition was recently posted on the TTC’s site.

This report continues a format established some time ago by CEO Rick Leary in which the focus is on measures of system performance. There is no financial information here, and only summary ridership numbers with no sense of the associated revenue. All of the financial reporting was hived off of the CEO’s report into a quarterly CFO’s report, but we have not seen one of those since April 2019, and that covered the year ending December 2018. One might have expected an update at the July Board meeting, but the abrupt and unexpected departure of CFO Dan Wright in early June appears to have iced the short-lived report.

I spoke with Wright at the Audit & Risk Management Committee meeting the day before he left the TTC, and he gave no indication of his impending departure. We spoke about the problems of counting “rides” in an environment where there is only a tenuous link between fare payment and the actual number of trips (or trip segments) taken.

The TTC has been wrestling with the possibility that ridership has been over-reported for some time, and the situation is further complicated by Metropasses, the move to Presto and the two-hour fare. Just what is a “ride” for statistical purposes? I had planned to follow this up with Wright for an article here, but alas he vanished like so many other senior TTC staff in the past year. The problem is summarized in the CEO’s Report:

Higher PRESTO adoption appears to have affected measured ridership in two ways. First, we now have more precise ridership data compared to counting tokens and weighing paper tickets. Second, more than 25% of our former monthly pass customers have converted to PRESTO pay-as-you-go e-purse each month in 2019, likely to take advantage of the two hour transfer and for some, the TTC/GO discounted co-fare. This would affect measured ridership to the extent that these customers may ride less often than the monthly average of 71 rides per adult monthly pass. [p 25]

Josie La Vita, the Executive Director of Financial Planning for the City of Toronto, replaced Wright on an acting basis pending recruitment of a new CFO, a process expected to take 12-24 months.

The CEO no longer reports financial data on operations or capital projects, and the absence of a CFO’s report leaves a major gap in information available to the TTC Board and Council on the system’s actual performance.

Moreover, riding counts (i.e. vehicle occupancy) are only rarely reported at a route level, and a “crowding report” has not recently seen the light of day. When crowding data are released, they are averaged and this gives no indication of the effects of bunching and gapping on individual vehicle loads. Performance metrics that do appear in the CEO’s Report do not fully describe the service quality actually experienced by riders particularly on surface routes.

Ridership for 2019 to the end of June is reported as 267.8 million as against a target of 271.9m and a 2018 figure of 270.3m (down 1.5% and 0.9% respectively). For the month of June itself, ridership is on target. As the chart below shows, the shortfall in 2019 came primarily in the winter months which were unusually cold. June’s ridership was boosted by the Toronto Raptors Championship Parade without which the number would have been down 0.6% compared to 2018.

Weekend ridership is down, and this is thought to be due to various factors including the number of subway shutdowns. These are not going to end any time soon with the ongoing signalling projects and other infrastructure upgrades, and at some point the TTC cannot treat their effects as unexpected. A follow-on problem for the TTC is the perception by riders that “the subway is always closed” and this can affect ridership as much as the actual shutdowns.

Presto fare card usage continues to increase and by June 2019 the adoption rate reached about 80%. Presto ridership for the first half of 2019 was 214.2 million out of the total reported ridership of 267.8m.

Vehicle Reliability

The fleet benefits from improved preventative maintenance and from the retirement of older vehicles. Before the onset of hot weather, there was a concerted effort to get air conditioning systems in good order, and AC failures were rare even with the particularly hot weather in 2019. (Personally, I never encountered a “hot car” on the subway, a first for several years running.)

On the streetcar fleet, the decline in the proportion of service provided by the nearly 40-year old CLRVs and the disappearance of their ALRV cousins (of which a few are still officially active but never seen in revenue service) contributes to a reduction of in service failures. The Flexity fleet has its ups and downs for reliability, but even running below its target, these cars are much more reliable than those they replace.

On the bus fleet, the retirement of old buses and the recent purchases of hundreds of new vehicles has substantially lowered the average age of a bus and increased the proportion of buses that are “spare” relative to service needs. The fleet is over 2,000 vehicles, but the peak requirement in June was 1,641 including buses used on streetcar lines. This generous spare ratio has benefits in service reliability but also a cost in both capital and in garaging.

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TIFF 2019 To Demolish Downtown Transit Service, Again

Updated Aug. 22, 2019 at 8:05 pm: The TTC has advised that temporary stops for the diversions are still to be finalized. Also, there will be Paid Duty Officers to manage traffic at Spadina, York and Church Streets. Thanks to Stuart Green for the update.

The City of Toronto and TTC have announced various road closures and service diversions associated with the 2019 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

As in past years, King Street will be completely closed to traffic including transit operations from University Avenue to Spadina Avenue. This will begin at 5 am on Thursday, September 5 and continue through to 5 am on Monday, September 9.

Additional ad hoc diversions might occur on both Monday and Tuesday, September 9-10, for “red carpet events” from 3:30 pm onward.

Service arrangements this year are somewhat different from 2018 because there is now the split 504A/504B King service and the soon-to-be-restored 508 Lake Shore.

The primary diversion for almost all services will be:

  • From King to Queen on Spadina, both ways
  • From King to Queen on York, northbound/westbound
  • From Queen to King on Church, southbound/eastbound

Riders wishing to transfer from the subway to an eastbound King car to Broadview Station or to the Distillery should do so at Queen, not at King, or they will have to walk from Yonge to Church from King Station. There will be no eastbound King cars at Osgoode Station. It is not yet confirmed whether the TTC will establish a stop at Queen and York for a walking transfer.

Riders wishing to transfer from the subway to a westbound King car must do so at King or Osgoode Stations. There will be no streetcar service at St. Andrew Station, although there will be plenty of King cars nearby at York Street. Whether a temporary stop will be created at King and York is still to be confirmed.

This service design will see ALL of the King Street services, both ways, operating northbound on York Street giving an extremely frequent service, not to mention the potential for a total bottleneck making the turns east and west at Queen Street.

504A Dundas West to Distillery Service

This service will be broken into two segments:

  • From the west, 504A cars to/from Dundas West will operate downtown via Spadina and Queen east to Church, then loop via Church, King and York.
  • From the east, 504A cars to/from the Distillery will loop downtown via King, York, Queen and Church.

504B Broadview Station Service

The Broadview Station service will use the same loop downtown as the 504A Distillery cars:

  • Westbound on King to York, then north to Queen, east to Church and south to King.

There will be no replacement bus service parallel to King as has been attempted in some past years. Anyone destined for the area between University and Spadina on King will have to walk in from the bounds of the closed area or south from Queen Street. This is of particular concern for anyone going to screenings at TIFF Bell Lightbox which will have no transit service during the diversions.

508 Lake Shore Service

The new 508 Lake Shore trippers will loop downtown via:

  • Eastbound via Spadina, Queen and Church
  • Returning westbound via Richmond and Victoria to Queen, then west to Spadina

304 Night Service

The 304 night cars will divert via Spadina, Queen, Church/York both ways.

A shuttle night bus will operate between Wolseley Loop and Parliament/King bypassing the TIFF district via Adelaide and Richmond Streets.

503 Kingston Road Bus

Not mentioned in the TTC’s announcement is the 503 bus service which consolidates the 502/503 Kingston Road services in September. These buses are supposed to loop via York, Richmond, and University to King including a layover point on York north of King. That area will be thick with streetcar service. It is ironic that the only service that will stop eastbound at St. Andrew Station will be the 503 bus on what is sure to be a “now and then” schedule.

I am a TIFF supporter as a member and donor, and have attended the festival for over three decades. That said, I am disgusted by the gorilla-like behaviour of TIFF in elbowing aside vital transit services on weekdays in Toronto.

These diversions produce severe effects on service not just downtown, but on parts of the King and Queen routes far from the TIFF district. Riders across the city suffer so that TIFF can have its street fair.

Every year we hear that “next year will be different”, but nothing happens.

From the TTC’s diversion announcement:

We encourage you to plan your trip in advance. We thank you for your patience during this important event benefitting Toronto’s economy and international reputation as a world-class city.

A “world class city” would figure out how to integrate its transit service into a major cultural festival.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, September 1, 2019

On September 1, TTC routes that had summer service cuts in May and June will revert to their regular service levels.

Several routes will have “reliability improvements”, a catch-all term for a variety of changes.

  • Most commonly, the buses assigned to a route are stretched further apart on wider headways with additional driving and/or recovery time in the hope that the service will stay more on time than it is now. Whether this actually happens is a matter of conjecture because the TTC does not regular report on route performance at a granular enough level to judge the effect of schedule changes.
  • In a few cases, running times are trimmed in recognition that the current schedules are excessive. This usually frees up buses that are either assigned to another branch of the same route, or which go into the pool for improvements on other routes.
  • In a few cases, there are adjustments between the local and express services on a route.

The TTC has not published crowding statistics since March 2019, although this was supposed to happen quarterly.

There will be major changes on the streetcar network, notably on 501 Queen and related routes, due to construction at Kingston Road and Queen, as well as the conversion of service west of Humber Loop to 100% low-floor cars. See my previous article for more information. The service plan for the restructured routes is included in the spreadsheet linked below.

Other changes of note:

  • Construction changes to 34 Eglinton East, 51 Leslie, 54 Lawrence East and 91 Woodbine related to the Crosstown project will end and these routes will resume their normal configuration.
  • Running times on 36 Finch West are extended to compensate for the effects of the Finch West LRT project.
  • Construction at Sheppard West Station will affect many routes there.
    • The 84/984 Sheppard services will not enter the station, but will serve on-street stops.
    • 101 Downsview Park, 106 Sentinel, 107 St. Regis, 108 Driftwood and the Wheel-Trans services will move to new bus bays as the work progresses.
    • A temporary loop will be provided in the passenger pick-up area for use by 104 Faywood, 105 Dufferin North, 117 Alness-Chesswood and YRT services.
  • With the return to fall service levels on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, the second gap train recently introduced on that line will be removed.

Details of the service plans are in the spreadsheet here:

2019.09.01_Service_Changes

Various construction projects that have required buses to be added to several routes are scheduled to wind down in the coming months. Whether the buses released from construction service will actually shift to service improvements on the network as a whole remains to be seen. A basic budgetary problem for the TTC is that at least some of the extra construction service is paid for in capital project budgets, but this money is not available on an ongoing basis to run the same vehicles in day-to-day operations.