Streetcar Service During the CLRV Era

With the retirement of the CLRV fleet on December 29, 2019, this is a good time to look back at how service on the streetcar network has evolved during the lifetime of those cars.

When they first entered service on the Long Branch route in September 1979, the new cars marked a real sign that Toronto was keeping its streetcar system.

Although Toronto decided to keep streetcars in late 1972, there was no guarantee that without renewal of the fleet and infrastructure the system could last very long. The last-built cars in the PCC fleet (the 4500s) dated to 1951 and, despite their simplicity compared to what we now call “modern” cars, they would not last forever. Second hand cars from other cities were older than the most recent “Toronto” cars. They were retired over the years even while the TTC undertook major overhauls on its own, younger fleet.

In 1980, the streetcar service was still dominated by PCCs as much of the CLRV order was still to come, and the ALRVs would not arrive until the late 1980s.

Yes, I know. What are all of those acronyms? Not every reader is a die-hard railfan with all of this information at their fingertips.

PCC: The President’s Conference Car was the product of work by a consortium of street railways to update streetcar design in competition with the rise of the private automobile. This was a large research project, especially for its time in the 1930s, and it produced a totally re-thought vehicle. The TTC was working with Hawker Siddeley on an updated PCC design in the mid-1960s, but nothing came of this thanks to a provincial fascination with new, high-tech transit. A license agreement for updated PCC patents held, in the 1960s, by the Czech manufacturer Tatra was never signed, and work on a new PCC for suburban routes stopped.

PCCs on King Street at Atlantic Avenue

CLRV: The Canadian Light Rail Vehicle. This car was designed partly by the TTC and partly by a provincial agency, the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation (later renamed as “Urban” to remove the explicit local reference). The design, from the Swiss Industrial Group (SIG), was very different from the car the TTC had worked on, but the UTDC needed a viable product after their magnetic-levitation project ran aground with technical difficulties. As a city streetcar, it was overbuilt in anticipation of high-speed suburban operation, notably in Scarborough. That scheme was supplanted by what we now know as the “RT”.

CLRV at High Park Loop

ALRV: The two section “Articulated” version of the CLRV was designed to run on heavy routes, notably the Queen car. These vehicles were never as reliable as the original CLRVs, and they were the first to be retired. At various times over the years, they ran on Queen, Bathurst and King.

An ALRV at “Old” Exhibition Loop

Flexity: This is the generic product name for Bombardier’s low-floor streetcars. It exists in many formats with Toronto’s version being designed to handle tight curves and steep grades. Delivery of the 204-car fleet was almost complete at the end of 2019.

Flexity on King Street at University Avenue

When the TTC decided to keep streetcars in 1972, they were still enjoying a long period of post-war ridership growth with constant expansion into the suburbs of bus and subway lines. Getting new riders was a simple task – just run more service. The downtown streetcar system was still bulging with riders thanks to a stable population and a robust industrial sector.

By 1980, however, the TTC hit something its management had not seen before, a downturn in ridership, thanks to the economic effect of the first Middle Eastern oil war and its effect on energy prices. Although the TTC continued to grow through the 1980s, a mindset of running just enough service to meet demand took over. This would be particularly unfortunate when the ALRVs entered service, and the new schedules merely replaced the capacity of former CLRV/PCC service on wider headways. With cars 50% bigger, the scheduled gap (headway) between cars increased proportionately. This combined with the TTC’s notoriously uneven service to drive away ridership, and the Queen car lost about a third of its demand.

The real blow came in the early 1990s with an extended recession that saw the TTC system lose 20% of its ridership falling from about 450 million to 360 million annual rides over five years. The effect was compounded when Ontario walked away from transit subsidies when the Mike Harris conservatives replaced the Bob Rae NDP at Queen’s Park.

The TTC planned to rebuild and keep a small PCC fleet to supplement the LRVs in anticipation of vehicle needs on the Spadina/Harbourfront line. However, when it opened in 1997 service cuts had reduced peak fleet requirements to the point that the PCCs were not required and the network, including 510 Spadina, operated entirely with CLRVs and ALRVs. This locked the TTC into a fleet with no capacity for growth, a situation that persisted for over two decades and which the new Flexity fleet has not completely relieved.

The combination of rising demand, in turn driven by the unforeseen growth of residential density in the “old” City of Toronto, and of commercial density in and near the core, leaves Toronto with unmet transit needs, latent and growing possibilities for transit to make inroads in the travel market, and a customer attitude that “TTC” means “Take The Car” if possible.

The problem with service inadequacy and unreliability extends well beyond the old city into the suburban bus network, but this article’s focus is the streetcar lines. I have not forgotten those who live and travel in what we used to call “Zone 2”, but the evolution of service on the streetcar system is a tale of what happens when part of the transit network does not get the resources it should to handle demand.

The evolution of service and capacity levels shown here brings us to the standard chicken-and-egg transit question about ridership and service. Without question there have been economic and demographic changes in Toronto over the years including the average population per household in the old city, the conversion of industrial lands (and their jobs) to residential, the shift of some commuting to focus outward rather than on the core, and the shift in preferred travel mode.

Where service has been cut, ridership fell, and it is a hard slog to regain that demand without external forces such as the population growth in the King Street corridor. The lower demand becomes the supposed justification for lower service and what might have been “temporary” becomes an integral part of the system. However, the level of service on any route should not be assumed to be “adequate for demand” because that demand so strongly depends on the amount of service actually provided.

This is a challenge for the TTC and the City of Toronto in coming decades – moving away from just enough service and subsidy to get by to actively improving surface route capacity and service quality.

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Goodbye to 514 Cherry (Updated)

Updated August 28 at 11:45 am:

I inquired of the TTC whether the restriction at Distillery Loop was due to noise, and whether the CLRVs, when needed, could be operated on the 504B Dufferin service which does not go to the Distillery.

They have replied that:

  • “We have a commitment from Rick and community relations that we do not operate legacy cars into Distillery Loop. We will short turn any CLRVs on that branch at Parliament.”
  • “We were trying to avoid having any CLRVs operating through the peak point to maximize scheduled capacity. All the CLRVs are also scheduled as swing cars, so that had to be considered as well. As a result, we had to split the CLRVs between the two branches. We will prioritize LF deployment on the remaining CLRV runs on 504A first to minimize missed trips from Distillery.”

Thanks to Brad Ross for the update.

Original article:

Effective with the October 7, 2018 schedules, the 514 Cherry car will disappear from the streets of Toronto.

Since June 24 it has been on a temporary hiatus during the reconstruction of Broadview Avenue and a revised service on the 504 King car. On September 2, the “standard” service will resume on 504 King, 514 Cherry and 503 Kingston Road, but it will only last a month.

In October, the TTC will make the summer route split permanent and will operate two separate routes, both under the name 504 King:

  • 504A will operate from Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop
  • 504B will operate from Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop

The two services will operate at the same frequency and will be scheduled, to the degree anything like this actually happens on the TTC, so that they blend in the central part of the line rather than running in pairs. That will probably be greatest challenge given the TTC’s chronic inability to manage branching routes and the less than professional manner in which some operators run right behind their leaders rather than spacing out the service.

Most of the recovery time (layovers) will be scheduled at Dufferin and Distillery Loops so that streetcars are not sitting in subway station loops with queues extending out onto the street.

All service will be scheduled to operate with new Flexity low floor streetcars, although until the end of 2018, the TTC expects to be short a few cars and will substitute CLRVs (standard sized old streetcars).

Some CLRVs will operate in the peak periods through the end of the year and will be designated on runs that operate outside the busiest hour in the morning and afternoon peak periods. These will be replaced by low-floor streetcars, as available, at the divisional level.

Where a 504A streetcar is designated for CLRV, these cars will turn back via Parliament, Dundas, Broadview, and Queen, at the divisional level, as CLRVs are restricted from entering Distillery Loop. [From the Service Change Memo for the October 2018 Board Period]

This arrangement means that there could be random gaps in service to the Distillery depending on vehicle allocations of the day, and operators of these cars will lose their east end rest break.

The effect of the new service design varies depending on the day of the week and the location on the route.

On weekdays, the total number of cars in service goes down, although this is offset by the scheduling of larger Flexitys replacing the CLRVs. All will be well if the TTC actually fields a full service of Flexitys unlike the situation on 501 Queen where for many years CLRVs were sent out on schedules intended for the larger articulated ALRVs. [That was nominally “fixed” with the February 2018 schedules, but this was a very long-overdue correction to reflect the TTC’s inability to actually muster a full service of ALRVs.]

  • AM peak service between Dundas West and Dufferin, and between Broadview Station and Sumach (the point where the Cherry line branches off) will change from a mixture of CLRVs and Flexitys every 3’40” to a Flexity every 5’15”. This is, just barely, a one for one replacement of capacity, but not on the peak part of the route.
  • PM peak service on the outer ends will change from a CLRV/Flexity mixture every 4’15” to a Flexity every 6’00”.
  • Midday and evening service on the outer ends of the line will also be less frequent, and it will be essential that all service actually reaches the terminals.
  • Service in the middle part of the route from Dufferin to Sumach will generally be more frequent and will operate with all Flexitys once they are available.

On weekends, the total number of cars in service goes up during all periods. The effect is that even though only half of the service is scheduled to run through to Dundas West and to Broadview Stations, the change in frequency is small. The central part of the line will see better service both in frequency and capacity.

Service to the Distillery District will be improved compared to the 514 Cherry schedule during all periods. (This change was quite evident with the summer 2018 schedules, and will no doubt be missed for the period from September 2 to October 6 where the “old” Cherry service will operate.)

Overnight service on 304 King will continue to operate between Dundas West and Broadview Stations, but all runs will be scheduled with Flexitys.

The PDF linked here shows the details of the changes. I will publish the full list of October service changes in a separate article.

20181007ServiceChanges_504King

As a parting thought, it will be intriguing to see how many years it will take for the last of the signage, advertising and other TTC materials (notably the onboard route maps) to lose the 514 Cherry car. At least, only two months after the change, the cars are not all calling “Short Turn” at every stop.

King Street Update: May 2018 Data (Part II)

This article continues the analysis of the King Street Pilot with May 2018 data. Part I is in a separate article.

Many topics are covered here, and the intended audience is those readers who want to look at the details of how routes operating on King Street behave. The sections include:

  • Headway reliability on 504 King both in the downtown pilot area and at the terminals.
  • Short turning on the 504 King car.
  • Headway reliability on 514 Cherry and 503 Kingston Road.
  • Headway behaviour for the consolidated 504, 514 and 503 services downtown.
  • A detailed review of 504 King operation on certain days in May 2018.

A common factor through this article is that while travel times in the pilot area have improved thanks to the transit priority scheme, the headways on all affected services are erratic, especially on 514 Cherry and 503 Kingston Road.

The pilot transit project on King is intended to make service more attractive to riders, and this can occur in various ways:

  • Travel times through downtown are shorter and more reliable than during the pre-pilot period.
  • Route capacity has improved partly from schedule changes and recapture of excess travel time, but mainly through the replacement of the older streetcars used on King with larger ones, primarily the new Flexity cars.
  • Headway reliability (consistent times between cars) can be improved if random congestion events are reduced or eliminated, and reliable travel times lessen the need for short turns.

No one change by itself “solves” King Street’s problems, and all three are needed to achieve benefits that will attract riders.

An important part of a transit journey is the time spent waiting for a vehicle. One reason the subway is so popular, aside from its speed, is that trains come frequently and reasonably reliably, although this has become a sore point in recent years. Surface route reliability has always been an issue, and although trips may be faster, there is still the issue of how reliably vehicles actually show up to carry riders.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, May 13, 2018

The May 2018 service changes bring:

  • Addition of two AM peak “gap trains” on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina and other operational improvements.
  • An update to the schedules for service on the King Street Pilot to reflect the improved travel time on the street and to reduce vehicle queues at terminals.
  • Changes to all routes serving Main Station during construction that will close the loop to transit vehicles.
  • Diversions of the Parliament and Carlton routes around track construction at Gerrard & Parliament.
  • Changes to Don Mills bus schedules to reflect actual operating conditions and Crosstown construction effects.
  • Seasonal changes to reflect declining ridership to post-secondary institutions during the summer.
  • Summer improvements including extension of 121 Fort York Esplanade to Cherry Beach during all operating periods, improved weekend service on 92 Woodbine South, and later service to the Zoo.
  • There is a new summer route 175 Bluffers Park on weekends between Kennedy Station and the park’s parking lot.
  • Service cuts and running time reductions on 6 Bay.
  • Weekend reliability improvements on 96 Wilson and 165 Weston Road North.
  • Weekday reliability improvements on 199 Finch Rocket.

2018.05.13_Service_Changes

Here are the highlights:

1 Yonge-University-Spadina

Two “gap trains” will be added to the morning peak schedule to provide additional service as needed southbound on Yonge. One train will be stationed in Eglinton pocket track, and the other on the hostler track at Davisville.

Trains leaving service in the evening to Wilson Yard will now do so southbound from Vaughan rather than northbound at Wilson. This avoids conflicts between the yard movements and southbound service.

King Street Pilot

Running times on 504 King will be reduced during almost all operating periods, and the saving will be converted into slightly shorter scheduled headways with no change in total vehicles. The four peak period ALRV trippers will be replaced by six CLRV trippers. Flexity cars will now be formally scheduled to cover part of the service with priority going to runs that stay out all day.

514 Cherry service will be improved during the AM peak, weekday early evening, Saturday afternoon and Saturday early evening periods by the addition of one or more cars.

Peak period crewing practices will be changed to step back operation to reduce terminal delays.

Main Station

Main Station Loop will be closed until September 2018 for construction. During this time routes serving the station will be reorganized:

  • 20 Cliffside and 62 Mortimer will be interlined as a single route from Broadview to Kennedy Station.
  • 23 Dawes will be extended west to Woodbine Station.
  • 64 Main will be extended north to Eastdale.
  • 87 Cosburn will loop on street via Danforth and Chisholm.
  • 113 Danforth and 135 Gerrard will be cut back from Main to Victoria Park Station.
  • 506 Carlton will be extended east to Victoria Park Station via Gerrard covering the mileage of the shortened 135 Gerrard route.

Parliament & Gerrard

During the reconstruction of this intersection, buses will divert:

  • 65 Parliament will divert via Sherbourne between Dundas and Carlton.
  • 506 Carlton will divert via Dundas between Sherbourne and River.

Bay Bus

Service on 6 Bay will be reduced by the elimination of one or two buses during most operating periods, and headways will be widened as a result.

This route suffers from excessive running time as shown in a previous analysis I published, and I will be updating this with current data in May.

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.

Continue reading

Streetcar Service Updated Effective February 18, 2018 (Updated)

Updated February 8, 2018: The TTC has announced details of changes to bus and streetcar services on the west end of the 501 Queen route. This information has been added below in the section on that route.

The February 2018 schedules will bring major changes to the streetcar system. I will include these in a coming article with all of the details for the new schedules, but with the scope of the streetcar changes and the interest in this topic, here is a wrap-up of what is planned for these routes.

King Street Corridor

The current schedule calls for trippers to operate, primarily buses and in the AM peak, over the entire 504 King route. These will be replaced with four ALRVs (articulated streetcars) operating from Sunnyside Loop to Broadview. As actually operated, the AM trippers are already using CLRVs (regular sized streetcars) swapped from the 505 Dundas route. Four more ALRVs will be used as standby “run as directed” cars to supplement service on King as needed.

January Schedule January Actual February Schedule
AM Peak
CLRV 33 33 33
CLRV Tripper 7
ALRV Tripper 4
ALRV Run as Directed 4
Bus Tripper 7
PM Peak
CLRV 33 33 33
CLRV Tripper 2
ALRV Tripper 1 1 4
ALRV Run as Directed 4
Bus Tripper 2

The tripper schedules have been changed so that they better cover the peak periods.

  • Eastbound trips leave Sunnyside Loop at: 7:41 a.m., 7:57 a.m., 8:12 a.m., 8:27 a.m., 9:10 a.m., 9:27 a.m., 9:42 a.m., 9:56 a.m.
  • Westbound trips leave Broadview & Queen at 3:07 p.m., 3:20 p.m., 3:33 p.m., 3:46 p.m., 4:50 p.m., 5:03 p.m., 5:16 p.m., 5:29 p.m.

The 503 Kingston Road Bus which now operates from Bingham Loop to York & Wellington during peak hours only will be replaced by a streetcar with service on weekdays peak and midday. This will replace the 502 Downtowner bus which changes to peak-only operation.

During the peak periods the 12′ headway of buses will be replaced by a 12′ headway of CLRVs on the 503 service, and it will be extended west to loop via Spadina, Adelaide and Charlotte Streets. Midday service will operate every 9′ replacing the existing 10′ service on the 502 Downtowner bus. This removes 6 buses/hour from Queen Street, and adds not quite 7 cars/hour to the section of King east of Spadina.

According to the TTC, track construction is planned on Wellington east of Yonge in May. It is not clear whether, when this is complete, the 503 will revert to its usual York street terminus as this would remove the added service between York and Spadina. Whether the Wellington Street work actually occurs remains to be seen as there were plans to defer this until 2019 to avoid complications with the King Street Pilot. The track recently became operational with the restoration of overhead on the one missing section between Church and Yonge westbound.

Service on 514 Cherry during the midday and early evening will be improved from every 15′ to every 10′ to provide added capacity on the King corridor. On Sundays from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, service will improve from every 15′ to every 11′. (The 514 Cherry route is notorious for irregular headways at its terminals and so the scheduled headways may not match actual experience. This will be the subject of a separate article.)

In combination, these changes will increase the level of service on King Street with the effect concentrated downtown. In particular, there is little AM peak relief for riders inbound from Parkdale, Liberty Village and Bathurst/Niagara beyond a change in the timing of the trippers, whatever benefits the “run as directed” cars might provide and the gradual replacement of runs now operated with CLRVs by the new Flexitys as they become available.

501 Queen & 502/503 Kingston Road

As noted above, the 502 Downtowner midday bus service from Kingston Road to Queen & University will be replaced by the 503 Kingston Road streetcar operating to Spadina & King. Peak service on the 502 bus is not changed, and peak 503 streetcar service will operate at the same frequency, every 12′, as the former bus service. Midday service on the 503 streetcar will be slightly better at 9′ than the 10′ headway now on the 502 bus.

The 501 Queen schedules were written on the basis that Humber Loop would re-open, but work there will not be completed until later in the spring. The planned service would have seen 501 Queen cars operating from Neville to Humber with the 501L Queen bus running from Long Branch to Windermere. Pending the completion of Humber Loop, the streetcars will turn back at Sunnyside Loop, and the 501L buses will operate east to Roncesvalles. 501L buses will no longer run east and south to Dufferin Loop.

The looping and transfer arrangements for the 501L bus at Roncesvalles, and later at Windermere, have not yet been announced.

When 501 Queen streetcar service to Humber Loop resumes, the last service stop will be at South Kingsway because there will be no connecting services at Humber.

The 501M bus service via Marine Parade will be dropped because of low use. The 66 Prince Edward bus is available as an alternative, and it will continue on its diversion routing.

The 301 Queen night service is unchanged with two branches continuing to operate from Neville to Sunnyside (streetcars) and from Dufferin Loop to Long Branch (buses). This will be modified with the April schedules (details not yet announced).

Service on 501 Queen streetcar will be scheduled to operate with a mix of CLRVs and ALRVs on a more frequent headway than the current schedules that presume all ALRVs and their capacity. This has been a long-standing problem for Queen street where smaller cars attempt to handle demand on a service designed for larger vehicles. The improvement is about a 10% increase in cars/hour in the peak, and a 20% improvement off-peak.

Updated February 8, 2018

The planned changes to routes on the west end of Queen is different from that originally described in the service change memo. The following information is taken from the TTC Service Advisory page.

Effective February 18:

  • Streetcars will operate between Roncesvalles and Neville as originally planned.
  • 501L buses will operate between Long Branch and Dufferin/Queen looping via Gladstone, Peel and Dufferin instead of running south to Dufferin Loop as they do now.
  • 301L night buses will continue to run between Long Branch and Dufferin Loop.
  • The 501M Marine Parade shuttle will be discontinued as originally planned.

Effective April 1:

  • Streetcars will operate between Humber and Neville. However, Humber Loop will not be ready to reopen as a transfer point with bus routes, and so the connection to the 501L service will be at Windermere (if the information in the service memo still holds).

Effective early June:

  • Streetcars will return to the full route from Long Branch to Neville.

Work now underway at Humber Loop includes:

  • new streetcar tracks including new spur track
  • accessible platforms
  • new/wider pedestrian tunnel walkway
  • new sub-station building and underground conduits for electric cables
  • realignment of all existing overhead wiring in the loop and in the tunnel leading to Lake Shore Boulevard West

According to the TTC notice:

Track installation and some overhead adjustments for the Queen turn-back will completed by April 1, 2018, weather permitting. Remaining work, including passenger platform renewal, track renewal and overhead adjustments for the Lake Shore turn-back, as well as a wider pedestrian tunnel walkway will be completed by early June 2018.

506 Carlton & 505 Dundas

Service on both the 506 Carlton and 505 Dundas routes will be converted to bus operation. In addition to the streetcar shortage, several construction projects will affect these routes in coming months:

  • Track construction on Broadview from south of Dundas to Hogarth (north end of Riverdale Park) beginning in May
  • Track construction at Parliament/Gerrard in May
  • Track construction at Broadview/Dundas and Broadview/Gerrard in the summer
  • Track constuction at Dundas/Lansdowne in September
  • Water main construction on Dundas from Bathurst to Huron in September
  • Main Street Station construction through the summer

506 Carlton buses will run to Keele Station as their western terminus rather than to High Park Loop.

The bus replacements for streetcar service vary in the ratio of buses to streetcars depending on the time of day.

Dundas Streetcar Dundas Bus Carlton Streetcar Carlton Bus
AM Peak 18 27 32 45
M-F Midday 18 27 28 36
PM Peak 19 30 29 42
M-F Early Evening 14 20 18 25
M-F Late Evening 10 12 14 18
Sat Early Morning 10 10 14 15
Sat Morning 16 20 18 22
Sat Afternoon 25 28 25 30
Sat Early Evening 11 14 16 20
Sat Late Evening 10 10 13 16
Sun Early Morning 9 9 11 12
Sun Morning 14 17 12 17
Sun Afternoon 19 20 18 22
Sun Early Evening 10 11 12 13
Sun Late Evening 9 10 11 12
Night Service 3 3

511 Bathurst

The 511 Bathurst route will revert from bus to streetcar operation using CLRVs. All service will operate between Bathurst Station and Exhibition Loop.

Service on weekdays will generally be less frequent with the streetcars than the buses reflecting their larger capacity, although peak service south of King and west to Exhibition will improve with the elimination of the short turn 511C bus service.

Weekend streetcar schedules are the same as those used in November 2015. Saturday daytime service will be at similar headways with the streetcars as with buses reflecting demand at those hours. Sunday afternoon and early evening service will be slightly less frequent with the streetcars.

509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair

There are no changes to the schedules for these routes.

Roncesvalles Carhouse

This carhouse will close until late 2018 for construction in the yard. Service will be operated from the east end carhouses as below:

  • Leslie: 509 Harbourfront, 510/310 Spadina, 514 Cherry
  • Russell: 501/301 Queen, 503 Kingston Rd., 504 King, 511 Bathurst, 512 St. Clair

514 Cherry Update re King & Sumach Noise

At a community meeting on June 27, 2017, the TTC presented updated information about their work on reducing the noise level from streetcars at King & Sumach. In response to complaints after the 514 Cherry route began operating in 2016, the TTC changed the 514 so that late evenings and early mornings it operates to Broadview & Queen (looping back via Dundas and Parliament just like a short turning 504 King car). During these periods, a Wheel Trans bus provided a shuttle service on Sumach and Cherry to Distillery Loop.

The TTC presented updated noise readings for this location showing the combined improvement of the full changeover to Flexity cars from CLRVs and of changes to the rail profile that were made to complement slower operation around the curves.

The chart above shows results for the tightest curve at King & Sumach, the east to south. The data plotted here summarize readings taken over a four-hour period, and so they reflect the contribution of whatever type of vehicles showed up. For the most recent reading on May 4, 2017, when the service should have been largely or completely run with Flexitys, the levels from the middle to the high end of the spectrum are markedly lower than they were in the fall.

From the vehicle tracking data for 514 Cherry, I can confirm that the vehicles in service on that date were:

  • CLRV 4071 from 8:28 to 9:55 am
  • CLRV 4049 from 2:56 to 5:45 pm
  • Flexitys 4402, 4404, 4406, 4409, 4412, 4414, 4423, 4425, 4428 and 4432

Depending on when the measurements were taken, there was at most one CLRV in service on the route, and none for most of the day.

By contrast, on Aug. 10, 2016, all but one car on the route was a CLRV with only a single Flexity in service, 4418, between 5:30 am and 2:07 am the following day.

For the north to west turn, the data show less of an improvement. Oddly, the readings for the gentler left turn curve are higher than for the eastbound right turn, but this could be a factor of the measurement location which is closer to the westbound turn.

As a matter of comparison, the TTC also presented readings from two intersections with comparable curve radii, Queen & Broadview and Bathurst & Fleet.

Note that this chart presents maximum values rather than a four hour average. The higher values for the comparator intersections are almost certainly due to the noise caused by CLRVs or ALRVs which have (a) inherently more squeal and (b) less car design factors to limit noise transmission.

Bathurst & Fleet would have had service only on 509 Harbourfront on May 4 as this predates the return of streetcars to 511 Bathurst. I do not have the tracking data for the 509 on that date, and so cannot comment on the proportion of service provided by each vehicle type. Harbourfront is supposed to be all Flexity, but routinely has a few CLRVs on it. It would take only one noisy CLRV to set the maximum values shown above.

The chart is also unclear about which turn was measured at each location, only that this was done from 8 metres away.

Future work of this type should be more careful in identification of the vehicle type and location specifics for any readings and charts. If nothing else, this will improve credibility with members of the public by showing the improvements new cars bring.

Based on the improvements recorded at King & Sumach, the TTC plans to return full streetcar service to Distillery Loop on a date to be announced in July.

This decision provoked something of a pitched battle between residents at various locations on the route. The high points (if they can be called that) included:

  • Wheel squeal at King and Sumach prevented some nearby residents from getting a full night’s sleep, and the respite with no cars making turns was 3 to 3.5 hours. (It was unclear whether the residents have ever had a Flexity-only late night or early morning service as a reference point because service was cut last November before the route conversion was completed.)
  • Squeal is worst after rain because the normal film of grease on the track (both from natural causes and from wheel greasers) washes away. Wet track actually is very quiet because the water acts as a lubricant, but track that is drying out can be extremely noisy. This also happens during periods of high humidity. The TTC was criticized for taking noise measurements only under ideal conditions.
  • Residents at King/Sumach who predate the installation of the intersection were used to quieter streetcar operation, and enjoyed a long period of no streetcars at all while the King leg of the Don Bridge was closed.
  • The Wheel Trans shuttle bus is utterly unreliable running on a schedule unknown to riders and with unpredictable headways that can be considerably longer than the round trip route would imply. Operators often bypass waiting passengers. There are safety issues for the large number of disabled transit users living in this neighbourhood if they are forced to make a transfer to an unreliable, infrequent service.
  • Residents along the Cherry Street portion of the route complained that they effectively lost service because the bus was so unreliable, and in any event, its wide headways and forced transfer at King Street added to travel times. They also noted that the change was implemented without notice to the wider community. (There were also complaints about poor publicity for the June 27 meeting.)
  • Aggrieved King/Sumach residents proposed that the 514 Cherry route be completely converted to bus operation during the hours when the shuttle runs now to eliminate the transfer connection and improve service to the Distillery. This option was rejected by the TTC and by some users of the 514 who noted that streetcars can be very crowded at late evenings downtown where the route is supposed to provide supplementary service on King.
  • Early morning trips from Leslie Barns to Distillery Loop make the west to south turn for which no automatic greasing is provided.
  • Not all who attended from King/Sumach objected to the streetcars, but as this was a small meeting, it is not clear what the balance of opinion in the neighbourhood might be.
  • Notable by its absence from any comments were complaints about noise from eastbound streetcars clattering through the trailing switch of the north to east curve. The slow order at this location appears to have dealt with this issue.

In addition to operating the 514 Cherry route with only Flexitys, the TTC is working on a design of a noise absorbing ring that will damp the high frequency vibrations. Wheel sets for two cars are now being manufactured, and they will be installed on test cars in the fall.

Further noise readings will be taken through the summer and fall to track conditions as they evolve, and the level of grease application will be increased. (There is a trackside greaser southbound at Distillery Loop, and the Flexitys have on board greasers that are triggered by GPS information to activate where lubrication is required.)

In a separate article, I will turn to the general unreliability of service at Distillery Loop on the 514 streetcars. The TTC puts this down to the usual problems of mixed traffic operation on King, but there are also issues with uneven headways departing from both the Distillery and Dufferin terminals following layovers that can be fairly long. Line management, as elsewhere on the system, is a problem for this service.

See the TTC’s King-Sumach page for complete information.

 

The Evolution of Streetcar Service from 1980 to 2016

Transit service on many of Toronto’s streetcar lines has declined over past decades and, with it, riders’ faith in and love for this mode. Unreliable, crowded service is considered the norm for streetcar routes, and this leads to calls to “improve” service with buses.

The historical context for this decline is worth repeating in the context of current debates over how Toronto should provide transit service to the growing population in its dense “old” city where most of the streetcar lines run.

When the TTC decided in late 1972, at the urging of City Council, to reverse its long-standing plans to eliminate streetcars by 1980 (when the Queen Subway would take over as the trunk route through the core), the level of service on streetcar lines was substantially better than it is on most routes today. Any comparison of streetcars versus buses faced the prospect of a very large fleet of buses on very frequent headways roaring back and forth on all major streets.

Service in 1980 (when the system was originally planned for conversion) was substantially the same as in 1972, and for the purpose of this article, that date is our starting point.

Ten years later, in 1990, little had changed, but the City’s transit demand was about to fall off a cliff thanks to a recession. During this period, TTC lost much riding on its network including the subway with annual travel dropping by 20% overall. It would take a decade to climb back from that, but various factors permanently “reset” the quality of service on streetcar routes:

  • During the recession, service was cut across the board, and this led to a reduction in the size of fleet required to serve the network.
  • In anticipation of the 510 Spadina line opening, the TTC had rebuilt a group of PCC streetcars, but these were not actually needed for the 509/510 Harbourfront/Spadina services by the time Spadina opened. “Surplus” cars thanks to the recession-era service cuts were available to operate the new routes.
  • Since 1996, any service changes have been  made within the available fleet, a situation compounded by declining reliability of the old cars and the anticipation of a new fleet “soon”.
  • By 2016, the fleet was not large enough to serve all routes, and bus substitutions became common.

Some of the decline in demand on streetcar routes came from changing demographics and shifting job locations. Old industrial areas transformed into residential clusters, and the traffic formerly attracted to them by jobs disappeared. Meanwhile, the city’s population density fell in areas where gentrification brought smaller families to the houses.

The city’s population is now growing again, although the rate is not equal for all areas. Liberty Village and the St. Lawrence neighbourhood are well known, visible growth areas, but growth is now spreading out from both the King Street corridor and moving further away from the subway lines. This creates pressure on the surface routes in what the City’s Planners call the “shoulders” of downtown.

As the population and transit demand have rebounded, the TTC has not kept pace.

The changes in service levels are summarized in the following spreadsheet:

Streetcar_Services_1980_To_2016 [pdf]

510 Bathurst: In 1980, this route had 24 cars/hour during the AM peak period, but by 2006 this had dropped by 50% to 12. In November 2016, with buses on the route, there were 20 vehicles per hour, and with the recent reintroduction of streetcars, the peak service was 10.6 ALRVs/hour, equivalent to about 16 CLRVs. Current service is about 1/3 less than it was in 1980.

506 Carlton: In 1980, this route  had 20 streetcars/hour at peak, but by 2016 this was down to 13.8.

505 Dundas: In 1980, service on this route had two branches, one of which terminated at Church after City Hall Loop was replaced by the Eaton Centre. On the western portion of the route, there were 27 cars per hour, while to the east there were 15 (services on the two branches were not at the same level). By 2016, this was down to 10.3. [Corrected]

504 King: This route, thanks to the developments along its length, has managed to retain its service over the years at the expense of other routes. In 1980, there were 25.2 cars per hour over the full route between Broadview and Dundas West Stations with a few trippers that came east only to Church Street. Despite budget cuts in 1996 that reduced service to 16.4 cars/hour at peak, the route came back to 30 cars/hour by 2006. Service is now provided by a mixture of King cars on the full route (15/hour), 514 Cherry cars between Sumach and Dufferin (7.5/hour), and some trippers between Roncesvalles and Broadview. Some 504 King runs operate with ALRVs and most 514 Cherry cars are Flexitys.

501 Queen/507 Long Branch: In 1980, the Queen and Long Branch services operated separately with 24.5 cars/hour on Queen and 8.9 cars/hour on Long Branch at peak. By 1990, the Queen service had been converted to operate with ALRVs and a peak service of 16.1 cars/hour, roughly an equivalent scheduled capacity to the CLRV service in 1980. By 1996, Queen service was down to 12 ALRVs/hour of which 6/hour ran through to Long Branch. Headways have stayed roughly at that level ever since. The Long Branch route was split off from Queen to save on ALRVs, and as of November 2016 6.3 CLRVs/hour ran on this part of the route. Bus replacement services are operating in 2017 due to many construction projects conflicting with streetcar operation.

502 Downtowner/503 Kingston Road Tripper: In 1980, these routes provided 15.6 cars/hour, but by 2016 this had declined to 10/hour.

512 St. Clair: In 1980, the St. Clair car operated with a scheduled short turn at Earlscourt Loop. East of Lansdowne, there were 33.3 cars/hour on St. Clair. By 1996 this was down to 20.6 cars/hour. The next decade saw an extended period of reconstruction for the streetcar right-of-way, and service during this period was irregular, to be generous. By 2016, the service has improved to 21.2 cars/hour, but this is still well below the level of 1980.

What is quite clear here is that the budget and service cuts of the early 1990s substantially reduced the level of service on streetcar routes, and even as the city recovered, the TTC was slow to restore service, if at all. The unknown question with current service levels is the degree to which demand was lost to demographic changes and to what extent the poor service fundamentally weakened the attractiveness of transit on these routes. The TTC has stated that some routes today are operating over capacity, but even those numbers are limited by the difference between crowding standards (which dictate design capacity) and the actual number of riders who can fit on the available service. It is much harder to count those who never board.

In a fiscal environment where any service improvement is viewed negatively because it will increase operating costs, the challenge is to turn around Council’s attitude to transit service. This is an issue across the city and many suburban bus routes suffer from capacity challenge and vehicle shortages just like the streetcar routes downtown.

The bus fleet remains constrained by actions of Mayor Ford in delaying construction of the McNicoll Garage with the result that that the TTC has no place to store and maintain a larger fleet even if they were given the money to buy and operate it. Years of making do with what we have and concentrating expansion funding on a few rapid transit projects has boxed in the TTC throughout its network.

Transit will not be “the better way” again until there are substantial investments in surface fleets and much-improved service.

514 Cherry: Update on Noise & Vibration at King & Sumach Streets

Since late 2016, the TTC has suspended streetcar service on Sumach and Cherry Streets south to Distillery Loop during late evenings and early mornings. The reason for this was that some residents near the junction at King & Sumach complained about noise and vibration from turning streetcars. In a related change, the TTC also imposed a 10km/h speed restriction on the intersection.

During the periods when the 514 Cherry cars divert east to Broadview, a Wheel Trans shuttle bus operates over this route segment on a somewhat unpredictable schedule, and many would-be riders simply walk rather than wait for it.

At the community meeting of November 16, 2016, the TTC advised that additional noise and vibration readings would be taken after the 514 Cherry route was converted to operation with Flexity cars which are quieter than the CLRVs, a change that has now more or less completed. (The occasional CLRV can be found on the route, but officially it is all Flexity.)

On Tuesday, June 27, 2017, there will be a public meeting to provide an update on the situation.

Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Location: Toronto Cooper Koo Family Cherry Street YMCA Centre – 2nd floor, 461 Cherry Street, Toronto

I will update this post following the meeting.

A related issue is the service reliability to Distillery Loop which can be very spotty at times. This will be the subject of a separate article coming soon.