Service Capacity on 501 Queen

This article arose from a recent Twitter conversation where I was asked whether the capacity of of 501 Queen route had been reduced because crowding appeared to have increased.

Crowding has many sources including service reliability (even distribution of demand among available vehicles), scheduled frequency (how many vehicles are supposed to arrive per hour), actual service provided and the type of vehicle used.

Past articles have looked at service reliability and running times. The mid-February 2018 schedules brought a formal change to the vehicle type on which the 501 schedules are based. For many years, the capacity alleged was based on the longer ALRV (articulated) streetcars, but the service was actually operated by a mix of the shorter CLRVs and ALRVs. This was due to two factors: the declining reliability of the ALRV fleet, and the desire to increase capacity on 504 King. The new schedule assumes that CLRVs will be the primary vehicle type used, and the number of cars per hour (or conversely the headway or time between cars) has been adjusted to reflect this. However, a review of service over recent years shows that the actual capacity operated on Queen is at best comparable to that of a few years back, and more commonly is lower with some of the decline being fairly recent.

The charts in this article have the same format as capacity charts in my articles about the King Street Pilot, most recently the March 2018 update. Of particular note is that the capacity operated on King has been growing with its transition to the larger Flexity cars, and now regularly peaks above 2,500 per hour, peak hour/direction. The capacity on Queen never reaches 2,000/hour because less service is offered there.

501 Queen service was beset by several disruptions and diversions over the past few years notably a water main and streetscape project west of Spadina in 2016 and 2017, and a series of track construction projects reaching over the entire length of the route from southern Etobicoke to Neville Loop. Another upheaval is planned for 2019 with the reconstruction of the King/Queen/Roncesvalles intersection, entrances to Roncesvalles Carhouse and trackage on The Queensway west to Parkside Drive.

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King Street Update: March 2018 Data (Part II)

The King Street Pilot project is well regarded for the improvement in travel times it brought to transit riders, and for the large jump in ridership on the route. In past articles, I have reviewed the statistics for travel times, but another important aspect is the reliability of headways – the intervals between streetcars. Early results showed a distinct improvement, but this has not been sustained. Moreover, headway reliability outside of the pilot area remains quite erratic, especially near the terminals.

This brings us to the TTC’s assertion that if only the service would depart on time from the ends of its many routes, the problem of irregular service in the middle would look after itself. This is a completely bogus claim on two counts. First off, erratic service at terminals is the norm, and regularly spaced departures usually depend on hands-on service management by supervisors on the street. Second, service has a fair latitude to be considered “on time”, and even with this leeway, gaps and bunches quickly form that exceed TTC targets.

In theory, if travel times are more consistent thanks to the pilot (or any other transit-supportive changes), then it should be easier to keep service properly spaced. Reality is somewhat different from theory.

This article examines headway behaviour at Yonge Street for the 504 King car, as well as the combined service of the King and 514 Cherry cars. Although these are thought of as “blended” services, like all branching TTC routes, there is no co-ordination between the two routes and the Cherry cars fill gaps in the King service by accident, not by design. Beyond the limits of the Cherry cars (Sumach in the east, Dufferin in the west), the King service is as erratic after the pilot’s introduction as it was before.

Also included is a review of 514 Cherry service on the outer ends of the route. Only recently has the service to Distillery and Dufferin Loops become more reliable and the improvement has more to do with revised schedules than with the King Street Pilot.

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A Detailed Review of King Street Travel Times

The purpose of this article is to delve into the data on the behaviour of King Street transit at an even more finely-grained detail than in past articles. The presentation here focuses on:

  • Hourly variations in travel times.
  • Daily variations based on the day of the week, including weekends.

The data are the same as those used for previous articles, but with changes in presentation to bring out different aspects of the “story” that they tell. In particular, it is important to examine the data at a level of detail sufficient to see where variations exist and where they do not. Averages over several days and over multi-hour periods simply do not reflect the way the line behaves.

A fundamental purpose of the King Street Pilot is to “shave off” the worst of the transit delays caused by congestion. For periods when traffic is free-flowing, there will be little or no change because nothing was “in the way” to begin with. Expectations of large savings in travel time can really only apply to periods when service was likely to be disrupted. This can vary from hour to hour, by day of week, due to special events, weather, and other factors. The whole point is that if the worst of the disruptions are eliminated, service will more reliably be at close to “best case” conditions.

The source data for this and all other studies of transit operations I have published come from the TTC’s vehicle tracking system. Subject to the caveat that some data must be discarded thanks to wonky GPS readings of vehicle location, this represents as close to a 100% sample as one is likely to achieve. The data are from January 2016 to February 2018, except for February 2016 which I do not have.

There are several sets of charts here, and this article is intended to take the reader through progressively more detailed views.

Complete chart sets are provided in linked PDFs, and only a few of these are presented as illustrations in the body of the article to save on space.

I leave exploration of the charts to readers with the hope that this shows the kind of detail that is available, and that a closer look is needed to see how the route behaves under various conditions. As the year goes on, I will update these charts periodically with additional data to examine whether better weather, more activity and special events disrupt what has been, so far, a clear improvement in transit’s performance on King Street.

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501 Queen Returns to Humber Loop

On Sunday, April 1 (yes, April Fool’s Day), the streetcars will return to Humber Loop on the 501 Queen route. The service design for this was actually included in the current schedules from mid-February, but the infrastructure has only now reached the point where streetcars could operate west of Sunnyside Loop.

Although the track at Humber now permits streetcars, other work is not finished, and the loop will be used only as a streetcar terminal. Bus connections will continue to be made on the street, but at a revised location. Streetcars will serve all stops to South Kingsway.

501L buses from Long Branch will loop via Windermere, The Queensway and Ellis. Riders will transfer at Ellis rather than at Roncesvalles or further east as they have done for the past year. With the 501L shortened to its planned length, the TTC should be able to remove the extra buses added to extend this service east to Dufferin since mid-February when the new design was originally expected to go into operation.

The 66A Prince Edward bus will continue to loop east to Ellis until Humber Loop re-opens.

The 80 Queensway bus is scheduled to be cut back to Humber Loop from Keele Station late evenings on all days, and all day on Sunday. There are no details on the TTC’s website about how this will actually operate given that Humber Loop will still be closed, and it is not clear whether the 80B Humber service will loop at Ellis like the other bus routes, or if an extra bus will be provided to  maintain the link to Keele Station.

To add to the upheavals on April 1st, two parades will cause 501 service to be removed from parts of the route during the day:

  • The annual Beach Easter Parade will close Queen Street east of Woodbine Loop from 2:00 to 4:30 pm. 501 Queen cars will turn back at the loop. 92 Woodbine South buses will divert via Kingston Road and Eastern to Coxwell. 64 Main buses will turn back at Kingston Road.
  • The Sidh Shakti parade will close Lake Shore Boulevard from 12:30 to 5:00 pm. 501L Queen buses will divert via Dwight, New Toronto and Kipling. 110C Islington South buses will divert via New Toronto and Kipling to Kipling Loop.

A date has not been announced yet for the reopening of Humber Loop. Streetcar service to Long Branch is expected to resume on Sunday, June 24 with the summer schedule change.

Service on 501 Queen at Neville Loop

This is a companion piece to my review of service at Long Branch Loop which, for over two years, has been provided by a bus shuttle west of Humber Loop.

Apologies in advance. This is a long read intended for those who are interested in the fine detail of service behaviour over a period when there were many changes in the service design, and where there is a wide variety of reasons for irregular service.

One might assume that with the 501 Queen route shortened, and at times with a separate bus shuttle operating on the east end of the route, service at Neville Loop would be better than with streetcars running all the way from Neville to Long Branch. This is not entirely true, and even some periods of bus service were quite unreliable. There are many days when shuttles ran with vehicles missing or in bunches with no apparent efforts to manage and space the service.

As on the west end of the route, the TTC’s abdication of line management brought irregular headways, large gaps and bunching. A common situation is for a group of cars to leave Roncesvalles eastbound closely spaced, and to continue as a parade across the city. Sometimes, short turns in the east end partly correct this problem, but sometimes the parade simply echoes back across the line. This is not caused by “congestion”, but by the failure to maintain service spacing.

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Service on 501L Queen to Long Branch

Apologies in advance to readers as this is a long post with a lot of charts both inline and linked. It is intended as a resource to show how the TTC has provided less than sterling service on the 501 Queen route west of Humber Loop over past years, and especially since mid-February 2018.

Updated March 19, 2018 at 7:30 am: The TTC has assigned 15 additional buses to the 501L service to deal with overcrowding and the route extension from Windermere (planned) to Dufferin (actual).

Updated March 20, 2018 at 9:15 am: A chart of the time spent by buses at Long Branch Loop for the first two months of 2018 has been added at the end of this article.

Riders on the western end of the 501 Queen route might be forgiven for thinking that the TTC really does not want their business. For many years, service west of Humber Loop has had the feeling of an afterthought, an unimportant outlying part of the TTC’s system.

Until 1995, the (507) Long Branch car was a separate route operating between Humber and Long Branch loops. This split was a vestige of the former zone boundary at Humber when the service further west was outside of the City of Toronto, and a recognition that demand on Lake Shore Boulevard was not at the same level as on the principal route as (501) Queen further east. The forced transfer was a mixed blessing in that service west of Humber was immune to disruptions on Queen Street downtown, but riders bound to and from destinations east of Humber always faced an uncertain transfer connection thanks to the frequent short-turns of Queen cars at Sunnyside Loop. During off peak periods, demand west of Humber is more local between the residential and commercial areas, and a dedicated service gave rider some certainty that a car would show up reliably.

When the two routes were amalgamated, service on Lake Shore was always at the mercy of short turns on the Queen car and the inherently “gappy” nature of service arriving westbound after an hour or more crossing the city from Neville to Humber.

When the Long Branch route operated separately, it had strong ridership, almost 15,000 per day in 1976. This fell over the years for various factors including the declining industrial base on southern Etobicoke, a reorientation of traffic to north-south routes linking with the Bloor Subway, and a decline in service level. In the last year for which the TTC reported separate ridership numbers on the two routes, 1993, Long Branch was down to 7,000 riders per day. Over the same period, Queen fell from 66.5k to 49.4k partly due to riding losses brought on by less frequent and reliable service with the route’s conversion to the larger ALRV streetcars on wider headways. Daily car mileage on 501 Queen fell from 8,263 in 1976 to 4,300 by 1993. The early 1990s were also a period of recession when riding on the TTC as a whole fell back from historically higher levels in the 1980s.

Recent years brought a partial restoration of local service to Lake Shore thanks both to schedule tinkering and to complete shutdowns of streetcar service for track and road works. Buses operating on the “501L” service run much more frequently thanks to the TTC’s substitution for streetcars at a high ratio to compensate both for vehicle capacity and presumed requirements for extra construction-related running time. Riders tend to like these substitutions if only for the more frequent service. Reliability, however, is another matter and the TTC’s supervision of “temporary” construction routes tends to be even more “hands off” than for regular routes.

Service on 501L is further complicated by the lack of a proper turnaround at Roncesvalles where the streetcar route has ended for over a year, and the buses have, until recently, been scheduled to operate east on Queen and then south to Dufferin Loop which they shared with 29 Dufferin and 514 Cherry. This takes the route through a notoriously congested part of Queen Street.

From February 18, 2018 onward, the service design has been completely out of whack with actual operations because the 501L buses, scheduled to terminate at Windermere on the assumption that streetcar service to Humber would resume, are operating east to Dufferin.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 2018 brings several adjustments to TTC schedules, but nothing like the upheaval of February’s streetcar/bus changeovers or the subway opening of December 2017.

After a long absence, streetcars will return to The Queensway subject to construction at Humber Loop reaching a point where this is physically possible. Schedules on the 66 Prince Edward and 80 Queensway buses will revert to the pre-construction route configurations with the following effects:

  • 66A Prince Edward buses will terminate at Humber Loop rather than running east to the on street Ellis/Windermere loop.
  • 80B Queensway buses will terminate at Humber Loop rather then at Keele Station late weekday evenings and on Sundays.

The TTC’s service memo does not set out the arrangements for the 501L buses to Long Branch connecting with the 501 streetcars, or where the east end of the bus shuttle will be. Details of the bus operations will be announced closer to the start of the new schedules.

Through 501 Queen streetcar service to Long Branch will be scheduled for the May 13, 2018 board period.

The 512 St. Clair streetcar will become an officially low-floor route with all off-peak service designated to receive Flexity cars. Peak period extras will become fully low-floor as new cars are available. The service frequencies are almost identical to the current schedules.

As approved in November 2017, two routes will lose late evening service because their ridership is below the 10 riders per bus hour standard. These are:

  • 5 Avenue Road all days
  • 169 Huntingwood weekends

The 73B Royal York to La Rose Avenue branch will lose its weekend late evening service at the end of 2018 when construction at Royal York Station and the current interline between the two Royal York routes (73/76) ends.

The 94 Wellesley bus will lose its direct subway access at Wellesley Station during elevator construction. The 94B service which normally terminates at this station will be extended to loop around Queen’s Park as 94C. On street stops at Yonge and Wellesley will require transfers for token/ticket/cash users as at other stations where surface routes do not have a closed connection to the subway. This arrangement is expected to last until December 2018.

Minor changes in routes serving Pioneer Village station will ensure that last buses provide a connection with the last northbound subway train.

Several routes have minor changes in service levels and/or running times for construction (Metrolinx projects), adjustments to demand and correction of timings to match actual conditions.

2018.04.01 Service Changes

King Street Update: January 2018 Data (Updated)

Updated February 5, 2018 at 2:30 pm: Charts showing comparative travel times between Jarvis and Bathurst for the period from March 2016 to January 2018 have been added to give a longer context to the effects of the King Street Pilot. Scroll down to the end of the article for the charts and commentary.

This article updates previous posts about the effect of the King Street Transit Pilot on TTC vehicle movements.

Please refer to previous articles for commentary on the transition from the pre-pilot to pilot results and for the period up to the end of 2017.

Weather

Toronto’s weather has been much harsher this winter than in previous years, and this affected some aspects of service quality through late December and early January, notably headway reliability. Low temperatures were not kind to the older streetcar fleet, and snow affected traffic conditions over the full route, not just in the pilot area. [Source, Environment Canada historical data for “Toronto City”]

WeatherStats_201709201801 [PDF]

Travel Times

Data for January 2018 show that the travel times through the pilot area between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets continue to be both below the pre-pilot values, and generally without the day-to-day “spikiness” in the range of typical travel times.

The sample below shows the travel times for westbound vehicles crossing Jarvis Street between 5:00 and 6:00 pm from September 2017 through January 2018. Horizontal lines give the daily values, while vertical lines bound periods where conditions changed.

  • The orange line is the 85th percentile below which most times fell, but it must be remembered that 15% of trips lie above this.
  • The blue line is the 50th percentile where half of the trips are above and half below.These two lines are close together because the data values are clustered over a short range in most cases, and so one gets from the 50th to the 85th percentile with a small increase in travel times.
  • The vertical red lines show the bounds of TIFF. For September 7-8, the travel times are tracked over the planned diversion via Queen Street and so they are much longer than trips via King.
  • The vertical yellow lines bound the period when Queen was closed at McCaul.
  • The green vertical line shows the beginning of the King Street Pilot. (Although it is green, this band may show up as black depending on your display.)
  • Where there is a gap or the value drops to zero (no examples on this chart), there were no vehicles making the trip on the day and hour in question due to a long delay or diversion.

The two sets of charts linked here contain data for five representative hours of operation starting at 8:00 am, 1:00 pm, 5:00 pm, 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm. These are in the same format as previous charts except for the addition of one month’s data.

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