The Evolution of Service on 512 St. Clair

The St. Clair streetcar route has seen its share of political battles over the years. Back in 1972, it was the heart of the fight to save the streetcar system from a plan that would have dismantled all routes by 1980 when, wait for it, the Queen subway would have opened. As a first step, trolley buses (remember them?) displaced from the North Toronto’s route 97 Yonge were to take over St. Clair with buses replacing streetcars on a 1:1 basis, a huge cut in the line’s capacity.

An ironic point about this plan shows how riding patterns can shift depending on other aspects of the network. Before the Bloor-Danforth subway opened in 1966, St. Clair had very frequent service (every 1’00” between Oakwood and Yonge including the Rogers Road cars), and the line carried many people east to the Yonge subway. Vaughan Loop was a major transfer point to the Bathurst cars which ran into downtown via Adelaide Street, returning on King.

After BD started running, many riders shifted to north-south routes to reach the new subway line and its connection to a route downtown via the uncrowded University subway. Demand and service on St. Clair declined. Years later, with the opening of the Spadina subway, many riders shifted back to the streetcar because it provided a direct link to the University line with one less transfer. More recently, the population along St. Clair is growing adding to demand on the line.

Unlike most streetcar routes in Toronto, 512 St. Clair operates on a street with more than four lanes. The TTC proposed conversion to a reserved right-of-way in the early 2000’s and this was approved by Council in 2005. The actual construction took forever thanks both to a legal attempt to block construction and to fouled-up co-ordination between various agencies and meddling by local Councillors in the timing of work. (You can read the whole sad story on Transit Toronto’s website.)

By spring 2007, the first segment from Yonge to St. Clair West Station was completed, and streetcar service returned, briefly between St. Clair Station and Keele Street. Summer 2007 saw the launch of work on the western portion of the line, and it did not fully reopen until summer 2010.

Recently, the TTC has been messing around with the schedules on this route and adding supervision in an attempt to provide reliable service, a sad situation given that the route is entirely on reserved lanes. The evolution of schedules from 2007 to 2015 is intriguing, and speaks to the failure of what should be a showcase route.

512_ServiceHistory

The information in this table is organized with the impending March 29, 2015 changes at the left and progressively older schedules moving to the right. Only the January schedules are shown for 2011-2013 to save on space during a relatively quiet period for service changes on this route.

  • April 2007: The line operated over its full length, but with a right-of-way only on the eastern leg.
  • June 2010: Service resumes over the full route with shorter running times, particularly on weekends, and more frequent service than in most periods in 2007.
  • January 2011: Service during some periods on Saturday and Sunday has been improved by 2011 to handle demand on the route.
  • January 2012: Weekday midday service has improved over 2011, but there are no other changes.
  • January 2013: Peak service has improved slightly, offset by some weekend service cuts.
  • January 2014: A 2012 service cut on Sunday afternoons was partly restored during 2013.
  • July 2014: Slightly wider peak service (typical for summer) with improvement in Saturday early evening and Sunday morning service.
  • October 2014: Running times substantially increased in response to a large number of transit priority signals being out of order (13 along the route)
  • March 2015: Running times reduced (but not all the way to July 2014 levels) in response to repair of most (9) of the non-working TSP locations, and experience from a higher level of route supervision implemented in fall 2014.

It is worth noting that during almost all schedule periods, the allocated running times in October 2014 were equal to or longer than those used in April 2007 when most of the route ran in mixed traffic. Some of this was due to added recovery time (weekday schedules), and some to added travel time. In effect, the benefit of the right-of-way on scheduled speed was almost completely undone. This is partly, but not completely, corrected with the March 29, 2015 schedules, but there is still generally two minutes more running time for the route compared with most schedules from 2010 onward (presumably for the residual effect of non-working TSP locations).

A related problem on St. Clair has been irregular headways. The TTC’s stock response to complaints about this sort of thing is that “traffic congestion” is the root of all evil, and reliable service is impossible. In fact, as has been demonstrated by repeated analyses on this site, the real problem lies in uneven departures from terminals and from intermediate time points along the route. This cannot be explained by saying that operators are adjusting to known conditions because these irregular headways appear under all seasons, days of week and hours of the day.

In the fall of 2014, the TTC added route supervisors on St. Clair to act as dispatchers and regulate the service. This had some effect, but the level of on-street supervision cannot be afforded across the system. Indeed, there is no reason why dispatching on headways cannot be achieved centrally and at least in part automatically. This problem is not confined to streetcar routes, and it is a fundamental issue that TTC  management must address particularly as the effects of larger vehicles and wider scheduled headways accentuate the problem on streetcar and articulated bus routes.

How has the actual service evolved over the years? For this we must turn to the TTC’s vehicle tracking data. As regular readers will know, I have been looking at routes on a selective basis since 2007. The discussion below includes data from April 2007 (pre-construction), July 2010 (full line re-opened) and September-November 2014 (pre/post implementation of longer running times and more aggressive supervision).

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A New Way To Measure Service Quality?

At its recent Board Meeting, the TTC received a presentation [scroll to p. 3] from Chief Service Officer Richard Leary on plans to update management and measurement of surface route service quality.

The monthly CEO’s report includes a number of “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs) intended to track various aspects of the transit system. However, the methodology behind some of the KPIs, notably those related to service quality, leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, information that could track basic issues such as vehicle reliability is not included. This begs the question of whether the indicators exist more as a security blanket (“we have KPIs therefore we are good managers”) than as meaningful management tools, not to mention as reports to the politicians and public.

A telling chart on page 6 of the presentation shows how badly the TTC has drifted from transit industry norms:

ServiceKPIsAssessment

The TTC aims to have almost enough vehicles available for service relative to actual needs, and operates with a lower spare ratio than the industry overall. This has two effects.

  • When unusual demands for service arise, there is no cushion to roll out extras.
  • Vehicles are not maintained often enough to prevent in service breakdowns. This shows up in a mean distance between failures that is very much lower than the industry average.

The situation is actually compounded by an internal measure of service delivery: a garage counts a bus as “entering service” if it makes it across the property line onto the street. Whether the bus runs for an entire day or breaks down a block from the garage, it counts toward service provided. This is complete nonsense, but shows how the construction of a metric can induce behaviour that is counterproductive. Actually keeping the bus in the garage could allow it to be repaired and improve reliability, but that’s not what the garage is measured for.

Moving to a higher spare ratio and more frequent routine maintenance on vehicles is expected to yield better service with fewer in service breakdowns. Late in 2014, the TTC began this shift by slightly increasing spare ratios at each garage, and the MDBF for the bus fleet has risen to 7,000km. This will have to be tracked over a longer time, however, to ensure that the improvement is permanent and can be linked to further increases in spares and maintenance work.

This has a non-trivial cost for the TTC. With a total scheduled service of about 1,500 buses, a 6% increase in spares represents 90 vehicles, or a substantial portion of a typical yearly bus purchase, not to mention a fair amount of garage space.

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TTC Service Changes Effective March 29, 2015 (Update 2)

Updated February 6, 2015 at 6:10 pm:

A change to service on 1 Yonge-University on weekday evenings was missed in the original version of my condensed version of the changes. This has been corrected.

Updated February 3, 2015 at 11:30 am:

In response to questions raised by the planned changes, I asked the TTC for more details on specific work.

  • At College & Spadina, the platforms used by 506 Carlton will be lengthened, but not widened. They are already wide enough for boarding via the ramps on the Flexities.
  • The 509 Harbourfront route will convert to PoP operation when the Flexities move there at the end of March.
  • Transit signal priority has been or will be restored at various locations on St. Clair:
    • On December 23, 2014, it was restored at Yonge and at Avenue Road.
    • Before March 29, 2015, it will be restored at Deer Park, west of Dunvegan, Russell Hill, Bathurst, Wychwood, Arlington and Caledonia
    • To be completed, but not necessarily by March 29: Ferndale (St. Clair Stn. Loop exit), Christie, Old Weston, Keele/Weston)

The original article from January 31 follows below.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, July 20, 2014

Most of the changes for the July-August schedule period are triggered by construction projects. The detailed list linked from this report now includes a chart showing the expected duration of all projects in progress.

The 172 Cherry bus is affected both by the seasonal service to Cherry Beach and by an extension to improve the connection with 72 Pape.  The Cherry buses will now operate east on Commissioners to Carlaw looping via north on Logan, east on Lake Shore and south on Carlaw.

The Cherry bus has also been operating over its “standard” route via Mill and Cherry Streets through the Distillery District since June 21, although this route is occasionally blocked by parked cars that still behave as if the roads are closed and have no transit service. Recently, the westbound service changed back to the diversion via Lake Shore and Parliament because Metrolinx construction at the rail corridor makes bi-directional operation through the Cherry Street underpass difficult.

Water main construction was planned for Broadview from Danforth northward, but this project was cancelled after the schedule changes for July-August were already in place. Bus routes operating from Broadview Station will have slightly widened headways to allow for construction delays, and streetcar service will be replaced with buses on Broadview.

  • 504 King cars will loop via Parliament, Dundas, Broadview and Queen.
  • 505 Dundas cars will loop via Parliament, Gerrard, Broadview and Dundas.
  • 504/505 Shuttle buses will loop via Queen, River and Dundas.

A concurrent project at Spadina & Dundas (described in another post) requires all 505 Dundas cars to divert both ways via McCaul, College and Bathurst. No additional running time has been provided in the schedule to accommodate this.

Construction work at Roncesvalles Carhouse requires the reassignment of some peak period runs to Russell Carhouse. On 512 St. Clair, cars will be stored at Exhibition Loop overnight, and service during some periods will be improved so that this storage is only required between 10pm and 10am. A 791 Roncesvalles Operator Shuttle will ferry operators to and from Exhibition Loop.

Articulated buses will be operated on the peak period express services on 53 Steeles East. Currently, one in three express trips operates east to Staines Road, but this will change to one in two trips. The combined service on the express branches will change from 4’45” to 6’00” in the AM peak, and from 5′ to 7′ in the PM peak. The local service to Markham Road does not change.

2014.07.20_Service_Changes

Toronto Deserves Better Transit Service Now! Part 4: Streetcar Riders Count Too

Much discussion of improved service has talked about bus riders in the suburbs who have long trips and whose bus routes lost peak service when the crowding standards were rolled back in 2012.

Peak period crowding standards had never been improved for streetcars because there were no spare vehicles, and so there was nothing to roll back. However, over past decades, that shortage of streetcars limited peak service in a way that the bus system didn’t have to deal with.  This was compounded by two factors:

  • The TTC opened a new Spadina-Harbourfront line without increasing the fleet.  This was possible because service cuts on the early 1990s left Toronto with “spare” streetcars.
  • The project to buy new streetcars dragged on for years thanks both to the embrace of 100% low floor technology, and the obstructions posed by Mayor Ford to streetcar and LRT plans in general.

Between 1998 and 2014, the total number of streetcars scheduled for the peak periods has risen only 10%, and there is no headroom for further growth with the existing fleet. Indeed, service quality is compromised by vehicle failures, and the scheduled service may not all get out of the carhouse.

This year, the TTC will finally take delivery of the first “production” vehicles in its new fleet, and claims that service will operate as of August 31, 2014 on 510 Spadina with the new cars.  Whether the line will convert 100% to the new fleet in one go remains to be seen.

The TTC Fleet Plan contains no provision for improving service on any streetcar route beyond the higher capacity that new cars will provide. This will come only as the new fleet rolls out line-by-line and some routes will wait until late this decade to see more capacity (and even then with less frequent service).  Existing cars would be retired at a rate that matches or exceeds the new fleet’s ability to replace service, and would also eliminate any spare capacity for growth on lines running older cars.

This is what passes for responsible planning in an organization that claims a dedication to “customer service”.

This article looks at each streetcar route in turn and at a possible revised fleet plan that would make provision for short term improvements as the new fleet arrives.

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Past and Future Streetcar Service Capacity

Now that the first Low Floor Light Rail Vehicle (LFLRV) is rolling through Toronto streets on test runs, the question of service quality and capacity for streetcar routes is once again an issue.

The most recent TTC document setting out their intended use of the new fleet appeared in the 2013 Capital Budget Blue Books.  These are not available online, but I presented the TTC’s fleet plan in an article last fall.  From the numbers of vehicles to be assigned to each route, one can work back to the service frequency and capacity numbers.  In general, peak period headways get a bit wider, but the capacity goes up, in some cases dramatically.

The TTC faces two challenges: one on the budget, and one in operations.

Toronto Council has been extremely stingy with operating subsidies and “flat lined” the TTC over the past two budget cycles.  Hard liners will want the TTC to simply replace service on an equivalent capacity basis and maximize the savings in operator costs.  This would be a disaster for service quality even if the TTC actually ran cars on the headways they advertise.

On the operational side, any increase in headways brings even wider gaps when the service is upset by weather, random delays and short turns.  It is already a matter of record that the largest drop in riding over the past two decades came on the lines where 50-foot long CLRVs (the standard Toronto cars) were replaced by 75-foot long ALRVs (the articulated version) on an equivalent capacity basis.  Falling riding led to reduced service and the familiar downward spiral.  This must not happen when the new fleet rolls out across the system.

Since at least the mid-1990s, the TTC has told us that they cannot improve streetcar service because they have no spare cars.  In part, they are the victims of their own fleet planning.  The TTC originally rebuilt some of its old PCC cars (the fleet preceding the current one) in order to have enough to expand operations on the Harbourfront and Spadina lines.  However, by the mid-1990s, service cuts on many routes thanks to the economic downturn in that decade and the subsidy cuts by the Harris government, reduced the fleet requirements to the point where the PCCs could be retired and the Spadina line opened without buying any new cars.  When riding started to grow again, the TTC had no spare vehicles to improve service, and to make matters worse, the fleet was entering a period of lower reliability thanks, in part, to poor design.

Toronto waited a long time for new cars to be ordered, and this process was delayed both by the decision to go with all low-floor cars, and by political meddling at City Hall.  New residential construction along the streetcar lines pushes up demand, but the TTC cannot respond with better service until they have more cars.

Recent discussions about the new cars have included comments about how we cannot possibly have more streetcars on the road.  What many people forget is that the streetcar services were once much better than today.  In this article, I will look back at service levels once operated in Toronto, and at the service that we might see if the TTC actually operates the new fleet in the manner their Fleet Plan claims.

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OneCity Plan Reviewed

The OneCity plan has much to recommend it even though in the details it is far from perfect.

The funding scheme requires Queen’s Park to modify the handling of assessment value changes, and they are already cool to this scheme.  Why OneCity proponents could not simply and honestly say “we need a 1.9% tax hike every year for the next four years” (not unlike the ongoing 9% increases to pay for Toronto Water infrastructure upgrades) is baffling.  A discussion about transit is needlessly diverted into debates about arcane ways of implementing a tax increase without quite calling it what it is.

On the bright side, Toronto may leave behind the technology wars and the posturing of one neighbourhood against another to get their own projects built.  Talking about transit as a city-wide good is essential to break the logjam of decades where parochialism ruled.  Couple this with a revenue stream that could actually be depended on, and the plan has a fighting chance.  Ah, there’s the rub — actually finding funding at some level of government to pay for all of this.

Rob Ford’s subway plan depended on the supposed generosity of Metrolinx to redirect committed funding to the Ford Plan (complete with some faulty arithmetic).  Similarly, the OneCity plan depends for its first big project on money already earmarked by Metrolinx to the Scarborough RT to LRT conversion.  If this goes ahead, we would have a new subway funded roughly 80% by Queen’s Park and 20% by Toronto.  Not a bad deal, but not an arrangement we are likely to see for any other line.

On the eastern waterfront, there is already $90m on the table from Waterfront Toronto (itself funded by three levels of government), and OneCity proposes to spend another @200m or so to top up this project.  Whether all $200m would be City money, or would have to wait for other partners to buy in is unclear.

Toronto must make some hard decisions about a “Plan B” if the Ottawa refuses to play while the Tories remain in power.  Even if we saw an NDP (or an NDP/Liberal) government, I wouldn’t hold my breath for money flowing to Toronto (and other Canadian cities) overnight.  A federal presence is a long term strategy, and spending plans in Toronto must be framed with that in mind.

Sitting on our hands waiting for Premier McGuinty or would-be PM Mulcair to engineer two rainbows complete with pots of gold landing in Nathan Phillips Square would be a dead wrong strategy.  Bang the drum all we might for a “one cent solution” or a “National Transit Strategy”, Toronto needs to get on with debating our transit needs whether funding is already in place or not.  Knowing what we need and want makes for a much stronger argument to pull in funding partners.

In some cases, Toronto may be best to go it alone on some of the smaller projects, or be prepared to fund at a higher level than 1/3.  If transit is important, it should not be held hostage by waiting for a funding partner who will never show up.

The briefing package for OneCity is available online.

My comments on the political aspects of OneCity are over at the Torontoist site.

To start the ball rolling on the technical review of the OneCity network, here are my thoughts on each of the proposals in the network. Throughout the discussions that will inevitably follow, it is vital that politicians, advocates, gurus of all flavours not become wedded to the fine details. Many of these lines won’t be built for decades, if ever, and we can discuss the pros and cons without becoming mired in conversations about the colour of station tiles.

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Service Changes in July 2011

In a previous post, I described the diversions that will begin on July 11 around the reconstruction of the King/Bathurst grand union.

Beginning July 18 and continuing until early September, the 506 Carlton diversion around the Gerrard Street bridge, originally announced for June 19, will actually get underway.  Trackwork on the bridge has been in rough shape with slow orders for some time.  The planned date for return of streetcars to Gerrard Street is September 11.

Westbound service will run via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament.  Eastbound service will run via Parliament, Queen and Broadview.  Cars have been added to the schedule to compensate for the added mileage.

Effective July 31:

192 Airport Rocket: On the northbound trip, buses will serve the upper level bus stop at Jetliner first, then the arrival level at Terminal 1 and the arrival level at Terminal 3.  On the southbound trip, buses will exit the Airport via the ramp to southbound Hwy 427.  These changes are intended to free up running time to improve service reliability.

504 King: Streetcar service will return to Roncesvalles Avenue, although King cars will continue their diversion around the track and overhead work in Parkdale via Shaw and Queen.  There are only minor changes to some off-peak headways so that the running times work out.  However, I suspect with the traffic congestion on Queen and the inevitable streetcar short turns, service on Roncesvalles will not be as good as what is now provided by a dedicated bus shuttle.

Runnymede Station: The construction at Runnymede Station is supposed to be officially completed now, and 71 Runnymede, 77 Swansea and 79 Scarlett Road will return to their normal routings.

512 St. Clair: Overhead between St. Clair and St. Clair West stations will be retrofitted for pantograph compatibility.  Buses will replace streetcars on this section of the route after 10:00 pm weekdays, and all day on weekends.  The TTC claims that there will be timed transfers at St. Clair West.  Regular service resumes on September 4.

Analysis of 512 St. Clair Operations for July 2010 — Part III (Headways)

In two previous articles, I have reviewed the St. Clair car during its first month of operation on the new right-of-way over the complete route from Yonge to Keele.  Running times during busy periods are down compared with April 2007, when the only right-of-way was between Bathurst and Yonge Streets.  However, the situation with headways, an important factor in how riders perceive service quality, is quite another matter.

For the entire period of construction, the idea of regular, scheduled service was something of a fairy tale on St. Clair, and both the streetcars and buses made their way such as they could along the route.  One would commonly see vehicles taking long terminal layovers, and headways were not a big priority.

In analyses of other routes, there is a common factor that is independent of the route’s length, the time of the year, the weather, eclipses or any other phenomena:  vehicles do not leave terminals on a regular spacing.  They leave when they get around to it, a practice abetted by the TTC’s standard that ±3 minutes is considered to be “on time”.  Pairs of vehicles can travel together on routes with short headways and remain within this standard.

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