Travel Time on King Street: January to June 2017

With Toronto Council’s approval of a pilot project to give more priority to transit on King Street, it is worthwhile to understand how travel times behave today, and what a “best case” improvement might look like.

This article reviews TTC vehicle tracking data for the first half of 2017 on King to illustrate the variation in travel times for the Jarvis-to-Bathurst pilot area, smaller segments within the pilot, and the segments beyond. Advocates for transit priority on King routinely cite congestion and longer travel times as major issues that the pilot can deal with, and indeed journey time reduction is one of the goals of the project. However, the 504 King service operates in a more complex environment than just a congested central section, and that context must be understood in evaluating the benefits any change will bring.

In brief:

  • Travel times vary substantially depending on the time, location, direction and day of the week. Under some combinations of these, transit vehicles move quite freely on King Street today.
  • Variation in times is not always predictable. Shaving the peaks off of these variations and restoring reliability is an important part of making transit “run faster”.
  • The problem is not confined to the central part of King Street, but the pattern of delays is different than downtown.

Riders complain that the King car can be challenging to use, but the transit experience entails more than just the in-vehicle time from point “A” to “B”. First, one must walk to a stop and await a streetcar’s arrival. Then one must hope that there is room on the car to board. Finally one speeds (or not) along the route. Transit studies regularly find that of these factors, the time spent in motion on board is the least critical in terms of perceived trip length because, finally, the rider is “on the way”. Time spent waiting, let alone being passed up by a full vehicle (or kicked off one that short turns), weighs more heavily in the “why am I still taking the TTC” question unless the in-vehicle time is a substantial portion of the trip overall.

Any scheme to improve King that looks only at travel time, but ignores service reliability and capacity, will miss out on important components of what makes service more attractive, and in doing so risks limiting the potential for increased demand.

In previous articles, I have reviewed the reliability and capacity of service on King Street.

The TTC has no plans to add service to 504 King during the pilot, although they will begin to replace shorter cars (CLRVs) with longer ones (new Flexitys) in December. This will gradually add to capacity of the route, if not service frequency. At this point, the service design for September when streetcars will return to Queen Street has not been announced, and the degree to which buses will operate on King at least in the early days of the pilot is unknown. The bus trippers claimed by the TTC to be “supplementary” service in fact replace streetcars, generally at a lower capacity.

As for reliability, reduced and more regular travel times through the core will be a benefit to the King service provided that the TTC actually manages headways. There is an ongoing problem with irregular service during the AM peak when there is little congestion as an excuse, and this irregularity plagues riders, especially in Parkdale, Liberty Village and Bathurst/Niagara.

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King Street Pilot Approved and Amended By Council

The King Street Pilot transit priority scheme was approved, with amendments, by Council on July 6, 2017. Changes to the street will begin to appear in early fall (once the shutdown for the film festival is out of the way), and they will last, with changes likely along the way, for at least a year with an evaluation report back to Council after the 2018 election.

This article is not intended to revisit the design (see King Street Redesign Goes to TTC/City for Approval), but as a commentary on the debate at Council.

Among the more bizarre positions taken by some Councillors was the concept that public consultation for this change should have explicitly reached out to suburban residents. In response to a question from Cllr Karygiannis, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat advised that about half of the responses to the study came from the core and half from surrounding areas. This is a bit of a fudge because, of course, a good deal of the catchment area of the King car is not in the core, per se, but is still in the old City of Toronto, not Karygiannis’ home turf of northern Scarborough. Although we know that a majority of Scarborough residents either commute downtown by transit, or do not work in the core, the restriction of auto traffic on King was portrayed as a burden deserving of consultation in northern Scarborough.

Much later in the meeting, Cllr Layton joked that he would hold a meeting in his ward to consult on the McNicoll bus garage project (which is in Karygiannis’ territory).

Cllr Holyday, from Etobicoke, spoke about the mix of trips now taken on King Street noting that 60% of road users are from outside of downtown. Again the issue of just what “outside downtown” means here was never clarified. Keesmaat and others observed that many who live within the pilot area already walk, cycle or take transit, and so the proportion of auto trips by “outsiders” will automatically be high.

TTC CEO Andy Byford noted that the King corridor is at 124% of capacity today, although no additional service is planned for the route. Some improvement, he expects, will come from better service once the pilot is operating, and some from the introduction of larger vehicles (the new Flexitys) on King starting in December 2017.

Cllr Bailão asked about the times when problems occur on King, and about the safety of bar patrons who might be seeking taxis late at night. Keesmaat replied that there is activity throughout the day and evening, and that pedestrian volumes on King are higher than in other parts of the city. Bailão asked whether the City’s General Manager of Transportation Services, Barbara Gray, would support allowing taxis to drive through the pilot area at night. Gray replied that this is a “transit first” project and its main goal is to improve transit. Andy Byford argued that it was his job to advocate for TTC customers, and he prefers to maintain the “purity” of the trial as proposed with no exemptions.

Cllr Pasternak complained about the high cost of the pilot, $1.5 million, and about its funding from City and Federal monies. He asked whether this would more appropriately be paid for with charges against developments along the area, especially considering that these developments must provide a transportation study to review their effects. Keesmaat replied that these charges are mainly for improvements at each development site, and there was never an assumption or intent that these payments would cover large scale capital projects. She further observed that King Street is “regional” infrastructure serving the core, whereas the buildings on King in the pilot area do not generally contribute to the transportation problems. It is growth outside the area that add traffic both to the road and the transit network.

Cllr Mihevc asked whether the scope from Bathurst to Jarvis is “bold enough” and whether the pilot should be extended further. Gray replied that the City might look at other corridors, but the pilot area is a good place to start. The evaluation report will also include analysis of extending the changes east and west on King, and to other downtown routes. Not mentioned, but quite important, is the fact that the pilot area has multiple parallel routes to which auto traffic can shift, and this is not true of either the western part of King nor of other east-west streetcar routes.

Cllr Kelly asked whether planners have looked at the effect on parallel streets. Gray replied that, yes, this has been taken into account and detailed modelling of the network is underway. By year end, the City will have a “more robust” model of travel downtown. Kelly asked whether there will be measurements in place to determine if the pilot is untenable. Gray replied that staff will be looking at trend lines such as travel times on King and parallel routes, and that the TTC Board has asked that concrete metrics be in place before the pilot is launched. There is a draft “dashboard” for reporting the pilot’s status included in the report.

Cllr Grimes asked whether data from the pilot will feed into the Waterfront West LRT study. The implication here is that parts of a future WWLRT might include creation of new reserved streetcar lanes, and that the King Street experience might inform proposals elsewhere. Byford replied that, yes, this would be done. (In fact, the “Waterfront Reset” study now underway will actually report to Council in fall 2017 when the pilot has barely started, but King Street’s experience could affect later discussions.)

Cllr De Baeremaeker asked if there is constant frequency of streetcars throughout 24 hours, or if this varies through the day. Byford replied that service is more intense in the peak periods, but is “pretty intense” throughout the day. Taxis are 25-33% of traffic during the day rising to 38% in the evening. Jacqueline Darwood, TTC’s Head of Strategy and Service Planning, noted that the AM and PM peak periods extend beyond the usual 7-9 and 4-6 windows. Barbara Gray noted that the midday period from 10-4 is as busy as the AM peak, and that King is a consistently busy street.

Here are the service levels scheduled as of May 7, 2017 (click to enlarge):

These schedules correspond to the point where bus trippers were removed from King with the conversion of 501 Queen to all-bus operation for summer 2017. As I have mentioned in previous articles, TTC claims that buses “supplemented” streetcar service on King are false. The bus trippers replaced streetcars (at lower capacity) to compensate for the streetcar shortage. They did not provide additional service. This is a fiction oft repeated by TTC management.

Cllr Campbell asked about improvements the TTC might have seen on the three right-of-way routes now in operation. Byford replied with the following:

  • Queens Quay: Implemented 1990; ridership up from 2.5k to 15k per day (Note that this was a replacement of infrequent Spadina bus service by a frequent streetcar.)
  • Spadina: Implemented 1997; ridership up from 26k to 40k
  • St. Clair: Implemented 2010; ridership up from 28k to 37k

Campbell and Byford agreed that St. Clair was probably the most appropriate comparator for the King Street pilot, although of course King will receive a less exclusive “priority” treatment, and over only a portion of the route.

An important point worth mentioning here is that 504 King and its sister route, 514 Cherry, are unusual because of the mix of neighbourhoods they serve. There are 65k riders per day on this corridor, but unlike some routes, they serve multiple employment and academic districts and enjoy strong counter-peak demand. This allows a high number of riders to be carried relative to the level of service. Combined with the entertainment district and the growing residential density, there are multiple sources of demand travelling over different parts of the route throughout the day.

A common observation is that would-be riders can walk faster than taking the streetcar. That statement does not necessarily mean that the streetcar moves at less than walking pace, but that the combined delays inherent in waiting for one to show up and to have space to board add substantially to trip times. (Overcrowded cars also take longer to serve stops, and irregular or inadequate service capacity can compound travel times growth.) If streetcars arrived regularly and with capacity for would-be riders, travel times would be reduced even if actual travel speeds did not change much. Moreover, riders would have greater certainty about when or if they would reach their destinations.

The goal of a transit priority scheme is not just to make streetcars move more swiftly, but to show up frequently and predictably, not in randomly spaced bunches, and with room for all who wish to board.

Mayor Tory proposed that the staff recommendations be amended:

1.  City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to implement a late-night exemption from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for licensed taxicabs from through-movement prohibitions in the King Street Transit Pilot area to aid in safely and effectively dissipating people from nightlife activity on King Street West.

2.  City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to, as part of the detailed design process, work in consultation with the taxi industry to identify and implement approximately double the number of existing taxi stand spaces throughout the length of the pilot project.

3. City Council request the appropriate City officials to complete a review of all side streets in the area bound by Niagara Street, Queen Street West in the East, Front Street West and The Esplanade (East of Yonge Street to Lower Sherbourne Street), and Sherbourne Street to consider appropriate locations for on-street paid parking in association with the implementation of the proposed King Street Transit Pilot between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street, and report to Toronto and East York Community Council with any proposed amendments.

4. City Council request the Toronto Police Services Board to request the Chief of Police to work with the General Manager, Transportation Services on a strategy for education and enforcement of the King Street Transit Pilot.

Tory argued that this pilot will “move greatest number of people in best way possible”. With respect to concerns about capacity on parallel roads, he claimed that there are no plans for work on parallel streets in 2018. (Both Tory and other City staff appear unaware that the eastern part of the Wellington reconstruction between Yonge and Church has been delayed to 2018 thanks to work planned by Toronto Hydro in fall 2017.) Tory observed that the City has allowed massive development west of downtown and must address the problems this creates. It is “something a 21st century city must do”.

Cllr Karygiannis asked whether Tory felt the taxi industry had been consulted properly, and Tory replied that the City “didn’t do as good a job as we should have”. Karygiannis moved an amendment to Tory’s motion that the start time for taxi exemptions be changed from 10 to 9 pm “for people catching dinner or a show”. For the record, shows in the entertainment district start at 8 pm or earlier, and people generally dine before. There is a separate demand to the club district primarily on Thursday through Saturday, and this traffic picks up mid-evening. Tory did not accept this as a friendly amendment arguing that the best balance between competing interests is a 10 pm start time. (Karygiannis’ amendment lost.)

In the discussion of available cab stand space, nobody mentioned how many existing spaces are actually designated. They are:

  • North side
    • between Yonge and Bay: 7
    • west of Bay: 8
    • east of York: 6
    • east of Peter (at the hotel): 4
  • South side
    • between York and Bay: 8

Doubling the number of official cab stands may not make much difference relative to the space taxis now occupy, but it is likely that the total number of spaces will be spread over a wider area than they are today. This decision will also affect available space for other curb lane uses such as pedestrian and loading zones. Until the detailed design is available later this year, we will not know just how this arrangement will look, or what effect the pro-taxi decision will have on the original goals for street redesign.

Cllr Holyday argued for “the guy from central Etobicoke” that there should be more provisions for left turns and for routes through the network using both a map of downtown and a chart of the human heart to illustrate his case.

Holyday proposed that City Transportation be asked to study a means of aiding these turns, but his motion was voted down.

(a) City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to develop a plan for timed left turn prohibitions which will improve streetcar and general traffic flow along King Street within the study area, and report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. (Lost)

Holyday also argued for a traffic bypass around King using Front Street.

(b) If motion a by Councillor Holyday fails, that City Council define Front Street as the motorist bypass for the King Street Pilot Study area and City Council direct the General Manager, Transportation Services, to take steps to optimize Front Street and the Bathurst Street road linkage between King Street and Front Street to reduce motorist encumbrances including signal timing and design, turn prohibitions, pedestrian signals and parking regulations. (Lost)

The Councillor appeared to be unaware that Front Street narrows between York and Bay Streets in front of Union Station where it has already been redesigned primarily for pedestrian and taxi use. Moreover, Front can be badly congested whenever there is an event at the Rogers Centre. It is hardly an arterial bypass of the sort he seeks.

Cllr Pasternak observed that there is always a concern when parking spaces are lost that there will be a decline in parking revenue. This begs the obvious question of whether the need for such revenue should preempt improvements in the design and usage of road space. In any event, the Toronto Parking Authority has already reported on this issue, and will propose that a number of currently free spaces on adjacent streets be converted to paid parking.

Cllr Ford thanked staff for their detailed reports, but is not convinced of the merit of this pilot from the perspective of residents of northwest Etobicoke where his ward is located. He bemoaned the added congestion brought on by the demolition of the York Street off ramp from the Gardiner Expressway, but appeared unaware that this capacity will be replaced by a new Harbour Street off ramp that has not yet been built.

Cllr Perks, responding to Holyday’s illustrated lecture, gave a short talk on the relationship between parking and prosperity noting that cities which have much parking (and by implication a lot of auto-based commuting) tend to have lower prosperity.

Cllr Wong-Tam urged that Council be “bold and ambitious – this is King Street”. She felt that over the years, Council has asked planners to “be meek”, but that there is a new generation who are not meek. Wong-Tam wants Council to support this ambition, including for the next big project downtown on Yonge Street, not be “meek with modest adjustments”.

Cllr Layton talked about people waiting for the streetcar, and how the City has not done much to improve their lot by addressing the capacity issue and bunching. He also mention the Waterfront LRT as an example of the City not doing what it could, of not increasing capacity to keep pace with population growth.

TTC Chair Colle wants Toronto to be “bold”, and felt that with streetcars operating at 13 km/h, the city is playing catch-up to its citizens’ desire for better transit. In fact, the scheduled speed of the King car over its entire route, never mind just the core area, is less than 13 km/h during many operating periods. The challenge will be to maintain consistency of running times and service.

In a future article, I will review actual travel time experiences on 504 King and in particular the variation in their behaviour by time of day and season. A related issue is the the pilot covers only part of the route, and there are service management, capacity and congestion issues outside of the pilot area. The Bathurst-to-Jarvis trial will be useful not just to show what can be done in that segment, but what remains to be done (and not necessarily through lane reservations) elsewhere on the route.

UPX Ridership Update

Metrolinx has published ridership stats for the Union Pearson Express to the end of March 2017.

These do not break down trips between various points on the line to show what portion of ridership is end-to-end Union-Airport traffic, and what portion travels to or from stations along the way.

In this chart the blue line traces daily counts and these show a regular weekly cycle. The total ridership grows after the fare reduction of early 2016 and peaked in September 2016. Except for that peak, and a winter dip from Christmas 2016 to mid-February 2017, the average number of daily riders (on a weekly rolling average, orange) has remained slightly below 8,000. This appears to be the new stable level of ridership with the current fares and service pattern. A related issue is that with some trips on busy days reporting standees, growth during certain periods will be constrained by available capacity.

The original projection for UPX was that it would reach 5,000 daily riders after a year’s operation. This it would have abjectly failed to achieve but for the revised tariff. The gray line prorates that projection from the opening week to the first anniversary in June 2016, and then continues on the same rate of increase until March 2017.

In the Metrolinx financial statements (to be discussed in a separate post), it is not possible to separate out information for the UPX division, and for management and accounting purposes, this has now been rolled into GO Transit.

A note to anyone at Metrolinx who is reading this: When you publish data like this, make it available as a spreadsheet (as well as PDF for general consumption) so that the numbers can easily be extracted and analysed without the need to “scrape” the PDF.

City Hall Task Force Report: A Practical Blueprint for Change?

The University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance recently published a review of Toronto Council with a view to improving how it operates.

I disagree strongly with many parts of this report and note that among members of its task force opinions were not unanimous as noted in the body of the document.

This page has been created to hold the link to my response. I know that for many readers this is off of the beaten path of transit commentary, and both the original study and my response are long reads. However, the operation of City Council directly affects transit policy and funding in Toronto, and I felt that a rebuttal of the report was in order as publicity for it increases.

In brief, the review spends too much time “fixing” problems it does not understand. After starting from a premise that the Mayor should have more powers, there is a clear slant in how some of the options are presented. The report notes that on several issues, members of the advisory committee did not agree and recommendations had to be thinned out or removed. This begs the question of how much was taken out, and what disagreeable policy directions did these points entail.

Probably the most ridiculous point in the paper is a citation of a study from the Manning Institute, that bastion of liberal thought, about how Toronto Council works. The author claims that the vast majority of business at Council is “procedural” and implies through this that a great deal of time is wasted on items of little importance. However, the source data for that study shows quite clearly that the substantial majority of business at council is the passing of motions related to report approvals and amendments, the fundamental business of any such body. Moreover, the Manning Institute did not bother to assess the time required for each item, and therefore treats all votes if they were of equal merit as Council business. This is, quite bluntly, sloppy research that any first year student should be ashamed of. The School of Public Policy & Governance has no such qualms, it would appear.

An Unusual Visitor to 509 Harbourfront

For a few hours today, July 1, the TTC operated not only PCC 4500 but also Peter Witt 2766 back and forth along the Harbourfront route. Here are a few photos for those who could not catch this rare event.

The parade of four cars made a bit of a mess of service during a very busy day a the waterfront thanks to the so-called transit priority signals that simply could not deal with that many cars trying to operate close together. All the same, it was good to see the old cars out for a spin.

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Canada (er … Dominion) Day 1967

Fifty years ago, Canada celebrated its centennial, and is usual for our national holiday, festivities at City Hall triggered streetcar diversions.

In those days, the standard bypass for Queen cars was eastbound via Adelaide and westbound via Richmond. Adelaide has long been out of service except for a short stretch of track between Victoria and Church, and although Richmond has been rebuilt, there is no overhead yet between Victoria and York Streets. The abandoned track on Adelaide will be removed in 2021 according to current plans, but this is likely co-ordinated with whenever the City gets around to repaving the street after the many, many condo and office construction projects that have left it a pothole filled ruin.

Adelaide closed “temporarily” to permit the construction of the Bay-Adelaide centre, a project that itself sat incomplete for years thanks to a downturn in demand for office space. Over the years, with the track inactive, more construction blockages and related track cuts occurred, and any thought of reactivation vanished.

As a look back, here are photos of the diversion from July 1, 1967. Many of the buildings in these pictures no longer exist, a few have been cleaned off, and several vacant lots are no more.

[Updated July 1, 2017 at 7:55 pm: For those who don’t know, it was still called “Dominion Day” in 1967.]

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Maybe Yes, Maybe No, SmartTrack Stations

After a recent Metrolinx Board Meeting (about which more in a separate article), reporters the Star and the Globe peppered Chair Robert Prichard about decisions to approve two future GO stations against original staff recommendations.

Ben Spurr wrote in the Star about the Kirby station in Vaughan that leapt from an initial review to part of GO’s plans thanks to political intervention at Queen’s Park. In between the detailed station reviews and the final recommendations to the Metrolinx Board, a summary report consolidated the detailed reviews. This report, which has not been published by Metrolinx, has different recommendations that those presented to the Board, according to Spurr’s article.

I wrote extensively about the reviews of proposed stations within the City of Toronto in these articles:

Another station that found its way onto the approved list in spite of a negative review was Lawrence East. This station is critical to plans for the Scarborough Subway providing a replacement for service in an area the subway will bypass.

The future of stations that would be added through the SmartTrack scheme is rather cloudy. Even though Lawrence East, for example, is “approved”, this is subject to operational reviews and intensification of land use by the City of Toronto to build demand. Talking of the Kirby station, Spurr reported:

Prichard said the board’s decision was “conditional” and that Metrolinx will continue to update its analysis based on development in Vaughan. If the greater density doesn’t materialize “we can back off,” he said.

For the stations in the City of Toronto, the situation begs more questions. First, Metrolinx required Council to sign on guaranteeing that they would fund added stations for SmartTrack in November 2016. Council was told that Metrolinx was going into design and construction, and that a commitment was needed “now” for this work to stay on schedule. Second, the total cost of the six proposed stations approved by Council was more than twice the cost estimates in the Metrolinx station reviews.

Metrolinx station review cost estimates:

  • Lawrence East: $22.7 million
  • Finch East: $108.9 million
  • Liberty Village: $30.8 million
  • St. Clair: $27.4 million
  • East Harbour (Unilever): $118.9 million
  • Gerrard: $251.7 million
  • Total: $560.4 million

City Council estimate: $1,251.8 million

With total costs much higher than in the original evaluations, the business cases for these stations are even weaker than have been stated. The City is not strictly on the hook for these costs yet, whatever they might be, because there will be a final approval point when more detailed estimates are available prior to tendering the construction work. This point is unlikely to be reached before the municipal election in fall 2018.

Several of the proposed stations pose construction challenges, and it is not clear how well all of them can be fitted into the corridor. Liberty Village station is particularly tight for space.

Lawrence East poses a delicate political problem because it cannot be built while the SRT remains in operation. However, the Scarborough Subway will not open until late 2026 leaving the possibility of an early shutdown of the SRT, or a delay in the provision of a SmartTrack station. Intensification at Lawrence East could be a hard sell given Toronto’s intention to focus substantial development on the Scarborough Town Centre and uncertainty about the type and cost of transit service that would be available.

A related issue came up in discussion of the fall 2017 GO Transit fare increase. This will see fares rise by 3% except those for short-distance trips that will be frozen at $5.65. Metrolinx has recently discovered the importance of short-distance travel on its network as an untapped market after years of deliberately overpricing these trips to discourage demand. Keeping inside-Toronto trips at a fixed cost would allow GO fares to gradually become more attractive to TTC riders, although that would take many, many years. Clearly Metrolinx is rethinking the role of its network both for in-Toronto trips and for shorter trips in the 905 that could become more attractive as service improves.

All of this leaves the question of which stations might be built up in the air subject to future considerations in spite of Toronto Council’s support in 2016.

514 Cherry Update re King & Sumach Noise

At a community meeting on June 27, 2017, the TTC presented updated information about their work on reducing the noise level from streetcars at King & Sumach. In response to complaints after the 514 Cherry route began operating in 2016, the TTC changed the 514 so that late evenings and early mornings it operates to Broadview & Queen (looping back via Dundas and Parliament just like a short turning 504 King car). During these periods, a Wheel Trans bus provided a shuttle service on Sumach and Cherry to Distillery Loop.

The TTC presented updated noise readings for this location showing the combined improvement of the full changeover to Flexity cars from CLRVs and of changes to the rail profile that were made to complement slower operation around the curves.

The chart above shows results for the tightest curve at King & Sumach, the east to south. The data plotted here summarize readings taken over a four-hour period, and so they reflect the contribution of whatever type of vehicles showed up. For the most recent reading on May 4, 2017, when the service should have been largely or completely run with Flexitys, the levels from the middle to the high end of the spectrum are markedly lower than they were in the fall.

From the vehicle tracking data for 514 Cherry, I can confirm that the vehicles in service on that date were:

  • CLRV 4071 from 8:28 to 9:55 am
  • CLRV 4049 from 2:56 to 5:45 pm
  • Flexitys 4402, 4404, 4406, 4409, 4412, 4414, 4423, 4425, 4428 and 4432

Depending on when the measurements were taken, there was at most one CLRV in service on the route, and none for most of the day.

By contrast, on Aug. 10, 2016, all but one car on the route was a CLRV with only a single Flexity in service, 4418, between 5:30 am and 2:07 am the following day.

For the north to west turn, the data show less of an improvement. Oddly, the readings for the gentler left turn curve are higher than for the eastbound right turn, but this could be a factor of the measurement location which is closer to the westbound turn.

As a matter of comparison, the TTC also presented readings from two intersections with comparable curve radii, Queen & Broadview and Bathurst & Fleet.

Note that this chart presents maximum values rather than a four hour average. The higher values for the comparator intersections are almost certainly due to the noise caused by CLRVs or ALRVs which have (a) inherently more squeal and (b) less car design factors to limit noise transmission.

Bathurst & Fleet would have had service only on 509 Harbourfront on May 4 as this predates the return of streetcars to 511 Bathurst. I do not have the tracking data for the 509 on that date, and so cannot comment on the proportion of service provided by each vehicle type. Harbourfront is supposed to be all Flexity, but routinely has a few CLRVs on it. It would take only one noisy CLRV to set the maximum values shown above.

The chart is also unclear about which turn was measured at each location, only that this was done from 8 metres away.

Future work of this type should be more careful in identification of the vehicle type and location specifics for any readings and charts. If nothing else, this will improve credibility with members of the public by showing the improvements new cars bring.

Based on the improvements recorded at King & Sumach, the TTC plans to return full streetcar service to Distillery Loop on a date to be announced in July.

This decision provoked something of a pitched battle between residents at various locations on the route. The high points (if they can be called that) included:

  • Wheel squeal at King and Sumach prevented some nearby residents from getting a full night’s sleep, and the respite with no cars making turns was 3 to 3.5 hours. (It was unclear whether the residents have ever had a Flexity-only late night or early morning service as a reference point because service was cut last November before the route conversion was completed.)
  • Squeal is worst after rain because the normal film of grease on the track (both from natural causes and from wheel greasers) washes away. Wet track actually is very quiet because the water acts as a lubricant, but track that is drying out can be extremely noisy. This also happens during periods of high humidity. The TTC was criticized for taking noise measurements only under ideal conditions.
  • Residents at King/Sumach who predate the installation of the intersection were used to quieter streetcar operation, and enjoyed a long period of no streetcars at all while the King leg of the Don Bridge was closed.
  • The Wheel Trans shuttle bus is utterly unreliable running on a schedule unknown to riders and with unpredictable headways that can be considerably longer than the round trip route would imply. Operators often bypass waiting passengers. There are safety issues for the large number of disabled transit users living in this neighbourhood if they are forced to make a transfer to an unreliable, infrequent service.
  • Residents along the Cherry Street portion of the route complained that they effectively lost service because the bus was so unreliable, and in any event, its wide headways and forced transfer at King Street added to travel times. They also noted that the change was implemented without notice to the wider community. (There were also complaints about poor publicity for the June 27 meeting.)
  • Aggrieved King/Sumach residents proposed that the 514 Cherry route be completely converted to bus operation during the hours when the shuttle runs now to eliminate the transfer connection and improve service to the Distillery. This option was rejected by the TTC and by some users of the 514 who noted that streetcars can be very crowded at late evenings downtown where the route is supposed to provide supplementary service on King.
  • Early morning trips from Leslie Barns to Distillery Loop make the west to south turn for which no automatic greasing is provided.
  • Not all who attended from King/Sumach objected to the streetcars, but as this was a small meeting, it is not clear what the balance of opinion in the neighbourhood might be.
  • Notable by its absence from any comments were complaints about noise from eastbound streetcars clattering through the trailing switch of the north to east curve. The slow order at this location appears to have dealt with this issue.

In addition to operating the 514 Cherry route with only Flexitys, the TTC is working on a design of a noise absorbing ring that will damp the high frequency vibrations. Wheel sets for two cars are now being manufactured, and they will be installed on test cars in the fall.

Further noise readings will be taken through the summer and fall to track conditions as they evolve, and the level of grease application will be increased. (There is a trackside greaser southbound at Distillery Loop, and the Flexitys have on board greasers that are triggered by GPS information to activate where lubrication is required.)

In a separate article, I will turn to the general unreliability of service at Distillery Loop on the 514 streetcars. The TTC puts this down to the usual problems of mixed traffic operation on King, but there are also issues with uneven headways departing from both the Distillery and Dufferin terminals following layovers that can be fairly long. Line management, as elsewhere on the system, is a problem for this service.

See the TTC’s King-Sumach page for complete information.

 

Is the TTC Really Number One?

Monday, June 26 saw Toronto’s media all cluster at Union Station for “a matter of importance to the TTC”. What, the assembled scribes wondered, could this be? The TTC brass on hand were an unusual group to see behind the podium with reps from all areas of the organization.

The news turned out to be [pause here for trumpet fanfare] that the American Public Transit Association (APTA) had given the TTC its 2017 award as “Outstanding Public Transportation System”. There is actually a separate category for large transit systems, and this means the TTC is competing against the likes of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta (who won in 2016), but not New York City because they are not APTA members.

Not that the New York transit systems are in shape to compete for awards except, possibly, the greatest frustration for riders. If anything, New York is a cautionary tale for Toronto about what can happen when you just make do and cut back on funding for maintenance and operations.

TTC CEO Andy Byford made a point of giving credit to his management team and the TTC staff for making this award possible. Yes, a little credit where credit is due is definitely in order even if none of the front line folks were actually there to share in the photo op. That oversight has been corrected on the award’s web page which notes that:

None of this could have been done without the passion, professionalism and commitment of the 14,000 employees of the TTC

Byford reiterated this sentiment both in his public remarks and in private comments to individual reporters afterward. The award is important to the people who actually move the TTC every day under sometimes trying circumstances and less than complimentary dealings with riders.

APTA’s Acting President and CEO Richart A. White is quoted in the press release:

The TTC’s successful implementation of a five-year modernization program demonstrates that it is a leader in the public transportation industry and a role model for other public transit systems.

Byford made a big point of the transformation his five-year plan brought, and looks forward to the next such plan now in the works. That plan will take the TTC through its centennial year in 2021, provided that Queen’s Park isn’t bone-headed enough to legislate the organization out of existence.

This was very much a self-congratulatory event, and riders might be forgiven for asking “Number One … really?”

The problem here is that APTA is rewarding the TTC for achieving (or at least being well on the way to) a plan that does not reflect a lot of day-to-day experience on the system. Things may be improving, but horror stories come often enough to undermine the award’s credibility.

Byford wisely guarded against the TTC becoming an awards junkie, a fate that befell it in the 1980s when the TTC actively sought out every award it could get as a way to prove management’s worth to the Board. The last thing Toronto needs is to aspire to win more awards per year than any other city.

The accomplishments cited by the TTC are a mixed bag, and include items Byford acknowledged were started during his predecessor’s term such as the soon-to-open Spadina subway extension to Vaughan and the orders for new streetcars and subway trains. These were not really part of a five-year plan, but rather works-in-progress that were rolled into Byford’s list of goals. His achievements lie in getting these projects on track, wrangling with dysfunctional project design and management, and going head-to-head various suppliers and contractors.

Included in the list are service increases implemented, grudgingly, by Mayor Tory once he discovered just how bare the transit cupboard was after Rob Ford’s cutbacks:

  • Increased service on more than 40 routes, operating all day, every day and 52 routes now operate every 10 minutes or better
  • Increased service on the Blue Night Network so that 99 per cent of Toronto residents now live within a 15-minute walk of overnight bus and streetcar service

Certainly, getting many of the Miller-era improvements restored after Tory had run on a platform claiming they were not necessary was a worthwhile feat, but it reminds us that some of the “achievements” consist simply of getting Toronto back to where we were. Issues still remain with service capacity across the network, and that comes directly from making do with subsidies that do not keep up with the combined effects of inflation and hoped-for ridership growth. Indeed, the TTC goes into plans for its 2018 budget year facing yet another demand to reduce subsidies from a Council that cares only about keeping down taxes, not providing better service.

In the same vein, another achievement claimed is:

  • A more accessible TTC with the addition of external announcements on buses, subways and streetcars and more fully-accessible subway stations

Again, the question comes down to whether the service provided for accessibility actually meets the need. In that regard, legislation forces specifics on the TTC both in terms of passenger movement, information and availability of service, a situation not shared by the general riding public. Many accessibility features exist not because the TTC chose to implement them, but because they were forced on it by devoted advocates.

And please can we be spared the marketing:

  • Underwent a brand revitalization moving the brand from one of a utility to what it really is: a critical part of Torontonians’ everyday lives

Lines like this really undermine the TTC’s credibility. I cannot help remembering how often style ruled over substance in Byford’s early days under the Stintz/Ford administration. The TTC’s “brand” is defined by what it does, not by what it claims to be.

The most important line in the press release is that “there is still much to do”. The TTC is making changes internally that should bear fruit in better management, but the central issue of service quality requires strong leadership on two counts: one to gain political support not just for a few big-ticket extensions, but for better-funded service overall; the other to continue the fight to make “TTC culture” truly responsive to service and rider needs. This includes avoidance of success metrics that validate the status quo, that measure service via a standard so lax that merely showing up with a bus now and then is likely to win a gold star.

Advocacy is a difficult role for a CEO in a politically charged environment. Speaking his mind cost Byford’s predecessor, Gary Webster, his job. Going into an election year, the TTC needs to advance a strong plan for improvement, one that may challenge the “fiscal realities” politicians speak about except when their pet projects are on the line. The TTC cannot become the Nirvanna of transit systems overnight, but it must try harder.

An award for best sustained commitment to and delivery of excellent transit would be worth winning.