504 King vs 501 Queen Speed Comparisons (Part II)

This article continues the analysis of transit vehicle speeds on King and Queen Streets downtown over the past two years. The first installment of the article compared travel times between the vehicles on each street at specific times of the day and periods over the course of two years. Here, the same data are arranged to show the evolution of travel times on each street over time both before and after the implementation of the King Street Pilot.

King Street

Westbound

Here is a sample chart showing King Street westbound in the hour from 8 to 9 am.

Three periods in 2017 (January, September and early November) are plotted in “warm” colours (pink, red, orange), while periods in 2018 with the pilot in operation (January, July and October) are plotted in “cool” colours (green, blue and purple). This makes it easy to distinguish the groups of data that belong to the “before” and “after” periods.

As this is westbound data, the chart is read from left to right. A common pattern that shows up here is the different location of low speeds corresponding to stops once the pilot is active with “before” data dipping ahead of the intersection, and “after” data dipping following. The degree to which “after” data also includes a nearside dip indicates how traffic signals can compound the stop service time with farside stops. Note especially the green line which shows data from before the re-activation of Transit Signal Priority (TSP). At Jarvis, for example, there is a decided reduction in nearside delay comparing the blue (July 2018) and purple (October) lines with the green (January) one. There is also an improvement at York Street and at University Avenue.

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504 King vs 501 Queen Speed Comparisons (Updated)

Updated December 2, 2018 at 8:00 am: A sixth set of charts has been added covering the last two full weeks of September 2017. The intent is to show fall conditions before the pilot, but also before construction on King (at least some of which was to set up the pilot itself) slowed King cars in the early November 2017 data already published here.

With a year’s worth of the King Street Pilot now behind us, attention turns to two basic questions: should King Street remain as it is with a degree of priority for transit, cyclists and pedestrians; and should this scheme be extended to other major streets, notably Queen Street.

In previous articles I have reviewed the behaviour of the King and Queen routes:

This article provides a detailed look at average weekday speeds along the streets during six separate periods, and with hourly breakdowns from 6 am to 1 am.

  • January 16-27, 2017: Winter operations downtown deal with less traffic, especially on Queen Street. This is a “before” snapshot of the two streets.
  • September 18-29, 2017: Fall conditions after TIFF and before the beginning of construction at Queen & McCaul.
  • November 1-10, 2017: Just before the implementation of the pilot.
  • January 15-26, 2018: Winter operations with the pilot in place.
  • July 16-27, 2018: Summer conditions for the pilot. (2017 was a construction year on Queen and a direct comparison to 2018 is not available.)
  • October 15-26, 2018: Current fall conditions.

This gives a view of “normal” conditions, but does not capture all of the seasonal and special event variations, many of which are evident in the data in previous articles. The periods have been chosen to avoid skewing the numbers with special events such as TIFF, vacation periods and construction.

A Caveat About “Average Speed”

The values show in these charts are derived from TTC vehicle tracking data. This originates in GPS format, and after cleaning up the “rogue” points that are off route due to GPS errors, what is left is mapped onto a version of the route broken into 10m segments. The speed of a vehicle at each segment is determined by the “before” and “after” locations of adjacent GPS observations and the time difference (usually 20 seconds) between them.

These values give the average speed within each segment of all vehicles whose GPS data placed them there. This is not the same as the average speed over the entire pilot area on any given trip. What the numbers show is the locations where vehicles tend to be making good time between stops, the places where they are bogged down, and the places where they stop. Even at stops, the average is never zero because it includes observations where vehicles are just stopping or just starting up within a segment, not to mention variations in stopping location and cases where vehicles do not stop at all.

The Effect on Riders

Vehicle speeds on Queen are often comparable to those on King, but Queen is notorious for less frequent, unreliable and crowded service. Riders are very sensitive to waiting times at stops, and this is compounded if they cannot board the first vehicle to appear, let alone if they walk some distance without a streetcar ever passing them.

With the King Street Pilot there has been a reduction in the variability in travel times which has led to less irregular service. Scheduled service comes more often and the line’s capacity has been improved with new streetcars. Speed alone is not the only measure of a service improvement.

It is vital that debates about the effectiveness of changes to King are debated not just on speed but also on reliability and capacity for demand. The early focus on speed changes which were, in some cases, unimpressive, opened the field to critics who argued that there was a great upheaval for little benefit. It is the combination of more reliable travel time, increased speed, reliability and capacity that has affected the riding experience and drawn more people to use this route. Any move to expand either the scope on King or to another street must take all of these factors into account.

Reading the Charts

Each chart contains data for one hour’s operation in one direction. Here is a sample from the PM peak westbound in October 2018:

The blue line shows data for King while the green line shows Queen data. Trend lines are interpolated through the data for King (red) and Queen (yellow).

The limits of the chart are east to Parliament and west to Shaw, both beyond the Jarvis-Bathurst pilot, for a few reasons:

  • The wider scope shows conditions on the approaches to the pilot area.
  • The nature of the trend line calculation in Excel can cause misleading behaviour in the lines as Excel tries to project beyond the charts using values near the edges. Having a “buffer” area on either side of the pilot ensures that the trend lines do not include this problem through the Jarvis-Bathurst section.

Queen and King run parallel to each other with most north-south streets at the same location on both. This allows data from the two routes to be lined up on a single chart. A few notes about special cases:

  • Sherbourne Street is used as the reference point for aligning the data. The distance from Sherbourne to Bathurst is the same on each street.
    • Ontario Street is slightly offset on Queen relative to King.
    • Parliament Street is slightly further east of Sherbourne on King (measured as travel distance) than on Queen due to the shift in King’s direction just west of Parliament at Berkeley.
  • Victoria Street has a small jog at Adelaide. The line on the charts reflects its location on Queen which has a transit stop and traffic signal.
  • The stop and traffic signal at Queen and Augusta have no equivalent on King.
  • Niagara Street curves eastward between Queen and King, and so the crossing points are different on the two streets.

Westbound charts as above are read from left to right. Eastbound charts are in the same format and should be read from right to left.

Comments on the details of these charts are included later in the article.

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501 Queen and the Effect of the King Street Pilot (Updated)

Updated November 27, 2018: A major section has been added comparing travel times between Jarvis and Bathurst on Queen and King Streets.

With the King Street Pilot a year old, one area that also deserves a review is the effect it has had on transit service on Queen Street. The short answer is “very little” with the usual caveats about seasonal variations and unusual events that complicate direct before and after comparisons.

The charts presented here cover the period from March 2016 to October 2018, the same period as King Street charts in recent articles. Selected images are included in the post, and more extensive sets are linked in PDFs.

(Note that the level of detail in the three-year charts is such that they suffer when reduced in size to the scale of a blog post. Click on any of them to open a full size version in a new browser tab.)

Major Events on Queen Street

More so that on King Street, Queen has been affected by many construction activities over the three years, and of course it also has more special events disrupting service in the area parallel to the pilot on King. The major events affecting travel times between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets are highlighted in these charts.

  • April 2016: Reconstruction of King and Charlotte diverted service onto Queen adding to streetcar running times there primarily through delays where King cars turned off of Queen without assistance from traffic signals.
  • May to December 2016: Water main reconstruction on Queen west of Spadina triggered a long-running diversion of service via Spadina to King. The times shown are measured between King and Bathurst and Queen and Jarvis for this period where vehicles were diverted.
  • September 2016: Although TIFF closed part of King Street, the service was split rather than diverted. There is no effect on Queen running times beyond that already seen for the diversion of the 501 route.
  • May to August 2017: Construction continued for another summer on Queen including completion of work started in 2016 and replacement of the pedestrian bridge at Queen and Yonge. Buses operated on 501 Queen.
  • September 2017: Streetcars returned to Queen. Reconstruction of Dundas from Church to Yonge caused some traffic to shift south to Queen. King services diverted onto Queen during the opening weekend of TIFF.
  • October 2017: Reconstruction of Queen & McCaul caused Queen service to divert via King between Church and Spadina.
  • November 2017: King Street Pilot begins.
  • June 2018: Construction delays.
  • September 2018: TIFF diversions delay Queen service.

Chart Format

As with the King Street analysis, the charts here show the 85th percentile values for travel times in orange. This includes most trips across the area parallel to the pilot on King. The median value (50th percentile) is shown in blue. Half of the trips took longer and half shorter than this value. When these values track close together, most trips will lie in a fairly narrow band of values (see details for October 2018 later in this article). Where the lines pull apart, travel times seen by riders will have more variation in length.

Where the route was on diversion in 2016, the time shown is measured between Bathurst & King to Jarvis & Queen via Spadina.

For the diversion in 2017, the time is measured between Bathurst and Jarvis on Queen, but includes the diversion both ways via Spadina, King and Church.

Where a value drops to zero, this indicates that no car was observed between the two points usually due to a short-term diversion around a major blockage.

AM Peak 8 to 9 am

Westbound

The beginning of the pilot in November 2017 had no effect on AM peak travel times. The spike in late June 2018 was caused by construction delays according to TTC eAlerts.

Eastbound

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King Street Update: August 2018

This article continues the series reviewing the operation of transit service on the King Street transit priority pilot. August brings two major events that affect service on King Street, although the traffic problems are concentrated at the western part of the line: the Caribbean Carnival and parade on Saturday, August 4th, and the CNE from mid-August onward, especially with the air show in the final days of the month. Both of these bring congestion through Parkdale notably at the approaches to The Queensway and to Jameson Avenue westbound.

Peak Travel Times

As usual, we begin with the PM peak travel time chart westbound from Jarvis to Bathurst. The 85th percentile line has higher spikes in August, and the three largest relate to specific events:

  • Wednesday, August 8: A delay near Church Street held a few cars causing a jump in the 85th percentile value although the change to the 50th (median) percentile was much lower. The cause of the delay is unknown because the TTC did not issue a service alert.
  • Tuesday, August 21: Severe congestion westbound to Spadina from about 5:40 pm onward drove up both the 85th and 50th percentile values. Again, there was no TTC alert indicating a problem.
  • Friday, August 31: “Police activity”, as the alert put it, required diversion of streetcars in both directions due to an incident west of Yonge Street. The spike in the 85th percentile was caused by one car that crossed Jarvis at about 5:30 pm but was not diverted. As a result its trip, including the delay, was included in the 5-6pm data for the pilot district. As with the August 8 data, note that the change in the 50th percentile is small and on a par with typical day-to-day variations.

For comparison, here is the eastbound chart.

Here are the full sets of charts:

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The Decline of Service Capacity on 501 Queen (Updated)

Updated September 5, 2018: A history of service levels on Queen Street back to 1954 has been added at the end of this article.

While Toronto celebrates the success of the King Street Pilot, only a few blocks away on Queen Street transit service is not quite so rosy. Like much of the transit system, service on 501 Queen has not changed substantially over the years, and this has been compounded by various construction projects that disrupted service and fragmented the route.

One long-standing issue on Queen has been the type of vehicle assigned to service. Until February 2018, the service design assumed that the two section Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) would operate. However, it had been common for years to see the smaller CLRVs mixed in to the service despite their lower capacity. This was a direct result both of declining ALRV reliability and the concurrent use of these vehicles on other routes, King and Bathurst.

The February 18, 2018 schedules specify a mix of CLRVs and ALRVs on 501 Queen, and provide shorter headways (the time between vehicles) to compensate for the lower vehicle capacity. However, even this change did not completely fix the problems.

Although the ratio of service design capacities is about 3:2 for the two vehicles (108 vs 74 during the peak, 61 vs 42 off-peak), and 10 of the 35 cars on 501 Queen were scheduled to be ALRVs, the change in headways did not compensate for the lower average capacity. In the table below, the “after” vehicle capacities are a weighted average of ALRV and CLRV standards based on the proportion of vehicles scheduled. In practice, the TTC rarely achieved this ratio, and the capacity actually operated was lower. (Note that “capacity” here is the service design load, not the crush vehicle capacity.)

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
Before
Headway 5’00” 5’20” 5’10”
Cars/Hour 12.0 11.3 11.6
Vehicle Capacity 108 62 108
Route Capacity/Hr 1,296 701 1,253
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 83.7 47.4 83.7
Route Capacity/Hr 1,180 597 1,038

When streetcar service returned west of Humber Loop, the scheduled service on the Neville-Humber portion was not changed. On the Long Branch portion, the service design calls for 7 CLRVs weekday daytimes supplemented by 5 AM Peak CLRV trippers that operate through to downtown. (These will be discontinued in September due to the shortage of cars.) In practice, at least one of the cars operating west of Humber is typically an ALRV, sometimes more, even though these vehicles should be on the Humber-Neville service.

With the declining availability of ALRVs, if the present schedules are operated with 35 CLRVs rather than the 25+10 CLRV+ALRV mix now planned, the scheduled capacity is further decreased.

AM Peak Midday PM Peak
After
Headway 4’15” 4’45” 4’50”
Cars/Hour 14.1 12.6 12.4
Vehicle Capacity 74 42 74
Route Capacity/Hr 1,043 529 918

During July 2018, there were only 12 ALRVs operated in service at various times, and some of these disappeared as the month wore on. Some of these cars, notably 4207, were assigned to the AM peak trippers to conserve their limited availability.

By month-end, only 7 ALRVs were showing up on Queen, and the number has been declining through August. As I write this on August 31 at 9:30 am, only ALRVs 4221, 4226, 4240 and 4249 are on the route.

I wrote to the TTC’s Brad Ross to inquire about plans for service and capacity on Queen Street. Here is his reply:

1) The reduced availability of ALRVs in recent weeks is due to a deep inspection of the entire fleet to assess their condition, which is not good.

Service Planning is working at making further changes to the Queen route in the new year that assumes no ALRV availability to ensure that we are operating adequate capacity. If ALRVs are available, they would operate either as trippers or replace a CLRV as “bonus” capacity. All of our advance planning for construction service on Queen in 2019 assumed CLRV-only operation and was budgeted accordingly.

2) 501 QUEEN will be the next route to receive the new streetcars after the deployment on 504 KING is complete at the end of 2018. They will be deployed 1-for-1 to CLRVs and the proportion of service operated by low-floors will vary throughout the year as construction at King-Queen-Roncesvalles progresses and the streetcar portion of the route is adjusted.

The detailed plans for staging the trackwork at Roncesvalles as well as the reconstruction of The Queensway with reserved streetcar lanes west to Parkside Drive (the eastern limit of the existing right-of-way) have not yet been released. Riders can expect various replacement bus services, again, from late winter through (at least) early summer.

One unhappy consequence of declining capacity is that vehicles are more crowded, take longer to load, and discourage more riders from even trying to use the TTC. Lost riders are hard to recover, and incentives such as cheaper fares cannot compensate for inconvenience and the discomfort of packed cars.

The following section updates charts presented in an April 2018 article Service Capacity on 501 Queen with data to the end of July.

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Those Vanishing Streetcar Stops

Readers who follow me on Twitter will know that the question of which streetcar stops are being removed has been a simmering issue for some time. The question has become less “what is the list” than “why is it impossible to get the list”.

A related matter is the degree of consultation, or not, that preceded implementation of the changes.

Several changes for The Beach (Queen Street East and Kingston Road) were announced in an email newsletter from Councillor McMahon, and the format of the list, complete with stop numbers, made it clear that this was a TTC document.

TTC will proceed with the following streetcar stop relocations on May 13 to support the deployment of new streetcars:

On Kingston Road:

  • Move the westbound stops #2786 (Malvern Avenue) and #2799 (Walter Street) to a new stop at the midblock pedestrian signal at Glen Manor Dr
  • Remove the farside westbound stop #2801 at Woodbine Avenue to a new stop nearside of the same intersection

On Queen Street:

  • Move the stops at Kent Road, and Woodward Avenue, to new stops at the pedestrian crossover at Woodfield Road
  • Move the eastbound stop #3055 at Laing Street to a nearside location at Alton Avenue
  • Move the eastbound stop #6807 at Kippendavie Avenue east to the signalized intersection at Elmer Avenue
  • Move the eastbound stop #6815 at Scarboro Beach Boulevard and the eastbound stop #6812 to the signalized intersection at Glen Manor Drive
  • Move the stops at the unsignalized intersections of Lee Avenue and Waverley Road to the signalized intersection at Bellefair Avenue
  • Move the westbound stop #6818 at Sprucehill Road closer to the pedestrian crossover at Beech Avenue

Courtesy of the fact that the TTC’s own website contains out of date information about stop locations while the list in NextBus is current, it did not take long to track down the remaining changes, but the bizarre part of this is that repeated attempts to simply get a list from the TTC ran aground.

Today, I took an inspection tour of the affected locations to verify what has happened, and here is my list:

On King Street:

  • Stops both ways at Trinity Street removed
  • Eastbound stop at Fraser replaced by a new stop at the signal at Joe Shuster Way where there is already a westbound stop.

On Queen Street (in addition to the above):

  • Stops both ways at Connaught removed. (How will operators ever change cars without a transit stop?)
  • Westbound stop at Simcoe replaced by a new stop at the signal at St. Patrick. Now if only the TTC would put an eastbound stop there to replace the one they dropped in the last round at McCaul, and thereby break up the long gap from John to University.
  • Eastbound stop at Gladstone farside replaced by nearside stop. [Thanks to a reader for spotting this.]
  • Westbound stop at Beaconsfield shifted east a short distance to align with the new traffic signal at Abell St.
  • Eastbound stop at Wilson Park shifted west one block to Triller where there is a crosswalk and an existing westbound stop.

On The Queensway:

  • As a result of the restoration of streetcar service to Humber Loop, the stop at Parkside is back in service. This is reflected on NextBus but not on the TTC’s own site.

On Dundas Street:

  • Westbound stop at Crawford shifted one block to Shaw Street where there is a traffic signal and an existing eastbound stop.

On College Street:

  • Stops both ways at Clinton removed. (Thanks to readers who pointed this out in the comments.) [Updated May 18, 2018]

Now that wasn’t hard at all, was it?

(There may be more that I have missed, and if anybody spots one, leave a comment and I will update the article.)

What is not clear is the degree to which local councillors or residents were consulted about this change. This gets us into a rather murky bit of TTC management bafflegab. When the original proposal was before the TTC board in May 2014, there were motions amending the staff recommendation including:

Chair Augimeri moved that the Board:

1. authorize staff to proceed with the recommended changes to the stops in the staff report where consensus has been reached; and

2. refer the remaining stops identified in the staff report back to staff for further consultation with local Councillors and for report back to the next meeting.

The motion by Chair Augimeri carried. [Minutes of May 28, 2014 Board Meeting, Item 14]

It is quite clear that the Board intended that the proposals in the report had to be accepted by those affected. (For the record, there never was a follow up report provided by staff.)

The current round of changes includes several stops that were not part of the original list. When I pressed TTC management on what appeared to be a lack of notice of the change, not even bringing the scheme to the Board for approval, I was told that the 2014 motion was by an old Board and the staff were no longer bound by it.

Say what? Management can simply make up whatever policy they want when the Board is replaced in a new term of Council?

This is not a question of a nerdish railfan wanting to track the locations of stops, but of a much larger issue that will affect many parts of the City when the TTC turns it attention to bus routes. Some of the stop spacings on bus routes are embarrassingly short, and if the same principles are followed as for streetcars, a lot of buses won’t stop as often, or as conveniently as they do today.

Many of the changes are quite reasonable and take into account the fact that there are now both crosswalks and traffic signals at locations where they did not exist when the transit stops were first installed. This type of change has less to do with new streetcars than simply reflecting the updated street design.

Another justification for elimination of stops in the 2014 round was that this would speed service. In fact, the effects were minimal because many stops that were dropped were not at traffic signals, and they did not represent much delay to streetcar service. This time around, most changes are relocations.

Memo to Councillors with bus routes: Pay attention to what the TTC is up to in your ward.

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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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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