Analysis of 502 Downtowner: Part I — Headway Reliability

In past route reviews, I have started out looking at a few days’ operation in detail to get an overview of the route.  By now, readers are familiar with the conventions of the charts I have been creating, and for 502 Downtowner, I will jump in to the middle of the discussion.

This post gets headway information about Downtowner online in advance of the public meeting on Tuesday, December 4 about the Queen car of which the 502 is functionally a branch.

Downtowner (originally called Kingston Road) operates, on paper, from Bingham Loop at Victoria Park and Kingston Rd. to McCaul Loop west of Queen and University.  Although service on Kingston Rd, including the 503 Tripper interlined with it, was once quite frequent, headways are now much wider and reliability of service becomes crucial to the sense that there is any service at all.  Offpeak scheduled service is every 20 minutes, and this is one of the few places that has better service evenings and weekends (when the 22A Coxwell bus serves Kingston Road) than during weekdays.

The four charts here show the distribution of headways at Woodbine and at University.  Why did I choose these locations?

Woodbine shows us the service leaving Kingston Road inbound before it merges with Queen, as well as the effect of any short-turns at Woodbine Loop.  Yes, cars intended to serve Kingston Road are short-turned before they get more than a few hundred metres onto that street.

University shows the service eastbound from McCaul without various artifacts in CIS data near McCaul Loop, but more importantly at a location that is not polluted by CIS errors in tracking short turns on Downtowner.  As we will see in a future post, a lot of the 502 service never gets to Yonge Street, and this plays havoc with service as seen by would-be riders.

Westbound at Woodbine Ave.
Westbound at University Ave.
Eastbound at University Ave.
Eastbound at Woodbine Ave.

There are five pages for each chart of which the last shows the distribution of headways over the month.  Pages 1-4 show the detail for each week including trendlines.  Those trends generally follow the level of the scheduled headways, but the unreliability of service causes huge swings, especially in the offpeak when gaps of 30-40 minutes are common at Woodbine.  At University, the situation is much worse because of short-turns east of Yonge Street with gaps of nearly one hour on several days.

There is really very little to say about this situation.  After looking at the Queen car, I am running out of ways to express my disgust at what passes for service from the TTC.  I knew that service on the 502 was spotty, but actually seeing it “in print” is shocking.

In a coming post, I will look at the link times for this route and, yes, there is congestion on Kingston Road itself between Woodbine and Victoria Park.  This usually occurs during the afternoon rush hour and has little impact on the service quality at other times.

I will also review the combined 502 and 503 services in the morning and afternoon peak periods when, in theory, these lines combine to provide a blended, regular service.

As for the 502 itself, this is an excellent example of how the TTC destroys the attractiveness of transit service by cutting service and failing to properly manage the leftovers.  Back in the days when headways were five minutes or better, careful line management was less important because cars simply couldn’t get too far apart.  Now, with headways of 10 to 20 minutes, routes can become badly disorganized and riders have no idea when a vehicle might turn up.