September 2021 will see expansion of TTC service in anticipation of returning demand including in-person learning at schools and universities. Many express bus routes will be improved or enhanced.
In a reversal of past practice, schedule adjustments for “on time performance” will actually reduce rather than add to travel times in recognition that buses do not need so long to get from “A” to “B”, and that they can provide better service running more often on their routes than sitting at terminals.
Full details of the schedule changes are in the spreadsheet linked below.
A recent exchange on Twitter piqued my curiosity with the question “Is the Spadina car slower than it used to be”. A quick review of my archived tracking data for this route gave a simple answer “yes”, but there is more going on that just the speed of vehicles.
A related question dates back to a 2005 Globe article by Stephen Wickens comparing travel times on the 511 Bathurst streetcar which operates in mixed traffic to times for 510 Spadina which operates with “transit priority”. The Bathurst car won, much to the TTC’s displeasure.
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).
There will be few service changes in February 2021 in anticipation of the reassignment of bus services with the opening of McNicoll Garage at the end of March.
Weekday service will be trimmed in response to passenger demand on the following routes:
512 St. Clair
The 9 Bellamy and 913 Progress Express routes will be changed to operate via Progress Avenue. Bellamy buses will no longer serve stops on McCowan Road, Corporate Drive and Consilium Place (these are served by other routes).
The service changes are summarized in the table linked below.
Overhead and station construction work on the east end of 506 Carlton.
Overhead reconstruction on various parts of 501 Queen.
The King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles project.
Reconstruction of Dundas West Station Loop including expansion of streetcar platforms.
Between the construction projects and the reduced streetcar service, the peak scheduled streetcars now number only 126 (AM) and 127 (PM). Out of a fleet of 204 cars, this leaves a lot of room for “maintenance spares”. We must hope that when the TTC puts the entire network back together again late in 2021 that they will have enough working cars to operate it.
In spite of the considerable surplus of streetcars, there are still bus trippers scheduled on 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton.
The bus fleet will operate at less than capacity with a scheduled peak service of 1,520 vehicles compared to the garage capacity of 1,675 and a fleet size of over 2,000. Run-as-directed (RAD) buses are not included in this total, although there are fewer of them now that “regular” service levels have been restored on many routes.
The project list also includes some items for 2022 from the City of Toronto’s map of planned construction work, TOInview. This includes:
Completion of the KQQR project from Queen to Dundas (stop modifications).
Reconstruction of Broadview Station Loop. The status of a proposed expansion of streetcar platforms is not yet known.
Track construction on College from Yonge to Bathurst, and at the intersection of Church & Carlton. Whether the TTC will add curves in the southeast quadrant here to simplify diversions is not yet known. In a previous project at Broadview & Gerrard, the “institutional memory” forgot that there were plans to add a north-to-west curve, and a once in 25 year opportunity was missed.
Replacement of the intersection of King & Shaw.
Reconstruction of Adelaide Street from Charlotte to Yonge. It is not yet clear whether this will only involve the removal of long-inactive track or the restoration of Adelaide as an eastbound bypass for King and Queen service between Spadina and Church.
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.
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.
From time to time, readers mention in comments the common delays at Spadina Station caused by the manner in which streetcars unload and load at the platform.
Before the introduction of the new Flexitys, cars would enter the station, unload at the east end of the platform, then pull ahead to load at the west end. There was even enough room that three cars could be on the platform at once with one ready to move forward into the loading zone as soon as room was available.
However, with the longer Flexitys, two cars will not quite fit on the platform, and although there are still separate unloading and loading stops, in practice only one car can be on the platform at a time. When this is compounded with delays for crew changes and with the siestas some cars take while loading, delays to passengers waiting to get off of arriving cars are chronic and lengthy.
I asked the TTC’s Brad Ross why cars did not make better use of the space.
An option that comes up is for the loading car to pull slightly beyond the platform and not open its front-most door. This would allow the following car to come fully onto the platform and unload. The front of the loading car would not be in the tunnel itself, but adjacent to an unused area of the platform at the west end.
The reply from the TTC is:
It is not possible to isolate the front doors of the LFLRV. If the streetcar were to go past the glass barrier to allow a second streetcar to access the platform, we would not be able to open the remaining 3 doors, while keeping the first door closed. All doors would closed but enabled, and would require our customers to push the door button to gain access to the streetcar. In addition, we would not be able to prevent anyone from opening the first set of doors from the inside of the streetcar (or even from outside, should a customer go around the glass wall and push the button). This is a huge safety issue, as the front doors are not flush with the platform at that position, and customers would have to step down to the rail bed.
One obvious solution would be to extend the platform so that it does sit flush with the front doors, but that is not an option at this point. The issue actually lies with the structural pillars that support the station; they are too close to the streetcar to allow proper egress. This is where I am seeking clarification from the Construction group. I am unsure of which pillar is in the way and what the actual requirement is, but have heard that it would cost millions to relocate the pillar to allow us to extend the platform. That is why that section of the platform is not being used and the glass partition is in place.
This begs the rather obvious question of why it is not possible for an operator to selectively open doors on a car. It is not unknown for vehicles to be in locations where a physical barrier would prevent use of all doors. In the specific case of loading at Spadina Station, the loss of the comparatively narrow first door would be a good tradeoff for simply getting a car far enough into the loading area that its follower could unload behind it.
I await further feedback on the matter of the cost and practicality of modifying the station, but in the meantime, it is useful to look at this problem in the manner we normally see for evaluations of expensive rapid transit projects: the value of riders’ time. Billions in spending on rapid transit has been justified by the premise that people will move more quickly and thereby save time, time that has a value against which the capital investment can be offset.
(This is a dubious proposition because the public investment is “balanced” against a private saving in “money” that can never be recaptured, but stay with me for the purpose of the exercise.)
There are 15 cars per hour attempting to serve Spadina Station. If we assume that each car is delayed by an average of 2 minutes, and that it has an average of 50 passengers, this translates to 1,500 minutes of passenger delay per hour.
If this condition persists on average for 8 hours per day, that means there are 12,000 passenger minutes of delay, or 200 passenger hours.
The value of riders’ time is often quoted at about $30/hour, and this means a value of lost time of $6,000 per day. Scaling up to a year with a 300:1 factor (counting weekends as one day) gives us an annual lost time value of $1,800,000.
It is self evident that any of the variables used here can be tweaked up or down, but this gives the general idea of how the calculation would come out. Of course the City cannot “spend” that $1.8 million to offset reconstruction at the station because it is not real money, as I’m sure we would be told by the financial boffins.
In addition to any notional saving that riders might obtain, there is the real cost of, probably, one extra car on the Spadina route thanks to the extra running time needed to serve Spadina Station Loop.
There is a real need for the TTC to sort out operations at Spadina Station to minimize delays. This should include both figuring out how to use the loading area with a car projecting slightly beyond the platform and ensuring that crew changes happen as briskly as possible.
I will update this article when/if more information becomes available.
Updated Aug. 14, 2017 at 4:05 pm
Based on Twitter feedback, a few comments are in order.
In this article, I did not refer to explicit methods of crewing, but used the term “drop back” on Twitter. Some took umbrage saying that the term is “step back”. In fact both terms have been used over the years. It is the mechanism that counts, not the name. The idea is that operators get a break without the car having to sit there while they take it. To do this, there are more operators than cars, and an operator from car “n” “steps back” to car “n+2” (or whatever) so that they get a break of, in theory, two headways (the number can vary depending on how long a break is desired). This works fine as long as the operator who is supposed to take over an incoming car is actually available when it shows up.
At a location like Spadina Station, there is no stacking space to accommodate late crew changes whether they are part of a step back system or a regular shift change, and the problem can be compounded when the home division for the line is a long way away, and operators have to travel to pick up their cars in service.
Delays of cars getting on to the platform because of the loading techniques just make this worse by holding cars in the tunnel.
My aim in writing this article was twofold:
Everyone involved – TTC management, planners, line supervisors and operators – need to work together to find a way to improve operations at this busy station which have deteriorated noticeably since the new cars were introduced.
The principle of “value of riders’ time” is often used to justify big ticket capital projects, but it does not have the same clout in day to day operations.
Part I of this article presented some of the background and construction photos of the Spadina streetcar line which celebrates its 20th birthday on July 27, 2017. In Part II, a look at Spadina in the early months of operation.
Much of the northern part of the street has not changed very much over the years, but the south end with its booming condo district is very different and changing still.
On Sunday, July 27, 1997, the new 510 Spadina streetcar route replaced the venerable 77 Spadina bus. This conversion was over two decades in the making.
Back in 1973, fresh from the political victory of saving the streetcar system from its planned retirement in 1980 [when the Queen subway would open (!)], the Streetcars for Toronto Committee (SFTC) proposed that the Spadina route be converted back to streetcar operation.
The Spadina streetcar was abandoned in 1948 with the retirement of the small fleet of double-ended cars serving it (there were no loops, only crossovers at Bloor and south of King), although track between Harbord and Dundas remained in use until 1966 by the Harbord car.
It is intriguing to look back at the rationale we of the SFTC had for this conversion at the time:
Provide the basis for future rapid transit needs between Metro Centre and the Bloor and Spadina subways.
Provide more comfortable transit service now with increased interior vehicle space, elimination of lane changing, and reduction of vibration, noise and air pollution within vehicles.
Provide a basis for comparing the light rapid transit mode of intermediate capacity rapid transit with a test “guideway” mode being constructed at the Canadian National Exhibition.
Release needed buses for suburban service by replacing them with currently surplus streetcars.
We were rather optimistic, and hoped that service could be operating by 1974. Of course this assumed that a lot of the existing infrastructure would be recycled, the loop at Bloor would be on the surface, not underground.
At the time, there was a proposal for a large commercial development on the Railway Lands known as “Metro Centre”, although it never came to be in the form originally planned. The area is now full of condos (and the Dome), but they came much later.
As for “intermediate capacity rapid transit”, the guideway under construction at the CNE grounds never amounted to more than a few foundations for support pillars and the loss of some trees. The development project for what would eventually become the Scarborough RT technology was killed off before the test track could be built. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park had mused about using their technology on streets like Spadina, but were careful to provide illustrations showing the guideway from a distance in front of open space, not the massive infrastructure that would be needed at stations for tracks, platforms and vertical access. There was another problem: the province’s recommended design would have stations no closer than about 1 km apart, a huge difference from the bus service with many local stops.
The idea received approval in principle, but quickly ran aground for various reasons including the unsuitability of Clarence Square for the south end loop (SFTC had proposed looping at Adelaide via Charlotte and King with buses continuing to serve the then-industrial port area). The TTC wanted the streetcars to match the existing bus route which looped around the square. At the north end, a surface loop was not practical because of land constraints.
A decade later, the scheme resurfaced as part of the Harbourfront redevelopment, although only the Queens Quay service was built initially opening in 1990. This created the track connection from King to Queens Quay as well as a loop at the foot of Spadina that the original western end of the Harbourfront line. (Track was added on Queens Quay from Spadina to Bathurst in 2000.)
Further north, some merchants objected to the road changes a streetcar would bring including the reduction of parking (changing from angle to parallel parking), and the barrier effect of a streetcar right-of-way that would, it was claimed, prevent garment racks from being moved across the street between businesses. (This was a fictional recreation of New York’s garment district as the City demonstrated by conducting a survey to count this “traffic”. There was none.)
Thanks to the TTC’s presentation of the streetcar as a rapid transit line to the pending development south of King, there were fewer stops on their proposed route than were eventually built. (For the record, the SFTC proposal included all of the stops that were in the final version.) Combined with a curbed right-of-way, this was seen as a move creating a “Berlin Wall” down the middle of the street. As a result the original design had no curbs in some locations leading to many collisions with errant motorists, and the curbs appeared as a retrofit. Today, ironically, the streetcar right-of-way acts as a refuge for jaywalking across Spadina, a dubious and dangerous practice before the streetcar’s return.
This article is a photo gallery of the line’s construction. In a second installment, I will present a gallery of the line in operation.
In these photos, what is so striking is how little many parts of Spadina have changed and the low-rise street character is much the same today as it was in the 1990s, although change is spreading north from the condo district at King.
Transit service on many of Toronto’s streetcar lines has declined over past decades and, with it, riders’ faith in and love for this mode. Unreliable, crowded service is considered the norm for streetcar routes, and this leads to calls to “improve” service with buses.
The historical context for this decline is worth repeating in the context of current debates over how Toronto should provide transit service to the growing population in its dense “old” city where most of the streetcar lines run.
When the TTC decided in late 1972, at the urging of City Council, to reverse its long-standing plans to eliminate streetcars by 1980 (when the Queen Subway would take over as the trunk route through the core), the level of service on streetcar lines was substantially better than it is on most routes today. Any comparison of streetcars versus buses faced the prospect of a very large fleet of buses on very frequent headways roaring back and forth on all major streets.
Service in 1980 (when the system was originally planned for conversion) was substantially the same as in 1972, and for the purpose of this article, that date is our starting point.
Ten years later, in 1990, little had changed, but the City’s transit demand was about to fall off a cliff thanks to a recession. During this period, TTC lost much riding on its network including the subway with annual travel dropping by 20% overall. It would take a decade to climb back from that, but various factors permanently “reset” the quality of service on streetcar routes:
During the recession, service was cut across the board, and this led to a reduction in the size of fleet required to serve the network.
In anticipation of the 510 Spadina line opening, the TTC had rebuilt a group of PCC streetcars, but these were not actually needed for the 509/510 Harbourfront/Spadina services by the time Spadina opened. “Surplus” cars thanks to the recession-era service cuts were available to operate the new routes.
Since 1996, any service changes have been made within the available fleet, a situation compounded by declining reliability of the old cars and the anticipation of a new fleet “soon”.
By 2016, the fleet was not large enough to serve all routes, and bus substitutions became common.
Some of the decline in demand on streetcar routes came from changing demographics and shifting job locations. Old industrial areas transformed into residential clusters, and the traffic formerly attracted to them by jobs disappeared. Meanwhile, the city’s population density fell in areas where gentrification brought smaller families to the houses.
The city’s population is now growing again, although the rate is not equal for all areas. Liberty Village and the St. Lawrence neighbourhood are well known, visible growth areas, but growth is now spreading out from both the King Street corridor and moving further away from the subway lines. This creates pressure on the surface routes in what the City’s Planners call the “shoulders” of downtown.
As the population and transit demand have rebounded, the TTC has not kept pace.
The changes in service levels are summarized in the following spreadsheet:
510 Bathurst: In 1980, this route had 24 cars/hour during the AM peak period, but by 2006 this had dropped by 50% to 12. In November 2016, with buses on the route, there were 20 vehicles per hour, and with the recent reintroduction of streetcars, the peak service was 10.6 ALRVs/hour, equivalent to about 16 CLRVs. Current service is about 1/3 less than it was in 1980.
506 Carlton: In 1980, this route had 20 streetcars/hour at peak, but by 2016 this was down to 13.8.
505 Dundas: In 1980, service on this route had two branches, one of which terminated at Church after City Hall Loop was replaced by the Eaton Centre. On the western portion of the route, there were 27 cars per hour, while to the east there were 15 (services on the two branches were not at the same level). By 2016, this was down to 10.3. [Corrected]
504 King: This route, thanks to the developments along its length, has managed to retain its service over the years at the expense of other routes. In 1980, there were 25.2 cars per hour over the full route between Broadview and Dundas West Stations with a few trippers that came east only to Church Street. Despite budget cuts in 1996 that reduced service to 16.4 cars/hour at peak, the route came back to 30 cars/hour by 2006. Service is now provided by a mixture of King cars on the full route (15/hour), 514 Cherry cars between Sumach and Dufferin (7.5/hour), and some trippers between Roncesvalles and Broadview. Some 504 King runs operate with ALRVs and most 514 Cherry cars are Flexitys.
501 Queen/507 Long Branch: In 1980, the Queen and Long Branch services operated separately with 24.5 cars/hour on Queen and 8.9 cars/hour on Long Branch at peak. By 1990, the Queen service had been converted to operate with ALRVs and a peak service of 16.1 cars/hour, roughly an equivalent scheduled capacity to the CLRV service in 1980. By 1996, Queen service was down to 12 ALRVs/hour of which 6/hour ran through to Long Branch. Headways have stayed roughly at that level ever since. The Long Branch route was split off from Queen to save on ALRVs, and as of November 2016 6.3 CLRVs/hour ran on this part of the route. Bus replacement services are operating in 2017 due to many construction projects conflicting with streetcar operation.
502 Downtowner/503 Kingston Road Tripper: In 1980, these routes provided 15.6 cars/hour, but by 2016 this had declined to 10/hour.
512 St. Clair: In 1980, the St. Clair car operated with a scheduled short turn at Earlscourt Loop. East of Lansdowne, there were 33.3 cars/hour on St. Clair. By 1996 this was down to 20.6 cars/hour. The next decade saw an extended period of reconstruction for the streetcar right-of-way, and service during this period was irregular, to be generous. By 2016, the service has improved to 21.2 cars/hour, but this is still well below the level of 1980.
What is quite clear here is that the budget and service cuts of the early 1990s substantially reduced the level of service on streetcar routes, and even as the city recovered, the TTC was slow to restore service, if at all. The unknown question with current service levels is the degree to which demand was lost to demographic changes and to what extent the poor service fundamentally weakened the attractiveness of transit on these routes. The TTC has stated that some routes today are operating over capacity, but even those numbers are limited by the difference between crowding standards (which dictate design capacity) and the actual number of riders who can fit on the available service. It is much harder to count those who never board.
In a fiscal environment where any service improvement is viewed negatively because it will increase operating costs, the challenge is to turn around Council’s attitude to transit service. This is an issue across the city and many suburban bus routes suffer from capacity challenge and vehicle shortages just like the streetcar routes downtown.
The bus fleet remains constrained by actions of Mayor Ford in delaying construction of the McNicoll Garage with the result that that the TTC has no place to store and maintain a larger fleet even if they were given the money to buy and operate it. Years of making do with what we have and concentrating expansion funding on a few rapid transit projects has boxed in the TTC throughout its network.
Transit will not be “the better way” again until there are substantial investments in surface fleets and much-improved service.