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By the numbers: TTC subway delays

Posted by Chris Bateman / June 14, 2013

toronto ttc crowdEvery Torontonian has a TTC horror story: trapped on an overflowing platform unable to board an already full train, packed tight in a stationary car for a delay to clear, paying a fare only to find the line is out. I could go on, but you already know how it goes.

After finally getting released from a queue behind a disabled train only to be stymied a few moments later by a passenger assistance alarm, I thought it worthwhile to dig into the TTC's official records on outages - technical faults, track fires, belligerent riders, weather, the whole lot - in the hope of getting a bigger picture of what a year of problems looks like on paper.

ttc subway delaysIt turns out, maybe not surprisingly, that passenger assistance alarms were most common type of stoppage. The yellow buttons inside the cars were pressed 1,459 times in 2012, an average of almost 4 per day. The lost time over the course of the year added up to 118 hours and 14 minutes. Each time TTC staff were forced to respond it took an average of 4 minutes 51 seconds to get things moving again.

The TTC counts incidents that involve the police separately, labeling them "security incidents."

Just behind passenger alerts was the TTC's own train problems. The rolling stock - a technical name for the trains - needed emergency repairs 1,323 times in 2012, causing 109 hours and 49 minutes of delays.

ttc subway delaysFrustratingly, the problem that created the worst wait times is almost entirely preventable. 330 small fires, litter problems, and unauthorized people at track level stopped the subway for a total of 106 hours and 37 minutes in 2012. Each incident took an average of 19 minutes to resolve - longer than breakdowns and assistance alarms.

In total there were 4,842 outages on the subway in 2012 that caused more than three weeks of delays (509 hours and 35 minutes to be precise.) The average delay across all types took 6 minutes and 31 seconds to clear, which is longer than the 4-minute average headway between trains. Normal scheduled service often takes longer to resume.

ttc subway delaysAre you surprised by these figures or do they match your experience of using the subway? Could the TTC do more to prevent track fires or is it up to the rider to use the garbage cans? Sound off below.

Note: The average wait time listed in the last chart was calculated across all lines from the most recent service summary report between March 31 and May 11, 2013. The delay data is from 2012.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: tapesonthefloor/blogTO Flickr pool.



Sean / June 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm
TTC = Take The Car.
Franco / June 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm
I'm not surprised. The TTC has significant challenges to overcome, I can see why people choose to take their car and risk sitting in traffic. I lived in Buenos Aires for a year and their subway system was far superior to ours, and their buses second to none. There were so many ways to get to wherever you needed to go, and hardly ever did I encounter any significant delays underground, and I took the Subte to work almost everyday. If a sub-developed country like Argentina can see the benefits of public transportation and commit to building more lines, I don't know what Canada's problem is, especially considering all its advancements.
Rob replying to a comment from Franco / June 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm
Latin American socialism and North American socialism couldn't be any more different.

We'll never see the type of transit systems in South America or Europe because short term, capitalistic thinking dominates here. Who cares about how our kids get to work in 20 years... I want to save $65 on the vehicle registration tax RIGHT NOW. Canada is more America than it is Argentina.
Welshgrrl / June 14, 2013 at 12:39 pm
We're hamstrung right now by a mayor who doesn't give a shit about public transit, and also Toronto has had a serious lack of foresight regarding the population/condo explosion in this city. Thes system should have been expanded DECADES ago.

If something fucks up on one of the only two subway lines we have, it paralyzes the whole system. I take the TTC at least 3-4 times per day and there is almost ALWAYS some kind of delay. Incredibly frustrating.
Lioness / June 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm
Brad Ross of the TTC pointed out once that the Passenger Assistance alarms feed on themselves. The longer you are stuck on an overcrowded train because another train has been stopped, the greater the likelihood that someone will faint on your train, generating another Passenger Alarm. And so it goes.
MJ / June 14, 2013 at 01:02 pm
I've always been curious how the TTC stacks up against other major subway systems in the world. The TTC runs two lines (can't count the purple line as an actual line), and they can't get it right. I don't remember a day that there wasn't some sort of delay, while for example, in my last 4 visits to NYC I was only stuck on the subway once.
Marc replying to a comment from Sean / June 14, 2013 at 01:03 pm
Thanks Sean, you're SO helpful. Boring day in the Mayor's office, huh?
Disrupto Ergo Sum / June 14, 2013 at 01:06 pm
The TTC should revert back to horse and carriage. I think the degree of sophistication of operating a horse and carriage would also prove to be very difficult for them. In fact, the TTC should just give up. They will forever be at an impasse because of legacy issues, a bloated compensation system, and lack of scale. The governing politicians should also be given slack. They are all retards. Left, centre or right: our politicians suck. There is no synchronous efforts with all levels of government. We spend too much effort and time on stupid case studies examining the psychological effects of transit construction on racoons and pigeons. Nothing will ever get done. I am tired of complaining at least once a week about the 'Sufferin' route. The TTC sucks.
stopitman / June 14, 2013 at 01:08 pm
While it would be nice if the TTC ran their cleaning trains more often overnight (I'm assuming they have those tunnel cleaner trains), most of the stuff there shouldn't be there in the first place. People need to stop being so lazy and messy. Maybe one extra garbage can on the platform would help a bit, but it's hard to say.
Yorstotl / June 14, 2013 at 01:08 pm
The core is too dense. We need another core. A downtown relief line will just add unwanted extra folks focussing on a few dozen square blocks. We need to develop another downtown - say the area at dufferin and sheppard - around Downsview park. Push the sheppard subway west to dufferin station and beyond to the 427, extend the Allen north to the 407, direct GOtrains up the Barrie north corridor with stop at Dufferin, and develop the crap out of Downsview Park area - towers, condos, nightlife, lake, restaurants, pedestrian access to Yorkdale - perfect by 2020. The 401 at that area is just like the Gardiner at Spadina - it'll feel just like downtown.
Bob / June 14, 2013 at 01:13 pm
Here's what I think is wrong with the system and the reason that caused it.

According to the diagram, passenger alarm causes the most delay. The problem in TO is that we have idiots pressing the alarm all the time. Okay if there's a real problem like sickness, it takes 3 minutes for the operator to find that person. Then it would take 5 minutes to assist the ill passenger and call for help. It would at at least 6-8 minutes to get paramedics onto the platform because there isn't any emergency services station at the station. Maybe that's the problem. Medical assistance delay would last at least 15 minutes. Same thing for security incidents, getting cops to the platform takes some time.

The mechanical difficulty delays are caused by the TTC and passengers. The biggest problems are the doors cause there is always some idiots charging the doors. Opening and closing the doors already takes a few seconds. If they break the door, it's at least a 10 minute delay.

Some of the delays like rail infrastructure/signalling problems and cab electronics are totally the TTC's fault. The problem is the aging equipment needs money to replace and we know the city have none to spend on that. Our mayor thinks it's even free to keep the system running. In Toronto's case, they are likely going to repair the equipment again and again till it breaks down. Then do it again.

Liter, fire and random people running on the tracks are of course caused by the disorderly citizens of Toronto. All the fire incidents are cause by newspapers and wrappers blown from the platform onto the third rail. If people can put garbage where it belongs, this problem wouldn't exist. We can blame it on the TTC and say if the TTC build platform screen doors, these delays would be eliminated but a lot of subway systems don't have these glass door barriers and they seem to be working fine. It's just Toronto's subway have weird delays that are non-existent on other city's transit systems.

Maybe enforcement is a problem. If they can actually fine/arrest people like the GO Transit, some of these problems would be reduced.

Rob replying to a comment from Yorstotl / June 14, 2013 at 01:30 pm
There are several mini CBDs already across the city.

North York City Centre/Sheppard
Scartown Centre
Benedict / June 14, 2013 at 01:38 pm
Your infographics designer has been playing Dots!
Alex / June 14, 2013 at 01:42 pm
We should look at other subway systems and see how they deal with these issues. If passenger assistance alarms are so prevalent on our system and not others, why? Is it congestion, too many people on the train so they can't sit and some faint? I feel like other systems must have congestion too, and they deal with it. Every city has idiots charging the doors too, do they all just get more funding for security than we do and are thus able to respond to these things quicker?
Tony / June 14, 2013 at 01:43 pm
I am not surprised the numbers of passenger alarms, but I am surprised the weather condition. I thought the weather causing the delay was more.
markosaar replying to a comment from Welshgrrl / June 14, 2013 at 01:55 pm
I wouldn't be surprised if a major factor in the condo explosion is because of how crappy transit is (and driving too for that matter). It's far less aggravating to just live near your job and walk.
Stan Smith replying to a comment from Yorstotl / June 14, 2013 at 02:13 pm
You are dumb.
You clearly do not know what you are talking about.
What would you call Yonge and Eglington, Scarborough town centre area, the upcoming vaughn corporate city centre, or even the North york city centre at Sheppard?

Deb / June 14, 2013 at 02:27 pm
I used to take the subway every day all through the 1970s. It was great, reliable, even clean! I gather it's not that way anymore ... sigh. I moved out of the country and then back to Mississauga, land of the car. But I wish, oh I wish, there was subway service to somewhere out in the west, like to Sherway! The GO is no substitute.
Vee / June 14, 2013 at 03:18 pm
Do what they have done on the Paris Metro - Put clear barriers between the train and passengers with doors that open only when aligned with the train doors or by pressing a button that is active only when the train has arrived.
Ess / June 14, 2013 at 03:27 pm
There ought to be a separate chart for the daily delays at Christie station alone.
Cecilia / June 14, 2013 at 03:41 pm
Why don't they have litter bins on the subway? And have more litter bins at stations. I usually end up having to hold my trash until I'm getting off the subway. I know other people will just be lazy an throw it on the floor.
Mayor Christie replying to a comment from Ess / June 14, 2013 at 04:19 pm
Christie station is a holding station heading west. Just as Ossington is going east.
Ess replying to a comment from Mayor Christie / June 14, 2013 at 04:28 pm
Christie can hold my dong cause I don't need a delay every morning on my way to work
W. K. Lis replying to a comment from Sean / June 14, 2013 at 04:30 pm
"Take The Car" is not a good answer. You get idiots who stop their cars in the NO STOPPING/NO STANDING/NO PARKING areas, for only a moment, to get a coffee. Guess what, traffic jams behind them.
Dan Mc / June 14, 2013 at 04:37 pm
Didn't The Grid do this exact same article a few months ago?
The Shakes / June 14, 2013 at 04:51 pm
I blame the track level smoke/fire delays on all the free newspapers that litter the cars and the platforms. Metro and 24 Hrs should have to pay a cleaning fee to the TTC.
Marc replying to a comment from The Shakes / June 14, 2013 at 05:17 pm
Or you could, you know, fine people who toss their papers every where like children.
Ryan / June 14, 2013 at 05:27 pm
I was in New York over the weekend (third time since last September), and I'm always amazed at how efficient the system is. There was a major delay due to construction on Saturday night, but it's literally the only time I've ever encountered a delayed on the system, and I used the subway at least five times per day.

What really bugs me is (as someone mentioned earlier) the lack of foresight by the city when it comes to expanding the system for the eventual population boom. I know NYC serves about 3-4 times more people than Toronto, but I really don't see why they couldn't have made a system years ago that stretches farther than it currently does, and why they didn't add more than three measly lines. When staying in Manhattan you're usually no more than 5 -10 minutes from a subway station, where here it can take me up to half an hour BY BUS just to get to the nearest station.

It's a shame that this city's potential in terms of transit has been hampered over the years by terrible city planning and dysfunction within the city council and other levels of government.
Rj / June 15, 2013 at 12:32 am
some great comments here and horror stories. i've personally never been on a train where a passenger assistance alarm was activated or where there was smoke or a person on the tracks. however, i experience delays absolutely every single time i take the ttc, without fail.

ive been to some really big cities that have very efficient transit systems and it always boggles my mind how much toronto is failing in this regard. everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. it's always: the mayor's fault, or the ttc employees get too much money, or we messed up in the past.

i honestly don't see a solution and i really want to see one. maybe i've just given up hope. traffic is crazy nowadays, so taking the car is not a better option, neither for efficiency nor the environment. biking? um. yeah. this city is really not very well equipped for that either. i don't know.

i think Disrupto Ergo Sum's comment about case studies is painfully correct. the entire city is focusing on the wrong issues. the well being of those malignant fur balls that rip through garbage and spread disease is of course, a much more pressing issue that transit. i think toronto is having an identity crisis or middle age crisis or something. it's such a nuisance to deal with city affairs.
sk / June 15, 2013 at 10:28 am
i have been on multiple trains where passenger alarms have been pressed. *I* have had to press the alarm twice myself. First time was a guy who was high and visibly huffing paint thinner on the train. He got a hockey stick out of his bag on a crowded rush hour train, and a tennis ball and started playing hockey on the train. That was fine until he got violent and started trying to purposely hit people with the hockey stick. The train came to a stop at Sheppard Station, the guy ran out of the train, about 5 minutes later 2 TTC guys *strolled* down the platform like nothing was wrong and asked what happened. Meanwhile, hockey stick guy was running all around the platform chasing passengers with his hockey stick held up in the air like a weapon. Great Service!

Second time someone fainted. Third time a train was delayed due to some other stop on the line so we were stopped. It was very crowded on our train and we weren't moving. someone that was standing fainted. Another time someone had a seizure.

Alarms are real, but they do sometimes feed on each other especially when a power out or stop on the line means no air ventilation on the train or crowded conditions with no moving toward another stop and people start feeling sick and fainting.
Matt / June 15, 2013 at 11:36 am
Cities where I've experienced more reliable train service: 7


And the first four cities have more extensive train coverage as well.

Cities where I've experienced less reliable service: 0

I'm sure they're out there, but I haven't seen it yet.
Dave / June 15, 2013 at 08:30 pm
Everywhere I have been in Europe has better subway service - even in the eastern bloc countries! So frustrating that we can't get it right.
ahahaha / June 17, 2013 at 01:13 am
Guess who wanted subways, but everyone voted against it last spring? Rob Ford!!!! Too bad you hippies cut off your nose despite your face!
ahahaha is apt. replying to a comment from ahahaha / June 17, 2013 at 03:01 am
Cut off your nose despite your face? You sure about that?
tommy replying to a comment from Ryan / June 17, 2013 at 02:45 pm
Take a good look at a map. At a brisk pace, you can walk across Manhattan in 30 minutes. It'll take you all day to walk across Toronto. Overall population isn't the only factor here - population density and land size is what you need to wrap your head around.

It would have been foolish to assume that Toronto would grow as it did back when the subway was originally constructed. We would have ended up with Sheppard lines all over the city, and the high costs associated with running underused subway lines. Toronto will never have the density of New York, so comparing the two is silly.
Jeremy / June 17, 2013 at 07:43 pm
The NYC MTA is atrocious with delays and construction stoppages. I don't get what you are talking about. And they won't supply you with shuttle buses when a line is down, they just put up a few paper signs and expect you to figure it out.

TTC delays are only ever bad on our bus and in-traffic street car lines and thats because instead of buses running every 4 minutes we should just have a separate light rail system.
MTA coverage is obviously way better, but then again they only just a few years ago started to build the first underground line since the 1930's.
Jeremy replying to a comment from tommy / June 17, 2013 at 07:47 pm
Eh, some new parts of Toronto are already at manhattan density levels (Church Wellesley/Bloor Yorkville area for starters). The more important point is *now* there should be new subway construction.
Subway construction almost always pays for itself no matter where you build it. Toronto really could have used a few more lines at least in the old City of Toronto.
Matt replying to a comment from Jeremy / June 18, 2013 at 11:39 am
I agree. Going North at Wellesley become pointless during rush hour. I've waited for 6 trains to pass with an increasingly agitated crowd of commuters because the trains arrive too packed for anyone to get on. At that point your options are to wait (potentially 15-30 minutes) for a train with space or just give up and walk to Bloor station. Or of course ram yourself into and already over-crowded subway car and make a couple new close and personal friends.
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