511 Bathurst Switches to Bus Operation

Three major construction projects will affect the 511 Bathurst route through 2020:

  • Reconstruction of the bridge over the rail corridor south of Front Street.
  • Track replacement on Bathurst from south of Dundas Street to north of Wolseley Loop.
  • Track replacement at Bathurst Station Loop.

Beginning April 20, buses will replace streetcars on Bathurst for the remainder of the year. At the south end of the route, because of the configuration of the intersection at Lake Shore/Fleet and Bathurst, the buses will divert via Fort York Boulevard as shown in the TTC notice below.

For the track replacement between Dundas and Wolseley Loop, welding of rail into strings was supposed to begin soon, but this has been postponed (as has similar work on Howard Park east of High Park Loop). The construction periods for these projects have not yet been announced.

At Bathurst Station, track replacement on Bathurst Street and inside the station itself is planned to occur between June 21 and September 5. During this work, routes 511 Bathurst and 7 Bathurst Bus will divert to Spadina Station. Arrangements for the 307 Bathurst Night Bus have not been announced.

King Street Update: March 2020 Part I

This is the first of three articles updating information in my series of posts last fall [Part I, Part II, and Part III] with data to March 31, 2020.

In the first part of this series, I will review service reliability from the point of view of travel times across the “pilot” area between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets. In the second part, I will turn to reliability from the point of view of headways consistency and service gapping. Finally, I will turn to service capacity.

As I have worked through the data, I cannot help having the sense of looking back at a very different city, one that had busy streets full of transit riders. This will return, eventually, but it will be a long climb that has much more to do with scientific advances in disease control than transportation planning.

The effect of the city’s shutdown is evident in data for March 2020 as traffic and riding disappeared, and so, to some extent, did service.

Service changes during this period affecting the King Street corridor included:

  • November 25, 2019:
    • The 14x Express routes were shifted to King Street from Richmond and Adelaide Streets to use a less-congested path through the core area.
    • Two Christmas extras were added on 504 King between Charlotte Loop (Spadina) and the Distillery.
    • Service on 503 Kingston Road was improved by the consolidation of 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road as one route.
  • January 2020:
    • 508 Lake Shore operated, for a time, with buses in place of streetcars due to a shortage of vehicles.
  • Mid-March 2020 (reduced riding and staff availability):
    • 504 King service declined.
    • 503 Kingston Road service was cut back to a shuttle between Bingham Loop (Victoria Park) and Woodbine Loop (at Queen).
    • 508 Lake Shore and 14x Express routes ceased operating because they are peak period trippers.

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Analysis of Route 505 Dundas Bus Operations

Route 505 Dundas has operated with buses since February 2018 thanks to various construction projects and the shortage of streetcars. March 29, 2020 will see Flexity streetcars on Dundas.

The past two years have not been kind to riders on this route. Flocks of buses travel back and forth, often in packs, and large gaps in service have been common. An easy answer to any complaints is that congestion induced by construction prevents the TTC from providing reliable service.

Actually tracking the route’s behaviour has been difficult because most of the vehicles on Dundas were using the new Vision tracking system, and the data extracts from Vision were, until recently, at a much simpler and less illuminating level than the data from the old CIS system that Vision replaced. This changed in October 2019 when detailed tracking data for Vision vehicles became available, and I have been collecting this for the past five months.

The High Points

This is a long read, and many will not do go through the whole presentation. The following points are of special interest:

  • Over the period of bus operation, schedules were changed a few times in response to conditions on the route, or at least that was the idea.
  • Some of these schedules had inadequate running time, but TTC management did not react, in general, with short turns which are a very bad thing from a point of view of reporting on service quality to the TTC Board.
  • Instead, they adopted the tactic of either running buses express across a parallel route (Dundas is “U” shaped) to make up time, or having buses lay over at terminals to get back on time for their next trip. This reduced the actual bus/hour count along the route below the scheduled level causing crowding and increased dwell time.
  • The schedules that added travel time back onto the route in mid-February had the unexpected effect of lowering travel times during some periods, and of improving line capacity because very few buses now run express to get back on time.
  • A problem with irregularly spaced service and gaps remains even with the new schedule, but the situation has improved considerably.

These observations should not be taken as a blanket endorsement of longer scheduled travel times. There will always be a trade-off between having enough scheduled time so that almost no service short-turns and having so much padding in schedules that buses and streetcars congregate in packs at terminals. Conditions vary from day-to-day and no schedule can be “perfect” for all situations.

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TTC Streetcar Network Changes in 2020 (Updated)

Construction projects and the ongoing shuffling of streetcars and buses between the 500-series routes will bring some changes over coming months.

Updated March 30, 2020

The planned switch to streetcars on 505 Dundas has been deferred to late April, and buses will continue to operate on this route.

In turn, streetcars will remain on Bathurst until Dundas switches to streetcars.

New overhead poles have begun to appear on Broadview at locations where the curves must be rebuilt for pantograph operation.

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TTC Service Changes: Sunday, March 29, 2020 (Corrected)

The TTC has several changes planned for the schedules going into effect on March 29.

Updated March 5, 2020 at 10:20 pm: Incorrect information was in the original description of the 163 Oakwood route. It will operate from Ossington Station to Lawrence West Station, not from St. Clair as the southern terminus as I had originally described it. Thanks to reader Joseph (who got there first) and others for spotting this. I am not quite sure where that idea came from, but both the article and the detailed list of changes below have been updated.

Updated March 6, 2020 at 10:55 pm: Incorrect naming of the 109 Ranee branches corrected. Thanks to reader Steven for spotting that.

2020.03.29_Service_Changes_V3

Streetcar/Bus Mode Changes

The most significant change is the restoration of streetcar service on 505 Dundas after a long absence due to watermain construction and the shortage of streetcars. The new service plan represents an increase in capacity primarily in the off peak periods. The change in headways will be most noticed during the peak periods where there will be 6.9 new streetcars/hour in the AM, and 7.7 cars/hour in the PM as compared to 16 buses/hour AM and 15 in the PM. Of course the buses tend to travel in packs of two or three, and so the waits for service could be more comparable than the raw schedules suggest especially if the TTC manages to maintain proper vehicle spacing on these much wider headways.

Changes during off-peak periods are not as substantial, and the net effect will be an increase in capacity on this route

A related problem is that the TTC has extended the travel times for streetcars substantially over the bus times in some cases (and the bus schedules were themselves adjusted in Mid-February 2020). This could leave many streetcars with a lot of excess time at terminals where it is now common to see several buses laying over because they are early. I will publish an analysis of actual travel times for both bus and streetcar operations as data become available.

Service on Dundas will be supplemented by four bus trippers in each direction during the period from 8 to 8:30 am.

With 505 Dundas switching back to streetcars, the 511 Bathurst route changes to bus operation for various construction projects including work on the bridge over the rail corridor at Front, utility and track work from Front northward, and track work from Dundas to just north of Wolseley Loop (north of Queen). According to the TTC service change memo this will persist through all of 2020 implying that the streetcar service to the CNE will be provided only on the Harbourfront line this year. I have asked the TTC for service details, but they have not responded.

Keele Station Construction

The bus loop roadway at Keele Station will be under construction until mid-October 2020. During this period all services that normally terminate here will be redirected.

  • The 41 and 941 Keele services will be extended south to Howard Park looping via Bloor, Parkside, Howard Park, Roncesvalles and Bloor back to Keele.
  • The 89 and 989 Weston services will be extended west to High Park Station Loop.
  • The 30 High Park and 80 Queensway services will be interlined.

Eglinton West Station Construction

The bus loop at Eglinton West Station (to be renamed “Cedarvale”) will close for work on the Crosstown project. This will trigger several changes:

  • The 32D Eglinton West to Emmett service will be extended east to Eglinton Station.
  • The 63 Ossington and 109 Ranee routes will be reorganized into three segments.
    • 63B Ossington buses will run between Liberty Village and St. Clair (Oakwood Loop).
    • 163 Oakwood buses will run between Ossington Station and Lawrence West Station.
    • 109 Ranee buses will run between Lawrence West Station and Neptune (the street, not the planet).
  • The 51 Leslie and 56 Leaside buses at Eglinton Station will be shifted south to make room for a bay for the 32D service.

Passengers on the 32 Eglinton West bus will make connections to and from the subway from on street stops in what is already an area poorly set up for pedestrians. How this will operate with all of the additional foot traffic after March 29 remains to be seen.

Reliability Improvements

The TTC continues to “improve” routes by adding to running time and widening headways. Their claim is that they are just matching actual conditions, but what happens is that they aim for almost worst case situations (95th percentile) causing most vehicles to run early and bunch at terminals. From a rider’s point of view, service is less frequent most of the time.

Changes planned for March 29th affect:

  • 23 Dawes: Buses will run less frequently in all weekday periods except the AM peak. Off peak service is not affected.
  • 37 Islington and 937 Islington Express: Buses will run less frequently during the peak periods and midday weekdays. Evening service is not affected.
  • 111 East Mall: Buses will run less frequently during all weekday periods.
  • 161 Rogers Road: Buses will run less frequently during all weekday periods.

In one case, on 7 Bathurst, the TTC is clawing back excessive running time. During peak and weekday midday periods, there will be one bus less on the route, but scheduled headways stay the same. During the evening the number of buses and headways are unchanged, but some scheduled driving time is converted to make “recovery” time even longer than it is now.

Streetcar Carhouse Allocations

Due to trackwork at Roncesvalles Carhouse, there will be no access to the “North Gate” exit onto Roncesvalles for at least the remainder of 2020. Some services will be shifted among carhouse to allow for the reduced capacity at Roncesvalles.

  • All 501 Queen Humber-Neville service will operate from Russell Carhouse.
  • All 505 Dundas service will operate from Leslie Barns.
  • Some 506 Carlton service now operating from Leslie Barns will shift to Russell Carhouse.
  • Two of the five 508 Lake Shore trippers will operate from Russell Carhouse.

Crowding Standards

The TTC continues its practice of scheduling services at crowding levels above the board-approved standards. This occurs in some cases due to vehicle shortages, but more commonly because of budget pressures that do not allow provision of service at the level the standards would require.

New periods of scheduled crowding added on March 29 are:

  • 37 Islington weekday early evenings
  • 111 East Mall AM peak

TTC management are supposed to be reporting regularly to the Board on routes that exceed crowding standards, but this report has not yet appeared.

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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Analysis of Route 70 O’Connor for November 2019

A month ago, I looked at the O’Connor bus as a particularly bad example of TTC line management and the huge difference between service actually provided on the street, the scheduled operation, and the official claims of service quality. On December 20, I tracked the route’s operation during the PM peak period when it was short vehicles, and those actually in service provided erratic service with large gaps.

The November 2019 tracking data came in a while ago, but I have been distracted by other issues, notably the TTC budgets, and a lot of holiday cheer. Riders of the O’Connor bus need a lot of cheer to get through what passes for service on that route.

Scheduled Service

The schedule for 70 O’Connor has not changed from October.

The route originates at Coxwell Station, and it has two branches splitting off at O’Connor and St. Clair. One heads east to Warden Station, and the other goes north to Eglinton. Scheduled service is the same on both branches at almost all periods of operation.

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An Example of Service on Route 70 O’Connor December 20, 2019

One month ago, I presented an analysis of 70 O’Connor in response to a tweet complaining about long waits. This tale began on a Saturday afternoon when all four of the buses on route 70 had congregated at Coxwell Station, then left in a pack, and all reappeared at the same time. This is the absolute nadir of line management.

The article and tweets touched a nerve with media coverage (finding disgruntled passengers at Coxwell Station was an easy task) and claims by the TTC that maybe I didn’t have all of the data. Although I have offered to incorporate any information they might have about using extras – Run as Directed “RAD”  or Construction Service buses (it really does not matter what they are called) – I am still waiting for any confirmation that my presentation was inaccurate. Complaints on Twitter continue to accumulate, and it is not hard to find a period when service on the route is badly bunched simply by looking at NextBus or a similar app.

This started off as a planned update with the November tracking data, but that will have to wait because what I watched unfold on NextBus was a perfect example of how things go wrong.

As I started to write this (just after four pm on December 20), there are five buses on the route all in spitting distance of O’Connor & St. Clair, two westbound and three eastbound. There are supposed to be six buses on the route. During the period I was watching, the sixth appeared late in the peak period at Eglinton Garage, and as I publish this at 5:50 pm, it is about to enter service southbound from Eglinton & Pharmacy.

Here is the service at 4:05 pm. Two of the eastbound buses, oddly enough 8643 and 8644, headed east to Warden Station. At about 4:18, 8644 headed off south on Warden (!) in a clear attempt to make an express trip back to Coxwell Station and space out the service. This was a brave attempt, but as we will see it didn’t quite work out.

[Click on any map in this article to view a larger version.]

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501 Queen: Streetcars vs Buses November 25-29, 2019

During the last week of November, the first to see streetcars return to The Beach after almost three months’ absence for construction at Kingston Road, the line had a major disruption thanks to a broken rail near Roncesvalles. This rail damaged the track brakes on 22 Flexity cars, and while the TTC searched for the problem, the line was completely switched to bus operation.

Streetcars ran on Monday and Tuesday, November 25-26, and on Wednesday November 27 until midday. Buses ran from the afternoon of November 27 to the end of service on Friday,November 29 (actually Saturday morning).

There have been calls from certain quarters on City Council for a comparison of the operation of both modes. I published an analysis of route 505 Dundas in May 2018. Broadly speaking, it showed that buses outrun streetcars only when there is no traffic in the way and operators can drive as if they are on the suburban streets they are used to.

The substitution on 501 Queen gave an opportunity to compare the two modes over the entire route, not just over a segment running with buses due to construction. This article reviews the data from November 25-29 for 501 Queen.

Methodology

The TTC has two vehicle tracking system, CIS and VISION. The streetcar fleet (and a small number of buses that often run on streetcar lines) is tracked by CIS, while most of the bus fleet is tracked by VISION. The entire system will be on VISION probably in a few years, but for the moment there are two data sources.

Until quite recently, I was unable to obtain finely-grain information about vehicle locations from VISION, but this changed in October 2019. It is now possible to get comparable data tracking vehicles from both systems. This meant that comparable data were available for both the streetcar and bus operations on 501 Queen.

The process for converting data from snapshots with GPS co-ordinates to a format suitable for analysis is described at length in Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data.

In this case, we are interested in three aspects of streetcar and bus behaviour:

  • How long does each type of vehicle take to get from one point on the route to another?
  • What are the speed profiles for each vehicle type along the route?
  • What are the dwell times for each vehicle type along the route?

For the comparatively coarse measurement of travel times between points, the route is divided by screenlines. Tracking when each vehicle crosses a screenline gives both the headways at each line, and the travel times between them.

For fine measurement of vehicle speed, the tracking data are used to calculate each vehicle’s speed as it moved along a route. The route is subdivided into 10m segments, and the speeds of every vehicle passing through that segment in each hour are averaged. This reveals locations where vehicles spend a lot of time stopped or travelling slowly, and of course locations where they move much faster.

For dwell times, the points of interest are those where vehicles are stationary. The “tick” of the clock for tracking data is every 20 seconds, and so the length of a vehicle’s stay at a point can only be calculated to a multiple of that interval. This is a fairly coarse measurement relative to the length of time most vehicles take to serve stops, and the resulting data give only a broad outline of comparative dwell times. Note also that “dwell time” is not necessarily all “stop service time” because vehicles can be awaiting a green traffic signal, or be stuck in traffic at the stop.

The distance scale to which I convert GPS positions is measured in 10m increments. Given that vehicles will not necessarily stop at exactly the same place every time, the charts here give moving averages of dwell times over 30m.

All of the analyses presented here are subdivided into hourly intervals recognizing that a route’s behaviour at 6am is vary different from midday, the two peaks, and the evening. Far too much data presented by the TTC is summarized on an all-day basis, and even on an all-route basis. This masks variations in behaviour by location and time of day, and does not give a detailed picture of what is happening.

Summary

The data reveal various aspects of bus and streetcar operation on 501 Queen, and by extension, on other routes where a substitution might be contemplated. The results for 501 echo those seen in the 2018 article on the 505 Dundas route.

  • Across the entire route, buses travel faster than streetcars, but their performance varies from place to place, hour to hour.
  • On sections of the route where traffic is not free flowing, and where stops are busy, buses do no better than streetcars and during some periods they are worse.
  • Where traffic is free flowing, some of the advantage buses have arises from driving at above the speed limit which is 40 kph within the old City of Toronto, and 50 kph on the Lake Shore section west of the Humber River.
  • The effect of streetcar slow orders at numerous locations is clearly evident in the data.
  • Dwell time for buses appears to be slightly longer than for streetcars. This could be due to loading delays, but in turn that could be caused by the bus service being overwhelmed by streetcar-level demand. (There were complaints about the quality and capacity of the replacement service.) Also, buses lose time getting to and from curbside stops, but this is not necessarily reflected in “dwell times” because they are merely slow, not stopped during these moves.
  • I am unable to comment on service quality with buses because many vehicles were not logged on to VISION with the 501 route number. Therefore, their data do not appear in the extract I received. However, there were enough vehicles to get a sample of their behaviour and determine travel times.

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TTC Board Meeting: December 12, 2019

The TTC Board met on Thursday December 12, 2019 at 1 pm to discuss a variety of issues. Note that there is a special meeting on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 9:30 am to discuss the operating and capital budgets for 2020.

Items on the agenda include:

Also on the agenda was the 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook which I have addressed in separate articles:

There is an update on the discussion at the meeting regarding this plan at the end of this article.

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