Major construction at Toronto’s most complex streetcar junction will get underway on March 31, 2021. The City of Toronto issued a construction update notice on March 12 including the map below showing the configuration of traffic from March 31 to July 21.
During this phase of construction, there will be no through traffic on Queen Street west of Triller Avenue nor on Roncesvalles at Queen. The north gate of the carhouse will remain as a service access for streetcars and for a revised 504 King shuttle bus.
The King Shuttle will be broken into two segments:
504G Dundas West Station to Roncesvalles Carhouse
504Q Triller Avenue to Strachan Avenue
For service designs, please see my article on pending schedule changes effective March 28, 2021.
A single lane will be maintained in each direction for traffic between King Street and The Queensway. 501 Queen buses will divert via Dufferin and King Streets to use this link. Traffic on The Queensway will use the central lanes while construction in the curb lanes is underway
Westbound service on Queen from Dufferin to Triller will be provided by the 504Q shuttle looping via Dufferin, Queen, Triller and King. There will not be any eastbound service, and riders will have to go around the loop to travel eastward.
Pedestrian crossings will be shifted away from the intersection outside of the work zone, and there will be no crossing on the west side.
In the second phase of this project between July 22 and November 23, the connection to King Street will be closed off for construction and Queen/Queensway will reopen for through traffic. Details will follow in a later update.
March 28, 2021, will see revenue service begin from the TTC’s new McNicoll Garage. This will entail the reassignment of many routes between all garages as the TTC rebalances it fleet and service to relieve crowding and minimize dead-head times.
There are few service changes associated with this grand shuffle. The primary effect is that garage trips at the end of peak periods will change to reflect the shift of some routes to a new home in northern Scarborough.
For example, north-south routes that formerly had transitional peak-to-evening service southbound will go to evening service levels sooner because buses will dead head to McNicoll rather than making a southbound trip before running back to Eglinton or Birchmount Garage.
129 McCowan North
The short-turn point for 39 Finch East and 53 Steeles East off-peak garage trips will change so that buses do not double back on themselves. These trips will be shortened to end at Kennedy rather than at Markham Road. Trips on 39C to Victoria Park will end at McNicoll & Victoria Park rather than at 480 Gordon Baker Road.
The 45 Kipling and 945 Kipling Express move from Queensway to Arrow. Trips to the garage after the AM and PM peak will no longer make southbound trips. Trips at the beginning of the PM peak will no longer travel north from Queensway.
The old and new garage assignments are at the end of this article for those who are interested.
Fleet utilization continues to be well below system capacity. In January 2020, the total AM peak buses in service was 1,625. In March 2021, it will be 1,527. This does not include buses used in Run As Directed (RAD) service. Although the TTC now has an additional bus garage, its capacity is not included in the table below.
For comparison, here is the January 2020 (pre-pandemic) table.
The number of buses used on streetcar routes continues to be high. These vehicles are included in the counts above, and represent additional capacity available for bus routes when the construction projects now underway finish. 506 Carlton will return to all-streetcar operation in May, but other routes will be affected by construction for much of 2021 notably at KQQR and on Broadview north of Gerrard (starting in May).
Here is the streetcar peak service table. Note that there is an error in the afternoon peak “base going into Mar 2021” column where the streetcar total should read 127, not 142.
During the construction of McNicoll Garage, all trips on 42 Cummer were operated as 42A to Middlefield. This will continue, and the 42B and 42C services will remain suspended. An eight month long water main project on Cummer will require that westbound service divert via Leslie, Finch and Bayview. New farside stops will be added southbound on Leslie at Cummer, and westbound on Cummer at Bayview to serve the diversion.
At the King, Queen, Queensway, Roncesvalles intersection (KQQR) construction work will block transit service beginning on March 31. This will affect all services that pass through this busy location.
501 Queen buses (501L Long Branch and 501P Park Lawn) will operate via King and Dufferin Streets to route. The official east end of the route will remain at Jarvis Street. In current operations, many runs have been extended as far east as River because the schedule is very generous in anticipation of construction traffic delays that have not yet materialized. Buses are also taking extended layovers at Long Branch Loop because they arrive early.
The 504 King west end shuttle will be broken into two parts.
A 504G King shuttle will operate between Dundas West Station and Roncesvalles Carhouse (entering and leaving via the North Gate).
A 504Q King shuttle will operate between Triller and Strachan. The west end loop will be via Dufferin, Queen and Triller. The east end loop will be via Duoro and Strachan. This is a change from the current shuttle terminus at Shaw.
Operation of the 506 Carlton bus shuttle will be officially changed to use the loop that was informally implemented almost immediately after this service began in January. All buses will loop via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Parliament. Full streetcar service will resume on 506 Carlton with the May 9, 2021 schedules.
Miscellaneous Route Changes
Weekday scheduled round-trip travel time on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina will be shortened from 161 to 154 minutes in recognition of time savings with Automatic Train Control. This will address some of the train queuing problems at terminals. Headways will also be widened slightly to reflect lower demand.
43C Kennedy service to Village Green Square will be modified so that all trips begin and end there. Half hourly service will be provided northbound from Kennedy Station from 6:30 to 8:30 am, and from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. Southbound service will leave Village Green from 5:58 to 8:28 am, and from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.
The Amazon Fulfillment Centre at Morningside & Steeles will be served by two routes:
53B Steeles service to Markham Road will be extended via Passmore to the cul-de-sac at the site. This operation is already in place.
102 Markham Road service will be routed north on Markham Road, east on Select Avenue, south on Tapscott Road, east on Passmore Avenue to cul-de-sac, west on Passmore Avenue, north on Tapscott Road, west on Steeles Avenue, to south on Markham Road. This route will be changed when the the intersection of Steeles & Morningside fully opens later in 2021.
Trip times on 167 Pharmacy North will be standardized so that the weekday and Saturday schedules are the same. The first trips will run northbound from Don Mills Station and southbound from Pharmacy Loop at 5:30 am. Service at all times will be on the half-hour (:00 and :30).
Articulated and regular buses will shuffle between routes:
Three artics now used on 60 Steeles West will be changed to standard buses. The artics will return in late May.
Most runs on 89 Weston will switch from artics to standard buses. In late May, all 89 Weston local buses will be standard-sized, but the 989 Weston Express service will resume.
Six standard buses now used on 929 Dufferin Express will be changed to artics.
310 Spadina night service will be cut to half hourly. This route was missed in January when other night services reverted to a 30 minute service (previously every 15 or 20 minutes).
Updated January 7, 2021: Maps showing the revised operation of 501/301 Queen, 504/304 King and 506/306 Carlton have been added from the TTC’s Route Diversion pages.
Updated December 23, 2020: The operating schedules (in GTFS format used by various trip planning apps) for the January-February period have now been issued on the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal. These confirm two outstanding issues with the service as it was described in the change memo:
The 304C King West night shuttle will operate on a 20′ headway, while the main part of the 304 King streetcar route between Dufferin and Broadview Station will operate on a 30′ headway. This means that timed connections between the two services will not be reliably possible for each trip.
The 310 Spadina night service appears to have escaped the cutback from a 15′ to a 30′ headway. The January schedules show service every 15′.
The TTC memo detailing service changes for January is a long one, and in the interest of breaking this up into more digestible chunks, I will deal with the streetcar and bus networks separately.
The usual summary of schedule changes (for the streetcars only) is linked here:
Some routes will see major changes beginning in January and continuing, with modifications as the year goes on.
In addition to various construction projects, the TTC plans to accelerate the retrofit of its Flexity fleet with various fixes and the major repairs to the early cars with frame integrity problems. The intent is to substantially complete this work by September 2021 by which time ridership recovery in the territory served by streetcars will be recovering from the pandemic ‘s effects.
The total scheduled cars in peak periods will be 145 out of a total fleet of 204. As I reported in a recent article about the 2021 Service Plan, the TTC aims to field 168 cars in peak once they have the fleet back at a normal 20 per cent maintenance ratio.
Queen Street will take the brunt of construction work for the early part of 2021 with a shutdown of streetcar service west of McCaul Loop. This will allow conversion of the overhead system for pantograph operation and, when construction weather allows, the complete replacement of the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. See:
That project will also affect the King service west of Dufferin Street.
Streetcars will return to Bathurst and to part of the Carlton route.
Blue Night Service (Updated)
The overnight service on four routes (501 Queen, 504 King, 506 Carlton and 510 Spadina) was increased due to congestion at the carhouses when most of the fleet, including many still-active CLRVs, was “in for the night”. Service on all but Carlton operated every 15 minutes, while Carlton ran every 20, even when it was a bus operation.
The night service reverts to half-hourly headways in January, except for 310 Spadina which remains at quarter-hourly. Also, the 304C King bus between Dundas West and Shaw will operate every 20′ while the main 304 streetcar route will operate half-hourly.
The 501 Queen route will be split with streetcars running between Neville Loop and McCaul Loop, and buses between Long Branch Loop and Jarvis Street. The 301 Blue Night service will also be split, but the streetcar portion will loop via Church, Richmond and York to avoid causing noise from wheel squeal at McCaul Loop.
The western portion of the route will include a short turn with half of the buses terminating at Park Lawn during most periods of service. Buses will loop downtown via Jarvis, Richmond and Church Streets. The buses will be supplied by Mount Dennis and Birchmount garages.
Routings in the area of Humber Loop will vary depending on the branch:
Westbound 501L and 301L: From the Queensway, south on Windermere Avenue, west on Lake Shore Boulevard West to Long Branch Loop.
Eastbound 501L and 301L: East on Lake Shore Boulevard west, north on Windermere Avenue, east on the Queensway.
Westbound 501P: From the Queensway, south on Park Lawn Road, south on Marine Parade Drive to Park Lawn Loop.
Eastbound 501P: From Park Lawn Loop via north on Marine Parade Drive, north on Park Lawn Road, east on the Queensway.
501 Queen will operate from Russell Carhouse and will continue to use trolley poles as the east end of the route has not yet been converted for pantographs (that project is planned for fall 2021).
This route is still suspended and all streetcar service on Kingston Road is provided by route 503.
503 Kingston Road
The 503 Kingston Road streetcar will continue to operate to Charlotte Loop at Spadina. The City has just awarded the contract for reconstruction of Wellington and Church Streets from Yonge to King, and that will occur in the spring. This will complete the Wellington Street project which has been delayed by other utility projects in the same area.
503 Kingston Road will operate from Leslie Barns and, like 501 Queen, will continue to use trolley poles.
The 504 King route will be split with streetcars running east of Dufferin Street and a bus service operating from Shaw to Dundas West Station. Both the 504A Distillery and 504B Broadview Station services will terminate at Dufferin Loop.
To reduce congestion at Dufferin Loop, all service on 29/929 Dufferin will be extended to the Princes’ Gate Loop.
The 504A Distillery service will operate from Russell Carhouse, and the 504B Broadview Station service will operate from Leslie Barns. The route will continue to operate with trolley poles.
The west end bus service 504C and 304C Blue Night will loop via south and east on Douro Street, north on Shaw Street to King Street West. Buses will be provided by Mount Dennis Garage. Because service on the 304 streetcar and the 304C bus will operate at different headways, regular connections between them will not be possible.
The operator relief point for the 504B service will be shifted from Queen & Broadview to Broadview Station to avoid service delays on other routes caused by late arrivals of operators for shift changes.
The cutback of 505 Dundas service to Lansdowne has already ended (on Dec 9) and all cars now run through to Dundas West Station. This change becomes part of the scheduled service in January. Headways will be widened slightly during most periods to operate the same number of cars over a longer journey.
Operation of this route will be split between Leslie Barns and Roncesvalles Carhouse, and that will continue until spring 2022. Cars running to and from Roncesvalles will operate with trolley poles and will change to pantographs at Dundas West Station. Cars from Leslie already run on pantograph on their dead head trips.
The eight AM peak bus trippers will be interlined with buses from other routes. In the west, four trips will originate at Lansdowne from trippers on the 47 Lansdowne route. In the east, four trips will originate at Broadview Station from trippers on the 100 Flemingdon Park route.
The 506 Carlton route will be split with streetcars returning between Broadview and High Park Loop, and buses operating between Parliament and Main Station. Overhead conversion for pantographs is not completed yet on the east end of the route, and reconstruction of the bus roadway at Main Station is planned to start in March.
506 streetcars will loop in the east via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament. 506C Buses will loop via River, Dundas and Sherbourne Streets.
For the overnight service, the 306 streetcars will run to Broadview Station and will use the bay normally occupied by 505 Dundas which has no overnight service.
The looping shown for the 506B/306B buses is different from the version show in the service change memo. The TTC has confirmed that the map is the correct version.
All 506 Carlton cars will operate from Roncesvalles Carhouse. They will enter and leave service using trolley poles, but once on Howard Park Avenue will switch to pantographs as the west and central portions of the route have been converted. The 506 buses will operate from Eglinton and Malvern garages.
508 Lake Shore
This route remains suspended pending recovery of demand to the business district downtown.
This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules. Extra service that was added to compensate for the absence of 511 Bathurst cars will be removed.
This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules with minor changes in service levels.
Streetcars return to 511 Bathurst using the February 2020 schedules. If construction work on the Bathurst Street Bridge is not completed by January 3, streetcars will divert via King, Spadina and Queens Quay until the bridge reopens.
512 St. Clair
The 512 St. Clair route continues with the November 2020 schedules and a covid-era reduction in service.
Routes 509 through 512 will all operate from Leslie Barns and will enter service using pantographs from the barns to route via Queen and King Streets.
The allocation of streetcars to carhouses by route is shown in the table below.
In recent articles, I have reviewed a pervasive problem on the TTC’s network with uneven headways (the time between vehicles). This is annoying enough in “normal” times, but with the concerns about crowding during the pandemic, anything that contributes to crowding is more than just an annoyance.
The CEO’s Report presents only a few measures of service quality:
the proportion of service that is “on time” leaving terminals,
the number of short turns, and
the amount of service fielded compared to what is scheduled.
These metrics are utterly inadequate to showing how the system is behaving at the level seen day-by-day, hour-by-hour by riders for several reasons:
Most riders do not board vehicles at or near terminals, and measures that look only at terminal performance do not reflect most of each route.
“On time” is a meaningless concept for most routes because service is (or should be) frequent enough that riders do not time their arrivals at stops to meet their bus.
A count of short turns only indicates that most vehicles reached their terminals, not whether the absence of short-turns contributed to poor service quality. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that the number of short turns is under-reported.
Statistics are averaged on an all-day, all month basis and do not reflect route-by-route or hour-by-hour variations.
Riders to not ride “average” buses and streetcars – they take what shows up when they try to use the system. Indeed, if the TTC actually provided “average” service, a lot of problems would be solved because the service would be much more reliable.
At the recent TTC Board meeting, CEO Rick Leary noted that the metrics in his monthly report will be changed in the near future. This is long overdue, but it remains to be seen just how informative these will be.
This article includes displays of headway reliability in a new type of chart I have been working on recently. Reader feedback on this is welcome.
Replacement of old water main and sewer infrastructure
Replacement of TTC overhead (this will make the wiring in this area pantograph compliant)
Reconstruction of streetcar track
Reconfiguration of Roncesvalles Avenue from Queen to Harvard (just north of the North Gate to the carhouse) with cycling lanes and transit platforms matching the section done several years ago from Harvard to Dundas
Revision to the existing loading islands on Roncesvalles for compatibility with the boarding ramps on the news streetcars
The construction will begin on September 8, 2020 on the underside of the Parkside Drive bridge. This will only have a minor effect on transit service, and the only change to the 501 Queen service is that it will not stop at Parkside during September and October.
2021 will see the main construction work on Queen and The Queensway beginning in February and extending to into 2022 as shown in the staging map below.
Stage 1 from February to July 2021 will affect the curb lanes of The Queensway as well as water main, track and overhead work extending east to Triller Ave.
Stage 2 from July 2021 to April 2022 will affect the middle lanes of The Queensway and King Street south of the intersection.
Stage 3 from April to August 2022 will affect Roncesvalles Avenue.
See the construction notice linked above for details.
There is no word yet on the TTC’s arrangements for service or what the interim configurations of routes will look like. Continued access to Roncesvalles Carhouse via the North Gate will remain available until the planned work in 2022 at which point all access will have to shift to the south gate during construction between Queen and Harvard.
However, there will be periods where the KQQR intersection is impassible in both directions while it is reconfigured and rebuilt. This will require Queen and King services to turn back somewhere further east TBA with bus replacements.
It is not clear whether there will be a period in fall-winter 2021-22 when streetcar service can be restored west of the carhouse. I will pursue details of the project staging with the City and TTC.
The City plans to have a project website available, but it is not up as I write this article on the evening of September 4.
There are comparatively few changes for the June-July schedules in 2020 because service is already operating at a reduced level due to the Covid-19 emergency.
Production of a table comparing old and new service levels with this change is tricky because the “before” situation included a lot of ad hoc operations by the TTC. I will try to pull something together and will update this article at that time.
During the May schedules, quick adjustments were made on many routes by removing previously scheduled crews rather than completely rewriting the schedules. This produced scheduled gaps which show up in the published timetables and in the data feed used by various trip planning applications. Many, but not necessarily all of these will be fixed for the June schedules.
On the bus network, there will be scheduled trippers overlaying the regular service on routes where there have been crowding problems. The table below is taken from the TTC’s memo detailing the new service arrangements. There are 90 AM and 87 PM trippers.
In addition to these trippers, a large number of crews will be provided for additional service as needed and to cover subway shuttle operations. There will be 180 weekday, 208 Saturday and 148 Sunday crews. Note that a crew is not the same thing as an additional bus because more than one crew is required to operate one vehicle if it is in service for more than 8 hours.
On the streetcar network, the current four crews for extra service will be expanded to eight. Half of these cover the morning and early afternoon period, while the other half cover the afternoon and evening
Bathurst Station Construction
The streetcar loop at Bathurst Station will be rebuilt, and all bus operations will shift to the surface loop at Spadina Station. This arrangement is planned to be in effect until the schedule change on Labour Day weekend, but if work completes sooner, service will revert to Bathurst Station earlier.
7 Bathurst will divert both ways via Dupont and Spadina to Spadina Station.
511 Bathurst (which is already operating with buses due to construction at Front Street) will divert via Harbord and Spadina to Spadina Station.
307 Bathurst Night will divert both ways via Dupont, Spadina and Harbord. The route will also be changed to operate via Fort York Boulevard at the south end of the route so that the night bus route matches the one used by the 511 buses during daytime service.
512 St. Clair will operate from Hillcrest as a temporary yard because the line will be physically isolated from the rest of the streetcar system while track work on Bathurst Street is underway.
Bathurst will remain as a bus operation until the end of 2020 while various construction projects along the line are completed.
Conversion of 506 Carlton to Bus Operation
Several projects will take place affecting 506 Carlton over the summer and early fall. These include:
Track replacement and paving at High Park Loop and on Howard Park Avenue west of Roncesvalles.
Replacement of the special work at Howard Park and Dundas.
Replacement of the special work at Dundas and College. Work at this location includes addition of traffic signals and reconfiguration for pedestrian and cycling crossings. There is a diagram of the new arrangement in an article I published earlier this year.
City of Toronto work on the Sterling Road bridge.
Modification of all overhead from High Park Loop to Bay Street for pantograph operation where this has not already been done.
Construction at Main Station.
506 Carlton buses will operate to Dundas West Station instead of to High Park Loop. The 306 Carlton Night route will also operate with buses on its usual route to Dundas West.
Through-routed 501 Queen Service to Long Branch
When the May scheduled were implemented, an inadvertent error did not provide enough running time for streetcars to make the full Neville-Long Branch trip as planned. Buses were substituted on the west end of the route. Effective June 21, through streetcar service will be provided all day long, rather than only at late evenings and overnight.
All Queen service will operate from Russell Carhouse.
Streetcar Service on 503 Kingston Road
With the removal of streetcars from 506 Carlton, the 503 Kingston Road line will return on Monday June 22 operating to Charlotte Loop at Spadina & King. The TTC plans to switch this back to bus operation in the fall when streetcars return to 506 Carlton. The 22 Coxwell bus will revert to its usual arrangement running only to Queen Street during weekday daytime periods.
92 Woodbine South will receive additional service in anticipation of higher riding to Woodbine Beach.
121 Fort York-Esplanade will be extended as usual to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach.
175 Bluffers Park will operate during the daytime weekends and holidays on the same schedule as in March 2019.
86 Scarborough will operate an early evening shuttle between Meadowvale Loop and the Zoo.
Planned service increases on 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront will not be implemented, but the routes will be monitored for crowding and extra service will operate if necessary.
Pantograph Operation on 505 Dundas Streetcars
With the conversion of all overhead on the 505 Dundas route to pantograph-friendly suspension, the full route will operate with pans. Previously, a switch to/from poles was required at Parliament Street, the eastern end of pantograph territory on this route.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article continues the analysis of King Street transit operations during September 2019 with a focus on the effects of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
TIFF opened on Thursday afternoon, September 5, but the diversions were in place from the start of service at 5 am. For the period when diversions were operating, there were three services on route 504:
Dundas West to Church diverting eastbound via Spadina to Queen and then returning south to King via Church; then westbound via King to York, York to Queen and south to King via Spadina.
Distillery to York Street looping via York, Queen and Church back to King Street.
Broadview Station to York Street looping via York, Queen and Church back to King Street.
The effects of this arrangement were quite severe with extended travel times and wider headways across the route, not just downtown.
The fundamental policy issue here is the takeover of a major street for an event like TIFF for an extended period. There were four days of complete diversions (September 5 to 8), and three further days of ad hoc street closures (September 9 to 11). The TTC attempted to operate service on 504 King with the usual complement of scheduled cars, but on routings that required considerably more travel time, maintaining normal headways was impossible.
The effects are not confined to the immediate TIFF district, but extend to service over the entire route, as well as to travel times and service reliability on 501 Queen. This is not simply a matter of residents of the condos near TIFF putting up with an annual upheaval in their neighbourhood, but of an effect across two major corridors on transit and road traffic.
If this type of “service” is planned in the future, then either the event itself should pony up the cost of supplementary service, or the city should make an explicit contribution through the TTC’s budget for extra service. Preferably, King Street would be kept open on weekdays, and adequate service would be operated on weekends to offset the TIFF effect which is not as severe then.
Today the TTC officially retired the last of the ARLV (Articulated Light Rail Vehicle) fleet with 4204 and 4207 doing the honours running a 501 Queen shuttle between Russell Carhouse (east of Greenwood) and Wolseley Loop (at Bathurst Street).
In what has become a tradition with the TTC’s older cars, there was an emergency truck and a “pusher” CLRV whose job would be to push its partner ALRV back to the carhouse (or at least off of a main route) if something went wrong. 4117 shadowed 4204 while 4156 partnered 4207.
Nothing went amiss, and the ALRVs ran their three hours of service without incident. Indeed, 4207 did double duty making an early trip as part of the Labour Day Parade before making the first eastbound trip on the 501 ALRV shuttle from Bathurst Street.
Many people are posting photos from the day on Twitter and Facebook. Here are the best of my own.